Lisa Heffern with students. “I’m teaching ABC's in a visual way, one that involves moving around and the kids getting into the correct order,” she remarks.
Lisa Dowling Heffern (’03) recently completed a 22-month tenure with the Peace Corps in The Gambia, West Africa. A JMU French major with minors in translation, teaching English as a second language, and middle-school education, Heffern interviewed for the Peace Corps right on the JMU campus. She served as an education volunteer in the corps, observing teachers and critiquing lessons, creating teaching and learning aids out of locally available materials, teaching computer classes and conducting workshops for teachers.
She also coordinated numerous youth programs including a language exchange program between 100 Senegalese and Gambian youths, a malaria and cholera awareness program, an environmental awareness weekend for 100 Gambian youths, and a region-wide girls basketball tournament. She also initiated a girls’ empowerment career day that sent seventh and eighth-grade girls to work for two days with professional women in the country’s capital, Banjul.
“The school welcomes donations of children's books and school supplies,” Heffern says. “The cheapest way to send books is to use the MBAG/book rate. The school’s address is: St. Michael's Basic Cycle School, Njongon Village c/o the Catholic Education Secretariat, P.O. Box 165, Kanifing, The Gambia, West Africa.”
Heffern highly recommends serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, “It is true what they say-—the Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love. Why do anything if it’s easy though? I returned to the American school system with a lot more knowledge and confidence.”
Now back in the U.S., Heffern is teaching English in Fairfax County, Va., public schools. She enjoys sharing her “experiences in one of the most beautiful and peaceful countries in the world,” with her students. She and Ryan Waters (’03) plan to marry this summer. When Waters visited her in The Gambia, “He didn’t miss the malls, but he found the spiders scary,” Heffern remarks.
Heffern invites JMU students who would like to know more about the Peace Corps organization and her personal experiences to contact her by e-mail at email@example.com.