Peace Corps has Auburnites around the world

Placer grad looking forward to immersion in Mayan culture
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Several young Auburnites are finding joy in helping others around the world. Kathryn Lee, 22, is a Placer High School graduate who will be leaving early next week to spend two years in Guatemala as a member of the Peace Corps. Lee said because she has already studied abroad in Argentina and gone on some mission trips with Sierra Grace Fellowship, joining the Peace Corps seemed like a natural step. “I think I had been talking about it and thinking about it a very long time,” Lee said. “I just think I fell in love with doing good work and traveling with that. So, it was always like when am I going to do Peace Corps, not if I’m going to do Peace Corps.” Lee said for three months Peace Corps will train her and then for two years she will work as a health promoter for the group Healthy Homes. Respiratory disease, infant mortality and maternal mortality are huge issues in Guatemala, so some of her work will be dealing with those problems. Lee said she will be teaching health classes and plans to start learning Mayan. The Mayan culture is a big draw for Lee, who discovered she would be going to Guatemala when she was with her family in southern Mexico. “I learned so much about the Mayan culture while I was there,” Lee said. Lee said she is looking forward to being in Guatemala on Dec. 21, 2012, which is when the Mayan calendar ends, which many people have taken as the Mayans predicting the end of the world. Lee said it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world, but means the dawn of a new era, and she is looking forward to any celebrations that take place. While living in Guatemala, Lee said she would be staying with one family during her training and another for the remainder of her time. “I think I’m most excited to feel connected to the community,” she said. “I just can’t wait for that feeling of really feeling part of the community and feeling like I have gained their trust and respect.” Although there are also safety concerns, Lee said she is glad to know she has the Peace Corps backing her up if dangerous things were to happen. “Especially in light of the release of information about Peace Corps rape statistics, I think I’m much more aware of that potential,” she said. Although being a foreigner makes someone stand out, Lee said she thinks it will also ensure that her Guatemalan family and neighborhood will have her back. Lee said she is looking forward to hiking in the area, which includes a terrain of volcanoes, coastal areas, rain forests and mountains. Melody Connell, Lee’s aunt, said the family is very proud of her. “We really truthfully had to look up and find where Guatemala was, but I know she will do well,” Connell said. “She is very resourceful.” Chelsea Willett, who graduated from Placer High in 2005, is currently serving in the Peace Corps in El Salvador. “I joined the Peace Corps because after studying International Relations and Human Rights in school, I was ready to get my hands dirty,” Willett said. “I researched a ton, and found Peace Corps to be the most reputable, most affordable volunteering option. I knew that no matter how much I studied the developing world in books, I would never know the whole picture until I got on the ground myself.” Willet currently works as a community organization and economic development volunteer. “I work with an informal youth softball team and art club, as well as a women’s group,” she said. “My women’s group is currently working on the cultivation and elaboration of a native seed called Ojushte.” Willett said she is very integrated in her host family. “I live in an adobe/cement house with a host family, which includes mom, dad, two sisters, an uncle and the great grandmother,” she said. “We have running water (most of the time), and electricity (most of the time). Most people in my town live in adobe houses with little-to-no running water. They haul water from a community water basin. The majority of my community has electricity, but the price of electricity is outrageous. It is a very small community with only 65 houses and to reach some of the houses it can be quite a hike.” Willett said El Salvador is very dangerous, but, although she was grabbed once in San Salvador, nothing major has happened to her. Willett said there are positive and negative things about the country. “El Salvador literally means ‘The Savior,’ she said. “It is a highly religious country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. But it is also beautiful – mountains, valleys, beach and tons of sun. There is a huge Salvador population living and working in the states supporting their families back home, and they are the hardest workers I have ever seen.” Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------ Auburnites currently serving in the Peace Corps Kathryn Lee – Guatemala (leaving Auburn next week) Chelsea Willett – El Salvador Grant Readle – Cape Verde, Africa Margaux Granat – Armenia Natalie Neft – Zambia, Africa For information on the Peace Corps or to donate: Visit