January 20, 2005: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Foster's Daily Democrat: Kristin McKennon looks back with pride at two-year Peace Corps stint in Bolivia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: Peace Corps Bolivia : The Peace Corps in Bolivia: January 20, 2005: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Foster's Daily Democrat: Kristin McKennon looks back with pride at two-year Peace Corps stint in Bolivia

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Kristin McKennon looks back with pride at two-year Peace Corps stint in Bolivia

Kristin McKennon looks back with pride at two-year Peace Corps stint in Bolivia

Kristin McKennon looks back with pride at two-year Peace Corps stint in Bolivia

Portsmouth woman looks back with pride at two-year Peace Corps stint


Democrat Staff Writer

Caption: Kristin McKennon greets one of the people she helped during her time in Bolivia. Courtesy photo - Order Foster's prints

PORTSMOUTH ó After serving with the Peace Corps for two years in Bolivia, former UNH student and Portsmouth resident Kristin McKennon has returned home, having learned a lot about herself and the importance of family.

The two-year journey away from her family, and all that she knew, began a few years after McKennon graduated from the University of New Hampshire with an anthropology degree.

"I would say I have always been interested in working abroad," said McKennon who had frequently traveled and done anthropology work in Belize. "This was my chance to start something and see it through."

Hearing about the Peace Corps, McKennon traveled to the organizationís Boston office and filled out a series of applications. Approximately a year later, she found herself on her way to Bolivia.

Upon arriving in Comarapa, Bolivia, a city with a population of 5,000, McKennon found she would be instructing locals on modern health, nutrition and sanitation practices. McKennon was also to install a series of child-focused educational programs to continue after she left.

According to McKennon, she was given a three-month course on the areaís language, culture and history before she made the trip. She was also skilled in Spanish the areaís language. But upon arriving she realized how little she actually knew.

"I was the only foreigner in the city. You are so alone," said McKennon. "The initial shock of trying to figure out how everything works on a governmental and family level was difficult. There were certainly cultural and communication barriers that impeded my work."

McKennon admitted that during the first two months she considered returning home, because of the culture shock.

After teaching nutritional classes to students for four months McKennon was asked to create a series of workshops to teach local teachers, so that the information could be spread to students.

According to McKennon, malnutrition is rampant in Bolivia, however, this is not because the people donít have the resources to provide the food they need. McKennon said the Bolivians have plenty of vegetables, but because of faulty nutritional information they were selling the vegetables for rice and pasta which are less nutritionally rich.

McKennon also taught the benefits of compost piles, and how to dispose of organic and inorganic material.

While she was trying her hardest to help the people in Comarapa, McKennon said the Bolivians were resistant to change and didnít believe she would come through with what she was promising to do.

"They were used to empty promises, because nothing ever came to fruition," said McKennon of other failed relief efforts. "I just made sure that I came through on everything that I was doing. Once they saw that I was in for the long haul they became more supportive of the project."

McKennon said the most satisfying aspect of her time in Bolivia was that the people she educated on common health practices and nutrition have continued to run the programs she began after she left in November.

Reflecting on her time in Bolivia McKennon said that because of Peace Corps she was given an opportunity to take a job she would not have been considered for in the U.S.

"I hear a lot of people say that they are giving up two years of their life by joining the Peace Corps. But, you gain professional skills that are really hard to develop in the U.S.," she said. "I feel this experience really fosters a huge amount of independence. You really learn what you are capable of. When you come home anything seems possible."

McKennon said that since returning from Bolivia in October, she has decided to go to graduate school for bilingual bicultural education.

"You have all of these dual language schools popping up in the U.S., mainly in the big cities," McKennon said. "That is what I would like to do, and hopefully get into administration."

McKennon said that teaching teachers was very rewarding for her and something that she would like to do in her own country.

"I think my goals now personally and professionally are more clear cut and focused. I think I see my goals as more obtainable now. There is less fear of going outside of what I have studied simply because I didnít know about it beforehand," she said. "In the Peace Corps you end up working a lot of times outside of your career, and you learn that you can do anything."

Through her interaction with the people in Comarapa, McKennon said she became very close to several families.

"Bolivian people are generally very open. It was easy to develop a personal relationship. I really felt like I had family there," she said. "Becoming a member of a community in a completely different culture was amazing."

McKennon said that frequently multiple generations of family will occupy the same home, resulting in a very active and sometimes crowded household. She said that this close family interaction encouraged her to seek out her own family once she returned home.

"In Bolivia, family had become very important to me, and I am very happy to be back with my own family. Family is so import to Bolivians, people are getting together across generations all the time, and that became import to me," she said.

Since returning home McKennon has traveled across New England visiting family.

"I have made the time to sit down and enjoy my grandparentsí company and listen to stories because it has been so long since I have seen them."

After celebrating one of the biggest Thanksgivings her family has had in years, McKennon said that the Christmas season would be quiet for her family, since her brother is moving across the country. However, season has her reflecting on the Christmases past and wondering what the future will hold for her and her family.

© 2005 Geo. J. Foster Company

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

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Story Source: Foster's Daily Democrat

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



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