Peace Corps Volunteer Helps Build 60 Homes For Refugees in Nicaragua; After Hurricane Struck Last Year, Oakland Resident Motivates Community to Build `Paradise'

August 25, 1999

Washington, D.C., August 31, 1999—Peace Corps volunteer Alexandra Harley, 27, of Oakland, Calif., is doing something extraordinary for the people in Malpaisillo, Nicaragua. She's helping them build new homes.

After Hurricane Mitch ripped through the region last fall, flooding and destroying homes, land, and families, Harley quietly initiated a plan to help refugee families in Malpaisillo build 60 new homes.

"We are proud of the hard work Alexandra has done, both in the schools and in her community," said Peace Corps Nicaragua Country Director Howard Lyon. "Alexandra embodies the best qualities of a Peace Corps volunteer—patience, dedication, and the determination to see a project through. She has truly made a difference in people's lives, and the residents of Malpaisillo will always remember her."

When the hurricane struck, Malpaisillo, located about 20 miles from Posoltega where a major landslide occurred, was greatly affected by the storm. Harley was away from her site, receiving additional language training near Managua, the capital, and went back to her town resolved to immediately assist those most affected by the disaster. She and a group of local school teachers organized an emergency committee that planned and executed relief efforts, including distributing food, water, baby formula, and medicine.

Motivated and inspired by her community, Harley quickly began to organize recovery efforts with local leaders, raising money from non-profit organizations and other donations to build new homes for those in need. She is the catalyst in the community for the 60 new houses currently being built by the refugee families who will occupy them. The houses include a garden for each family, latrines, and water wells. Harley has also maintained a 500-tree nursery, including hard-wood trees and fruit trees, for the community. The families who will occupy the homes decided to name their new community El Paraiso, which is Spanish for Paradise.

Harley began her Peace Corps service in March 1998, as an environmental education teacher for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders in four local schools. As part of her work with the schools, Harley and other Peace Corps volunteers in Nicaragua have written a 300-page environmental guide, complete with lesson plans, for teachers of primary grades. She has also created a guidebook of activities for environmental lessons. The children in her classes helped draw pictures for the guidebook and came up with activities for each of the letters A through Z.

Harley is one of more than 130 Peace Corps volunteers currently working in Nicaragua. Since the Peace Corps was founded by President John. F. Kennedy in 1961, more than 155,000 Americans have joined, serving in 134 countries. Today, 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in 77 countries, working in education, the environment, health and nutrition, business advising, and community development.

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