You could call my heading to Africa a restless itch. Leaving my graduate position to go halfway around the world to teach in a health clinic was not what I had envisioned, but its practical influence made my return to graduate school more meaningful.

 

—Dr. Brian Gander

The Gambia, West Africa

1983 to 1984  

The Gambia,
West Africa

Health Education
Peace Corps Volunteer

What I learned from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer:

  • When we focus on our own goals we sacrifice sustainability and miss valuable opportunities to build leadership skills in others.
  • The family politics of a village can be a difficult barrier to get around, one that makes finding concrete for a well construction project pale in comparison.
  • Trying to explain a solar eclipse to a group of 14-year-olds who have no experience with the planetary system takes more than a few gourds and a lot of good intentions.

What I accomplished in my Peace Corps Volunteer experience:

  • I was able to support two local clinic nurses and school teachers in the development of a series of clinic and classroom lessons to help young mothers understand the importance of early immunization, clean cooking conditions and effective diarrhea control techniques to prevent dehydration.
  • Carried out a census of the north-central bank of the country for immunization tracking and well baby clinic lessons.
  • Helped a village put in a new well by linking the leadership council with a Dutch company who was working in a nearby village.

What really captured my interest about the Peace Corps were the three precepts required of all Peace Corps Volunteers:

  1.  Teach other countries about American’s beliefs and values;
  2.  Learn about the values and beliefs of the country that you work in; and
  3.  Upon your return, share what you have learned with your fellow American’s so they might understand the world better.

What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer has stuck with me and influenced my leadership to this day. Peace Corps training is built on sustainability, it is drilled into volunteers that the people who’s country you are fortunate to serve drive the projects and the implementation of those projects.

That ethos has become central to my leadership, and is why I have focused so effectively on supporting communities in defining vision and guiding beliefs documents.

I have some fond memories (and some not so fond memories) of my time in Africa. But there is not a day that goes by that I do not focus on the service leadership that my experiences there taught me.

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