Lees-McRae College graduate Colleen Paxton will depart for the villages of Malawi, Africa for the next 27 months as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. Paxton joined the Peace Corps this winter and will leave for Malawi in February.
Paxton graduated from Lees-McRae in December 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in communication arts, with a double minor in art and wildlife rehabilitation. She was also part of the Honors Program and the Lady Bobcat Soccer and Lacrosse teams.
Her next adventure takes her to Malawi, Africa, which is located near Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique on the southeast coast of Africa.
The Peace Corps began in 1961 and has since shared America’s most precious resource – its people – with the world. Peace Corps Volunteers serve in 74 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Volunteers work in areas such as education, youth outreach and community development, the environment, and information technology.
“I will work with the environmental sector, as a natural resource management, parks and forestry extension volunteer. I’ll live in a rural village outside of a national park and teach conservation, sustainable agriculture, and how to protect the park’s resources. I’ll teach HIV/AIDS awareness and all sorts of random jobs,” said Paxton.
Paxton will leave on February 26 to go to staging in Philadelphia where she will spend a day meeting the other volunteers that will travel with her to Africa. From there, she and other volunteers will be bused to Washington, DC where they will board a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa and then a connecting flight to Malawi.
“During the first three months of my stay I will live with a host family and train. Then I will get my assignment and keep working. I’m very excited, but very nervous!” said Paxton.
The Peace Corps volunteers get paid a living stipend plus vacation money and a $4000 bonus when their assignment is complete. The focus of the program is less about monetary value and more about learning, growing and experiencing.
“I am really excited about the trip as a whole. I am hoping to do some good for my fellow man, but also to grow as an individual. I think I will learn more than I will teach. I love throwing myself into new adventures and trying news things. What a combination of both!” said Paxton.
During her time in Africa communication will be possible, but expensive. Internet and telephone services are available in Malawi for a price.
“Mainly I will be using letters and packages to communicate. I don’t mind… who doesn’t like mail anyway? Letters and padded envelopes will take a few weeks, and packages a few months. However, people can come visit me whenever they want! My only travel restrictions are during the first three and last three months of service. During that time I am not allowed to leave my country. This is to help me integrate into my new life and to close my projects respectively,” said Paxton.
Although Paxton holds a degree in communication arts, it was her minor in wildlife rehabilitation that helped her receive the placement and job she did with the Peace Corps.
“The funny thing was that I submitted my application and made it all the way to an interview before my representative realized I had a whole set of skills they did not know about. They were trying to place me as an English teacher because teaching and working with children is where I have the most experience.
“For some reason I mentioned my time at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute and my representative got really excited. Apparently there is a shortage of wildlife and environmental scientist in the Peace Corps. I filled out a few more forms, found out there was an opening for an environmental scientist in February, and now I’m about to be on a plane for Africa!” said Paxton.