Disclaimer: This blog does not reflect the opinions and policies of the Peace Corps, the University of South Florida (USF), the U.S. government, or the government of Mali

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

La premiere poste

Welcome to my new blog!! I will post random updates on my future experiences as first a Peace Corps Trainee and then a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Mali, West Africa. Let me start by answering a few frequently asked questions. I know some of you will already know the answers so feel free to skim...

1. Where are you going?
I will be serving in Mali, West Africa (see map on right hand side). I am not entirely sure where in Mali yet. I will spend three months of intensive language, technical and cultural training in the capital, Bamako where I will live with a host family. When I pass training I will receive my assignment for the next two years. I will most likely be placed individually in a remote, rural area/village.

2. When are you going?
Leave Detroit 8:55AM, July 8th for Philadelphia for three days of "staging"(briefing on PC, logistics, and vaccinations) and then we depart for Mali.

So, yeah, less then 3 weeks away! I can't believe it. I go between very excited to nervous to excited. Mostly just want to get all the logistics taken care of before I leave!

3. What language do they speak?
Mali is francophone (french speaking) but there are a number of native languages. The most popular being Bambara which I will most likely end up speaking.

4. How long will you be there?
Peace Corps service is 27 months (3 months of training and two years of service). There are options to extend service for an additional year or more.

5. What will you be doing?
My official assignment is a "Water Sanitation Extension Agent" which means helping build things like wells, latrines, soak pits, wash areas and also provide hygiene education. The projects I am involved in will depend entirely on the needs of the community. Volunteers also participate in secondary projects such as agriculture or HIV/AIDS education in addition to their primary assignment.

Moreover, I am part of the Peace Corps (PC) Master's International (MI) program at the University of South Florida (USF). A link to the program is on the right. This is a very unique program that combines the PC and a Master's degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering. I spent the past year taking courses in environmental engineering, anthropology, and public health. Throughout my Peace Corps service I will need to conduct research for a thesis. I will finish and defend my future thesis at USF when I return to the United States. I hope to focus my research on Gender, Water, and Development. Basically, increasing the participation of women in water and sanitation projects to complete more successful and long lasting (sustainable) projects. More details to follow in the future.

6. What will your living conditions be like?
As stated in the first question I will most likely be placed in a rural community. Transportation will be limited but PC does provide volunteers with mountain bikes and helmets. I will most likely not have electricity, cell phone, internet, and running water in my "house", . I will have to shop and cook for myself. I will be able to travel to the capital or nearby "major city" to use internet cafes to update this blog and answer e-mail. This will be on a limited basis possibly every six weeks but maybe shorter.

7. How do you contact me?
My mailing address and e-mail are on the right hand side. The mailing address is only good for my first three months of training. (June 11-Sept 11) I will let you know what my more permanent address for the next two years of service will be as soon as I know. The primary e-mail I will use is ccnaughton@gmail.com.

Letters, e-mails, and packages are welcome and much appreciated!! I really wantto stay connected to everyone to the best of my abilities (thus, letters are probably better). As far as packages are concerned, I will update my blog with items I am craving since I will need to carry and pay for packages that arrive.

8. Why are you doing this?
I probably should have began with this question but I thought I would get the logistics of PC service out first.
SHORT VERSION: Since high school I have been passionate about the environment, service, and those less fortunate in developing countries. PC encompasses all of these passions. I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did not do the PC. I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity to serve.
I became intensely passionate for international affairs through my participation in Model United Nations (MUN) in High School. I traveled abroad for the first time the summer after I graduated to Finca La Flora, Costa Rica with members of the MUN team. Part of the trip we volunteered on a sustainable organic farm. I caught the travel bug and passion for service then and there!

I chose to go into engineering at Purdue University after HS instead of international relations since I wanted to solve problems, not just talk about them. It was difficult at first to find the connection between civil engineering and humanitarianism. But everyone needs clean water to drink and be healthy. Civil Engineers design water and wastewater treatment systems to do just that! 2.6 billion people on this earth lack proper sanitation. There is a need! More lives have been saved by engineers with wastewater treatment than lives saved by doctors....

I had always been interested in Peace Corps but wasn't sure of all the logistics and attended some information sessions at Purdue. Then I wasn't sure about the 27 month commitment until I volunteered in Ghana, West Africa through Global Volunteers Network for 7 weeks in the summer of 2007. I fell in love with Africa and the people in my village. It changed my life and I realized you really needed 2 years to get anything accomplished. (Time moves a little slower in Africa it seems and you really need to gain the trust of the community you are working with).

Thus, I was all gung-ho about the PC but didn't feel that confident in actually building anything despite my engineering degree since I had more theoretical than practical knowledge. While web surfing I found the Master's International program at Michigan Tech. In my senior year at Purdue, I applied and was accepted and nominated to Tech and the PC respectively. Through a chain of events the director of the MI program took a job at USF (University of South Florida) and I ended up going to school in Tampa instead of the Upper Peninsula (pretty good deal!). The MI program helped better prepare me for PC through the coursework and research especially in the sustainable field engineering class where our class built a compost latrine. Plus I met some amazing people and was able to become a member of Engineers without Borders!!

9. Who else is going?
PC sends a training class once a year to Mali. We will all meet at staging July 8th. There will be about 70-75 of us. One of the guys in my program at USF, Justin Meeks, is also assigned to Mali. So I already know one person in my training class. Also, there are currently at least three master's international students stationed in Mali from Michigan Tech. I will know people in the country but I will be serving in a community individually.

10. What have you been up to this summer?
Since school got out I have been in Royal Oak, MI spending time with friends and family, learning french through Rosetta Stone, and preparing for the PC. I am extremely lucky that my family has been very supportive of my choice to serve in the PC.

11. Do you get to go home?
PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) get about 2 days a month off. You can save those days and take longer vacations. If you want to go home you need to pay your own way (plane ticket is about $1600). My family does plan to meet up with me somewhere in the world my second year and possibly fly me home for Christmas my second year. We will see. I also plan to travel around Africa with my "vacation time". (VISIT MEGAN in SENEGAL!!)

12. Are you paid?
We are paid at the standard of living of those in Mali which is sufficient for food and transport.

13. How do you get funding for projects?
PC, other government agencies (USAID), and non-government organizations provide funding for small projects. Your community is also required to raise a percentage of a project. However, I may call upon friends and family to contribute whatever they can to make up some of the difference that is not provided by the other sources mentioned.

14. What do you think you will most miss?
I know I will really miss family and friends. It is hard to entirely predict what I will crave foodwise in the PC. Mostly likely chocolate, cheese, and ice cream. Those seem to be the top of people that have returned. I know I will miss the conveniences of home at times but that is what I signed up for.

Wow, I have certainly written a lot for the first entry. I can't promise that all my entries won't be this boring and long but they should get better. (Well, at least more interesting...) Thanks for reading! If you received the link to this blog please respond with your address and best e-mail address to contact you with!!


  1. Colleen, so proud of you. Wish you the best of luck.

  2. Aw, thanks so much :) Do you have a blog?