2007.02.21: February 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Togo: Diamondback Online: Kate Eptingis a Peace Corps volunteer, in Togo working to design health education and outreach programs that work to empower women, combat malaria and diminish the stigma surrounding HIV-positive villagers

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Togo: Peace Corps Togo : Peace Corps Togo: Newest Stories: 2007.02.21: February 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Togo: Diamondback Online: Kate Eptingis a Peace Corps volunteer, in Togo working to design health education and outreach programs that work to empower women, combat malaria and diminish the stigma surrounding HIV-positive villagers

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Kate Eptingis a Peace Corps volunteer, in Togo working to design health education and outreach programs that work to empower women, combat malaria and diminish the stigma surrounding HIV-positive villagers

Kate Eptingis a Peace Corps volunteer, in Togo working to design health education and outreach programs that work to empower women, combat malaria and diminish the stigma surrounding HIV-positive villagers

"On the one hand, there seemed to be so much possibility, so many opportunities for work," Epting said in an e-mail interview. "One the other hand, I know there is no way I can address all of the problems in my village. ... And I struggle with how to prioritize needs and how to decide which projects to invest my time and energy in."

Kate Eptingis a Peace Corps volunteer, in Togo working to design health education and outreach programs that work to empower women, combat malaria and diminish the stigma surrounding HIV-positive villagers

Alumna in Africa

Steven Overly

Issue date: 2/21/07

In the East African village of Badougbe, Togo, residents are fond of saying du courage, �a va aller - roughly translated from French as "Hang in there, things will work out." That's a concept 2005 alumna and Peace Corps volunteer Kate Epting has become quite familiar with.

Epting, 23, is a Peace Corps volunteer, and for more than a month she's been busy at work designing the village's first health education and outreach programs that work to empower women, combat malaria and diminish the stigma surrounding HIV-positive villagers. And for all of that time, she's done it alone.

As post-graduate work goes, Epting is among a small number of students working overseas in situations that hardly afford the luxurious surroundings many graduates expect with a university degree. Nevertheless, Epting calls her work both "daunting and exciting," saying the work has taught her some highly valuable organizational skills.

"On the one hand, there seemed to be so much possibility, so many opportunities for work," Epting said in an e-mail interview. "One the other hand, I know there is no way I can address all of the problems in my village. ... And I struggle with how to prioritize needs and how to decide which projects to invest my time and energy in."

Because Epting is doing it alone, she's begun monthly seminars that train villagers as peer educators who help spread the word about preventing sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy and avoiding inter-generational relationships.

[Excerpt]

Susan Epting, Kate's mother, said she worries about health conditions the most. During Epting's junior year, her mother said, she contracted malaria while on a study abroad in Madagascar, even though she received all the required vaccinations. Still, her mother knew there was little that could stop her from heading to Togo.

"She's so passionate about what she does that she gets you crazy," Susan Epting said. "When she believes in something, she'll overcome whatever obstacles there are."

Epting will spend the next two years in Togo, only encountering other Westerners about once a week if she's lucky. She acknowledged grappling with the struggles of cultural isolation on a daily basis, saying language barriers and health practices contrast starkly to those of life in America.

"I miss washing machines, American food and the convenience and accessibility of distractions in the U.S.," Kate said. "I am the only Peace Corps Volunteer in my village, so when something really crazy happens, I can't go down the road and vent to another American about it."

In her village, Epting said, gender disparities are ubiquitous, the contraction of disease is often viewed as the unpreventable will of spirits, and access to proper nutrition and health care is minimal. So education about alternative ways of life can sometimes be challenging, she said.

"There have been moments, usually when I'm tired and have had an exceptionally challenging day, when I think, 'What the hell am I doing here?'" Epting said. "There are times when two years feels like an eternity and I wonder if I will ever leave my village and see my friends and family again."

Kate's feelings aren't out of the ordinary, said Stephen Chapman, a Peace Corps spokesman, but the Peace Corps has a support system in each country for its volunteers.

"I think when you're taken out of your comfort zone, it can be challenging no matter where you are," Chapman said.

But for Epting, the experience has been a life-changing one that she said she'll never regret.

"Now that I'm here I'm glad I didn't let the fear of being away from the U.S. for so long deter me from coming," Kate said. "The way I look at it, I have the rest of my life to live in the U.S., but when else am I going to be able to live in a village in Africa?"

Contact reporter Steven Overly at overlydbk@gmail.com.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

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





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