De-Ann Abraham, who spent part of her service in Cameroon teaching science to high school students, currently studies nonprofit management at The New School as part of the Peace Corps’ Coverdell Fellows Program.
Growing up on the Caribbean island of Dominica & later the U.S. Virgin Islands, De-Ann Abraham has bred a passion for public service from a very young age, lending her voice to causes such as wetlands restoration and sea turtle protection.
After moving to the United States years later, De-Ann remembers catching an ad for the Peace Corps while in college and felt compelled to join as a Volunteer.
“I saw this as a chance to work in another country doing what I loved best,” said De-Ann, who later served as a Community Health Volunteer in Cameroon. “There was one issue, however: I wasn’t an American citizen.
“For the following two years I worked through the naturalization process and on December 18th, 2008, I became an American citizen,” she added. “That night, I entered my naturalization number and submitted my completed Peace Corps application.”
In her three years of service, De-Ann worked in two Cameroonian communities – first in a small village for two years teaching biology, chemistry and computer sciences at a local high school, and later in a bustling city with the Regional Delegation of Public Health’s Malaria Unit.
When settling into her first host village, De-Ann found it difficult to explain the cultural diversity of America to her neighbors, especially since they had only dealt with white Peace Corps Volunteers in the past.
“My biggest struggle was being black, young, and female in Cameroon. I say this because never in my life was I constantly reminded of these three labels on a daily basis,” she said. “These labels worked well allowing me to integrate into my community. However, in regards to networking and building partnerships, I found that I had to assert myself and validate that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.”
With the encouragement of her Country Director in Cameroon, who also identifies as a black woman, De-Ann strove to dispel many of the stereotypes associated with American culture while collaborating with the Cameroonian people on several projects.
“It wound up being a personal triumph for me because I was very introverted as a child,” she added, “And being forced to push past these challenges in a leadership role gave me a lot of confidence and, in the end, boosted my self-esteem.”
Among her projects included small income generation education, a primary school dental hygiene program, library formation at a school that served differently-abled students and co-editing the first women’s empowerment magazine in the Northwest.
She also designed a project for the Delegation of Women’s Empowerment and the Family.
“While looking at the region’s public health data, I observed that there was a significant percentage of women who had never been screened for cervical cancer,” De-Ann explained. “During World Cancer Week 2012, creating partnerships with local women’s groups, NGOs, schools and governmental agencies, I conceptualized, planned, implemented, and evaluated a Breast and Cervical Cancer Awareness Project in which I engaged in cervical and breast cancer awareness interviews, adult school visits, a women’s cervical cancer prevention summit, and screenings for cervical and breast cancer that benefited more than 500 rural poor women.”
Once she completed her Peace Corps service and returned to the U.S., De-Ann felt even more motivated to become an agent of social change. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in nonprofit management with a specialization in social entrepreneurship at The New School as part of the Peace Corps’ Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program.
“I have not forgotten my Peace Corps roots and the role it has played in my career trajectory,” she said. “For my master’s thesis, I am focusing on how to increase the social impact of Peace Corps Volunteers on the communities they serve through social innovation approaches.”
Click here to learn more about the Peace Corps’ Coverdell Fellows Program.