Village Life

by Brigitt Martin (BA/89)

Known as Penda Jawo in her village in The Gambia, West Africa, Melanie Burt's (BSc/98) goals as a Peace Corps volunteer have focussed on teaching sustainable forestry practises, creating gardens and orchards, and fire prevention.

"I've spent most of the last year learning how to survive, gaining the trust and respect of the community, and trying to set realistic work goals," she says. "Most people here expect outsiders to give them money or materials. I'm here to give them knowledge and skills."

Burt has found that the challenges associated with developing a land management program have been equalled by the difficulties associated with living in an unfamiliar environment.

"One of the most challenging things for me is to remain functional and productive in this very hot climate," she explains. "I live in a small village in a mud hut among the rural people with whom I work, and am the only white person who has ever lived anywhere near here. I speak one of the two languages of my village with some proficiency, and eat what people normally eat here everyday -- rice, fish and palm oil. The drinking water is not always clean and so, like most Peace Corps volunteers, I've had my share of intestinal parasites."

Despite the challenges, Burt enjoys her work and hopes to extend her contract to September 2001.

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