It takes time and dedication to be a volunteer, and for Promise McEntire, of Fort Dodge, the willingness to give of her time took her on a 27-month journey of service in Africa.
McEntire, a 2002 graduate of Fort Dodge Senior High spent the past two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, a nation located in the sub-Sahara region of western Africa. Family and friends were on hand to celebrate her homecoming at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport on Dec. 6.
McEntire's experience with the Peace Corps began following her 2006 graduation from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, when she had applied to join the organization. The application for the Peace Corps involves a written application, medical screenings, letters of recommendation and personal interviews in order to help candidates receive placement in a country that is best fit for their personal interests and skills, a process McEntire said can take up to a year to complete.
Promise McEntire gives her mom, Janet McEntire a hug after arriving on Dec. 6 at the Fort Dodge Municipal Airport. McEntire spent 27 months serving with the Peace Corps in the African nation of Cameroon. From left, her brother Rusty, grandmother Elaine Hansch, great aunt Normadean Burmeister and friend Dana Westphal watch the reunion.
"It can really take a long time," she said. "The medical screenings take about the longest to complete."
Once selected for service, McEntire received an invitation to go to Cameroon where she and 30 other volunteers spent their first three months in training. Trainees in Cameroon are taught language skills in French and the native language - Fulfulde. They are also received cultural, technical and personal health training to learn to treat and self diagnose any minor health conditions that may have arose in an area with such limited medical care.
"That was an important skill," she said. "There wasn't much medical care readily available."
Peace Corps volunteers are trained to specialize in a number of different areas, including health, agriculture, business development, education and community outreach. McEntire's focus was primarily on agriforestry, where she helped farmers in the village of Bogo and the surrounding area with soil fertility and tree planting in an extremely dry region.
"The soil there was like sand," said McEntire. "It may have rained 20 times in one full year."
She also taught English to a group of 75 students in a high school and went on a bike tour to six area villages to help promote HIV and AIDS awareness. "There is an HIV infection rate in Cameroon of about 25 percent. Many of them are younger people. They don't really see it as a problem so they still engage in risky behaviors," she said.
"The schools are also very different," said McEntire. "The students sit on benches, and don't have textbooks. They talk out loud. That is not an offense in their schools."
She said Cameroon is very corrupt and explained it is a democracy, however, there is a lack of organization in the government.
"Corruption has become a way of life there," she said. "People abuse their power and others aren't allowed to advance, which causes jealousy. There is a lack of infrastructure and law enforcement and a high level of poverty."
McEntire said that living conditions are much different in Cameroon than what Americans are accustomed to. Many of the villagers' homes are made of sand and mud and have only one room. Richer people, such as government officials and police, may have homes made of painted concrete with several rooms. Peace Corps volunteers are given better than average housing with electricity and are also provided with living allowances for food, clothing, housing and entertainment. There was no running water or indoor plumbing available in Bogo.
"You don't realize how much you take water for granted until you have to go fetch it every day," she said. "The food was different, too. You don't know how much comfort you take in American food until it's not available."
Water was available from wells and pumps located throughout the city. Often, the children of the village enjoyed fetching the water for the volunteers.
"Everyone was interested in seeing and helping white American people," McEntire said. "You become a spectacle. Everyone knows where you are at and what you're doing."
McEntire said that she now plans to look into attending graduate school and also apply to Teach for America or Teach for L.A., organizations that provide teachers in low-income areas of inner cities. She also hopes to share her experiences with others and plans to speak to any classes and organizations in the Fort Dodge area that may be interested in hearing more about her experiences..
Contact Emilie Nelson at 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org