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Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Quest in Africa

Local woman serving the needy through Peace Corps

By Shelley Grieshop

Celina High School graduate Emily Clouse talks earlier this week about her exper. . .

Lush green foliage and friendly folks are abundant in the bustling village of Masindi, Uganda, in Eastern Africa.
But the town of more than 45,000 people has a dark side that 25-year-old Emily Clouse - a Peace Corps volunteer - is working to change. Her first impression of the impoverished area in May 2012 was startling, she said Tuesday during a brief visit home to Mercer County.
"It was dark when I arrived but you could see the poverty. I couldn't listen to my iPod anymore ... I couldn't justify it with what I was seeing," the 2006 Celina High School graduate said.
During her 27-month service with the Peace Corps she is using her college degree in social work to educate at-risk families - most living in primitive huts - on topics such as nutrition and how to avoid deadly diseases like malaria.
"I organize outreach activities. We go into rural areas and talk about family planning and nutrition. Their diets are full of starch," the bubbly Ohio State University graduate explained. "We also teach them about malaria, the number one killer there, and how to decontaminate the drinking water."
Clouse is based at the Masindi-Kitara Medical Center, a private nonprofit complex that opened its doors in 2010 and treats about 2,000 people each month. She shares a nearby duplex with the clinic's head nurse. Electricity is available but water must be fetched from a central outdoor source several yards away.
"That's not so bad. A lot of people have to walk several miles to get water," Clouse added.
Peace Corps volunteers first arrived in Uganda in 1964. Work has been suspended twice - in 1973 and 1999 - during times of unrest. More than 122 volunteers currently serve the poor of the country.
Clouse said she's "treated very well" and has never felt threatened or afraid.
"The country's in a peaceful state right now," she said. "But I would never put myself in a (risky) situation anyway. It's dark there at 7 o'clock and most of the time I'm home by then."
She urges people not to fear places like Africa.
"The country is extremely different but the people are the same. They have the same basic goals in life that we have," she said.
Clouse credits her mother for inspiring her at a young age to help the disadvantaged. As a college sophomore, she decided to "explore the world before starting her career," she said.
Betty Clouse admits she was nervous when her daughter answered the call last year.
"When I found out she was accepted and was leaving in about a month, it was very difficult to go to the airport and see her off," she said. "I like to travel, so I guess it's in her genes, but 27 months is a long time."
Jon Clouse - who heads up the task of sending his daughter care packages of candy and her favorite sunscreen - is grateful for Internet programs like Skype that allow the family to "see" her regularly.
"That really makes a difference," he said.
Emily Clouse said communication with the people of Masindi isn't too rough. The majority of the population speak Runyoro, one of about 40 languages in the region. Fortunately, most of the professionals she works with speak English, she said.
"I get by," she said with a laugh.
The people of Masindi rely mainly on agriculture to survive. The government does little to help them make ends meet, Clouse added.
The area's most glaring problems are the lack of women's rights and poverty - issues that are magnified by an escalating population. Uganda is the second-fastest growing country in the world, although 6 percent of children die before their first birthday, according to Peace Corps officials.
Despite the sadness and obstacles Clouse faces each day, she calls her mission an "amazing experience." She praised the Peace Corps program and its impact on her life.
"It has really helped bring me out of my shell," she said.   
Residents in Uganda are incredibly nice and interested in getting to know her and all about the U.S., she said.
"I'm learning a lot about life, contentment, sharing and being humble," she added.
Jessica Mayle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Peace Corps midwest region, said Clouse's work is valuable to many.
"Like health volunteers all over the world, Emily is making a difference with sustainable, community-driven development projects that will have a lasting impact long after she departs Uganda," she said. "Peace Corps service also provides Emily with language skills, cross-cultural experiences and leadership training that will position her well for education and career opportunities upon her return to the U.S."
Clouse said she truly loves her assignment, but plans to return when her time is up.
"I'll come back home. My heart is in America but a part of my heart will always be in Uganda," she said.
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