Manchester woman seeks to serve with 27 months in Zambia Peace Corps mission

Ray and Joyce Brasfield were hardly surprised when their daughter Eleanor announced she would be going to Zambia on a 27-month-long mission with the Peace Corps.

"I don't think that I was shocked. I think the first time I ever heard her mention [the Peace Corps] was a long time ago. I think it was in high school and may have been even before that. She has always been like that, taking people under her wing to help them out," Joyce said.

Eleanor had spent time tutoring elementary and middle school students while earning her degree in art history from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Joyce said.

According to Eleanor, 23, service has always been something on her mind.

"I have always been interested in service, you know, deeper service ... When I was graduating college, I started looking at service opportunities because I felt I hadn't lived up to my service goals," Eleanor said.

Eleanor looked at AmeriCorps, Teach for America and other service opportunities before finally settling on the Peace Corps as the best opportunity for the deeper service she was interested in.

"Deeper service is that exchange of culture that the Peace Corps suggests ... I don't know in the end, who is getting more out of it, the person serving or those being helped, because in a ideal world, it should be an equal exchange of everything," Eleanor said.

According to Ray, while there is a tradition of public service in the family, Eleanor is the first to undertake a service project of this kind and magnitude.

"I am a veteran, I was in the Air Force, but nothing as directly service oriented as [the Peace Corps]," Ray said.

Eleanor's parents drove her to Philadelphia on Feb. 11 for a Peace Corps Orientation, the first instruction of any kind she had received from the organization, and she departed for Zambia the following day.

Eleanor will be receiving the mission specific training she will need there in Zambia.

"The first three months are for training, the next two years is the actual service itself," Eleanor said.

Eleanor will be one of nearly 300 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Zambia, according to Kelly McCormack, spokeswoman for the Peace Corps.

"Volunteers work in the areas of education, community development, environment, agriculture, health and business," McCormack said.

Eleanor said that while her specific mission will be assigned once she's in settled in Zambia, she does know the general outlines of what she will be doing.

"When you apply to the Peace Corps, you apply in general and then they assign you a place and sector based on your experience and skills. I have been assigned to the agriculture and sustainability sector. The program I am working with is called the Life Project, linking income, food and the environment," Eleanor said.

Ray and Joyce own and operate Cygnus Wine Cellars in Manchester, and since Eleanor has helped out with the vines over the years, she was deemed to have agricultural experience, a very sought after skill set in the Peace Corps according to McCormack.

"We have found that people with an agricultural background are really successful and hit the ground running," McCormack said.

According to Eleanor, her program will take her to a remote rural village with few amenities for a month or so at a time.

"In the village that I'll be living in, wherever that is, I probably won't have electricity or running water. I've been told that about once a month, I'll have to go into whatever the closest town or city is in order to do banking or such," Eleanor said.

Eleanor said that she will likely be communicating back home once a month with handwritten letters and that she packed a ream of paper for that purpose.

Eleanor said that she had been quite nervous about everything for awhile, but that the anxiety had begun to give way to excitement.

"I had a period of about a month when I was really terrified, but in the last few weeks I have been getting more and more excited. I think a certain amount of terror always comes with something that is incredibly unknown. I know some bare minimum about where I am going and I have an overview of what's going to happening the first week but I don't have much to go on beyond that," Eleanor said.

Ultimately, the unknown reflects the future changes in Eleanor herself, who said that while she had some idea of what she would like to do after the Peace Corps - perhaps working for awhile before pursuing a graduate degree in music performance - she wants to be open to who she will be after her mission.

"I have an idea in mind of what I want to do after, but at the same time I am open to the fact that a lot will probably change between now and a two years from now," she said.

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