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Nigeria: Peace Corps shaped town – and volunteer

Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California


Charlene Baldwin, the dean of Chapman University's Leatherby Libraries, was invited to speak to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers at the Center for Living Peace in Irvine on March 2, celebrating the conclusion of Peace Corps Week.

Baldwin's presentation, “Forty Years in an African Village,” highlighted four decades of work that began when she was 19 and newly married. She brought Nigerian food, crafts and pictures from her trips to share with attendees, but she also brought her story. And if it weren't for the Peace Corps, she might not have gotten her start in library work.

Her road to becoming a librarian started in a jail in Nigeria.

She wasn't in trouble and hadn't done anything wrong – she and her husband were Peace Corps volunteers in the village of Lalupon in the late 1960s. The villagers, who had no running water, roads or electricity, wanted one thing specifically – a place to get books to read. The only available structure in the village that would possibly work was the old jail. So, Baldwin's first efforts in library work landed her on the inside of a jail, armed with cans of paint, bookshelf materials and boxes of literature that her parents had collected and shipped to Nigeria.

“These became life-changing events that led me to choose my career, I knew I wanted to be a librarian because of the deal of (building) the library,” Baldwin said.

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