Lavin serves in Africa

Sandy Hull

 Sarah Lavin, a 2002 graduate of Cambridge High School and a 2006 graduate of University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., returned home after serving 27 months with the Peace Corps. She is the daughter of Larry and Kathy Lavin of rural Cambridge.

 “I decided to join the Peace Corps after seeing a booth during a career fair at college,” Lavin stated. “The Peace Corps peaked my interest since I was earning a degree in political science and plan to become a lawyer one day, working with all types of people.”

 The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served and helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.

 There are currently 7,876 volunteers and trainees in the Peace Corps with 60 percent of those being female and 94 percent of those being single.

 The Peace Corps volunteers and trainees are currently manning 70 posts serving 76 countries.

 Lavin spent her overseas adventure in Bibemi, West Africa, after three months of training.

 “During my training, I learned French, the most common language spoke in Africa,” Lavin stated. “Even after taking a year of French in high school and a year in college, I wasn’t prepared to have it be the only way of communication. I also received training in the health care profession.”  

 While in Africa, Lavin worked in the group’s health sector, working with healthcare professionals at the women’s health center where she lived.

 “I helped educate people about things like AIDS, Malaria, nutrition, vaccinations and prenatal care,” she stated. “I also worked on two other big projects including replacing and fixing 12 water pumps and educating the people about the importance of soy in their diet.

 “The diet in Africa is very simple,” Lavin stated. “They basically eat the same thing three times a day. Their diet lacks one important thing, protein, and soy is an excellent way to add protein to the diet.”

 When Lavin arrived in Bibemi, no one planted soybeans and after being there for two years and educating them on the importance of the product, approximately 5,000 acres were being planted.

 “They mainly eat a corn and or sorghum paste, three times a day,” she stated. “I can probably count on both my hands the different types of food I ate while I was there. They don’t have any grocery stores and their diet consists of mostly starches. They don’t have stoves to cook on. They generally cook on wood placed between three stones. In the earlier days, they didn’t even had matches, but now they use matches to start the fire. They do have a market once a week that residents can buy thing at.”

 Living in Africa is very different from the United States according to Lavin.

 “The climate, living conditions and schools are really different,” she stated. “It never really got very cool there. During December and January, is might get down to 65 degrees at night, but during the days it would warm up to 80 to 85 degrees. The rest of the time, the temperature would hover between 95 and 120 degrees during the day. Some people had air conditioning, but the majority don’t because it cost to much to run. Most residents cook and sleep outside.”

 Most residents also washed their dishes and their laundry in the nearby river. 

 “Some people would later rinse their dishes with clean water, but water was also a precious asset in Africa and that’s way the water pumps were such as imporant project for me,” Lavin stated. 

 Most of the health clinics were also set up outside because of the warm temperatures and a lack of space. 

 “Some of the clinics were private and sometimes, individuals were exposed to other individuals,” Lavin stated. “They always tried to make it as private as possible, but sometimes one wall was left open.”

 Lavin said the education system in Africa is really different from the United States and extremely hard.

 “Individuals had to attend grade school for a minimum of six years and before moving to high school they had to take and pass some strict tests,” she stated. “Some students were still in the grade school when they were 20 years old and some high school students were 45 years old.”

 To pass high school, students also had to pass strict tests.

 “Only about 3 percent of the students graduate of high school,” Lavin stated. “I really respect the students who stay in school.”

 There are no textbooks in Africa, so students have to write things down on notebooks if they have one.

 “I never appreciated the school system in the United States until I spent time in Africa,” she stated. “We really have it good.”

 Helping people who have almost nothing has made her more grateful for her own good fortune and she has a new look on life.

 “The things that impress me the most being there is the way the people are so community - and - family oriented,” she stated. “Here is the United States, we can be very individual-oriented. There are people there that live on less than a dollar a day, but still give to others. The stability of the community there relies on everyone sharing, even those who have nothing.” 

 In closing, Lavin said her experience with the Peace Corps was a good one and would recommend it to anyone. For more information visit the Peace Corps Web site at www.peacecorps.gov.