Interview with Jennifer Monga, December 8, 2021
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummaryJennifer Monga served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali from 1991 – 1993 specializing in Agriculture Extension programs. She attended the University of California (Davis) as an International Relations major dealing in foreign policy and did various internships in agriculture, community service, and global human rights. While in college, Jennifer became interested and involved with Amnesty International which expanded her exposure to the needs of individuals in developing countries and piqued her interest in law and legal aid. Eventually, service in the Peace Corps became a viable option. From having spent summers in France and speaking French fluently, she was hopeful of getting a volunteer assignment in Francophone Africa and was very happy about being assigned to the West African country of Mali. She indicated that her mother was “thrilled but nervous,” and that her father also agreed with her choice. After three days of orientation and medical onboarding in Philadelphia, Jennifer was among 40 or 50 other volunteers who left for Mali. They spent the first few weeks in the capital, Bamako, at a Peace Corps village outside of the town. The group was then assigned to live with families in pairs in neighboring villages while continuing technical language and cultural training in the Peace Corps village, traveling to and from the host village each day by bus. Total training lasted about three months. She began to learn to read and speak Bambara, a local language spoken in much of the country. She was able to visit her assigned site of Ouellessebougou about halfway through training. Once training was completed, Jennifer moved to her site in Ouellessebougou, about 100 kilometers from the capital of Bambara, and consisted of four small villages separated by a paved road where Jennifer rented a large home at first and then moved to a smaller, two-room “mud home” in the same compound. She rented the house from a landlord and his family who lived next door. She also ate dinner with the landlord and his family. Theirs was a mostly non-meat diet with foods garnered from local produce and dependent upon the harvesting season. Most foods were derived from mill flour, grain, and starches; there were very few imported goods in her area. She planted a private vegetable garden and used her training in agriculture to make it flourish. There was no electricity or running water at her site. She went every week to the local market where she could practice her language proficiency. Initially, Jennifer attempted to continue the work projects a previous volunteer had started, which involved visiting and maintaining numerous village-based market gardens. Eventually, Jennifer found more value in assisting a remote resource-challenged village: Nianzana. Nianzana was about 30 minutes away from her village by motorcycle. She partnered with a very small development organization with a local official based in that village, and they worked with the local women’s group to establish a community market garden. Jennifer wrote a grant and was awarded funding to finance the community market garden, and the project led to several other related projects focused on ensuring the successful management of the communal market garden. In collaboration with local leaders and the women of Nianzana, they developed an accounting system to monitor funds, a logistics plan for sale of produce at regional markets, and a curriculum to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills. Jennifer developed a significant bond and a strong working relationship with the women and her work counterpart and participated in many social activities in the village. Song, dance, and theatre were often used to impart key lessons in nutrition and health. Jennifer also collaborated with other volunteers in the sectors of health, small enterprise, and forestry as they worked on smaller projects in and around Ouellesseblougou and found a particular passion in health and health education projects. Every three months, Jennifer was required to return to the Bamako Peace Corps headquarters where she stayed in a Peace Corps-run “stage home” and received preventative medical services. Jennifer soon became acquainted with the Muslim culture of her locale. When she had leisure time or a vacation period, Jennifer listened to music, read books, wrote in her journal, and wrote to her friends and family back home. She did do some traveling and was much impressed with her trip to Timbuktu. At the end of her service, she met her parents in East Africa and traveled to Kenya and Zimbabwe. Upon completing her service, Jennifer felt that her most impactful experiences were the interpersonal connections she made in Mali, but she felt that more job-focused direction was needed from both the Peace Corps and the country/local government. Upon returning to the United States, Jennifer embarked upon a career in Health Services and spent some time working in a women’s health clinic. She went on to become a registered nurse and obtained a graduate degree in Public Health. Jennifer currently works in clinical research and home-based infusions. She is presently active with the New Jersey Returned Peace Corps group
Interview KeywordPeace Corps (US) Country of Service: Mali Dates of Service: 1991-1993 Peace Corps Volunteer Job: Agriculture Extension Peace Corps (US): 1990-2000 Language : French, Bambara Language Training: Bamako, Ouellessebougou, Nianzana Cultural Training: Philadelphia, Bamako, Ouellessebougou, Nianzana
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All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Monga, Jennifer Interview by Donald C. Yates. 08 Dec. 2021. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Monga, J. (2021, December 08). Interview by D. C. Yates. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Monga, Jennifer, interview by Donald C. Yates. December 08, 2021, Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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