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Nick Spina, Armenia 2004 - 2006

From an interview with Peace Corps Fellows, MU's Peace Corps Fellows Program

Nick Spina
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Nick Spina is originally from Michigan. “I joined the PC immediately after graduating from Michigan State. I graduated in May and left the country in June.” As an economics and political science major, Spina had already engaged heavily in international studies: “I found out about the Peace Corps during my sophomore year, and it really seemed to fit into what I was studying.” Spina had also done a good deal of volunteering, “so it seemed like a good combination of several things that I enjoyed doing.” Moreover, Spina wanted to be able to speak another language. “That’s very difficult to do in a classroom,” he observed. “When you live in a country, you have a much better opportunity to learn the language fluently. I don’t think I ever got to that point, but I got pretty close.”
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From 2004 to 2006, he worked in Armenia. “When I was told I was going to Armenia, I didn’t know where it was, so I had to get a map and look,” admits Spina, who was assigned to be a community development volunteer with a local non-governmental organization on human rights issues. Spina worked on a range of different projects. “We tried to educate the community members on everything from human trafficking, and how to write a business plan, to English.” <br/ > <br/ >
“A community development volunteer spends a lot of his/her time planning different projects based on what the community needs,” Spina explains. “So we do a lot talking, have a lot of meetings to figure out what the community needs and how to go about addressing those needs.” <br/ > <br/ >

While Spina worked on a number of different projects, he feels especially good about one, which involved organizing and implementing a summer camp for 10- to 15-year-old Armenian boys. As he explains, “we had a plan to teach them about things they weren’t being taught in schools, such as health, hygiene, nutrition—things they are not going to get from a traditional Armenian education, but that are absolutely crucial to quality of life issues. We talked about HIV/AIDS, sexual health, things that they need to hear early on…[but are] taboo topics in Armenia, so we were having very frank conversations about how to live a healthy lifestyle. And I was pretty proud of that because I know those boys have an advantage over their peers because they received information that is very useful and important,” he says.<br/ > <br/ >

Those young boys were, however, not the only ones who benefited from the summer camp. “My language got a lot better over that period of time because in order to communicate with teenage boys, you talk a lot and you learn to have a sense of humor with them,” he notes. “That always stands out in my mind as a really good experience for everybody involved.” While the teachers were Americans, they were paired with an Armenian teacher, “so the boys were not just getting a one-sided view from an American.” That was important, explains Spina, because “the whole point of Peace Corps, of course, is to learn from each other. Americans learn from Armenians, and Armenians learn from Americans. This was a great opportunity to fulfill those goals.”
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Spina employed a particular strategy to help him become integrated into the community, a city of 60,000 people. “I wanted to meet people my age. And the best way I could figure out how to do that was to join the local youth basketball team,” he explains. “We practiced every day, and we had games all around the city and other cities. It was a really unique experience to be the foreigner on a sports team.”

Responding to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994

From an interview with Béa Gallimore, Associate Professor of French

In 1994, work on Gallimore’s second book came to a screeching halt because of the Rwandan genocide, in which roughly one million people were massacred. Included in the numbers of the murdered were Gallimore’s mother, three brothers, and a sister, as well as her extended family. Among the genocide survivors are an estimated 250,000 women and children who were raped. Gallimore eventually returned to working on her book about Beyala’s work, “but it was very hard because I was working on a book about fictional characters who were victims of rape. On the other side, in Rwanda, there were real women who were victims of rape. I have really had to juggle my feelings, and my writing, because it didn’t really make much sense then to write about fiction when reality was so cruel.” Hence, it is no surprise that even as she was finishing her second book, “there was a book about Rwanda right in front of me.” That book, co-edited with fellow Rwandan Chantel Kalisa (University of Nebraska), was called Dix ans après (2005) and features both academic articles and creative pieces on the Rwanda genocide.