Every day was amazing

May 08, 2009
Chris Deery
Master’s student, maternal and child health, 2007-2009
Peace Corps volunteer, Niger, 2003-2005

Chris Deery joined the Peace Corps a year after completing his undergraduate degree in American studies.

“Some people talk about how hard it was for them to adjust to a new culture,” he says. “But it was the best experience of my life; it completely transformed my life. I’ve never had such a long stretch of waking up every day and thinking, ‘This is amazing!’ It was the transition back to the U.S. that was hard for me. I missed the place where I felt so much like myself.”

Deery was slated to work as an education volunteer, but health workers were needed in many rural areas, including in Niger, and the rural life seemed interesting. He was assigned to the village of Dan Tsamiya — “son of a tamarind tree” — a name that made sense, given that there was only one tamarind, a huge one, right in the center of the village.

There were a variety of health and other needs in the village and never a shortage of things to work on. Deery administered polio vaccines, conducted prenatal exams and advised about well-baby care and HIV/AIDS prevention. He also developed a cold-season gardening plan, a women’s bank, a girls’ scholarship. He built a security wall and worked with a teacher to develop educational materials.

Chris Deery, top right, celebrates Ramadan with three friends from the village.

Chris Deery, top right, celebrates Ramadan with three friends from the village.

“Unfortunately, few of the projects were sustainable. The garden project opened up economic and agricultural possibilities,” he says, “but saving or buying seeds was a challenge. The AIDS work was focused on prevention, as the HIV prevalence rate in Niger is low. However, Dan Tsamiya shares a border with Nigeria, where the risk of infection is much higher than in the village where Mia Chabot worked.”

After his Peace Corps service, Deery worked for two years with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Global Health in Washington, D.C. He realized he would need more training if he were going to do the kinds of things he wanted to. His mentor at USAID was a specialist in maternal and child health issues and encouraged Deery in that direction.

“The public health school here at UNC has a lot in common with the Peace Corps,” he says. “Both the School and the Corps strive to take everyone’s best interests into account. They both try to serve the underserved and be the voice for the voiceless. Professors really care about the people they’re working for — you can see through their teaching and service that public health is their passion. Being at UNC has inspired me, just as my time in the Peace Corps did.”

To learn more about the Sahel landscape and hear the stories of people who live there, visit the Syngenta Foundation website.

View more photographs of Chris Deery’s Peace Corps experience on Flickr.
See other videos about the Peace Corps / public health connection at YouTube.

Join our Peace Corps discussion on LinkedIn.


Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit www.sph.unc.edu/cph.