Archive for Thursday, July 7, 2005

Baldwin native finds her niche in Peace Corps

July 7, 2005

After graduating from college, Baldwin City's Beth Schild decided to join the Peace Corps, and since then has lived in Senegal for an entire year improving the health awareness in her village.

Schild took a liking to the Peace Corps while she attended Baldwin High School, because she can help people while living with them.

"I had an interest in the Peace Corps ever since I was in high school," Schild said. "The idea of helping people by living with them, getting to know them, getting to know their culture and not doing it from an outsider's view is what I liked about Peace Corps the most. It's always been a life goal that I have wanted to do."

Schild graduated from Baldwin High School in 1998 and then went on to study at Kansas State University. In December 2003, Schild graduated from KSU with a degree in elementary education. She said she used her time in college to boost her service time.

"All through college I did as much community service as I could," Schild said. "The more I did it, the more I found out I really liked helping people. Then I graduated and there was nothing else to do, so I joined the Peace Corps."

Schild received the news she got accepted into the Peace Corps around the time of her graduation from KSU, despite starting the application process months before.

"It's a long process," Schild said. "It takes anywhere from six months to a year or beyond. I started applying in August of 2003. I spent that semester student teaching and getting everything cleared to go.

Schild's mother, Linda Schild, said she worried about Beth when she heard she was joining the Peace Corps.

"I was skeptical," Schild said. "After getting used to the idea, I said 'go for it.' It's been hard for both of us."

Schild got signed up to go to Senegal, because of her background and what she wanted to help with. She said people have a little assistance in their choice of destination, but she knew she was set for Africa.

"You kind of have some leeway in your decision," Schild said. "You can kind of tell them your interests and what you're looking for. It depends on the language experience you have and the work you want to do. It also depends on the location, if you can handle extreme cold or extreme heat. For me, I had French experience, I wanted to do AIDS and HIV work and I don't mind heat. So I was pretty much a dead-set for West Africa somewhere."

The thought of Schild going to Africa scared her mother.

"In the beginning, I was nervous," Linda Schild said. "I was worried about her safety and her health. I told my sister it is a trial by fire for both of us."

So, in March 2004, Schild was sent to Senegal. She flew into Senegal's capital Dakar and then was taken to the training center in Thies.

Schild's first impressions of the country centered around the landscape and the people.

"It was hot and very dry," Schild said. "The landscape was difficult and very sandy. I first noticed how welcoming they are to the country. There was no problem with racial slurs or anything like that. Everyone wants to talk to you and get to know you. Obviously I was white, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. But I was received with complete warmth and welcoming."

Schild said her transport vehicle drove up to the village of Diambo, the driver helped her unload her stuff, then drove away and left her staring at hundreds of strangers.

One of the first problems in the village for Schild was the language barrier.

"Getting around language wise was tough, because my French wasn't that good," Schild said. "So that was a hard thing. Once I got into the training center, they do cultural sessions and language sessions. It takes a while getting used to things, but eventually you can get around."

Since getting over the beginning awkwardness, Schild has been living in the village for more than one year.

"I have absolutely loved it," Schild said. "It is hot, but when December rolls around, it cools down and you are thankful you're not in the snow. It's just an unbelievable experience to be accepted into a community."

Schild lives in a village with the Pulaars in the Suuta region on Senegal.

Schild works in her village helping and informing the people with diseases and illnesses. Her village has a cement health post, which is unusual for most villages. Her daily tasks differ each day she said.

"It varies every day. I have a counterpart who is the nurse, who is really good," Schild said. "I train four people in the village who have volunteered their time to teach the village about health. I teach them on a small care. My job in the village is to teach these people so when I leave they can take on that role."

Some of the health issues Schild teaches are Schistosomiasis, Malaria, Malnutrition, pre-natal care and giving birth.

Schild said Schistosomiasis is one of the biggest problems facing her village. It is a micro-organism that goes into the body and causes one to urinate blood and can also cause cancer. It is caused by drinking and bathing in dirty water.

This has caused Schild to try and raise money to build a well in her village. Her goal is to get the well built so the Pulaars will have much cleaner and safer water to drink and bathe with.

"On the side I'm trying to build a well for my village, because they don't have a well. They drink, bathe and wash in a river that has a high content of Schistosomiasis. It's the only thing they have for water, so they're going to drink and bathe in it. That is my big project."

Schild's mother is also trying to help raise money for the well. She said the well started out as a memorial to her father who passed away March 1.

Schild has also learned many of the customs and cultures of her village. One of those is how the people eat their meals.

During some of the meals everyone sits around a large bowl filled with vegetables, rice and fish. Anyone that walks by gets invited to come join them to eat in the bowl.

Schild didn't inform her village that some friends were coming to the village, because she didn't want to burden the village with feeding them. One member of the village told Schild they will always feed visitors.

"It doesn't matter if all of America comes here, we are going to offer them all of the food we have," Schild said, repeating one of the head villagers. "And that's just how they are."

Schild also said the people in her village are very hard workers.

"They work hard every day," Schild said. "They go to the fields and farm and they let me help them out. Then in the afternoon, they come home and relax and cook tea."

Music is one way Senegalese express themselves, especially with drums. Schild even said two people have come to the U.S. for their music.

"Everything they do is through music," Schild said. "They are known for their music."

Schild's village has around 2,000 people living in it. She said her ideas are sometimes a little crazy for the village.

"Everyone thinks I am this crazy foreigner with all these wild ideas," she said.

Schild has learned to live without the commodities that she had while living in the United States.

"I live without electricity or running water," Schild said. "So it's a little different to be showering by just pouring river water over my head or basically go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground. It's a simple life all the same. I don't pay any bills and I don't have any credit card debt. You kind of learn to appreciate the little things."

But Schild has been back in the U.S. for almost three-and-a-half weeks. She leaves this afternoon to head back to Senegal.

Schild said the Peace Corps allows its volunteers two vacation days for every month working. So this trip back for a friend's wedding and to see family and friends only took about half of her vacation time. She said she might use the rest of it to tour West Africa after her time is up in Senegal.

Schild's two-years in the Peace Corps will end in May, but she has enjoyed her time in Senegal.

"I've said this a million times and I'll say it a million more, they are just the nicest people and the most welcoming," Schild said. "With the little they have, they will give you everything they have.

Schild's mother said she is so happy for her daughter.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of her," Schild said. "I really don't worry about her much now, besides that she's really far away and I can't go see her. Many people thought she would come home. But she is great at it and she comes home in ten months."

(Fundraising efforts are being made to create the well in the village. The well will cost approximately $4,000 to build. Linda Schild is in charge of the fundraising for the well. She is looking for donations to help fund the project. She can be contacted at 785-594-3260.)

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