July 3, 2005: Headlines: COS - Swaziland: Married Couples: Foster's Online: Lauren Winterhole and Craig Stephan serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Swaziland: Peace Corps Swaziland: The Peace Corps in Swaziland: July 3, 2005: Headlines: COS - Swaziland: Married Couples: Foster's Online: Lauren Winterhole and Craig Stephan serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland

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Lauren Winterhole and Craig Stephan serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland

Lauren Winterhole and Craig Stephan serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland

The invitation for the adventure arrived two days before their April 30 wedding. The letters of acceptance arrived with unexpected timing, since they had both applied for the Peace Corps more than a year ago.

Lauren Winterhole and Craig Stephan serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland

Making the commitment: Madbury couple begins married life by living in Swaziland
Peace Corps volunteers to help educate villagers about AIDS/HIV

By MARY ULINSKI
Staff Writer

Editor's note: From time to time during the next two years we will provide updates to our readers from Craig Stephan and Lauren Winterhole in Swaziland.

Newlyweds Lauren Winterhole and Craig Stephan are beginning life together by living in a different culture and in a country that's thousands of miles from home.

On June 8, the Madbury couple left for the Kingdom of Swaziland, South Africa, where they will spend the next two years working as volunteers with the Peace Corps.

The invitation for the adventure arrived two days before their April 30 wedding. The letters of acceptance arrived with unexpected timing, since they had both applied for the Peace Corps more than a year ago.

Craig and Lauren were instructed to be in Philadelphia for a brief orientation and immunizations on June 6 before traveling to their country of destination for training. When they arrive in Swaziland they will receive three months of training before going into the designated village where they will be working.

Their assignment is no small task. They will be educating teachers in the small country (about the size of New Jersey) about AIDS/HIV, a disease that affects more than 40 percent of the population the highest incidence of AIDS/HIV in the world.

Following their wedding, the couple traveled to Belize in the Caribbean for a two-week honeymoon before their next adventure begins.

In Belize, they explored Mayan ruins and climbed to the highest temple; enjoyed fresh mangoes, fish and cashews; saw and heard the howler monkeys and colorful toucans; dined by lanterns in a thatched cabana and went on a "croc" hunt with some of the natives. "Every minute was filled with something new and amazing," said Lauren.

When they returned home, Lauren says, "We were in complete chaos." There was so much to do and so little time. There was a lot of packing to do and decisions to make. They were excited, yet overwhelmed. The house had to be cleaned and rented out, items and furnishings packed away. There were friends and family to say goodbye to.

For the next two years they will travel light.

They had to decide what clothing to bring and what items to fit into the backpacks each will carry. "Between the two of us, we'll have two medium-sized backpacks and two small backpacks with a total maximum weight of 160 pounds," says Lauren. "And really, each of us should only pack about 50 pounds."

They were told that in Swaziland "the upper leg is taboo." The women wear long dark earthtone skirts because of the dusty roads, said Lauren, and Craig has to keep in mind that "men don't wear shorts."

Lauren said she was able to pick up a couple of long dark skirts at the local Goodwill store that will be perfect for her new lifestyle.

Both say they feel good about reducing the material items they will need and simplifying their lives.

"It was perfect timing," says Craig, who was just laid off from his job at Enterasys in Rochester, where he was designing switches for data communication. "It's time for a gear shift in my career. It will be different use of my brain a challenge."

Craig, armed with a BS in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytech, has been in the high tech field since he graduated in 1994 and began his career with Cabletron in Rochester. He says he looks forward to the adventure. It's good to "change it up a little," he says with a smile, "I'll find out what I'm capable of. Life can become comfortable with routine, so much so that you forget to live. Spending the day in front of a computer monitor you can lose touch with civilization."

Craig says his co-workers were supportive when they heard about his plans. Go for it, they said. Their advice was: Do what you want to do. There were no negatives from them. However, Craig's brother at first thought he was "not being rational," but has since come to accept the change as a positive challenge.

For Lauren, who has a BA in English from UNH, the social and volunteer work will be a continuation of what she has been doing all along. Since graduation in '99, she has worked for AmeriCorps Victim Assistance out of Rochester and for A Safe Place, where she worked as a court advocate for victims of domestic violence.

Lauren says she's always wanted to be in the Peace Corps. She sees it as the "ultimate volunteer experience." Growing up she was acquainted with people who had served in the Peace Corps and their stories fascinated her.

She believes in "giving life to helping people and their problems." Lauren looks forward to cooking and talking and just experiencing everyday life with women of a different culture. She says she wants to make sure the moments of her life are meaningful.

