Digging into Healthy Eating with Togolese Women

While serving in Togo, Volunteer Hillary Chutter-Ames educates local young women about nutrition & food security so they may share such insight with their neighbors at home.

While serving in Togo, Volunteer Hillary Chutter-Ames educates local young women about nutrition & food security so they may share such insight with their neighbors at home.

After leaving her Vermont home in 2013 to begin her Peace Corps service in Togo, Volunteer Hillary Chutter-Ames soon discovered that some Togolese customs were harder to adopt than others – particularly the West African nation’s “culture of sitting.”

“My community in Togo values highly personal relationships with time spent just ‘being’ together,” said Hillary, who currently serves as an Agricultural Volunteer. “A stereotypically American emphasis on productivity and results has been a challenge to reconcile with this way of work and life – but has also been the most rewarding.”

Ten days before departing for Togo, Hillary earned her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College – which ranked third among Peace Corps’ top Volunteer-producing small colleges & universities for 2014 – with a wealth of international experience to help her adjust to the new social climate.

“While I haven’t used my Russian so far, the skills I developed at Middlebury have proved invaluable to service in Togo,” she said. “Classes within my Russian major, summer language school and study abroad in Moscow prepared me to learn new languages in Togo – including French and Ewe – by helping me develop language learning strategies and be confident in my ability to live and work in another culture.”

While bonding with the locals in her host community, the South Hero resident carved out her own place in the 15,000-person village by sharing her expertise in proper health and nutrition practices to Togolese women.

“Along with two other volunteers, I organized the Femmes Contre la Faim (Women Against Hunger) Conference, which brought together female leaders in the region for food security and nutrition training,” Hillary said. “The twelve women returned to their villages to implement gardening and food transformation projects to share their new knowledge and skills with other women and to improve food security in their communities.”

Her other projects included working exclusively with young women in girls’ soccer clinics and a women’s savings and loan group and organizing programming for the national Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference, which trains 30 women in women’s health, rights and leadership.

Hillary currently manages projects with USAID’s West African Food Security Partnership for Peace Corps Togo, which offers support for food security trainings, technical exchanges and volunteer small grants.

Nearing the end of her service, Hillary reflected on her host village’s influence on her outlook on life over the last two years.

“I often feel that my community is making more of a difference for me than I am for them or with them – like any relationship, it is a two-way street,” she said. “We cook together, eat tofu at the market together, play soccer, work in the fields, learn, share and dance. The difference we have made in the community may be small, or perhaps less visible in the short-term.

“I may not fully comprehend the difference that Togo has made for me for many years to come,” Hillary added, “But the impact, I think, is anything but small.”

Click here to learn more about Peace Corps Togo.

Fruitful Labor in Peace Corps: Agricultural Volunteers Reap Produce & Economic Growth Overseas

Peace Corps Volunteer Benjamin Wagner, who hails from New York, currently works with women in his Nepali village to build & cultivate six mushroom collectives.

Peace Corps Volunteer Benjamin Wagner, who hails from New York, currently works with women in his Nepali village to build & cultivate six mushroom collectives.

In celebration of National Agriculture Day, Peace Corps Volunteers share their knowledge of agricultural practices with people overseas to help their communities grow both naturally & economically.

Serving in Ghana since 2013, Dan Mayer of Mendham, N.J., works with local farmers in his host village to improve their cashew yields by offering extensive training on root grafting techniques, business practices for selling at markets & proper pruning methods to increase harvests. As vice president of the Peace Corps Ghana Cashew Initiative — an effort by Volunteers that entails providing local growers with mobile technology to improve business — Dan has also partnered with a nongovernmental organization to provide discounted mountain bikes to cashew farmers, which helps them travel more easily from the farms & their homes.

Given that cashew juice & jam prove to be another source of income, the Paul Smith’s College grad has also started a cashew apple juice & jam processing center with a local farmers’ cooperative, which he expects to launch for the upcoming cashew harvest season.

“Most Americans aren’t aware of the delicious taste of cashew apples, which are a heavily underutilized resource in my region of Ghana,” he said. “I’m hoping it will catch on as a refreshment in my region.”

