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Blessing U.

“I enjoy making new friends in the community and love how people are always looking out for me and helping me when needed.”

Blessing U headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

As a Nigerian American who grew up in Nigeria until the age of seven, I learned about Nigerian culture from my parents, who taught my siblings and me the language and incorporated Nigerian food into our diets. Thus began my journey of learning about different cultures, especially African cultures.

In the summer of 2016, my brother and I traveled to visit our extended family in Nigeria and saw how differently people lived. For example, in Nigeria the electricity is not consistent. The lights would be on for a few hours and then randomly cut off, but I saw how my grandmother adapted and went about her day either using a flashlight or candle.

The lack of electricity in Nigeria was one among many things I became accustomed to, and I revered my grandmother for showing me a different way of life. Through my positive and negative experiences in that summer trip to Nigeria, I realized I wanted to do something to reduce poverty and boost economic growth on the continent. I also wanted to learn how to effectively communicate and interact with others. Ultimately, my experience in Nigeria solidified my decision to serve in the Peace Corps.

2. What projects are you working on?

My main project focuses on malnutrition among pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under the age of five. For example, my counterpart, Amara, and I hosted a cooking demonstration at the health center where we discussed diverse foods that mothers can incorporate in their children’s diets to support their nutrition. All attendees were involved in meal preparation, and I drew different foods to show and explain nutritious options to the audience. I also explained how to identify a child who is malnourished. The event was well received, and we’re planning to host more cooking demonstrations in our area.

After the cooking demonstration, a woman invited me to her house so I could show her foods to make for her children. We used corn flour, peanut oil, peanut butter, and sugar to make porridge. She said she’d continue making this meal so that her 9-month-old twins would get diverse foods and improved nutrition.

To reinforce this work, my counterpart and I visit different villages to identify malnourished children and discuss solutions with families, including referring children to the health center where they can receive dietary supplements.

I also work with my community to raise awareness about malaria prevention. I collaborate with staff from the President’s Malaria Initiative to trap mosquitos so we can measure the prevalence of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the area. The data we collect helps make people in my community and neighboring areas more aware of changes they need to make to prevent malaria and more knowledgeable about the disease. When Amara and I went to another village to discuss malaria prevention, we noticed stagnant water nearby. After the session, participants were eager to address the stagnant water issue, as it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Together we covered the water with mud and sand.

Blessing and community member prepare mosquito traps in Guinea.
Blessing and her counterpart Amara prepare to set up mosquito traps in Guinea.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

The most important thing to do when integrating into a new community is learn the language. In Guinea, French is widely spoken, but many other languages are spoken in the village. When I leave my house, I greet neighbors and the people I see in their Susu language.

I also visit my neighbors and practice my language skills with them while learning to cook traditional Guinean meals. Sometimes, I also cook at home and share some of my food with my community, as a way of sharing my culture. Sometimes ingredients at site are limited, so I find myself repeating meals, which is fine. I’ve made jollof rice, spaghetti with sauce, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc.

4. What is the highlight of your time in service so far?

The cooking demonstrations have been the highlight of my service so far. I am usually reserved, but the Peace Corps is bringing me out of my comfort zone, which I appreciate. The work that went into the cooking demonstration and then having such a great turnout was a big milestone for me. It showed me that taking initiative can pay off. I appreciate the support my community gives me when they show up and get involved in the different activities my counterparts and I are working on. I’m still learning and growing during my time in Guinea as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

It seems like everybody knows me in my community, but I don’t know everybody. It is funny when people I haven’t met yet call me Fatoumata (the name my community has given me), while I stare at them in confusion.

I enjoy making new friends in the community and love how people are always looking out for me and helping me when needed. Once, I got a little scared by a lizard in my house, so I called my neighbor over and he got it out of the house for me.

My neighbors are always inviting me to eat at their homes, and I can walk anywhere in the community, and someone always offers, “Fatoumata, come join us.” I feel like I belong, and that I am no longer a stranger here.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life. People in my community might not have a lot, but they work hard for what they have and do not take anything for granted. I see kids make toys using materials from the house or random things they find, like tomato paste cans and bottle caps. I hope to carry this resourcefulness with me, live in the moment, and work with what I have—all things I have learned from my host community. I have also learned that sharing is a big part of community. Everybody shares, including me, and it feels good to belong to something beyond yourself.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

When I’m not working on a project, I’m with my neighbors cooking together, chatting, or having tea.

I also spend some time teaching English at the local school because the students and teachers asked me to. I started off teaching the alphabet, numbers, and greetings, and now we’re covering shapes, colors, fruits, and body parts.

When I want time to myself, I watch movies and play games at home. Most Sundays, I take a 30-minute taxi ride to church.

When children see me outside of school they usually stop and say something to me in English. Saying a simple good morning or good afternoon to me makes them smile. The children speak Susu at home but in school they learn French. Learning English is another challenge for them but it makes me happy that they’re willing to learn and improve.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

In my remaining time as Volunteer, I look forward to doing more projects with my community and making an impact. Even if I can’t reach everyone, I hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. I want to cherish the moments I have left and hope to be remembered by my community. I certainly will never forget the people I’ve met, the work we’ve done together, or the kindness they’ve shown me.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

I hope to stay in contact with the people I’ve built a close connection to in Guinea and carry the lessons they’ve taught me. I also would like to keep learning French and Susu back in the U.S. Language is key to understanding so I hope to continue learning other languages. I also look forward to keeping up my Guinean cooking and share it with friends and family in the U.S.