Mary Eyde and Jenny Edwards, both La Salle University seniors, both had a goal of volunteering with the Peace Corps. Both of them have achieved that goal and will be stationed in Africa to serve their terms post-graduation.
“I first talked about [the Peace Corps] in elementary school, and as I got older, I thought about going to law school and other things,” said Eyde, from Collegeville, Montgomery County. “I didn’t want to start a career right away making money, I wanted to be able to empower people.”
Edwards, from Playa Del Rey, Calif., also had the Peace Corps on her radar for quite some time. “I really always wanted to do the Peace Corps since late in high school and early in college,” she said in a phone interview.
About 3,500 Americans leave for Peace Corps service each year, with volunteers each serving a little more than two years, according to a Peace Corps press officer.
Eyde, a political science major and member of La Salle’s golf team, attended Perkiomen Valley High. She originally was supposed to depart for the Peace Corps on June 7, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed that schedule. She was recently told that the earliest her group would leave would be Sept. 30.
When she does depart, she will be teaching English in the Benin, located in western Africa. She said that French and a dialect of French are the main languages. She is in the process of learning French online.
Eyde said two service trips while attending La Salle helped steer her toward applying to be a Peace Corps volunteer.
In one she went to Miami Beach for eight days and worked with sex traffic victims.
“We met with survivors and learned the signs and things to do to help kids not get involved in that kind of crowd,” Eyde said. “It was quite a learning experience and made a big impact on my life.”
The other trip was one she coordinated to Camden.
“We worked in soup kitchens, spent time in the classroom with youngsters and interacted with the community, learning about their situation,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience and a great week.”
She said her reason for joining the Peace Corps is to bring out the best out of the youngsters she will be working with.
“It is not so much about helping people, it is more about empowering them to use the skills and knowledge that they already have,” Eyde said.
Edwards is slated to begin her 27-month tour on Aug. 16 and return in November 2022. While COVID-19 has caused changes in schedules – including the current volunteers who were sent home once the pandemic hit – she says at this point, her dates haven’t been changed.
“They haven’t officially canceled my departure date but let us know it is likely to change,” she said.
Edwards will be teaching high school students in Zambia, in southern-central Africa. She will be teaching English as a second language and plans to begin learning the local languages, primarily Bemba and Tonga, through virtual lessons.
“I was told you may not end up doing what you expected and to be ready for whatever challenges exist,” she said.
Since attending La Salle she has participated in three service trips: two in Kenya and one in Haiti. Both trips to Kenya were for a month, and the one to Haiti was for around two weeks. In Kenya she worked at an all-boys school that also had a nursery school on campus for underprivileged boys. She said most of the high school boys were proficient in English.
“We helped with administrative work in the classroom, helped serving meals, and also spent a lot of time one-on-one helping them with their homework.”
In Haiti she worked at a primary school and put together English lessons and worked at an orphanage.
The service trips made a profound impact on her life.
“Those experiences were a transformation to me as a person,” said Edwards, who played volleyball for the Explorers and carries a double major of political science and economics. “After doing short-term service, I knew I wanted to do long-term service.”
As part of the application process, potential volunteers must receive legal and medical clearance, have relevant work or volunteer experience and, in certain cases, may need to be proficient in a foreign language, according to the Peace Corps.
Both Edwards and Eyde received several recommendations, including one from Michael Boyle, the chair of the political science department at La Salle. “We are really proud of both of them,” Boyle said. “Both are great students and really nice people.”