Marietta man returns home after two years in Peace Corps
by Lindsay Field
October 08, 2012 01:22 AM | 4436 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brandon Avery, 25, poses at Avery Gallery with his parents Gwenda and Shae Avery, and with items he brought back with him from his time in Africa serving with the Peace Corps. <br> Photo by Emily Barnes
Brandon Avery, 25, poses at Avery Gallery with his parents Gwenda and Shae Avery, and with items he brought back with him from his time in Africa serving with the Peace Corps.
Photo by Emily Barnes
MARIETTA — A Marietta man said it’s overwhelming to be back home after working with the Peace Corps in West Africa for two years, but he doesn’t regret his decision to go there.

Brandon Avery, 25, decided to join the Peace Corps after graduating from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville because he wanted “to get some real field experience.”

Avery left his home in Georgia for Togo in west Africa on Sept. 18, 2010, and returned Sept. 25.

“Being able to go to another part of the world was very attractive for me,” said the 2005 Sprayberry High graduate who studied philosophy in college.

Avery was assigned to the small city of Apeyeme, which is home to around 6,000 residents.

“The program I am most proud of was the Men as Partners program,” he said. “It targets men in the community to teach them about gender equality and how they can improve women’s rights.”

Avery participated in several training seminars and volunteered with a girls education and empowerment program.

“It was a very satisfying project,” he said.

Another also worked with a small nongovernment agency funded by a German embassy grant to create seven local development committees, whose members were voted in by residents.

“That was awesome because people got really excited about voting,” he said. “They would have a band playing with women dancing in the voting lines.”

Avery said he would never forget the feeling of being on the other side of the world.

“I was lucky because Togo was in the mountains so it was just a few degrees cooler, which makes a big difference when it’s Africa,” he said.

Avery also had “relatively reliable” electricity and air conditioning but had to get his water from a rain catch cistern.

He isn’t sure what’s next for him because he is still digesting the experience but said he has applied for a position at Northside Hospital and is considering earning a Masters of Science in Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University.

He said his ideal job would be as a foreign services officer working with international aid organizations like Red Cross or UNICEF.

“I would be honored to get the opportunity to work for one of these agencies,” he said.

His mother, Gwenda, said she and husband Shae are “extremely proud” of their son.

“His compassionate sacrifice is both inspiring and humbling,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean his parents didn’t worry about him.

“We worried about his safety in a continent where terrorism is commonplace and not easy to avoid but believe his attitude and action is what we need more of in this world today,” Shae Avery said.

Another Marietta resident who knows what it’s like to serve two years with the Peace Corps in Africa is 45-year-old Tracie Wright. This year marks 20 years since she worked in Cameroon in west-central Africa.

Like Avery, she joined the organization after graduating from college, the University of Toledo in her case.

“When I was an undergraduate, I had a large group of international students in my school and I got to know a lot of people from around the world and got to realize my perception of others is off from what we saw on the news,” Wright said.

She got a taste for living overseas while visiting her brother in Germany and decided to be the first in her family or her friends to join the Peace Corps.

During her two years there, she was a primary care coordinator working in what is equivalent to a county-level hospital in the United States.

She worked in a prenatal clinic and with infants, in addition to managing a pharmacy at the hospital, hosting a women’s group that met at her house, tutoring children in English and going into smaller villages to do health education.

“It made me appreciate absolutely everything that I had,” she said. “I didn’t grow up with a lot of money or means but I took for granted being able to go down the hall and get clean water from the water fountain. For a lot of people that’s just not part of their lives.”

After returning from Africa, she studied at Tulane University in Louisiana, earning a degree in international health and management, which eventually led her to Atlanta and working in her current position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She is a public health advisor identifying areas of improvement in creating better health statuses, for example immunizations to avoid disease or death in places like Haiti.

Avery and Wright are two of 3,090 volunteers from Georgia who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961, when President John F. Kennedy established the program, spokeswoman Alethea Parker said.

She said 222 young people from Georgia and 9,000 nationwide worked with the Corps in 2011-12 in 75 different countries.

Peace Corps applicants must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen.

“Most of our programs require a bachelor’s degree and/or several years of professional work experience,” Parker said. “The Peace Corps application is considered competitive, however we consider a person’s full background — work, volunteer experience, and hobbies — to match them to an available program.”
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Samuel Adams
October 08, 2012
What a great experience for a young person. Welcome home, and glad you're home safe! I'll always regret just a bit not following my notion to join the Peace Corps.

By the way, if you follow my posts, you'll notice I'm a libertarian conservative hawk. Yes, one can be both for the Peace Corps and for Peace through Strength.
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