Two Alumni, One Destination

Rayla Putnam ’18 and Acadia LeBlanc ’19 share the same vision – to promote sustainability and environmentally focused living. The two friends left on Jan. 12 to embark on a life-changing journey and begin their training as Agriculture Extension Volunteers in Ghana, West Africa.

During the first three months of their service, Rayla and Acadia will live with separate host families in Ghana to become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. After acquiring the necessary skills to assist the community, they will be sworn into service and assigned to a community where they will live and work for the next two years with the local people.

Rayla Putnam ’18

Rayla says, “It’s hard to limit it to one concise motivation for my joining the Peace Corps. The idea of helping people and the environment simultaneously was a big draw for me. The prospect of experiencing life outside of the United States and outside of the privileged perspective I’ve grown up with is also appealing. Through international travel, I’ve found myself fascinated by other cultures and how differently other people live their lives – it’s so interesting and beautiful. So when I heard about the Peace Corps, it felt like it would be a blend of all of these interests of mine and help me figure out how I want to shape the rest of my time on Earth.”

Growing up in Wilton, N.H., Rayla attended The Academy for Science and Design in Nashua, N.H., before coming to Colby-Sawyer. After graduating from CSC in 2018, Rayla went on to join a 10-month environmental education and conservation steward program with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Massachusetts Americorp. In this program, Rayla taught environmental education to underserved elementary schools in Western Massachusetts, and worked on several conservation and trail management projects throughout the state.

Rayla says, “The SCA program was challenging because I was both living and working with the other 23 members of the program. If I felt conflict with someone, I learned how to either address it head on or let it go. The program encouraged self-reflection, collaboration, and problem solving in a very hands-on way. The most rewarding part for me was becoming so close to that community, and leaning into the process of developing relationships with those people. It really made me understand that I would only get out of it what I put into it, and I gave it and received 1,000%.”

One of Rayla’s concerns about her upcoming adventure is learning the language fast enough to integrate into her host community successfully, and following all the cultural norms as not to disrespect anyone. She says she foresees there might be some difficulty to adapt to such an abrupt change in culture. Rayla says she hopes to find a solid routine to ground her over the next two years.

“There’s so much I’m excited for,” Rayla said. “I’m looking forward to learning about their completely different environment, learning to cook with different food, and learning more about and interacting with the local food systems in Ghana. I’m looking forward to traveling in a way where I can give back to that place, and provide service however I can.”

Acadia LeBlanc ’19

Recent grad Acadia says, “My dream job is to travel the world and help people provide themselves with access to sustainable and nutritional food, while shaping their landscape in a way that benefits themselves and the environment. This Peace Corps program is my first step toward achieving this dream.”

Acadia will be working in cooperation with the local people and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Ghana and will allow her to develop leadership, technical and cross-cultural skills. She says, “It’s hard to put into words how I feel about going into my volunteer work with the Peace Corps. To sum it up, there is excitement, nervousness, happiness, anxiousness, pride, regret, determinedness, and the feeling that this will be the most important and influential experience in my entire life. I am nervous about the unknown, but as a volunteer, you are expected to be flexible and open to change and differences, so that is what I will attempt to do.”

There were multiple experiences throughout her college career that Acadia attributes to her easy preparation for this adventure. She says she believes her most significant experience was completing an internship abroad in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She says, “Living with other volunteers, we assessed what help was needed in the local community and developed a plan to eradicate that need and take action.”

Acadia specifically applied for the Agriculture Extension program in Ghana because of their culture. She says, “They are known as one of the most welcoming countries in West Africa. Their hospitality is known all around and is seen as a sign of respect within their community. The country and its people also look beautiful. I chose the agriculture program because my dream is to travel the world and help spread the concept of sustainability while helping people gain access to nutritional food, clean water, and a healthier environment, both forth themselves and the environment. I believe this program in this country will help me achieve my first step towards that goal.”

Acadia says she brought some special items to help remind her of home while she is away. She packed photos of her family, a balsam fir pillow to remind her of the woods, peanut butter to remember the taste of America, the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit book – which are her favorite stories – flags of the countries she has visited throughout her life, and the mentality that she will be home again.

by Donna S. Long