A Lifetime of Service
- Personal Essay
With a decades-long nursing career to her credit, Mary Ann Camp was a hero before she became a Peace Corps Volunteer. Still, while many Americans her age considered retirement, Peace Corps service for Mary Ann meant three tours—in Lesotho, Malawi, and Botswana—tackling health, agriculture, and education problems with her host communities.
Coverdell World Wise Schools asked Mary Ann to share some of her thoughts on different aspects of the African cultures in which she lived. Click on the links for photos, commentary, and questions, all from a Peace Corps perspective.
Children all over the world like to play games. One of the goals of Peace Corps Volunteers is to teach some of the games that we play in America. Perhaps you don't recognize from these photos what these games are because you have learned new games on your Game Boy or on the computer. I bet your teacher will recall relay games like tug-of-war and the wheelbarrow race.
These are children in my Library Club, and we are having an end-of-the-year party. They have learned a lot about classic literature and science projects and have completed a very intense study about HIV/AIDS. They have also learned how to make checkerboards out of recycled cardboard and have used bottle caps as the checkers. They painted them black and red with magic markers.
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Responsibility begins very early in the African villages where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Children accept tasks beginning as early as two years old. Here we see KoKo, age four, doing his daily chore of getting water from the clinic tap. He has been doing this for several years. All metal tins are recycled, and the children start sometimes with only a cup balanced on their heads.
Carrying things on one's head is very useful in African and other cultures around the world. It frees the hands to carry other items, including a child tied to the back. A mother can then use her hands to till the soil or plant seeds, at the same time carrying a container on her head.
The second photo illustrates how the women carry heavy materials on their heads while doing other tasks.
You should try this developed art by balancing books on your head in the classroom. I got to where I could carry a medium-sized basket on my head. Have your teacher help you with this project. back to top
Perhaps you have a younger sibling that your mom takes to a pediatrician to be weighed to see how well the baby is growing. Most of you had the opportunity to do this in America as a natural part of your growing up. Your mom did not have to walk five or more miles to get you weighed or to get your immunizations.
In Africa most parents have to go a long way to receive health care. Sometimes it is too far, so the clinic staff will ride a bicycle or an ambulance to an outreach clinic. The village knows ahead of time when the team will come, so they are prepared to have their children and the growth chart to monitor the baby's growth. The team also brings the baby scale.
Each mother has to bring her own cloth harness to attach to the scale. Can you think of why using individual harnesses might be important? One reason is because you don't want to infect another child with a skin disease such as scabies. Look up that disease on the Internet or in an encyclopedia.
The scale is hung from a tree, and the weight is recorded on the chart. If a baby weighs eight kilograms, how many pounds would that be? The metric system is used in Africa and many other countries around the world. Can you guess how many kilograms the baby that I am holding weighs? The answer is four kilograms. How many pounds does this baby weigh?
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Thabo comes with his mother to the clinic once a week, where she can learn new methods of nourishing her family. In the country of Malawi, there is a season every year that is called "the hungry season." It is the time between the planting and the harvesting, when most families have run out of food. Peace Corps Volunteers who work at the clinics try to explain new ways of adding protein and vitamins to the daily diet.
In this photo you see Thabo, who has just finished his third bowl of porridge and who is still hungry. An egg was cooked in the porridge on this day to add a little more protein. Sometimes there are myths that pregnant mothers should not eat eggs; therefore, the baby is born not as healthy as it could be. The teaching involves ways to add certain tree leaves that are high in Vitamin A. This also enriches Thabo's diet.
It is not uncommon for children to go to the fields during the "hungry season" and catch mice that are barbecued for more protein. The diet also may include termites and ants. I have tried the fried ants, and they taste somewhat like sunflower seeds. Ask your teacher to help you find out more about nutrition in other countries. You could also start a project to send seeds to another country of your choice.