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An American Abroad

To many Americans, serving one’s country brings to mind military service. But Molly Roby knows that’s just one way to serve. In 2012, Mrs. Roby and her husband, Seth, joined the U.S. Peace Corps, a volunteer organization established by the federal government in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship. They were posted to the West African nation of Ghana, where they began a two-year post as health, water and sanitation volunteers.

Serving in two separate communities in northern Ghana, they worked to educate locals about disease prevention caused by stagnant water and inadequate sanitation, as well as methods to promote health and hygienic practices. They also taught a variety of subjects to high-school students, helped start a half-acre school garden and educated the local youth about American culture, as well as other cultures around the world.

“We worked hard to break down a lot of stereotypes and show them that Americans are very diverse, but that we all have values and goals to promote peace and responsibility to others,” says Mrs. Roby, a member of Sleeping Ute Mountain Chapter, Cortez, Col.

If serving in the Peace Corps sounds like more than a full-time job, in some ways, Mrs. Roby says, it was. “We were on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not because we were expected to be working every hour of the day on a project, but because every moment we were responsible for our conduct as American citizens.”

One of Mrs. Roby’s proudest achievements during her time in Ghana was the creation of a student-led water and sanitation committee at the high school in Zabzugu. “It was a group of 10 committed, fantastic students,” she says. “We met regularly, and they came up with all of these wonderful projects on their own because they truly wanted to make a difference. We were there just to guide and give them training when they needed it.”

After the Robys left Zabzugu, one of the students involved kept the group going and expanded it on a community-wide level. “It was really hard leaving him because he was such an asset to us and really validated our service,” Mrs. Roby says. “Because of him, we know we left something behind.”

The Robys next moved north to Tamale where, in addition to their work with the local community, they managed the Peace Corps sub-office for volunteers in northern Ghana.

As Peace Corps volunteers around the world are expected to do, the Robys lived at the same level as the people in the villages they served. In Zabzugu, that meant fetching water from a borehole, cooking traditional cuisine using local ingredients such as yams, cassava and corn, speaking the local Dagbani language, and living off of a modest stipend.

One luxury they did enjoy was electricity. The couple would charge cell phones for villagers in exchange for local cheese, while a ceiling fan provided much-needed relief during the hot season, when temperatures in the late afternoon reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

They called home every other week, and letters would occasionally arrive from loved ones despite the unreliable mail system. For Easter, Mr. Roby’s mother sent him some dye in an Easter card, and the Robys hosted an Easter celebration and dyed eggs with some of the village youth. “It was fun to share American holidays, foods and traditions with the people,” Mrs. Roby says.

Now that she’s back home, Mrs. Roby says she has a greater understanding of what it means to be an American. “As a DAR member, we look at our ancestors and what they did to help found this country and the responsibility they felt to make sure the country is what it is today,” she says. “For me, Peace Corps goes along with that. I have this responsibility to be a global citizen because of the values I have as an American.”

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