2007.02.08: February 8, 2007: Headlines: COS - Mongolia: Marco Island Sun-Times: Stephanie Trafton serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mongolia: Peace Corps Mongolia : The Peace Corps in Mongolia: 2007.02.08: February 8, 2007: Headlines: COS - Mongolia: Marco Island Sun-Times: Stephanie Trafton serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia

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Stephanie Trafton serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia

Stephanie Trafton serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia

Scarfs and hats are no longer a fashion statement. She wakes to a frozen water bucket and almost everything else in her ger. She's had to chop off blocks of ice and put them in her water boiler to make her morning tea everyday trying not to think of her frozen toes. "Jumping from Florida weather to this makes me think that I just might have skipped a few baby steps," Stephanie laughingly said, "but all of this is making me stronger. I go to bed with three pairs of socks, long underwear, pajamas, two undershirts, and a sweater. "I find that cocooning myself inside my sleeping bag liner, zipping myself up all the way and covering myself with another thick blanket on top does the trick."

Stephanie Trafton serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia

Island takes volunteer assignment in Mongolia

By: 02/08/2007

Stephanie Trafton, daughter of Ace Hardware owner Steve Trafton, was in her second year of college when she became motivated to join the Peace Corps and become a volunteer.

Graduating with a major in Secondary Education, she applied for and went through the rigorous application system to become a volunteer, which generally takes six months to a year before being accepted.

When she was finally admitted to the organization, she was given a choice of a country she wanted to learn about and volunteer in. She left it up to the organization and they chose Mongolia for her, which she accepted.

Mongolia, located in Northern Asia between China and Russia is high, cold, and dry.

It has an extreme continental climate with long, cold winters and short summers, during which most precipitation falls.

Mongolia's weather is characterized by extreme variability and short-term unpredictability in the summer, and the multiyear averages conceal wide variations in precipitation, dates of frosts, and occurrences of blizzards and spring dust storms.

In June 2006, Stephanie arrived in Khujirt, the 13th century capital of the great Mongolian Empire. She arrived somewhat overwhelmed.

In a cell phone interview to her in Mongolia last week, Stephanie related the following: "Picture this," she explained. "You're dropped off in front of a ger (a nomadic felt dome tent) that is completely bare (sans a wooden futon that is broken, and two cabinets), you don't know anybody besides the director of the school who knows absolutely no English, you're hungry but have no electricity yet, and no wood for the stove.

"The only water you have is the stuff in your Nalgene bottle because you don't know where the well is yet, and school wasn't starting for two days. The director said you should be 'amarij bain' (resting)."

That didn't dissuade her from changing her mind.

To her, it was a way of experiencing life. She left her ger, went for a walk, found the girst delguur (little shop) and made friends with the owner who told her about the town. The owner's daughter took her on a tour.

Staying with a Mongolian family for four months, she studied the Mongolian language and customs four-and-one-half hours a day.

She later moved to her own ger where she lives alone, and at this time of year, it is winter. According to Stephanie's heat scale, she ranks the weather "freaking cold!"

Scarfs and hats are no longer a fashion statement. She wakes to a frozen water bucket and almost everything else in her ger.

She's had to chop off blocks of ice and put them in her water boiler to make her morning tea everyday trying not to think of her frozen toes.

Every three or four weeks, she goes on a re-supply trip. It is four to five hours to a larger village where there are usually other Peace Corps volunteers and she'll stay with them as a sort of mini-vacation.

Leaving on a Friday, she returns on Sunday. To get from place to place, she has to try to find rides wherever she goes.

As a vegetarian, it's difficult since Mongolia is a meat-eating country and she must be careful of dairy products and water.

"Jumping from Florida weather to this makes me think that I just might have skipped a few baby steps," Stephanie laughingly said, "but all of this is making me stronger. I go to bed with three pairs of socks, long underwear, pajamas, two undershirts, and a sweater.

"I find that cocooning myself inside my sleeping bag liner, zipping myself up all the way and covering myself with another thick blanket on top does the trick."

Born on Marco
Since she was born and raised on Marco Island, the first snow she saw was on her birthday in Mongolia.

She loves it and finds it to be 'pretty' especially when looking out the window. Stephanie loves what she is doing and thinks the Mongolians are amazing and very friendly.

It's not always that cold in Khujirt, however.

Summer may go as high as 38 degrees C. Stephanie will stay there for two-and-one-half years. As a volunteer, she receives a monthly allowance of $120 that supports her food and living expenses.

She teaches grades 6 to 11 but does other projects as well. One of Stephanie's goals is to build a Resource Room. Currently the students don't have pencils, and sometimes lessons are made up by her.

She said it's difficult. With only a handful of books, she is trying to get books for the 1st grade to 4th grade levels and nothing above that.

Books such as Dr. Seuss or grammar books with no more than 30 pages and large letters are needed for this project. She also has an English club in the afternoons where the students play games.

Although there is one school from Kindergarten to grade 11 with a dormitory next door called a Hudoo (phonetic spelling) which means countryside, children from other villages stay at the dormitory.

Classes are separated by grades. The children speak Mongolian and have a different alphabet. But Stephanie is persevering in teaching them and feels that she is accomplishing something.

"It's amazing. You learn so much about the people," she said. "Mongolians love foreigners, especially in the villages. A lot of my students have never seen an American before," she continued.

Although there is little electricity in Mongolia, her parents bought her a laptop. She can send e-mail but cannot get on the Internet.

In speaking with her father, Steve, and sister, Jennifer, they said they were afraid for her at first but knew this was what she wanted.

"We were anxious and concerned whether or not we would be able to communicate with her," Trafton stated. Fortunately, there is very good cell phone service and he was quite pleased that it was available.

"We talk to her three to four times a week. It's real important to Stephanie and to us to know we can keep in constant touch through the cell phone. It gives her a chance to keep her sanity in line. It may be the only time during the week that she'll speak English," Trafton noted.

Funny stories
He mentioned other things about Stephanie's life in Mongolia and told some of her funny stories. He and his wife will be going to China this summer and Stephanie will be meeting them there for one week.

She's allowed a total of 45 days within two years where she can travel. The Peace Corps will pay for travel within the region and China is within that region. With tears in his eyes, Trafton said how proud he and his wife are of Stephanie.

"We miss her and she's a good kid."

Jennifer Trafton said, "She's my younger sister and I really admire her. She has a lot of strength. I think it's really admirable, interesting, and an awesome thing to do. I'm very proud to have her as my sister over there," she said.

Stephanie Trafton is a truly dedicated Peace Corps volunteer.

When her tour of duty is over, she has one-and-one-half years to decide to take another assignment or to take a Leadership Program. Her tour will be over in 2008 and as she put it, "Once a Peace Corps member, always a Peace Corps member." She ends her emails to her family with, "From the beautiful land of Mongolia."

To donate books for Stephanie's Resource Room for grades 1 through 4 as stated above, please bring them to Marco Ace Hardware located at 880 E. Elkcam Circle, Marco Island, e-mail him at AceTrafton@aol.com or call him 394-3657. He will make sure she receives them.

For more information on the Peace Corps, visit their Web site at www.peacecorps.gov.

©Marco Island Sun Times 2007

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: February, 2007; Peace Corps Mongolia; Directory of Mongolia RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Mongolia RPCVs

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Story Source: Marco Island Sun-Times

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