The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 19, 2007

Peace Corps volunteer reflects on two years in Africa

BY KELLY URBAN

Since October 2005, Lindsay Miesko has been calling the western African nation of Cameroon home.

The 25-year-old Johnstown woman has been serving as a volunteer with the Peace Corps, working on improving the lives of those in the Third World country and, more specifically, developing a home economics class for a girls school in the village of Guneku-Mbengwi.

Her service will come to an end in November or December, and according to Miesko it has been quite the journey.

“It’s been two years of the most extreme highs and lows of my life,” she said through e-mail from her village.

“I’ve met incredible people, Cam-eroonian and otherwise.”

Throughout her stint her role within the community has evolved.

“I primarily call myself a teacher,” she said.

Cameroonians have, for the most part, a communal way of living, Miesko said.

“Everyone is extended family, and that extended to me during my stay. My village has been incredible, and despite all the ups and downs, one thing that has been constant was their support of me,” she said.

Even though Miesko officially is classified as a health volunteer, she also teaches writing to secondary schoolers, literacy skills to adult women and basic French to preschoolers.

“Now I’m involved with establishing a girls school,” she said.

The idea was proposed to Miesko by the Guneku Women’s Association, a group of prominent women in the village.

“They came to me because they wanted direction towards funding, not because they wanted me to start and run the school,” she said.

To get the home economics class up and running, Miesko had to raise $1,508 for supplies and submit her plan to the Peace Corps.

Donations came in slowly at first, but eventually all the money needed was raised.

The project will teach sewing skills and provide health information on cleanliness in the home, sanitary cooking measures, avoiding HIV and money management.

The hope is that the project will reduce the risk of prostitution, unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS within the community.

“Each girl will complete one clothing item as a final project,” Miesko said.

One person who is extremely proud of Miesko’s work in Camerooon is her mother, Peggy.

She gives her daughter credit for being able to be away from home and the comforts that come with it for almost two years.

“She’s done well as far as adjusting, and I’m not sure if I could do what she is doing,” she said. “It was hard at first for her to be separated from everything and everyone.”

Miesko keeps in touch with her family by cell phone.

“She’ll call home and let it ring once and we know it’s her and call her back so she won’t get charged,” Peggy Miesko said.

Miesko came home in September for a 10-day visit, but that was the only time the family has seen her since her Peace Corps service began, Peggy Miesko said.

Miesko said it’s hard for her to sum up what the Peace Corps experience has meant to her because she has undergone a roller coaster of emotions.

“I’ve loved it, and I’ve hated it,” she said. “But I think when I leave here I’ll leave with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the people in Cameroon, for the Peace Corps, for God and for being American.”

As for life after the Peace Corps, Miesko isn’t sure what she’ll do.

“I’ll try to find a grad school or a job,” she said. “I’m still too preoccupied with thinking about getting a pedicure and eating a Tuscan chicken sandwich from Panera Bread.”

Miesko graduated in 2005 from Shippensburg University with a double major in English and journalism and a minor in French.

She interned in the newsroom at The Tribune-Democrat in 2003 and 2004.