Interview with Sarah Koch, October 28, 2021
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummarySarah Koch served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (Rural Health) in Senegal from 2005-2007. In Thies, Senegal, Sarah completed 2 months’ training in a local language (Mandinka) and culture. Sarah’s first challenge came when she discovered that people in her village of Leboya spoke Jakhanke, not Mandinka. Sarah learned Jakhanke by living in the village center in a hut built by the village chief, and by eating meals with the chief’s family. Also, the mango tree outside Sarah’s hut was central to village activities, so she quickly met many villagers. Her Peace Corps Country Director encouraged volunteers to first meet people through listening. Using a survey, Sarah initiated conversations about their health needs. Villagers identified: malaria prevention; water sanitation and hygiene; family planning; and maternal and child deaths in childbirth. Sarah adopted a “good development” approach of listening for cultural appropriateness and encouragement for local solutions. Early on, an international aid group delivered white mosquito nets, but no one would sleep under them. Sarah asked why and learned that people in her village bury their dead under white sheets. Sarah listened as villagers decided to dye the mosquito nets an acceptable color so they could sleep under them. This incident taught Sarah “what listening looks like, and how I need to shift.” Sarah credits Peace Corps with teaching her an adaptable “good development” model, built on Peace Corps values celebrating the uniqueness of each community. In 2006, she co-founded a non-profit, Development in Gardening (DIG) with Steve Bollinger, a Peace Corps Volunteer friend who introduced her to therapeutic vegetable gardening for HIV patients. Sarah has served as DIG’s Executive Director since 2006. She and her U.S. team work with host country staff to serve uniquely vulnerable communities in Senegal, Kenya, and Uganda. Sarah’s Peace Corps connection remains strong - all DIG’s American staff and several Board members and donors are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).
Interview KeywordPeace Corps (U.S.) Senegal (Country of service) 2005-2007 (Date of service) Peace Corps Volunteer Job (Rural Health) Dakar (capital of Senegal) Thies (city outside Dakar and site of Peace Corps training) Leboya (Volunteer’s rural village assignment) Mandinka (Language) Jakhanke (Language) Muslim village (Culture) the practice of polygamy (Culture) Tambacounda (the closest town to Volunteer’s village) Niokolo-Koba (nearby national park) U.S. Peace Corps Director (Senegal) survey of health needs: malaria infections water sanitation and hygiene family planning maternal and child deaths in childbirth midwives traditional development vs. “good” development Canadian missionaries’ medical supplies’ drop off delivery of mosquito nets in culturally inappropriate white color urban agriculture pilot project in Dakar a hospital with infectious disease ward (Dakar) Steve Bollinger (PC Volunteer, Dakar) HIV positive patients therapeutic garden with vitamin-rich produce for HIV patients created non-profit DIG (Development in Gardening) in 2006 during Peace Corps service uniquely vulnerable people regenerative farming Kenya, Uganda, Senegal (DIG’s priority countries for investment) US-based staff Sarah Koch, DIG Executive Director host country national staff Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs)
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Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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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Koch, Sarah Interview by Kathleen Beckman. 28 Oct. 2021. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Koch, S. (2021, October 28). Interview by K. Beckman. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Koch, Sarah, interview by Kathleen Beckman. October 28, 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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