FAO Peace Corps
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Dennis Latimer
Gregory Garbinsky
Keith Cressman

Beth Crawford: working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Beth Crawford was born in California but grew up in the Netherlands. She graduated in psychology and French from Santa Clara University, California in 1984 and after her Peace Corps experience, obtained a Masters degree in Public Administration from New York University . She now works at FAO headquarters in Rome, as Senior Programme and Budget Officer.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I was interested in seeing more of the world and in particular Africa. I knew about Peace Corps and had spoken to recruiters that came to the university and their programme seemed a great opportunity to live overseas and learn about a part of the world I had not been to before.
I requested to go to a French-speaking part of Africa, and was posted to what was then Zaire and now is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to teach English to high school students. My Peace Corps training was held in Bukavu, on the shores of the Lake Kivu and consisted of six weeks of intense language immersion, and learning about the local culture and the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) methodology. I was posted to a former American Baptist mission, which had a boarding school and a hospital run by Zairians. It wasn't like a traditional African village at all, the house I lived in was a brick house built by the missionaries with a kitchen and a bathroom and even a fridge, but most of the stuff could no longer be used because there was no electricity or running water.

My daily routine
The day started quite early. I would have a breakfast of bananas and peanuts and then go to school and teach about four classes. The language of education was French, so English was their foreign language. I would finish in the early afternoon and then, after a lunch of rice and beans, would perhaps take a walk down to the nearby river or read a book. Later in the afternoon I would prepare for classes for the next day. Dinner would be rice and beans again since other food was hard to come by. We had to go to the capital, which was about a day's trip away, every three months to stock up on supplies.
One of the teacher's accommodation had a covered veranda in the garden, so every month we would organise a get together there. A Peace Corps would earn about US$100 a month, an enormous amount compared to the US$7 monthly salary of a local teacher, so we would buy the beers and other things, while others took care of the music or the decorations. Other celebrations happened during the year, for example when the local wine from grapefruit was made and people would get together and be merry.

The highlights
My best memories centre on how generous and kind the people were. Compared to us they had absolutely nothing, yet they were always hospitable and ready to share. I also appreciated how the community lived together and looked out for one another. The Peace Corps experience allowed me to develop a much deeper understanding of life in Africa, beyond the stereotypical images such as those found in the National Geographic magazine. And although it was sometimes very difficult living in such a secluded location, it allowed me to experience African life in a unique way




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