Peace Corps volunteer’s South African experience leads to career change

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 13, 2013

When Beth Moore joined the Peace Corps, it was a way to travel and make an impact on others. She did not know it would alter her life for the better.
Moore, a Catawba County native, had graduated from East Carolina University and worked at a nonprofit, but something was missing. She joined the Peace Corps in 2010 as a health volunteer. The 31-year-old spent two years in Namibia and fell in love with the culture, especially the children.
The experience led her to change careers, and in late 2012 she became a forensic interviewer for Prevent Child Abuse Rowan’s Terrie Hess House child advocacy center.
“I wanted to give back. I wanted to travel. I didn’t want to have any regrets in life,” Moore said.
Moore worked in Atlanta with Professional Photographers of America where she taught photographers how to run their own businesses.
She joined the Peace Corps, an organization designed to provide volunteer opportunities abroad that supports health aid, education or other outreach projects.
Moore’s desire was to travel to southern Africa or eastern Europe. She did not know she’d be in southern Africa until she joined with the organization.
“I didn’t need to think about it,” she said.
Prior to being immersed in the culture, volunteers receive two months of intense training in language and culture. Moore learned to speak Afrikaans and the click language, in which speakers make several clicking sounds with their teeth and tongue. The click language is generally spoken by the Nama. Afrikaans is essentially a simplified version of Dutch. It is common for Namibian people to speak multiple languages; most South Africans speak at least five, Moore said.
Once the training ended, volunteers were assessed based on their skills and then assigned to a particular job. Moore became a health educator, and her main responsibilities were to educate children there about HIV and diseases. But she also helped facilitate after-school programs for 130 children, helped build a playground and held regular soup kitchens. The children would go to school, eat a meal, attend the after-school program and return home at the end of the night.
The children who benefitted from the program were 2 to 17 years old.
“It was hard,” Moore said, but she relied on advice from her parents, who are both educators.
“What’s great about the Peace Corps is you never know what’s going to happen from day to day,” Moore said.
Some days Moore helped at a local hospital, other days she assisted with providing vaccines to children. And at other times Moore just played with the children.
She could take the children on field trips and come up with activities for them. Moore and other volunteers would hitchhike to Cape Town, South Africa.
“I took everything out of the box,” she said.
When she had the opportunity, she took the children on a tour bus to see the countryside beyond their village. Most had not seen areas beyond their village. Many of the children were orphaned by parents who’d contracted HIV.
Hitchhiking isn’t looked upon in Namibia as being dangerous, as it is in the United States, she said. Very few people have cars, and those who don’t hitch a ride to where they need to go, Moore said.
There were four group of children with whom Moore bonded and wherever she went, the children followed.
“If they weren’t in school, we were together,” Moore said.
The children would translate for Moore.
“They became my family. These kids had no family,” she said.
Moore even sends clothing back to Namibia for the children she bonded with, she said.
The Peace Corps provides volunteers with a stipend that allows them to live in a similar manner to the local people. Volunteers work under an organization that provides housing. Moore worked under a Catholic church. She hand washed her clothes just as the people who lived in the village did.
“A dryer and dishwasher — every time I use those things I think about that time,” she said.
Many Namibian people live in corrugated metal shacks with little modern conveniences, but many had satellite and cell phones.
“That’s their way to connect with people to do business,” Moore said.
The people were receptive to help, and spending two years there allowed for time to build relationships, Moore said.
There is no war and there are no guns there, she said. They are a very peaceful people.
“Africa is very much a culture of hard working people that pitch in to help,” she said.
Namibia is in the middle of the desert and extremely hot and extremely cold in the winter. During the night, Moore would place a sheet in her mini fridge and cover up with it, though the fridge was never really cold, she said.
In the winter, temperatures can drop below freezing, Moore said.
Many of the children were malnourished and some even ate sand or whatever would fill their stomachs. Moore often used her stipend to feed some of the children.
“They survived off porridge, which was a maize meal,” she said.
“I never wanted to regret not doing it,” Moore said.
The goal of the Peace Corps is to educate others about the organization.
Moore is considered a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She continues to tell anyone who is willing to listen about her Peace Corps experience.
“There is all different types of ways to serve,” she said.
Married couples can serve in the organization and, although there is a two-year commitment, there are shorter terms.
“You have to be open to whatever,” she said.
“I am forever changed and forever a better person for it.”
Moore saw children who were abused and who lived in abusive homes.
“Working with the kids, seeing the abuse to the extent it was in Africa … I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Moore said.
Adjusting to life upon returning to the United States was a big change for Moore, who found it difficult.
“You still feel a part of two worlds,” Moore said.
She soon felt the need to eliminate unnecessary items from her life. When she moved into her home in Salisbury, she got rid of things she didn’t need.
While in Namibia, Moore taught families about agriculture and sustainability. The families maintained gardens, and Moore continues to garden.
“When I left there, I knew I wanted to do this,” Moore said.
Moore met with the director of a child advocacy center in Statesville who attended her parent’s church. Moore spoke with the director about the career switch she wanted to make.
She soon started her work at the Terrie Hess House.
“I’ve always been very good at building relationships quickly. It’s also about getting and making them feel comfortable enough,” Moore said of her work.
As a forensic interviewer, Moore talks with children who’ve been physically or sexually abused to gain information about the incidents and help investigators prosecute a case. The interview is designed to minimize the trauma to children so they don’t have to repeat their story multiple times.
“People ask me on a daily basis, how do you do that?” Moore said.
“My question to them is how do you not do it? How do you not help these kids?”
Moore said it can be hard to do the work she does, but she knows “when you look into those sweet little eyes, you want to make their lives better.”
One of the hardest parts of the job is sending children home and knowing no one cares about them, she said.
“I think it does take a certain amount of emotional strength to do this,” she said.
In spite of what type of job she has, Moore said she can’t imagine not wanting to do this type of work.
“The way I was raised, you accept people and try to make it better for them,” she said.
Family Advocate Cassandra Rankin said Moore doesn’t meet a stranger and is very knowledgeable about her job.
Rankin said she became excited when she heard about Moore’s travels in Africa.
“I never met anyone who was in the Peace Corps,” she said.
Rankin said Moore has a heart for children.
“She’s very adamant and focused on every case we have here,” Rankin said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253. Twitter: Facebook: