February 24, 2005: Headlines: COS - Togo: Saline Reporter: Shayna Liston is in a remote village of the strife-torn country of Togo in West Africa, a world away from the comforts of modern civilization

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Togo: Peace Corps Togo : The Peace Corps in Togo: February 24, 2005: Headlines: COS - Togo: Saline Reporter: Shayna Liston is in a remote village of the strife-torn country of Togo in West Africa, a world away from the comforts of modern civilization

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Shayna Liston is in a remote village of the strife-torn country of Togo in West Africa, a world away from the comforts of modern civilization

Shayna Liston is in a remote village of the strife-torn country of Togo in West Africa, a world away from the comforts of modern civilization

Shayna Liston is in a remote village of the strife-torn country of Togo in West Africa, a world away from the comforts of modern civilization

Volunteer embodies spirit of Peace Corps

By Tom Kirvan, Editor

PUBLISHED: February 24, 2005

Caption: With help from other Peace Corps volunteers, Shayna Liston entertained a crowd on onlookers during a health education event in Togo, which is sandwiched between Ghana and Benin on the Gulf of Guinea.

She graduated magna cum laude last spring and earned Phi Betta Kappa distinction at the University of San Diego.

But academic honors mean little when you're in a remote village of the strife-torn country of Togo in West Africa, a world away from the comforts of modern civilization.

It is there that Shayna Liston, a 2001 graduate of Saline High School, is some six months into a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, the dream of JFK that in reality is far removed from any notion of Camelot.

"My post, Bitchabe, is a tiny town of around 1,000 inhabitants," Shayna wrote in a recent letter to her father, Kalian Liston, a Saline attorney. "The villagers speak (mainly) Bassar. Sometimes they speak French too (if you're lucky) but it's heavily accented. My house is tiny—three rooms. There's no running water or electricity, but I have a nice latrine and take at least two or three bucket showers per day. I'm excited to work in the village . . . I am planning on setting up a health class (teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS will most like top the agenda) and set up a girls' soccer team. I'm really excited to use the guitar to play educational songs about health issues (a.k.a. 'Use the mosquito net,' 'Boil that water,' etc.). I'll have lots of time to perfect my skills—believe me, there isn't a whole lot going on in this sleepy village."

The note was written before a series of demonstrations rocked the nation's capital, Lome, earlier this month after protesters battled with police over the installation of a new president. Three people reportedly were killed and dozens wounded when police fired at demonstrators protesting the appointment of the army-installed president.

"The Peace Corps immediately declared for their volunteers a 'stand fast' condition, which meant that all of the volunteers were collected from their posts and kept in a safe location for a period of time, with daily reassessment by the Peace Corps as to what should happen," said Kalian Liston from his law office in Saline. "Alternatives could have been to take them all out of the country, back to Washington, and decide from there. Instead, the situation seems to have normalized to the extend that the volunteers have been released back to their villages. Shayna herself went back to her village. With her irrepressible spirit, Shayna described her condition as not only just fine, but 'dandy." Then again, she was speaking to a worried dad."

Foreign challenges are nothing new to Shayna, who completed her degree in political science in three years, graduating eighth out of her class of 1,200. Her background at Saline High included the National Honor Society, proficiency in Spanish, and four years of soccer and cross country. Since high school, she has lived and studied in Santiago, Chile. She later lived in Brazil, learning Portuguese. She later returned to Chile and also back to Brazil to intern with the Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) for Social Justice in Rio de Janeiro where she learned French. Now fluent in four languages, Shayna worked in college as a Spanish PA for three years, teaching Spanish I and Spanish II to other University of San Diego students.

"Things are so very different here on so many levels," Shayna wrote of her experience in Togo. "It's definitely the most trying experience I've had in my whole life. Even the poverty in Brazil, which was very bad in many areas, is not exactly on the same level as here. Here, it's just about making it to the next day. But you could never meet a more energized, persevering, and happy group of people. It truly is amazing. Now I realize the easy life of luxury so many Americans take for granted . . . not having to hand wash anything or cook from scratch in blazing heat. But that is life here."

She describes her house as "tiny—I'd say about a third the size of the garage." It is divided into three rooms and the walls are "whitewashed" blue and are crumbling at the bottom. The ceiling is made of plywood.

"I hear mice a lot, but thankfully 'Togo' the cat keeps that problem in check for me," she mused. "My furniture is still being made, but now I have a bed and foam mattress, two wooden tables, a few chairs, and a pantry. I hung up my hammock and read a lot there—sometimes I sleep there if I get too hot in my room. I sleep with no sheet or anything—even that's too hot!"

She, a fair-haired American with a captivating smile, is in need of another household item.


"I have to get some real curtains made because most kids will just stand and look in at me through the windows—for like 20 minutes," Shayna reported. "I feel like a goldfish (or maybe a gorilla at the zoo), but to them I am strange, new, and exciting. Most of them have never seen a white person before. This means also that I get touched a whole lot because kids are curious to see what white skin feels like, or what my hair feels like. . . Even the adults look in."

Each day, a group of about 10 kids "chills in my compound," hoping undoubtedly that she will get out her guitar and strum a few songs.

"They all crowd up around me very close and are very attentive and interested," said Shayna, the daughter of Emmy Liston. "Since they don't understand, sometimes I try to sing phrases in Bassar. They go wild for that. I really do need to learn more Bassar."

Yet, the young woman from the small town of Saline is a quick study by nature. There, smack dab in the throes of the Third World, she is learning the realities of everyday life.

"The people really are great," she said. "The kids are full of energy and always so happy. They might not have any toys, might have a ton of chores, might be completely filthy and have two pairs of pants total with holes in them, but they're happy. I think how I was when I was little and I feel really guilty. I know I was a hard kid. I had so much stuff—clothes, toys, hell, health care, education! All this I took for granted. Here they have little to share between many. Four kids crammed into a desk sharing one book. Forget the stinking toys. There is more need for books and the knowledge that will keep them healthy and happy."

Her father, a Hopwood Award winner during his undergraduate days at the University of Michigan, admires his daughter's spunk, her resiliency, and determination.

"I had no doubt about those qualities, starting from her early years," he reflected. "She has always been an unusual personality: independent, self-assured, defiant at times. Had she chosen a life of crime, she would now be in control of some large criminal organization. But she chose education, and she chose to reach out to other people in need. Hence, the Peace Corps."

For Shayna, it has been well worth the trip—and the stay.

"These people here have much to teach me—about human compassion and connection, patience, the value of community," she said. "I know in some way I was supposed to end up here in this random village in the hills of West Africa, but we'll see why."

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

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Story Source: Saline Reporter

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