From Gunnison to Ghana - The Peace Corps Experience

Western graduate Seth Roby is using his degrees in education and fine arts while volunteering for the Peace Corps in Ghana.

Seth Roby (BA Education, BFA Fine Arts) and his wife, Molly, have worked as Peace Corps volunteers for nearly two years. 

"I never thought of Peace Corps while at Western but was given the confidence there to trust myself and the decisions I made for my future," Roby says. "Western gave me great support with faculty that I still communicate with, that encouraged me through my undergraduate, graduate and now Peace Corps experience."

Roby is using his skills both as an artist and an educator while working for the Peace Corps as a Health, Water and Sanitation volunteer. He says his experience at Western helped prepare him for a rewarding, but tough, job.

"I chose Western because of the diversity of the media offered in the art department. They were and still are a quality, affordable education. I still needed time to try other subjects before I settled on my major and Western gave me the room to grow and experiment with many of the courses offered on the campus," Roby says. 

After finishing his time with the Peace Corps, he plans to return to the classroom as a teacher. He also says he would enjoy working with local art centers to build programs and education for the visual arts.

Want to learn more about Seth's experience with the Peace Corps? Below is a post from his blog:

Creativity is a Peace Corps Volunteer’s greatest tool; where an artist can be a health and sanitation volunteer and be very effective. Sometimes it is surprising that what seems like inexperience can actually give you a better edge at adapting and thriving in your new environment. A generalist (what Peace Corps calls someone initially trained in another area of expertise)is not so set in their ways and therefore is able to adapt and to identify the creative solutions available while a specialist might otherwise be blinded from such solutions because of their previous knowledge and understanding.

In our neck of the woods, my wife and I have worked with locals on many different types of projects. We have helped the community in creating a school garden, established a waste management system using rubbish pits and bins, constructed soak away pits for stagnant water, combated soil erosion with vetiver grass, taught high school math, science and social studies, trained teachers on computers, initialized HIV/AIDS stigma reduction programs, and sensitized remote villages on better health practices. None of which was covered in drawing class.

Each of the projects were the result of discussions with the community, dictated by the needs and wants of the local people; however, two of the three Peace Corps mission goals are about sharing of yourself as an representative of the United States. So finally, nearly 2 years later, we identified a problem that could best be addressed using visual arts.

Ghana is a developing country with the dual identities of both the developed western world in its southern regional cities and the poor and rural areas that are stereotypical of African landscapes in its northern regions. With this clash, many young women travel from the deprived northern parts to the more developed south to find “better” means of work. The local term for this is called Kayayei and these “Kayayo girls” find their way to larger cities to sell items or carry loads in return for pay. The girls live n the slums and it is not hard to imagine what happens to these teens: they become victims of murder, rape, and prostitution. There are no consistent programs established to help educate families living in the north as to the dangers of this type of work, so many Peace Corps Volunteers are compelled, not by their formal training, but by their human intuition to tackle this issue. Volunteers develop creative projects to sensitize their communities under the disguise of an alternate mission. Recently with a group of volunteers we came up with a weekend arts and crafts workshop designed to give skills that young women could use to generate a small income. The workshop had the underlying concept of self reliance instead of turning to Kayayei.

Peace Corps Volunteers stationed in the northern regions of Ghana, participated in the event by bringing a young woman from their community. The girl either showed a need or interest in learning skills that could help them become self reliant. The girls that attended were all different ages and from different tribes. Some girls were in junior high school looking for ways to make a small amount of money to help afford their school fees. Others had already dropped out and needed opportunities that would allow them to stay in their communities instead of going on Kayayei. Two girls had completed high school, and were interested in possibly starting a small business. One fourteen girl had been found in a southern city on Kayayei and brought back to the north to raise a baby that she had abandoned. Not every lesson taught was a favorite and each girl had to find their strength in whatever medium suited them best. In one day, each girl visited stations on how to make shea-soap, to stamp and dye batik cloth, to crochet a cap, and hand sew a small coin purse. In the evening, everyone ate and played games together, finishing the day with talks about Kayayei and its reality. A local artisan instructed many of the sessions to provide not only knowledge of the trades, but also how she has used the knowledge she has to avoid Kayayei. At each station, volunteers worked alongside their girl training with them. It is the hope that the young women can teach others in their villages with the help of the Peace Corps Volunteers to ensure that the sharing of knowledge won’t stop after this weekend.

Here we do everything “small, small,” another local saying that has become our motto for success: it is through this slower, smaller efforts in the process that, as volunteers, we maximize our results. It is the small, small skill that you have and the small, small knowledge you can pass on that end up making the biggest difference. I was in charge with teaching the batik and I had to laugh at the irony that in all my studies of art, it was an elective course taken almost ten years ago that defines my art exchange in my Peace Corps experience thus far. My wife and I will continue serving our two-year assignment until the summer of 2014 doing projects like this workshop, but being flexible to the situations of the environment.  So hats off to the underwater basket weavers out there, your contribution may have been small, small, but the impacts could be great.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 9:15am