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Returned Peace Corps volunteer: 'Just do it'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A little more than a week after returning from Kenya, Charleston native Megan Humphreys finds herself experiencing culture shock.

And if she thought adjusting to life in a developing country was difficult, that was nothing compared to coming back home.

"Returning, everyone thinks you lived here for 22 years [so] it should just be like a duck dropping back into water," said Humphreys, who is originally from Charleston. "But it's a totally different experience and you don't have the same level of support as in Kenya."

Humphreys recently returned from two years of service as a health educator with the Peace Corps. She said going from a place where the tap water is black to the United States -- where everyone takes clean water for granted -- has been difficult.

"Coming back and seeing the excess in America, and how we have so much but people always think that there's something more that we need ..." she said. "They take for granted the things like the tap water. Adjusting to that can be a little difficult."

Humphreys said she's always loved volunteering, so making the decision to join the Peace Corps wasn't too difficult.

"Living in America, we're all so blessed to have what we do," Humphreys said. "I've always wanted to give something back."

During her time in Africa, Humphreys helped develop a de-worming project that has rid more than a thousand children each year of a parasite that caused malnutrition. The area of Kenya where Humphreys served was experiencing a drought when she was there. With parasites, children can be malnourished even though they're getting food to eat.

"And [kids] are not going to be able to pay attention in school, they're not going to be able to finish their chores," she said. "It just drags down everything about their life. And something as simple as a tablet that costs half a penny can make an enormous difference in a child's life."

She also worked to educate people about HIV/AIDS. Teaching how it is not spread is just as important as teaching how it is spread, she said.

"Still to this day there's a lot of fear about, 'Can I shake hands with this person? Can I share a bench in church with this person?'" Humphreys said.

In some rural areas, people believe they can get the disease by witchcraft as well, she said. 

Despite extensive training in the nation's language, Humphreys said the language barrier between her and the people she served in Kenya was sometimes an obstacle. English and Swahili are Kenya's two official languages, but the nation has more than 40 tribes, each with their own dialect.

But "the longer you're there the more language you learn and the more you pick up even little bits of the tribal dialects," Humphreys said.

Though the experience was at times difficult, Humphreys said she's glad she did it and recommends it to anyone who may be considering it.

"Just do it," Humphreys said. "It's incredible. It's one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

"It's hard and the application process is hard, but people should do it."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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