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Celebrating 50 Years of Peace Corps: ‘Tested to the Point of Breaking’

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the Career Center is sponsoring an exhibit at the Dining Hall, featuring alumni experiences with the organization. The college’s records indicate that approximately 40 alumni have volunteered over the years.

Each day, Dec. 12-16, news.hiram.edu will profile one alumni experience. Please continue to check back, and be sure to stop by the Dining Hall exhibit by Dec. 16 to learn even more.

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Name: Ayeke Messam ‘00

Major at Hiram: French and Political Science

Messam served in Togo, West Africa, from 2003-2005, after completing graduate school. She worked as a Girls Education and Empowerment volunteer.

Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?

Messam decided to join the Peace Corps after earning her master’s degree in international development from the University of Pittsburgh.

“I had always been interested in international development from a young age, and it was this interest that led me to my chosen course of study in graduate school and ultimately joining the Peace Corps,” she said.

How did your experience with the Peace Corps enhance your education?

The hands-on experience that Messam got while working in the Peace Corps was irreplaceable in gaining a global perspective on the world, she said.

Her work involved raising awareness for girls’ education and gender equality by creating an after-school girls’ club and developing activities for International Women’s Day celebrations, in a small village called Tabligo.  Thanks to this experience, she said, she learned things about the culture, people and languages in Togo, which a book could never have taught her.

How has the experience influenced your life to this point?

Messam now works as the Deputy Head of Programs for the Catholic Relief Services in the Central African Republic.

“Working in international development requires experience living and working in developing countries, and were it not for that experience, it would have been difficult to get my foot in the door in this field,” she said.

Messam also said the Peace Corps helped her become more self-aware by reinforcing her strengths and testing her weaknesses to the point of breaking.

Are there any standout memories from your experience?

For Messam, many of her most poignant memories from her time with the Peace Corps are tainted with prejudice.  She encountered—and continues to encounter—sexism, ageism and racism because, as she puts it, “the Togolese do not have a monopoly on these things.”

Such intolerance used to leave Messam feeling despondent and defeated, but she said she is now learning how to better deal with such problems.

“When I come across anyone of these things, I tell the truth as I see it to anyone who is trying to be an obstacle before me: ‘Being a young, educated black woman is wonderful, and I love myself for it; and you will respect me not because of any of those things but because I am a human being, and I deserve it,’” she said.

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