Peace Corps Volunteer Zachary Merrill Dies

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11, 2003 – Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced today with deep regret the death of Zachary Merrill, a 23-year old Peace Corps volunteer serving in the West African country of Mali. Zachary was found at his site on Monday, July 7.

“This is a tremendous loss for the Peace Corps and especially the program in Mali,” stated Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. “Zack was a model volunteer who gave selflessly of his time, talents, and energy. He was a leader among his peers, and was committed to the mission of the Peace Corps and the people in the village of Kampolosso. While Zack will be sorely missed, his dedication to helping others will live on in the numerous projects he completed during his service.”

Zack was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer on November 1, 2001, and while he was scheduled to complete his service this coming November, Zack had requested a one-year service extension to work in the area of information technology. A U.S. resident of Portland, Oregon, and a graduate of Northwestern University, he was living in the village of Kampolosso, in the county of Bla, which is located in the center of Mali.

At the beginning of his Peace Corps service, Zack coordinated a community needs assessment in his village. Men, women, and young people identified the strengths and resources in their community, as well as their development needs. As a result of this process, the village decided that they were interested in starting a women’s gardening project.

With the support of his community, his counterpart, Seydou Sonogo, Peace Corps staff, and a grant from USAID’s Small Project Assistance fund, Zack coordinated the construction of two wells, as well as the training of a team of men in the village to build other wells. The area for the garden was fenced, and as of today, the village women have begun dividing the garden into plots. This garden project was the first project in a five-year development plan for the village of Kampolosso.

Zack did considerable work in his village promoting sanitation in the community. Through informal health education talks at his site and at a nearby health center, Zack helped community members clean up standing water and other health hazards.

Zack Merrill, or Mahamedou Dembele, as he was known in his village, spent a great deal of time with his host family and other elders in the village. He was much loved by his host family and considered his host father one of his most important supports in Mali.

Zack was a key part of Peace Corps Mali’s training program. Not only was he the local volunteer expert on implementation of community-based needs assessment, but he was also an enthusiastic trainer at Pre-Service Training. In addition to leading formal technical training sessions at the Peace Corps training site, Zack hosted five Peace Corps trainees at his site for two weeks during the final phases of his well construction project.

Zack was an exceptional volunteer in many ways. He was known for his calm and analytical approach to problem-solving, his positive role in promoting volunteer individual responsibility, and his professional and respectful interactions with staff, volunteers, and village collaborators. Zack was exceptional in his willingness to take on new challenges. He was the first volunteer to do a community needs analysis in his village and the first to follow through on the village development plan. He was also one of the first to see the promise of technology in the development of Mali and was working closely with staff to implement a new information technology initiative in Mali.

Stated Mali Peace Corps Country Director Byron Battle, “The Peace Corps family and host family in Mali are deeply saddened by the news of Zack Merrill’s sudden death. Zack was truly one of our most outstanding volunteers in Mali. He had wonderful relationships wit Zack was truly one of our most outstanding volunteers in Mali. He had wonderful relationships with his Malian partners and his fellow volunteers, and undertook very successful development projects for his village in the areas of agriculture and water sanitation. Zack was eager to extend his Peace Corps service in Mali for a third year and had formally requested this extension, which had been granted. Zack was a special and gifted volunteer whom we will miss terribly, but remember fondly.”

Zack’s parents, Andy and Karen, and his younger brother, Tim, are shocked and profoundly saddened by his loss. “We are so incredibly proud of his many accomplishments in life and his deep commitment to the Peace Corps,” commented his father, Andy. “His opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps enriched his life beyond words, and we will treasure our rich memories of his experiences there.”

His mother Karen said, “It is difficult for us to imagine life without him. We are all incredibly glad that he and his brother, Tim, had the opportunity to visit and travel together throughout West Africa last summer. Throughout his short life, Zack experienced more, accomplished more, and touched more lives than many people do in a lifetime. The outpouring of love and support from friends from grade school, high school, college, and the Peace Corps has been overwhelming. We will all miss him dearly.”

Peace Corps staff and volunteers in Mali will hold a memorial service in Zack’s honor on Friday, July 11, at the Peace Corps Post in Mali. The Merrill Family plans to have a memorial service in Portland at a later date.

The Peace Corps is participating in the ongoing investigation led by the local Mali Police and the U. S. Embassy regarding the circumstances surrounding Zachary Merrill’s death. The cause of death will be determined once the investigation is complete.

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