Burtonsville woman heading into Africa this week

by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette

Awrad Saleh leaves Burtonsville on Wednesday for Tanzania, to begin her two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer.

There, she will join 167 other volunteers, according to a Peace Corps news release, and teach English to secondary school children.

Saleh, 22, said her love of traveling and helping others drove her to apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

“I want to be able to see a change in other peoples’ lives,” she said.

Saleh has traveled around the Middle East and speaks fluent Arabic, but hasn’t visited a country whose background differs from hers. She said she is excited to live in the East African country and be exposed to a new culture.

For the first three months, Saleh will live with a host family to become aquainted with the culture. She admitted she is a little nervous because she doesn’t know anything about her host family and doesn’t know anyone else going to Tanzania.

“I’m going in completely blind,” Saleh said.

She began the application process in June 2012 after she graduated from Penn State with a degree in international relations. Saleh was told by the Peace Corps in August that she needed more volunteer experience before it could fully review her application. She decided to teach English for about a month at the English School for the Nations, which hosts English as a second language night classes at Greenridge Baptist Church in Frederick. After she finished volunteering, she notified the Peace Corps and it continued to review her application.

She didn’t hear anything until she was interviewed in November, when she was asked where she wanted to be sent. Her top choice was the Middle East or North Africa.

Saleh said the application process was frustrating at times.

“You wouldn’t hear anything for a month,” she said. “So many people would look over your application that the person you see at the beginning of the process is not the same as the one at the end.”

During the times of no communication, Saleh said, she also had to gather medical forms and get vaccinations.

Saleh finally found out in February that the agency wanted to send her to Sierra Leone, but she wasn’t happy with that placement and decided to appeal for another post. She was told she might not get another chance to be a volunteer, but that didn’t scare her.

“It’s two years of my life,” Saleh said. “I wasn’t going to just go anywhere.”

Tanzania was in her second-choice area, so when she received the invitation, she accepted immediately.

After her time in Tanzania, she plans to attend graduate school.

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