Posted on Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Alum Martha Pigott '06 is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Malawi, an assignment she began in June of 2007. Recently, the Buffalo News wrote about Pigott and her experience in Dzoole, Malawi and the Web site her brother created to help her raise money for youths in the village.
"I didn't know a thing about Malawi when I learned that's where I was going! To tell you the truth, I didn't even know it existed. But after some research, I grew more and more excited. I was ready to go and ready for Malawi, so I accepted immediately," said Pigott in the article.
Pigott is working in an health clinic in Dzoole where she has expanded her role to include development of a local soccer team and youth club - as well as fundraising to obtain needed supplies for both.
While at William Smith, Pigott majored in public policy and earned a minor in Spanish and writing. She became a writing colleague and Spanish tutor, played on the girls' club ice hockey team and performed in the Koshare Dance Collective. She also participated in the Washington D.C. internship program and interned for a congressman in the fall of 2004. In the spring of 2006, she also studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland where she interned for an Intellectual Property Watch Publication.
The full article about her work in Malawi and her youth initiatives there follows.
Gift of the heart: Peace Corps volunteer finds ways to serve Malawi village
Carlene Miller • NeXt Correspondent • December 24, 2008
For many, the season of giving spans from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
For Grand Island resident Martha Pigott, the season of giving has lasted since June 2007, when she began serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi.
Martha's interest in the Peace Corps began when she first heard about the organization while attending Nardin Academy. That initial interest increased when she enrolled at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where recruitment for the organization was quite common as the college's president, Mark Gerean, had been the Peace Corps director under the Clinton administration.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in public policy in 2006 and being accepted into the Peace Corps, Pigott was asked if she was willing to spend her two years of service in Malawi, a small country in Africa known for being the poorest on the continent.
"I didn't know a thing about Malawi when I learned that's where I was going! To tell you the truth, I didn't even know it existed! But after some research, I grew more and more excited. I was ready to go and ready for Malawi, so I accepted immediately," said Pigott, via e-mail from Malawi.
Since June 2007, Pigott has been living and working in Dzoole, a small village in central Malawi. In many ways, life in Dzoole is very different from life in Western New York. There is no electricity besides what can be collected from solar panels. There is no indoor plumbing and most people live in small huts, relying on growing cash crops like maize and tobacco completely by hand. Most people live off less than a dollar a day.
Surprisingly, not all of Malawi is like this. In many of the towns and in Lilongwe, the capital, modernization has taken hold with restaurants and Internet cafes, allowing Pigott to keep in touch with family and friends through e-mail, Facebook and Skype.
But this pales in comparison to the greatest surprise of Malawi, the people.
"These people truly are the warmest people you'll meet and in spite of their hardship, they still know how to laugh and have fun and appreciate life. Mothers still scold their children, fathers still stand around and talk and joke, teenagers still try to defy their parents, and kids will always be kids. People are people no matter where you are in the world or how little you have. Everyone knows you've got one life to live and without a doubt, they're living it!" said Pigott.
Over the past year and a half, Pigott has been working very hard to repay her kind new neighbors. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Pigott was assigned to work at Dzoole's health clinic, recording HIV/AIDS test results, distributing health information, vaccinating children from area villages, giving safe-water demonstrations, and checking children for proper weight. She has also aided in the building of numerous wells and teaches a life skills course at the local school.
But Pigott has gone far above and beyond these tasks to give back to this community in need.
"She's always been very highly motivated and a real self-starter, so we think it's wonderful what she's initiated, and in such a short period of time," said Peggy Pigott, Martha's mother.
Pigott's other initiatives began with a single soccer ball. The boys of Dzoole found endless hours of fun from Pigott's used soccer ball, so Pigott helped them start their own team, the Dzoole Medicals, who have gone on to win two regional championships. While on a visit home last June, Pigott asked the Delaware Soccer Club to help collect used soccer equipment for the team. Currently, more than 40 boxes of cleats, balls and uniforms have been collected, and the club is now fundraising to pay for the cost of shipping.
After seeing the enthusiasm Dzoole's youth had about the team, Pigott created a youth club to include boys and girls. Giving them all the needed ingredients, Pigott set up a competition to see who in the club could make the best peanut butter. A similar activity was done with soap. The winning products were sold and profits were given to the village's orphan house and the People Living With AIDS organization. Pigott hopes these activities will teach the kids self-sufficiency skills needed to end the cycle of poverty.
The club also puts on skits for the community about health issues, like HIV. To assist the girls in the club, Pigott participated in a camp seminar focused on empowering teenage Malawian girls.
While Pigott saw the positive effects the club was having on the community, she felt they deserved a place that could meet all of their needs. A few months ago, Pigott submitted a building proposal for a Youth Center. Once the $15,000 needed for construction and furnishing is raised, the center will include a HIV/AIDS testing and counseling center, a library, an office, and a recreation center.
Inspired by all his sister had accomplished, Dave Pigott surprised Martha on her birthday with the Brick Foundation. The Web site he created raises money for the youth center. It also raised $1,000 in medical supplies for Dzoole's health clinic.
In June, Martha Pigott will be returning home and plans on attending graduate school to pursue a career in international relations.
While Pigott misses many things from Western New York, including the snow and the Sabres, she doesn't want to think about leaving Africa just yet. She still has a lot to accomplish and knows that leaving her new life and friends will be difficult. But she knows she won't be gone for long, as she hopes to visit at least once a year to check on the progress in her new home.
"Home starts to become a place you never even knew existed before," said Pigott.
Last Christmas, she and 30 other volunteers gathered at a Peace Corps headquarters for a nice dinner and Christmas movies. This year, Pigott, her Santa hat, and a friend will be visiting Mozambique. While Malawians don't necessarily observe Christmas as Americans do, they still celebrate by attending church, cooking a big meal of meat and rice, and dancing.
"As the Grinch had to learn for himself, it's about having the people you care about close to you. When my family calls that morning to shout ‘Merry Christmas' into the phone, that's all that's going to matter," said Pigott.