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UW-Eau Claire Grad Serving in
Peace Corps in Africa

 MAILED:  April 9, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Stephanie Hazen, a 2002 UW-Eau Claire special education and elementary education graduate, is leaving her mark on a small part of Africa. Hazen is a volunteer with the Peace Corps stationed in the village of Opuwo, located in the northern part of Namibia, just along the border with Angola.

An interest in other cultures and helping the less fortunate led Hazen to the Peace Corps.

“I enjoy my job and learning about a place that’s very different from the United States,” Hazen said. “I encounter daily challenges at work and home but overcoming them is rewarding.”

Hazen is a Peace Corps parents and communities for education volunteer whose task is promoting improvement at Opuwo’s Kameru Senior Primary School, a middle school with about 450 kids. She said improvement typically comes through professional development, increased access to resources, and the strengthening of relationships between primary schools, parents and the community. For Hazen, that means wearing many different hats.

“My current projects keep me very busy,” Hazen said. “Some include management workshops for the principle and the head of department, teaching the teachers how to use computers and co-teaching the AIDS club, English club and drama club.”

Hazen also teaches adult literacy courses, spends time with ailing young people in the children’s ward at the local hospital and solicits donations from local businesses. The school’s greatest need is school supplies, she said.

“Pens are regarded as gold here,” Hazen said. “Some kids don’t have pens for the end-of-term exams so they must share.”

The Kameru School recently received more than 1,500 pens from the Cuba City Methodist Church in Hazen’s hometown of Cuba City. Large donations of school supplies also came from Rusch Elementary School in Portage and Beck Elementary School in Katy, Texas.

“I use these materials every day with the students in the classrooms and to make educational games and activities for my after-school clubs,” Hazen said. “I can’t imagine what I would do if I didn’t have these materials. I remember using a ruler to help cut the paper last year, and now I have 50 pairs of scissors.”

Hazen’s family, friends and UW-Eau Claire professors are among those donating school supplies, clothing and toys to be distributed in the school and the village. Hazen set up a bank account in Cuba City where people can contribute money that she can access from Namibia.

Donations allowed Kameru to purchase a television with a satellite dish to help students learn English and to give them a glimpse of the world outside Namibia, Hazen said.

“The teachers and students favorite program is WWE wrestling,” Hazen said. “Some students ask me if I know the wrestlers personally. When I walk into classrooms without teachers, I often find wrestling matches going on to imitate what they are seeing on TV.”

Some of Hazen’s students have connections to the United States in the form of pen pals.

“The students with pen pals from schools in Texas and Wisconsin value their American friends as much as I value my own friends at home,” Hazen said. “Months after the letters and gifts arrive, they still talk about Sara, Alex, Zach and others as if the know them personally.”

Kameru teachers are attracted to America for the opportunities that exist here, Hazen said.

“The teachers beg me to find a scholarship for them to get additional schooling and to begin a better life in the America,” Hazen said. “All view America as a distant land where life is perfect and everyone has enough money to survive.”

Hazen’s latest project is writing a grant for a media center. The school will receive five computers from Germany and books from the Scottish Book Aid International to go with the television Hazen has already purchased.

“We will be one of the only schools in the country with a computer lab, which is a huge accomplishment,” said Hazen. “I am very excited about this project. I don’t think I could undertake such a large task without the help of the monetary donations.”

Hazen’s Peace Corps service will end in June 2005. She plans to return to the United States to teach for a few years. Then she wants to go to West Africa to work for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.


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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
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Updated: April 8, 2004