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GHS grad set for mission of peace and friendship

Until recently, Sarah Pierce had never heard of Kyrgyzstan. This weekend, the Greenville High School and Auburn University graduate will be traveling to the Central Asianyrgyzstan country to begin a 26-month sojourn as a Peace Corps volunteer.

“I admit, I had to Google K when I first found out I’d be going there,” Pierce said.

With a degree in Biomedical Sciences and Psychology, she will be serving as a health educator, working in areas such as disease prevention, AIDS education, hygiene and community education.

“I feel prepared. I am in Group K-18. That means 17 Peace Corps groups have already volunteered before us there, and they have put together great guides and packing lists, so I know what to expect,” Pierce said.

And, contrary to what you might expect, it’s not miles of sand.

“Kurdistan is green, mountainous – it’s beautiful, not a big desert. There’s a big lake nearby, but it is a land-locked country, roughly the size of Nebraska,” she said.

Initially, Pierce will spend three months with 60 other volunteers from across the U.S. immersing herself in the Kurdish language and culture.

“The language instruction will be very intense – hours and hours each day,” Pierce said.

Once her training is completed, she will be assigned to her post. “I don’t know where I will end up – it could be an apartment in a city, or a house in a tiny country village. I know I will have use of a cell phone and dial-up access to the Internet – although if I am in a rural area, I may only get to use an Internet café site once a month or so, although the cafes are popping up more and more there,” she explained.

She may not have all the modern conveniences most of us take for granted, though.

“I have been told I probably won’t have running water. Hopefully, there will be a flushable toilet. However, if it’s an outhouse, I can adjust. Many people there have no indoor plumbing,” Pierce said.

So, why does Pierce want to leave friends and family behind to travel to the other side of the globe?

The seed was planted, she says, during her high school days in Greenville. “I remember learning about the importance of being a global citizen at GHS. At Auburn, I was involved with the College Democrats, and we did a lot of volunteer work in the community,” Pierce said. “And once you see the fruits of what volunteer work can do, I don’t see how you can stop.”

She recalls the words of President John F. Kennedy, whose Executive Order established the Peace Corps, and Kennedy’s desire to work toward world peace and global friendships.

“Today, it is more important than ever to work toward that goal. Kurdistan is 70 percent Muslim, and so many people here see that in a bad light. I hope to be able to shed some positive light from that side,” Pierce said.

Her parents, Jimmy and Jane Pierce, are naturally anxious about their daughter living on the opposite side of the globe. But she hopes they will get to visit during her stint in the Middle East.

“The Peace Corps encourages family members to visit the volunteers and see what life is like there,” she said.

“And I get two days off a month, so I will save some days up and do some traveling. I’m excited about that opportunity.”