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Profile: Denise Nina Hernandez

South Africa

In June of 1999, New York City native Nina Hernandez finished her two years of Peace Corps service in South Africa just as the country, devastated by apartheid, went through elections and bid farewell to President Mandela.

In February 1997, Ms. Hernandez set off to South Africa with 20 other Peace Corps Volunteers who were members of the first ever group to serve there. The Peace Corps' entry into South Africa began with President Mandela's state visit to the White House in 1994 when he asked President Clinton to help him address the social and economic challenges facing his country.

A 1994 graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University, Ms. Hernandez, 28, served as a school and community resource volunteer in the former Lebowa Homeland, one of 10 homelands in South Africa established for Blacks under the apartheid regime. She assisted primary school educators there to integrate the first non-racist national curriculum into its schools.

In addition to her primary job, Ms. Hernandez worked on HIV/AIDS awareness projects, and served as a project consultant for rural small-income generating enterprises run by women.

Asked what her best memories were of her two-year experience, she said, "meeting regularly with the women of the village, sitting outdoors to discuss strategies and community development ideas and laughing and singing." When recanting stories of her site, the small capital of Lebowa which had no electricity upon her arrival, she beams with excitement, particularly as she discusses her South African friends and "second" family.

Ms. Hernandez began classes September 1999 at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

Denise Hernandez (South Africa)

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