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Peace Corps volunteer returns to Hagerstown from Africa

November 28, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Tim Bearese, 24, lived without indoor plumbing for two years. His diet during that time consisted primarily of tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant, rice and pasta.

By the end of his stint with the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, a country in west Africa, Bearese was a little homesick for Hagerstown, he said.

Bearese, a 2001 graduate of North Hagerstown High School, studied Latin American history and Spanish at the University of Maryland, graduating in 2005. He then decided to try something new, and when the Peace Corps offered to send him to Africa and teach him French, Bearese jumped at the chance.

His primary job in the west African town where he lived was enrolling students in school, but he also taught English. Bearese was the only American within 300 miles. To communicate, he had to learn not only French, but a couple of tribal languages used in the region, he said.

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On a typical day, Bearese woke up early, around 5:30 a.m., and got ready for work in the dark. Electricity was turned off between 1 and 7 a.m., he said. He showered using buckets before going to the school, where he taught about 80 children for two hours.

In a culture where parents arrange marriages for their children when they reach 11 or 12 years old and where women handling money was a new idea, Bearese planned a career day for his students to learn about opportunities and started an English club where students debated in their rudimentary English.

He also started a theater club for students who wanted to address social issues through skits and plays.

In the traditional culture in which Bearese was living, people didn't look favorably upon bringing in new ideas, he said.

Peace Corps volunteers do whatever the community they're serving needs them to do, Bearese said. He taught a few computer classes and did computer repair in addition to his usual tasks.

Peace Corps volunteers benefit much more from their service than the people they serve, he said. He learned patience and a whole new set of skills.

Bearese is now staying in Hagerstown while interning twice a week at a human-rights organization in Washington, D.C. He is applying to law school and eventually wants to practice human-rights law.

For more information about serving in the Peace Corps, visit www.peacecorps.gov.

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