By Maryanne Cdristiano-Mistretta
With a little more than half way through the 27-month Peace Corps commitment, Amanda Lee Westpy from Allamuchy is having an experience of a lifetime.
The 23-year-old who has been away since June 2015 is currently serving in Zambia, Africa in the educational program teaching English and computers to two classes of eighth graders – with 90 students in each class.
Bemba is the language of the region, in which Amanda has learned during her three-month training before becoming an official Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).
Other training was to become part of the community and learn the culture. To get around, Amanda travels by bicycle, so bicycle safety is one of the things she needed to know. She also lives without electricity and other modern conveniences she was used to in the states. Living in a hut, she has just the basics. She has to get her water – 100 yards away
According to her mom, Joan Westpy of Allamuchy, the passion for African culture started when her daughter was four or five years old and liked cheetahs and wrote a book called “A Cheetah’s Tale” – a book about the eyes of a cheetah, which was self-published. The love of cheetahs evolved to loving the culture. When Amanda was 17 she went to Ghana with Global Leadership Adventure (GLA). And then at 18 she went back by herself.
Westpy said, “We had a tough time when she was only 18 [traveling to Ghana alone] but we didn’t want to hold her back. It was always wanting more and broadening her horizons and help be the change. That’s her way of giving back.”
Amanda is loving her mission as she lives independently, though she hosts a family that is just 100 yards away. “They house four to six kids,” said Westpy. “She’s gotten close to them and bonded with them. She’s gotten great bonds with other Peace Corp volunteers.”
However, Amanda is not without trials as 27 months away is a long time.
“It’s a normal challenge,” said Westpy. “But she wants to stick it out.”
Missing life events in the United States with family and friends is hard for Amanda.
“Things are happening and she’s not there to be part of it,” said Westpy. “But she wouldn’t trade the Peace Corps experience for anything.”
Having a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Art Institute of Boston, now Leslie College of Art and Design, Amanda has incorporated art lessons and painting throughout her stay.
With 12 months to go, Amanda has grown to be a leader in her community.
Westpy is unsure of what Amanda plans to do when she returns.
“It’s a good question,” she said. “She loves teaching with kids. I think she still has a passion for art. I don’t know if she’d want to be an art teacher or a private studio teacher. She talked a lot about Peace Corps. She’s doing so much working with kids and computers in English.”
Amanda had also started a program for girls aged 18 to 25 called Girls Leading Our World (GLOW). She teaches girls to be empowered through classes including self-esteem, career, and HIV education.
Westpy is able to communicate with Amanda every day through Facebook and What’s App.
“We text a lot,” she said. “It’s free, so that’s great. I chatted with her this morning. Verizon has a great program. We can call her at a good price under the family plan. That helps me and her.”