By Clare Hancock
Sat. June 25, 2011. Eugene.
The Veterans Memorial Building seemed to glow under the powerful Oregon sun on Saturday as two dozen friends and family waited anxiously within the banquet hall. Cory VanSteenwyk and his wife, Melissa, had recently returned from a two year trip to Morocco where, through the Peace Corps, they educated the locals about health. As the crowd continued to gather, Cory and Melissa prepared to present their experience.
Paper plates filled with grilled chicken, turkey wraps, assorted fruits, cookies, and strawberry shortcake were placed on circular tables facing a white presentation screen as visitors made themselves comfortable. Cory and Melissa worked their way through the crowd until they had greeted nearly everyone, exchanging handshakes, hugs and light conversation.
A Power Point presentation illustrated their descriptions as the couple took turns sharing their experiences. They started with descriptions of their first two months at a Peace Corps base camp village where a total of six volunteers were taught how to speak an ancient dialect of Berber that did not have a written component. Other lessons that had to be learned included painful acclimation to the foreign climate, exotic foods and paper-less bathrooms where they had to squat over porcelain-covered holes in the ground, as well as learning how to survive in local communities with cultural sensitivity.
Next, the couple spoke about the village, Ikniouen, where they spent the remainder of the two years. Ikniouen is a small community of a few hundred. It is located in the high desert plains where water is scarce and the winters are frigid.
Cory and Melissa’s primary goal was to raise the health standards of the village. Starting with educating the locals about the benefits of teeth-brushing and using soap to growing and eating healthier foods and finishing with the construction of a fully-functional bathroom for the school and a trash disposal system that hindered the build-up of garbage which had infiltrated food and water resources. By the time they had completed their two years, Cory and Melissa had completely changed the way people of Ikniouen thought of personal hygiene. After the presentation, the couple expressed how they hoped the people would take that knowledge to heart and continue caring for their health.
When asked what it was like living in such a strange place, Melissa said, “a big part of living there was just living.” She continued to explain how washing clothes took at least three hours. Cooking, collecting kindling and cleaning a house took much longer to complete.
“The thing I wanted most when I signed up was a change of pace and I certainly got that,” said Melissa as she recounted the many elements of her journey that had altered her life. Cory and Melissa expressed hopes of returning to Ikniouen in the near future. However, for now, they are with friends and family who are anxious to have them back.