There’s no electricity in the hut that Samantha Bezdek (B.A. ’10), a Peace Corps volunteer, calls home. Stationed in the impoverished coastal village of Manafiafy, Madagascar, Bezdek gets fresh water from a well down the road, and any chores not completed before nightfall are done by candlelight.
“I love this experience and the challenges that come along with it,” said Bezdek. “It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s something I’ll be proud of the rest of my life.”
She serves as an agricultural adviser for the community, collaborating with local farmers to develop revenue-generating agronomic projects.
In one venture, she raises awareness of the nourishment properties of the moringa tree. Because the region is made of a sandy soil, raising crops is challenging. The fast-growing moringa tree flourishes in even the most drought-prone areas of Africa, and its bark and leaves are rich in nutrients.
“There are trainings approximately every other month to demonstrate how to properly prepare and cook the leaves and to explain its worth,” she said. “More families are becoming interested in moringa, and we hope we can reduce the number of malnourished children in our area through this magical plant.”
But Bezdek’s work as a Peace Corps volunteer often requires less concrete steps toward helping the community.
Each morning, she makes time to chat with fishermen over coffee and fried bread about the outlook for the day’s catch. In the afternoons, she spends an hour socializing with the children, swimming in the waters of the Indian Ocean or holding an impromptu English class.
Her constant presence and work ethic have endeared her to the locals, so much so that the mayor and other high-ranking village leaders have come to affectionately refer to Bezdek as “granddaughter.”
“I adore my community and my work here,” she said. “In several ways, I’ve found it simple to integrate.”
When she thinks about the kinship she’s developed with the inhabitants of Manafiafy, the community she set out to aid has, in many ways, returned the gesture.
“I have come to be a member of an African community 9,000 miles from home,” she said. “I have gained respect, trust and so many life lessons through my time spent here. The prospect of living here for another 10 or so months makes me feel as if I’ve won the lottery.”