Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
Reporter: Erin Griffith
PORTALES—Currently pursuing a master degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations at Eastern New Mexico University, Nerissa Custer spent 2002–04 traveling to villages in upper east Ghana in Africa as a teacher.
"I knew ever since I was little that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. I can't tell you when I first learned about it, but ever since then, I wanted to. During college I worked at the Boys and Girls Club, but as soon as I graduated, I joined," Custer said.
After joining, she traveled to Philadelphia were she met the members of her Peace Corps team and received various vaccinations. She then headed for Bongo where she spent two months of training living with a local family.
"They teach you how to live in a different world. During training, along with how to cook, you learn the language of the region you will be working in. My region spoke Gurune; there were 77 dialects. I could communicate in the upper east, but when I left the region, I had to have an interpreter," said Custer.
The Peace Corps offers many ways to help, volunteers may assist in things such as business development, sanitation projects, agriculture and diet awareness and education. Custer specialized in the education of HIV/AIDS awareness and the irradiation of the guinea worm.
"It is a grass roots movement. We traveled from village to village and talked in front of groups of people. We drew pictures on walls so that they could see visually what we were explaining to them."
During her time in Ghana, along with traveling to various villages, Custer, who is married to a Cannon airman, worked in a hospital, pharmacy and at a girls' school.
"Some of my favorite time spent was working at the girls' school. There they learned about sewing and textiles, but I would come and teach them basic education. We talked about things like, ‘Is the world round?'" recalled Custer.
According to Custer, when people first arrive they often have doubts about whether they are going to make it two years, but it is worth the effort.
"When you first get there, you are sicker than you will ever be in your life, but you get used to it. It's a whole other world. You see kids living inpoverty, with no food and no toys, but they are happy and they dance around. It's awesome."
Custer gives presentations about her experiences whenever she can; she recently gave one to a group of Girl Scouts in Clovis about the Girl Scouts in Ghana.
"People need to know about other counties. While I was there, a country next to Ghana (Ivory Coast) went through a revolution. The Peace Corps had to leave because there were bullets flying through the air; it's sad because no one here knew what was happening over there," Custer said.
When she graduates, Custer plans to work with national volunteer organizations and, hopefully, go back to Ghana some day.
"When people find out that I was in the Peace Corps they usually say, ‘I always wanted to do that,' but I tell them that people are never too old to do it. It's true what they say, ‘Peace Corps truly is the toughest job you'll ever love.'"