By Kathi Bliss
During her time at Stanford University, Magdalena “Maggie” Anchondo felt a spark of passion that led her to want to help alleviate human suffering. What started as a research project became a passion, and eventually led the 2006 graduate of Lockhart High School to travel to West Africa in search of ways to help.
“While studying abroad in Madrid, I had the opportunity to be an intern at CEAR (Centro Espanola al Refugiado), which provided legal services to refugees and conducted research on individual countries’ conditions that lead immigrants to leave their country of origin,” she wrote in a recent letter to her home parish, St. Mary’s of the Visitation Catholic Church.
As a part of that internship, Anchondo was asked to prepare a file on Guatemala, the violent, war-torn nation that eventually became the subject of her honors thesis.
During the same time, she was involved in a number of community activities, including “public citizenship sessions” at local middle schools, and acting as a tutor and mentor for a young Latina student from East Palo Alto, a low-income community near Stanford where nearly half the population is foreign-born.
The in-depth research, coupled with her burgeoning interest in the global immigration debate and a desire to help less-fortunate youth congealed into a decision to join the Peace Corps.
“Combining my previous service work with youth and my desire to gain greater international experience, service in the Peace Corps as an English teacher seemed to be a good fit,” she said.
Though it was at first Guatemala that sparked her interest, Anchondo eventually found herself assigned as an English teacher at College d’Enseignement (CEG) de Pabegou in Benin, West Africa, a largely French-speaking, primarily agriculturally-driven republic off the Gulf of Guinea. The assignment has not only brought her face-to-face with another culture and an entirely different way of life, but it has shown her a new face of poverty.
Never mind the fact that she can only shower periodically, and that her residence receives only sporadic electricity. No, of greater concern to Anchondo is that so many of her students aren’t able to afford the basic essentials they require for their education.
Many, she said, struggle to pay their annual “scholarly contribution,” which amounts to around $20. Those that are able to pay are often unable to purchase the books and documents required for each subject.
The school, which serves 423 students, has no library and inadequate electricity to allow the creation of a computer lab, using computers that were donated previously to the campus.
Worse still, the school receives no governmental contribution, and is forced to operate only on the scholarly contributions of the students.
“Those contributions must be allocated to the school’s other needs,” she said, “including desks and other necessary teaching supplies.”
Therefore, Anchondo devised a plan.
Working through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, she is attempting to raise money for a library and computer lab, where one book will be purchased for every ten students, to help them with the studies of math, history, French, English, physics and biology.
Sessions will also be held in the library, she said, to help encourage positive study habits and health practices, and to offer assistance in forming study groups.
Anchonodo has been in Benin, living and working with her students, since July 2010.
Now, her eyes are turned back toward her hometown, hoping her friends and neighbors will help her in return.
Under the rules of the Peace Corps Partnership Program, construction cannot begin on the library/computer lab until funds have been collected via donation by the Peace Corps. At present, the project still needs $10,390 to get on wheels. Because funds are scarce in Benin, Anchondo is reaching out to the “folks back home” in hopes that the community will help her to help her students.
“This library and computer lab is essential to the educational development of the Pabegou community and it’s students,” she said.
Donations to the Peace Corps Partnership Program Benin project can be made either online or via U.S. Mail, Anchondo said. All donations should reference Project Number 680-214, or Anchondo’s name. Donations may be mailed to Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters, The Office of Private Sector Initiatives, 1111 20th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20526, or online at www.peacecorps.gov/donate.