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An Experience All His Own; Brendan Ward '06

Rich Hackman

I hear him mumbling in Malagasy. I look up to the sight of Kolasy wearing nothing but children's underwear (he's 30), sweat dripping from his head. He paused for a moment to catch me with what had to have been a huge grin.

He asks me a question as he moves his hand back and forth on the wet clay cook stove (implying a sexual gesture…hah!). We all burst into laughter in unison. I could have been back at Albright under the turtle dome waiting to work out with the men's cross-country team. But I wasn't, I was on the sandy floor of a one-room, thatched roof hut half a world away training two guys on how to build a fuel efficient cook stove.

"If you told me I was going to be a Peace Corps volunteer when I graduated college I would have called you crazy," Brendan Ward '06 says. "I always thought of Peace Corps volunteers as a higher 'caliber.'" For Ward, having to learn another language, adjust to a different culture and possibly contract an exotic disease was more than the average person can handle, or so he thought. Ward spent more than a year as an environmental education volunteer in Madagascar, a large island off the eastern coast of Africa. "The whole thing was a little crazy to me," Ward says, "Yet, here I am, a retired Peace Corps volunteer with an experience that's mine and mine alone."

The Peace Corps is an international organization whose volunteers serve in more than 77 countries, aiding in education, community development and environmental issues. Volunteers serve about 27 months, they must be flexible, patient and determined, and a good sense of humor doesn't hurt.

Madagascar isn't the only place Ward has served. Since graduation he has also been an AmeriCorps volunteer in Alaska, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Philadelphia, and more recently a park ranger in the Florida Everglades. Ward says prior to any of his assignments he was often asked the aggravating question, "You know it's going to be hard, right?" But Ward never wavered. He approached the challenges as a person simply willing to serve.

In the Peace Corps, Ward says, every volunteer has a completely different experience. As an environmental education volunteer, Ward did everything from agricultural projects and tree plantings to teaching in schools. "You're always trying to plan projects, assessing, listening, working on your language skills, your life is your work," he says.

"But the most beautiful thing about Peace Corps," Ward adds, "is establishing those connections, taking someone from the other side of the world and throwing them into another culture."

Building trust and relationships are also important pieces of the work."You're not telling these people what to do, rather you're working alongside them and learning from each other," Ward says.

While the path of service is not easy, Ward highly encourages it, saying that the experience touched his heart. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it." Though he says he is the same person, the experience did change him. "I found out that once you strip away culture you realize that we are all the same." To read about Ward's "mad adventure" in Madagascar, visit his blog:

–Avery Brown '11

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