A reward in life 'truly worth it'
Intuition may have been the most influential factor in Riley McCall's lifetime aspiration regarding service learning.
"I've been day-dreaming about volunteering for the Peace Corps since high school," she said. "My family didn't believe me, but it's true. It (the decision to spend 27 months in Africa) feels so right for me; I am very excited about going there."
A daughter of Pat and Ginny McCall of Lake Hauto, Riley is no ordinary run-of-the-mill young adult. In fact, fresh out of college - she was a May graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in international business and marketing - the 22-year-old has chosen a path very few take.
Next month, she will officially be a member of the "mission" started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to promote world peace and friendship. It's an opportunity," Riley says, that is "truly worth it."
Following a screening process that began a year ago, she is in the final stages of being "prepped" for a departure to Cameroon, Central Africa, where she will eventually help farmers sustain their farms and implement solutions to improve operations at their French-speaking posts.
"When people think about the Peace Corps, they think of mission trips, and charity, and things like that, but I consider this opportunity to be more like a job, like volunteering on a job," she said.
Riley and about 40 other volunteers are scheduled to depart Sept. 22 for Cameroon, where the Peace Corps has had a presence since 1962. Initially, the volunteers will undergo three months of training at its capital, Yaounde, where, Riley said, they will "get to know the country before we serve it."
After the staging/orientation program, she will begin a 24-month stint as a farming and agribusiness agent at a post within the country.
So, what does a 22-year-old Lake Hauto woman know about farming?
"The Peace Corps' training program is the best," she said confidently. Her impending intensive training in French might worry her more than the farming issues she might confront.
"I was nominated for a French-speaking post because I studied a foreign language (Italian) in college for two years, and I also went to Rome," she said. "So, it'll be interesting for the first month because I will be staying with a host family and everyone will speak French."
Then the focus will be on agriculture, where for two months Riley will learn sustainable methods in that field.
"The program for training is phenomenal, so I am really looking forward to it," she said.
Riley will eventually be working with farmers in rural Cameroon.
"For the first year, we (she and the other Corps volunteers) will really be getting a feeling for the community, getting to know the culture. In service learning, it's important to know a community before you serve it," she noted.
The work will involve "figuring out problems and implementing solutions" in order to help the people there establish best practices in agriculture.
"We will work together on how to sustain agriculture, to learn better ways to farm," she explained.
When she arrives in Cameroon, Riley will join about 200 volunteers already stationed there and working in education, environmental and agricultural conservation, health and HIV/AIDS awareness, business development, and information technology.
"Its economy is pretty good and the area is not really deprived ... it's pretty stable," she notes about her home for the next two years. "I'm looking forward to eventually working with community leaders there, to help build their economy."
Part of that initiative will be to "get to the roots of a business and implement strategies to help it grow."
Since not all aspects of life in Cameroon are as advanced as in America, the African experience is all about adapting.
"They have electric and running water. They aren't really deprived, but the experience is likely to take me back about 30 years," she noted. "I'm excited about that, to be in a situation where you don't have to worry about a cell phone or Facebook. I'm looking forward to that kind of lifestyle, because the most important thing to me is to get to know people more."
Riley has no apprehensions about volunteering in a foreign nation.
"Just excitement," she said in relating her feelings about the new experience.
During her stay, she will receive an allowance, which she understands will help her to pay her rent and buy food.
"It's very small, but that doesn't matter to me," she said.
What does matter to her, though, is that she is getting an opportunity she has always looked forward to.
"I'm ready. This is a reward that is truly worth it," she said.