On the other side of the Indian Ocean, Peace Corps Volunteer Benjamin Wagner of Pound Ridge, N.Y. — who began his service in Nepal in 2013 — works with female farmers to develop mushroom collectives that are designed to earn money for their families & offer nutrient-rich supplements to their diets.

With help from a Peace Corps Small Projects Assistance (SPA) grant, the Middlebury College alum has established six mushroom collectives with a local women’s development committee, provided training for food growth & built two mushroom cultivation houses.

“In practice, food security involves agriculture, nutrition, income generation & more — it’s so all-encompassing that it seems, at times, overwhelming, but it can really be empowering,” Benjamin said.

Click here to read more about serving as an Agricultural Volunteer.

Acton Resident, Peace Corps Volunteer Recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama in Cambodia


First Lady Michelle Obama recognized an Acton, Mass., resident, Peace Corps Volunteer Alexa B. Ofori, during her weekend visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The First Lady is traveling around Asia with Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet to promote the Let Girls Learn initiative, which will expand access to education for girls around the world.

In her remarks at a training session for Peace Corps Volunteers on March 21st, the First Lady noted that Alexa, who was in the audience, is a Health Volunteer who has helped run a girls’ leadership camp and teaches health education at a local school in her host village.

“Alexa was born in America, but her father grew up in Ghana, and her mother grew up in Grenada,” said the First Lady. “And when her parents were kids, both of them had Peace Corps Volunteers teaching in their schools. So just think about that –- two children inspired by Peace Corps Volunteers grow up, get married, have this beautiful daughter — I bet you’re smart, too — who decides to become a Volunteer herself, and to inspire a new generation of young people.

“And Alexa did an interview with the Peace Corps before she arrived here in Cambodia, and she talked about how excited she was to meet her host family and make new friends.  And she said — this is her quote — she said, ‘I’m really excited to share a little bit of my life with them, and to have them share a lot of their life with me.’”

Peace Corps Volunteer Alexa Ofori, who hails from Acton, Mass., works at a local health clinic in her Cambodian village.

Peace Corps Volunteer Alexa Ofori, who hails from Acton, Mass., works at a local health clinic in her Cambodian village.

Click here to view photos of Alexa’s service in Cambodia.

Alexa is the daughter of Patricia and Michael Ofori and a graduate of Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in Acton, Mass. She then attended Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, and Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, La., where she is currently earning a master’s degree in public health through the Master’s International Program.

Alexa’s interview can be found in this 2013 post on the Peace Corps Northeast blog.

BU Alum Strives to Shape & Protect Families in Benin

Nearly 25 years after his father served in Peace Corps, Volunteer Zachary Crawford is making strides to educate locals in Benin about maternal health & malaria prevention.

Nearly 25 years after his father served in Peace Corps, Volunteer Zachary Crawford is making strides to educate locals in Benin about maternal health & malaria prevention.

When he first started his Peace Corps service in Benin last year – nearly 25 years after his father served as a Volunteer just 50 kilometers away beyond the Togolese border – Buffalo resident Zachary Crawford had only been equipped with three months of extensive training & years of secondhand service stories to brace for his own life-altering experience.

One year after graduating from Boston University – which landed on the Peace Corps’ 2015 rankings of Large Volunteer-producing Colleges & Universities – Zachary settled in his small West African host village to find cultural challenges that needed solving with his background in international relations.

“I don’t think anything can really prepare someone for their service – and all the unique uncertainties, troubleshooting and frustrations that come with it,” said Zachary, who currently serves as a Health Volunteer. “But, I do believe that Boston University nurtured the critical thinking, global mindset and sense of community that has guided me through these first seven months of my service in Benin, and for that I am grateful.”

As part of his two-year service, Zachary has focused his efforts on holding group sessions in which he teaches men, women & young people alike about proper health and sanitation habits.

On a biweekly basis, he primarily meets with a group of ten women to discuss topics – including malaria prevention, exclusive breastfeeding, family planning, hand-washing & nutrition – that each woman must share within her community to reach larger audiences. Conversely, he works with the husbands of these women who manage the family’s finances to tackle similar topics from an economic standpoint.

Zachary has also teamed with local students to educate “descholarized youth” – or people under 25 who dropped out of school – about safe sex & family planning methods.

