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Rotterdam woman helping village in Kenya improve conditions

Living away from home for an extended period of time can be a daunting task for any recent college g

Living away from home for an extended period of time can be a daunting task for any recent college graduate.

But single-handedly representing the Peace Corps in an unfamiliar country with different languages and cultural norms is even more challenging.

Lindsey Jackson, Rotterdam native and a member of the Mohonasen High School class of 2007, began her journey as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in July 2012.

Prior to that, she attended SUNY Geneseo and received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2011. Soon after, Jackson jumped into SUNY Albany’s Masters International program, where she is working toward a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in environmental health.

The Masters International program represents a partnership between the Peace Corps and several universities and combines field experience with graduate studies. After her first year at UAlbany, the 24-year-old travelled to the small village of Chebukaka, in the Western province of Kenya, to begin her field work.

There Jackson began work on a number of projects to educate young men and women about various health matters, from water sanitation and hygiene to dispelling myths about menstruation and HIV/AIDS.

She started health clubs at two local secondary schools, started a small library at the school on her compound, hosted events for HIV/AIDS Health Education Day, World Malaria Day and Girl’s Health and Empowerment Day, and planned and worked at a leadership camp for boys in 11th and 12th grad. The camp covered topics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, sexual assault awareness, leadership, teamwork, computer skills and reading.

This month Jackson is working at Camp GLOW, or Girls Leading Our World, a Peace Corps-sponsored one-week camp for where teens learn about various health topics, attend a career day, and wind down with talent shows and movie nights.

She is also working on developing a system to catch rainfall for the primary school on her compound to store water during the dry season between December and February.

“This experience is a roller coaster ride, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I have faced situations I never would have at home, dealt with cultural differences that at first seem so radically different, but become everyday life after some time. I have to say I’ve also just learned a lot about myself,” Jackson said.

After a three-month training with a group of 30 other Peace Corps volunteers, Jackson was sent to her assigned location where she’d spend the next three years working to better living conditions for locals.

According to her blog, The R(ae)ction, this is Jackson’s first time living alone, “let alone living alone halfway across the world. Even though this is a daunting reality, I am so grateful for everything I have encountered so far on my journey,” she said in a blog post last August.

Jackson lives in a concrete building on a compound run by Our Lady of Peace Dispensary. Even without running water, her home is much more lavish than the mud-and-dirt homes that make up much of her village. She even has a Western-style flushing toilet. But all the water she drinks must be treated, and she said water fountains will be a strange idea when she returns stateside in 2014.

As if she wasn’t busy enough, Jackson is currently trying to raise grant money for an initiative to eliminate tungiasis, or “jiggers,” an often overlooked but serious disease endemic in much of the world. Jiggers is caused by the female sand flea, which burrows into the skin and can cause inflammation and other diseases such as necrosis, auto amputation, difficulty walking, tetanus or death.

It is estimated that 2.6 million people in Kenya are infected with jiggers, even though it is entirely preventable with proper hygiene and fumigation of infected homes. But for a rural village like Chebukaka, where families make an average of 300 Kenyan shillings, or four U.S. dollars, per month, soap is a luxury.

Jackson’s grant would provide treatment for 200 people with jiggers infections, fumigation of infected homes, and community-wide education about the prevention of the disease.

The low income level of Kenyans in Chebukaka has been moving for Jackson: “If it’s not a necessity to survive, it’s not even a thought … it honestly makes me realize how much we have at home, even to the point of excess,” she said.

According to Jackson’s mother, Diane, “If we can get every person in the area to donate a dollar, it would satisfy Lindsey’s grant. A dollar isn’t going to break anybody.”

To read more about jiggers and Jackson’s grant, check out her Peace Corps donation site:

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