One might wonder, how did two such diverse people meet?

They both took up running.

Lauren found running a healthy outlet for stress. Impressed with the benefits of running, she began the Girls on the Run program in New Hampshire with her best friend and running partner, Lyndi Sargent. She was invited to speak to the Rochester Runners Club about the program that encourages young girls to run as a way to build self-esteem and prepare them for a lifetime of healthy living.

Craig took up running and joined the Rochester Runners Club, where he found a supportive group of "amigos" to challenge him. He has since become a strong competitive runner in the Seacoast in 5Ks, 10Ks half-marathons, and to date has done 16 marathons.

Although Craig was at the club meeting when Lauren spoke, it wasn't until later at the Big Lake Half-Marathon in May 2003 that they had their first conversation. She was a volunteer; he was a runner. Then in November 2003 when he was race director for the Freefall Classic road race, sponsored by the Rochester Runners Club, she was once again a volunteer. Craig sent her a thank you note for her help and she responded with ways to improve the race. They met for coffee to talk about it, and the relationship began.

To prepare for their stay in Swaziland, Craig and Lauren learned all they could about the country, its history and the Swazi people, who are known for their friendliness and warmth.

The country's independence from the British was granted in 1968. It has since been a monarchy. It is led by His Majesty King Mswati III, who has several wives. In the 1990s the monarchy was pressured to allow some political reform and greater democracy. Africa's smallest country is noted for having one of the most easy going and laid-back lifestyles. It is landlocked between Mozambique and South Africa. The capitol is Mbabane. It is a country rich with heritage rituals, dance, music, folklore, arts and crafts.

Subsistance agriculture occupies most of the population (just over one million). The life expectancy is 38.62 years. Forty-seven percent of the population is under age 15. Sixty-six percent live in poverty.

The country's business language is English, however Craig and Lauren will be learning Siswati, which is the everyday language used in the villages.

"We know it will be a hard life," says Craig. They may or may not have electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. Most people don't. They will live in a small house of one to three rooms. The outlying areas are said to be tranquil with a sense of timelessness.

The most difficult part of their life and the work will be seeing the illness and death among the children, orphans and people they will meet.

In contrast there is much beauty to be found. Sunsets over Africa are said to be unparalleled. The climate ranges from 40-85 degrees Fahrenheit. The terrain is hilly and mountainous, sometimes referred to as the "Switzerland of Africa." Fruits, such as oranges and mangoes and vegetables will be seasonal and fresh. Craig and Lauren expect they will have their own garden.

Lauren looks forward to being part of Swaziland's reed and fruit festival in December. That's the time when the fruits ripen and are ready for harvest. The festive event includes dancing, music and costumes. In a special ceremony the king is the first to taste of the fruit before it gets harvested throughout the country.

The countryside in nearby South Africa includes some large national parks, which they can explore on safaris. They expect to see giraffes, unusual birds and other animals, including tigers, elephants and rhinos in the wild. They accumulate two vacation days per month and get a monthly travel stipend, so they look forward to visiting areas such as Madagascar, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

As far as their work there, "We may not see the difference we'll be making, but everything we do will impact something. Most likely we will be the only white folks in the village, so our every move will be noticed and noted." The nearest Peace Corps Volunteer to them will be within a one-hour walk.

In the area of AIDS/HIV education any progress matters. In addition to educating teachers, they will also be doing other work, such as helping with paperwork to receive grants and funds for the clinics.

Once they return, they will share their experiences with school children. Craig's mother is a teacher in Connecticut and will share information with her class and Lauren will send news to a third-grade class in Newport, N.H., which is near where she grew up in Goshen.

Craig expects that he will continue to get up early and go for a run as part of his daily routine. He has hopes of converting children in the village to join him. From what he has heard the Swazis think running is funny and has no purpose, unlike natives of other African countries. What's the hurry? He's hoping that he might be able to change their attitude.

For the next two months they will be learning customs and the Siswati language with about 30 other volunteers in a rural community that won't have Internet access, so during this time they will be out of touch with friends and family.

The morning they left New Hampshire, they had their moments of wonder and queasiness, "What are we doing?" We could turn around right now. "Is there something we've missed or forgotten?"

"Some say that we are being courageous," said Craig. It will be a challenge. We will see what we are capable of and confront our fears.

It's an amazing way to be starting our life together, says Lauren. "We will bring back what we learn to share with everyone."

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship. To find out more about the Peace Corps visit www.peacecorps.gov.





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Story Source: Foster's Online

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Swaziland; Married Couples

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