Sociology Alumna to Serve in Peace Corps in Africa
For Amy Bustamente, majoring in sociology only enhanced her desire to explore distant places, study different cultures, and help others in need.
In February, the 2011 graduate of the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences will embark upon her most challenging journey thus far when she begins a 27-month assignment with the Peace Corps in the West African country of Ghana.
“Studying sociology widened my understanding of the world outside, and I began to ponder what I was doing to help others,” said Bustamente, who traveled on her own to countries such as Peru and Nicaragua during summer breaks from college.
“After exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu [in the Cusco region of Peru], and witnessing the temples, residences, and sanctuaries, I knew that I wanted to discover more cultures from the past and present. When I came back from a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua, I realized that I wanted to live my life helping others and equip myself to help those in need. I began looking for ways to fully commit to that. That was when I decided that I wanted to be part of the Peace Corps.”
In Ghana, Bustamente will serve as a health/water sanitation educator, working closely with rural community leaders to identify interests and mobilize human and material resources for health-related development projects. Health volunteers help with water resource delivery, hygiene education, improving sanitation and health practices, HIV/AIDS education, and Guinea worm disease eradication, she said.
“The main purpose of Peace Corps volunteers is to empower those they serve,” Bustamente said. “We must learn their language, customs, and beliefs in order to better understand their lives. We are advised to attend ceremonies, religious gatherings, and even funerals. Each region speaks different vernaculars, so the volunteers must immerse themselves in the local culture.”
At NSU, Bustamente was intrigued by the possibilities of research and the study of areas of interest to her.
“Professor Eileen Smith-Cavros shared her experiences and research, which led me to want to follow her path,” Bustamente said. “Her methods of teaching were relatable and realistic, which helped me get more involved in the field of sociology.”
Smith-Cavros, Ph.D., and Edward O. Keith, Ph.D., both associate professors at the college, have conducted extensive research in Veracruz, Mexico, where they studied the culture and customs of rural villagers. Bustamente assisted with that research by translating and transcribing interviews with the Spanish-speaking villagers, some of whom were in their 80s and 90s.
In the field of sociology, “since students begin studying the world from sociological perspectives, the world opens up to them—both in the way students think and in understanding that there is no limit to the places they can go, academically and in terms of travel and research,” Smith-Cavros said.
“Amy came to me as a young student who had already traveled extensively and done service projects and sought to do more. She worked hard during her time at the college to ground herself in frameworks and theories of sociology and anthropology, to build a foundation on which her desire to learn and research other cultures could grow. She is a natural for the Peace Corps.
“I know she will benefit from the experience,” Smith-Cavros said. “And the community she works in will benefit from her energy, creativity, and work ethic. She is very open to new experiences and asks a lot of questions—two attributes essential for scholars and successful sociologists.”
The Peace Corps assignment is Bustamente’s first trip to Africa.
“I am excited about discovering the West African culture,” she said. “Volunteers usually live in the community where they serve, and we live exactly as our neighbors. Some volunteers live on their own while others live with a Ghanaian family. It will probably be a hard process to adjust to the Ghanaian lifestyle. I will most likely not have access to electricity, Internet, or running water. I take this as a challenge.”
Bustamente hopes to eventually earn a doctoral degree in sociology and focus her research on social inequality.
“My hope is to apply all of my skills and life experiences to a project, wherever I might live.”