Peace Corps Voices: Bethany Stewart ’03, Becoming Part of the Family in The Gambia

Bethany at the rice fields.

Partnerships for the goals Sustainable cities and communities reduced inequalities good health and well-being

SUNY Geneseo is proud that we number 14 nationwide for active Peace Corps volunteers among medium-sized schools. There are 18 active volunteers in 16 countries, helping to train men and women in healthcare, education, entrepreneurship and other fields, and addressing sustainable development goals to reduce inequality.  In recognition, we are creating a digital scrapbook of stories and photos from active and past volunteers from our Geneseo family.


Bethany Stewart ’03

Major: Sociology

Minor: Biology

Peace Corps service: 2003-2005

Location: The Gambia, West Africa

Language spoken: Fula (also known as Pulaar)

Expertise: Community health education


The most valuable lesson or perspective I learned during the Peace Corps:

Nothing goes as planned but it's not necessarily a bad thing!

I entered Peace Corps with as few pre-conceived notions as possible. I deliberately stayed off online forums and simply did some research on the country and region that I would be living in. However, I obviously still had thoughts on what my time would be like and what I "should" accomplish. What ended up happening is that I learned a huge amount about the country and its people as well as about the friends and family I made. I also learned a lot about myself.

One perspective I gained is to know that it's ok when things don't work out as you planned. You simply use that experience and learn from it. And, perhaps the outcome is actually something better or more effective than what you originally planned.

I will share a memory that stays with me:

One night, i was sitting in my family compound and a visitor to the village stopped by. They asked my family who the "white person" (rough translation) was.

My host grandmother spoke up and said, "That's no white person, that's our Hawa (my Gambian name)." I knew, in that moment, that I had been accepted as a part of the family and community and was valued.Wearing traditional fula dress with a young man.

Here are a few more:

• Helping one of my host mothers deliver her baby and having that baby named after me

• Being immersed in a different culture and communicating in a different language is a truly amazing and humbling experience.

• Living with no running water or electricity, learning how to use a pit latrine and bathing using a bucket

My Geneseo experience inspired me to join the Peace Corps. Here’s how:

I have always enjoyed volunteering and giving back to my community. I also enjoy traveling, particularly to other countries. Through some of the classes I took, especially in sociology, I started to learn more about the disparities that exist in our community, from a local and global perspective. I felt compelled to do something to try to help these inequalities and injustices that exist through serving in the Peace Corps.

— The photos I shared are of Salamata with Hawa on her back at a rice field and myself in traditional fula dress.



Kris Dreessen
Manager of Editorial Services
(585) 245-5516