Shelley’s travels: Marietta woman embarks on life-changing journey with Peace Corps
by Sally Litchfield
MDJ Features Editor
sallylit@bellsouth.net
October 28, 2012 12:00 AM | 3254 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nweke, left, wears a traditional dress from Suriname and holds a boat paddle, which is commonly decorated and used. <br>Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
Nweke, left, wears a traditional dress from Suriname and holds a boat paddle, which is commonly decorated and used.
Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
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Boat paddles, some of her keepsakes and traditional items from Suriname. <br>Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
Boat paddles, some of her keepsakes and traditional items from Suriname.
Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
slideshow
Shelley stands with people in Suriname during her time in the Peace Corps. <br> Special/Shelley Nweke
Shelley stands with people in Suriname during her time in the Peace Corps.
Special/Shelley Nweke
slideshow
Shelley Nweke, a 2002 Marietta High School graduate, recently returned from Suriname in South America after serving three years in the Peace Corps. The 28-year-old shares her experience.

Nweke attended Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., on a basketball scholarship. She graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science degree in management science and engineering with a focus in industrial engineering. Following college, she moved home and worked for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Although Nweke enjoyed the people she worked with, she said, “I knew (the job) wasn’t something I wanted to do the rest of my life.” In May 2009, Nweke volunteered with the Peace Corps.

“I always enjoyed service projects and community service. As I was working (at GDOT), I knew I would rather be doing that,” said Nweke who joined community organizations such as Hands On Atlanta while employed at GDOT.

“You get to travel in the Peace Corps. You get to immerse yourself in a new culture. And you’re doing a lot of good through community service work,” she said.

Nweke accessed the rural village in Suriname where she was stationed by a five-hour car ride to the coast followed by a 12-hour boat ride (“on a good day”) down the river. The first three months she spent integrating into village life.

“You find out pretty soon that if you don’t know the people, if you don’t learn the language, if you don’t get that buy-in from the people then nothing happens and anything you try to do doesn’t work out,” she said.

Nweke performed various duties while in the Suriname such as informal computer lessons, English lessons, educating people on composting and using a nursery for vegetables. She also ran an HIV awareness program through a radio program.

Nweke even used her basketball talents by running a basketball clinic in conjunction with Bay Area Basketball Academy. A few of her teammates joined her from Stanford and together they ran a three-day clinic for the national team and local schoolgirls. Nweke, who also played basketball at MHS, was inducted into Marietta City Schools-Athletic Hall of Fame in September as a member of the track and field team that won a state championship in 2001.

In the future, Nweke hopes to develop an affordable housing community where people who want to improve their life can live and take advantage of different programs to educate themselves on doing so.

“It’s difficult sometimes because people want to improve their life, they want to do better but they don’t have access to the education or information,” she said. “The experience in the Peace Corps solidified my understanding that people are people no matter where you go. They may be in a separate situation but everyone has the basic needs and wants for their life. When you realize that people aren’t really that different, you find a way to interact with them, to live with them well.”
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