Aside from these projects, Zachary has launched an initiative with his colleagues for a pilot program to test & treat entire communities in Benin against malaria.

“In my village, I strive to make a difference in the domains of maternal and child health, nutrition and malaria prevention, but my effectiveness has everything to do with my work partners and their willingness to improve overall health,” he said. “Alongside them, I feel secure in our work and can see the difference we make every day, whether that be encouraging women to vaccinate their children or teaching schoolchildren about the importance of sleeping under a mosquito net.”

Six months into his Peace Corps service, Zachary said what he loves most about his post are the natives who motivate him to accomplish all of his endeavors to improve their local community.

“The people in my village keep me laughing, motivated and inspired,” he added, “And without their welcoming support my service would feel incomplete.”

Click here to read more about Peace Corps Benin.

Peace Corps Volunteer Turned Army Nurse Speaks on Lifetime of Service at Boston University

Colonel Susan Luz earned her nursing degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1972 & her master's degree in public health nursing from Boston University in 1976.

Colonel Susan Luz earned her nursing degree from University of Rhode Island in 1972 & her master’s degree in public health nursing from Boston University in 1976.

For over two decades, Susan Luz has dedicated herself to improving the welfare of others, either physically or culturally – from earning her nursing degree to volunteering in Brazil with Peace Corps to healing Iraq War veterans with the U.S. Army Reserve. Now, Susan will share her lifelong story of service with members of the Nursing Archives Associates at Boston University on Tuesday, March 31st.

Before pursuing her calling in medicine, Susan – who has worked as a clinical nurse specialist in community health nursing for nearly 43 years – realized a need to care for the disabled that hit very close to home.

“My Aunt Ellen was in a wheelchair & mentally challenged,” she explained. “My mother’s sister lived with us, so I always wanted to take care of people like Ellen.”

In 1972, Susan graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in nursing & worked as a medical-surgical nurse for Rhode Island’s Institute of Mental Health. Though she soon felt her expertise would prove more valuable overseas as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South America.

That July, Susan began her service as a Health Volunteer in Brazil by offering medical care to people in rural villages.

“I went into the Peace Corps right after college so I only had my new nursing degree,” said Susan, who believes her two years of service made a big difference in other people’s lives. “But I always worked in a hospital while at URI, so that & caring helped me a lot for my role as a Volunteer.”

After completing her service, Susan returned to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in public health nursing from Boston University in 1976.

Susan Luz, center, with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Christine Oliviera & Donna Tasca during their service in Brazil in 1972.

Susan Luz, center, with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Christine Oliviera & Donna Tasca during their service in Brazil in 1972.

She later returned to Brazil to serve with Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere), a non-profit organization that provides medical training to solve health problems overseas.

In 1983, Susan joined the U.S. Army Reserve to offer her services at the 399th Combat Support Hospital, a Massachusetts based unit that was deployed to Iraq in 2006.

“I wanted to serve in the Vietnam War after college, but my dad – a decorated Silver Star/Purple Heart recipient – wouldn’t hear of it,” she said. “So, at the age of 33, I joined the Army Reserve to serve my country.”

As a public health & psychiatric nurse, Susan healed wounded soldiers with emotional trauma & provided comfort to dying soldiers in the hospital. She later became the highest-ranking woman in her unit & was awarded the Bronze Star in 2007.

During her service, Susan also volunteered for development projects both on the home front & the front lines.

“As an Army nurse, I did many humanitarian missions in my own country like the Indian reservations & overseas in Central & South America,” Luz said. “In Iraq, I appreciated all the cards & packages from family & friends, so I do the same now for the troops that are deployed.”

Looking back on her extensive resume of service, Susan thanked all of the heroes in her life, especially her nephews Geoffrey, Matthew & Ryan — whom she said fight the battle against cystic fibrosis every day & to whom she dedicated her new book, Nightingale of Mosul: A Nurse’s Journey of Service, Struggle and War.

“Hopefully, my book will inspire others to serve,” she said. “It may not be joining the Peace Corps, Project HOPE, or the Army, but doing something to help others does make a difference no matter how big or small in other people’s lives.”

Click here to learn more about Susan’s lecture at Boston University later this month.