December 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - The Gambia: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Peace Corps sends April Butkus to the Gambia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Gambia: Peace Corps The Gambia : The Peace Corps in the Gambia: December 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - The Gambia: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Peace Corps sends April Butkus to the Gambia

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Peace Corps sends April Butkus to the Gambia

Peace Corps sends April Butkus to the Gambia

Peace Corps sends April Butkus to the Gambia

Peace Corps sends McCandless woman to West Africa

By Joan Greene
Thursday, December 16, 2004

Last year, April Butkus, 23, of McCandless, spent the holiday season shopping and visiting friends. This year, she'll spend that time in the Republic of Gambia, West Africa.

She is now living in a hut with a dirt floor in Jiffarong, a village of about 1,000 residents, to fulfill her two-year commitment as a volunteer in the Peace Corps.

The 1999 North Catholic High School graduate joined the corps in April and will not return home until June of 2006.

It took several months to adjust to the change in culture and lifestyle, said April's mother, Cindy Wilson, of McCandless.

After spending eight weeks studying the native Gambian language, Mandinka, Butkus was placed in a family compound of 23 people in Jiffarong, where she is the only English-speaking person.

"She felt relief that it wasn't a terribly poverty ridden area," Wilson said, noting that a river helps sustain the agricultural economy of growing peanuts and rice. In May and June, when temperatures would reach 120 degrees, "it was so hot that, basically, animals and people would sleep under the Mango trees the entire afternoon."

Butkus also had to adjust to living in a Muslim culture where there are a lot of restrictions on women, especially in dress and their involvement in community affairs, Wilson said.

"Her biggest adjustment has been transportation and communication," said Butkus' boyfriend Tom Peno, 24, of Mt. Troy, who had to relay questions to Butkus during a regular Sunday telephone call he makes to her. "The nearest pay phone is 4 to 5 kilometers away, and you can only receive calls, not make them."

The support of family and friends keeps Butkus motivated, Peno said.

She has participated in a polio vaccination program, mapped the water sources of her village to help target malaria hibernation areas and developed nutrition programs for children. She holds a degree in sociology from the University of Dayton.

In her free time, she tends to her garden and pet turtle, writes in her journal and travels 23 miles by bike to a malnutrition rehabilitation clinic, where she helps out, does research and has access to the Internet.

"She's definitely happy she's there and feels she's contributing," Peno said. "It takes a special kind of person to do what she's doing, and I admire that."

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - The Gambia



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