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Journey to Africa

Katy Prouty volunteers with Peace Corps in South Africa for 27 months.

Katy Prouty knew this was the right time to join the Peace Corps, but the next 27 months of her life in South Africa will be filled with unknowns.

Prouty left Monday, July 24, along with roughly 80 other volunteers, for two years of service in the African nation.

"I just graduated college and have no serious commitments," said Prouty on the Friday before she left. "I always knew I wanted to teach over seas, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity."

A resident of Burke, Prouty attended Lake Braddock Secondary School and graduated in May from James Madison University with a degree in interdisciplinary liberal studies.

While in South Africa, Prouty will spend her first three months living with a host family in Pretoria and participating in an intensive training session where she will be immersed in African culture.

"The mission of the Peace Corps is to engage in sustainable development in countries around the world. We develop programs to help people help themselves," said Bartel Kendrick, public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

Though Prouty said she is ready for a new cultural experience, she spent her last few days at home focused on her friends and family.

"Right now, I'm trying to avoid the realities of South Africa, but, I'm sure once I get there, I'll realize this is the first time in my life that I'll be a minority," said Prouty. "I've heard that death is so common there, you'll go to a funeral every Sun

day, so I was told to bring a dress."\par

Currently, 21.5 percent of the population of South Africa is infe

cted with HIV, according to the AIDS Foundation of South Africa's Web site. In the most recent United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS Global Report, an estimated 270,000 to 520,000 people in South Africa died from AIDS in 2003.\par

Once her three-month training period is completed, Prouty will begin living with a different host family and will start her job helping to train local teachers in new methods of education and discipline. \par

While Prouty knows this general plan for her time in South Africa, she does not know where in the country she will live and work after her initial training.

"I don't know anything about what it's going to be like," said Prouty. "We don't really know what we're going to be doing or where we'll be until we get there." \par

It is this uncertainty that has left Bonnie Prouty, Katie Prouty's mother, feeling a bit anxious about her daughter's new adventure.

"This is a situation where, if it was someone else's child, you would say, 'how noble' and 'how courageous,'" said Bonnie Prouty. "But, when it's your own child, you know those things intellectually, but emotionally you worry."

Kendrick explained that while it's natural for parents to worry about their children, the Peace Corps does everything in its power to ensure the safety of its volunteers.\par

"Primary to everything that we do is the safety and security of the volunteer," Kendrick said. "We want to make sure the volunteer goes into an area where they're safe and they can perform the assignment they've been given."

Bonnie Prouty said her daughter's decision to join the Peace Corps was a complete surprise, but makes sense because she has always wanted to teach.

"I hope that [the experience] turns out to be everything. and more, that Katy is hoping for," said Bonnie Prouty.

But what exactly is Katy Prouty hoping to gain from her time in the Peace Corps?\par

"I want to learn about a new culture and know that I can live and survive in a different culture," Prouty said. "I know everyone in the Peace Corps says the experience changes their life. They become more mature and they realize things about the world they didn't know before."

According to the Peace Corps Web site, the program began in 1960 when John F. Kennedy, then a senator representing Massachusetts, made a speech at the University of Michigan, asking students to promote peace throughout the world by volunteering in developing countries.

Over the last 45 years, more than 182,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps in 182 countries.