January 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Myrtle Beach Online: Kenya RPCV David Womble visits world's most troubled spots

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kenya: Peace Corps Kenya : The Peace Corps in Kenya: January 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Myrtle Beach Online: Kenya RPCV David Womble visits world's most troubled spots

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Kenya RPCV David Womble visits world's most troubled spots

Kenya RPCV David Womble visits world's most troubled spots

Kenya RPCV David Womble visits world's most troubled spots

N.C. man visits world's most troubled spots with aid agency

By Martha Quillin

The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. - The September day after Chechen rebels turned a bustling Beslan, Russia, school into an open-air morgue, local hospitals overflowed with the injured and the mourning.

Hundreds of family members paced the hospital halls, frantically looking for missing students, teachers and parents who had been doing the most ordinary of things - starting a school year - when the rebels had taken them all hostage, held them for two days and then blown the buildings and their captives apart.

In the aftermath, doctors and nurses, many of whom had been working for 24 hours without sleep, went from one medical crisis to another.

Amid this chaos, a quiet voice with an N.C. Sandhills accent asked a simple question: "What do you need?"

First at the little hospital in Beslan, then at three others in nearby cities that were accepting casualties, David Womble, working for a Christian relief agency, took the head doctors aside and interviewed them. In the stolen quiet of an office or even a supply closet, some of them cried for the first time since the bombs and gunfire erupted.

"What do you need?" he said, and took notes as they wished for supplies they couldn't buy on their own. Diapers, they told him. Scalpels. Blood-pressure gauges, mattress covers, bedside monitors, lung-ventilation machines.

What do you need? It was the same thing Womble might have asked if there had been a death in the family or a fire at the house of a friend back home in Sanford.

As he has for nearly a decade, at troubled spots on three continents, Womble continues to go where the need is and ask the anguished what would ease their pain.

Womble, 34, set out after college to see the world, not to save it.

Born and raised in Sanford, he studied English and education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, planning to be a teacher. And he was, in the Rowan County town of Salisbury. He liked the classroom. He learned to feel comfortable conveying new ideas to a group. He felt useful.

He also felt a powerful wanderlust.

"I had never been outside the United States before," he says. For reasons he can't quite explain, he says, "I really wanted to go to Africa."

Growing up in Lee County, he knew people who would never see much more of the world than what lay between their hometowns and the beach. Womble had glimpsed more.

As a teenager, he went on a 3½-week camping trip to the Southwest with a bunch of other kids. His best friend, Eric Caldwell, made the same trip a year later. In high school and college, Womble went to New Hampshire and Wyoming to work as a counselor at children's camps.

Womble wanted to venture overseas long enough to get to know another culture. In 1994, he volunteered for the Peace Corps.

He was sent to Kenya, where he taught English for two years. There was no e-mail, and he had to walk for miles to the nearest phone.

"It was intense," he says. But Womble's two-year stint in Kenya just made him want to see more. He came back to America briefly, working for the Peace Corps in the agency's Washington headquarters.

A friend from North Carolina who was working in Azerbaijan for a humanitarian aid agency told him of an opening at World Vision International. The agency needed someone to oversee the distribution of food to 180,000 people in Azerbaijan.

World Vision, founded in 1950 to care for orphans in Asia, is a Christian relief and development organization that provides emergency aid, education, health care and economic development assistance. The agency has about 22,000 employees on six continents.

Womble did so well for the group in Azerbaijan that, after two years, World Vision sent him to Albania to open a new office in the northern part of the country.

"You want to go where the need is the greatest," he says.

In February 2004, Womble was sent to Nazran, a city in Ingushetia, just over the border from Chechnya in Russia and about 12 miles from Beslan.

The needs are many and plain. Medicine, winter clothing, food, tents. The infrastructure, starved by the costs of war, is crumbling. Children, if they can go to school, attend classes in shifts in buildings without windows or doors, with no heat.

Delivering aid is complicated by the fact the people of the region do not trust one another.

Because of the instability, World Vision considers it too dangerous to keep personnel in Chechnya, which is why Womble and his staff work from across the border. Even then, they don't go anywhere without an armed guard.

Womble downplays the safety risk.

"We take security very, very seriously," he says. "I tell my parents that I was probably more at risk when I was working in Washington, D.C."

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Myrtle Beach Online

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