January 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ghana: Alternatives: Florida Today: Even for experienced Peace Corps volunteers, working in refugee camps are the hardest of all

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ghana: Peace Corps Ghana : The Peace Corps in Ghana: January 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ghana: Alternatives: Florida Today: Even for experienced Peace Corps volunteers, working in refugee camps are the hardest of all

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-13-244.balt.east.verizon.net - on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 10:58 pm: Edit Post

Even for experienced Peace Corps volunteers, working in refugee camps are the hardest of all

Even for experienced Peace Corps volunteers, working in refugee camps are the hardest of all

Even for experienced Peace Corps volunteers, working in refugee camps are the hardest of all

Student camps for charity in Africa

After stints in China, Romania, college student teaches English in Ghana


Caption: Kristy Gray packs for her trip to Africa. Image by Emily Barnes, FLORIDA TODAY

Kristy Gray can't forget being chastised for holding a baby in her arms while volunteering at an orphanage in China last summer.

"It's not that these people who work there are mean or hate kids," Gray says of the orphanage's caregivers. "But once you pick up a baby, it will start wanting to be held all the time. It will cry more."

With nearly 30 infants and only two workers, there just wasn't enough human contact to go around. So instead, workers -- and Gray -- had to resort to plan B. Babies are leaned up against walls, their bottles are propped up against blankets so they can eat on their own with minimal attention.

As the babies grow, some of them have heads that have been flattened from spending so much time in the crib. Some suffer physical disabilities because no one has taught them how to walk.

Undaunted, Gray, 21, has taken another trip overseas to help the less fortunate. This time, she's teaching English at a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana for three months.

"The majority of people live in shacks or shanties -- I barely live in something more," she said in an e-mail she sent her mother, Virginia Gray, after she arrived in Ghana last week. "I remember everyone freaking out during the hurricanes because of lack of this and that -- yeah, no comparison."

To hear her mother tell it, Kristy Gray has always strived to live outside of her comfort zone.

This is why she can admit to having eaten fish eyes, pig's blood, coconut soup, chicken feet, cow stomach and other atypical entrees for most Americans but common menu options in China.

Still, on her way to the airport last Tuesday, she sounded more resolved than gung-ho about her trip. She knows she's not going on a vacation.

"My house is on the outskirts of camp so I can walk out and see the African landscape -- very beautiful," she said in the e-mail to her mother. "Most of it smells like urine and feces, but no worries."

Despite her previous work in China -- and before that, in Romania "this trip is a little different, it's Africa after all," she said.

For now, she likens going to Africa to a camping trip. A long camping trip.

That means no electricity or convenience stores that will provide creature comforts such as toilet paper, flash lights and candles.

She packed all that ahead of time.

"Even for experienced Peace Corps volunteers, working in refugee camps are the hardest of all," says Andrew Grunke of Cocoa Beach, who taught physics to African high school kids in Kenya while volunteering with the Peace Corps in the mid '90s. "These are people who have been displaced. Some have been terrorized by war. It takes someone with determination and guts to do what she's doing. Having been overseas, she obviously knows she's not going to a happy place. Life is going to be hard."

Before she left for her trip last week, Gray was aware of what she was about to face -- intellectually anyway.

She knows she will be working in a camp that houses more than 30,000 refugees. She will be living in a place where necessities such as water are in short supply.

The needs she plans to experience first hand will help her write a thesis about war trauma and children.

She has been able to finance her travel expenses via programs at the University of Florida, where she is a student.

But her motivation goes back to high school when she began to encounter authority figures who wouldn't let her slide.

She particularly remembers how Mark Tassone, her basketball coach at Bayside High School in Palm Bay, persuaded her to keep trying.

"My ability to hang in there goes back to how he taught me to work and live," she said. "He taught me about being successful on the court and in life," she said.

Tassone -- who also has taught physical education for nearly 20 years at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School -- tries to motivate all of his students to work beyond their limits.

"But Kristy took it to heart," Tassone said. "If anything, she could actually be too hard on herself. But look what she's been able to do." But it was more than his lip service that inspired Gray, she said.

He would provide her basketball shoes when she couldn't afford them.

When she couldn't get a ride to practice, he'd pick her up.

"I saw growing up the difference one person can make in another's life," she said. "This is something I want pass on."

Contact Hickman at 242-3789 or bhickman@flatoday.net

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

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Story Source: Florida Today

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



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