In village in Southern Chad (1991)

Fetching water near Chief's compound (1992)

Name: Jeanette Rainey
U-M Affiliation: Alumni

Where do you work?

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When did you serve in the Peace Corps?

1990 - 1992

Where did you serve (which country/countries)?

Chad, Africa

What were your main responsibilities as a volunteer?

Water Sanitation and Health (WASH) Volunteer: I was primarily responsible for implementing water sanitation and community health projects in collaboration with UNICEF and CARE. I conducted a number of surveys on diarrheal diseases and schistosomiasis, mapped out village water sources and usage, participated in immunization campaigns, and worked at a rural health clinic in my host village.

Is there a specific person (or persons) who made a strong impression on you during that time?

The wives of the village chief impacted me significantly. At the time I was a volunteer, there were nine wives and 37 children in the chief’s compound (where I was also residing). The ability of the wives to tend to the fields (cotton, sorghum, and peanuts), fetch the water, collect the fire wood, and prepare the meals each day was tremendously impressive – especially given the harsh environment and ongoing battles with malaria and other infectious diseases. This remains astonishing.

What was one of the most memorable moments you had as a volunteer?

There are numerous moments that created a rewarding Peace Corps experience. I was the first volunteer in my small rural village. As a result, perhaps the most meaningful part of my experience was the chance to establish strong friendships with many in the village. I really enjoyed learning the local language (Zime) and being able to sit around a camp fire at night and share stories with others seemingly so different from myself. These differences did not seem so great after the two years as a volunteer. Also, I will never forget transporting one of the pregnant wives on the back of my Peace Corps issued bicycle to the nearest town for medical care, due the lack of locally available transportation and treatment. Unfortunately, she lost her unborn child, but she recovered and was able to return to the village. Two coup-d’etats occurred in Chad between 1990 and 1992. Both times, my fellow volunteers and I were contacted and told to prepare for immediate evacuation to Cameroun; volunteers were airlifted out of northern Chad by the French military. Although these events created anxiety for some, a strong connection developed between the volunteers serving in Chad at that time. This connection remains even today.

In what ways did your Peace Corps experience affect your life and/or career decisions?

My time in Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer truly offered me an extraordinary opportunity to see and better understand life elsewhere in the world - especially the challenges of living in a resource-poor country. The experience influenced my decision to pursue a career in public health. Following Peace Corps, I returned to school to earn a MPH at UCLA and later a PhD in epidemiology from the University of Michigan. I am currently starting my 6th year working with the Global Immunization Division at US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My time in Peace Corps has contributed to my decision as well as ability to work effectively in international public health.

What advice would you give to others who are contemplating going into the Peace Corps?

Go for it. Peace Corps provides a tremendous chance to explore the world, contribute to local projects, develop friendships, and gain new skills along the way. It will not always be easy, but you will never regret it.

What is the value gained from the Peace Corps experience?

Our similarities are much greater than our differences.

What lessons did you learn in the Peace Corps that you carry with you today?

Make the most of what you have to work with. Be adaptable.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I recently returned to Chad for the first time since leaving in 1992 for ongoing CDC related work. A lot had changed in the last 18 years but I had the chance to see a few people from my Peace Corps village and even remembered a few words of Zime.

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