Boston Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

From Sahel to South Pole, a profile of Bryan Chambers

 Bryan Chambers is getting ready to visit the only continent he has not spent time on – and it is not the one you are thinking.

Just returning from a cruise on the research vessel RV/IB Nathaniel B. Palmer which started at McMurdo Station this past January, Bryan began working for the U.S. Antarctic Program in 2010 – after spending a third year as a Peace Corps education volunteer in Burkina Faso.
McMurdo station is a central point for the US Antarctic Program, which was established on the volcanic rock terrain of Ross Island in 1955.  Temperatures have been recorded to a low of minus 50º Centigrade (-58º Fahrenheit) and a high of 8º Centigrade (46º Fahrenheit).[1] In the summer there is an average of about 1,000 people living or transiting through McMurdo.  During the winter months (when flights to the station are infrequent) there are about 150 people.
During his time with the US Antarctic Program, Bryan has visited all three U.S. research stations (McMurdo Station, South Pole Station, and Palmer Station) as well as having the opportunity to work on two research vessels. Bryan (a specialist in Information Technology - IT) has worked at McMurdo Station for three seasons and more recently has been deployed with the Marine group on the ships RV/IB Nathaniel B. Palmer and the AR/SV Laurence M. Gould for a month or two at a time for the past year and a half.
Bryan sees many similarities between his Peace Corps experiences and his current work in Antarctica: limited resources, innovation spurred by necessity and stretches of time cut-off from friends and family. However, Bryan also recognizes that "The Ice” (as McMurdo is fondly known as) is also a microcosm of America - a very different experience in that respect from what he experienced in Burkina Faso.  
Bryan arrived in Burkina Faso in June 2006 and was sworn in as a volunteer at the end of August. His first two years were spent as a secondary education math teacher in a small village called Baraboulé, which is in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso in the northern part of the country near the border of Mali. He extended his Peace Corps service for a third year and moved to the capital, Ouagadougou, from September 2008 through August 2009. In Ouagadougou, Bryan worked with the African Union International Centre for Girls’ and Women’s Education in Africa as an IT Specialist.
Bryan most recently applied to Doctors Without Borders (DWB) and completed an orientation at the beginning of April. It is through DWB that he will finally visit Europe (for the first time) for additional training.  Bryan will join DWB as a Logistician which has a lot of varied responsibilities such as coordinating the purchase and transport of supplies, managing building projects, maintaining vehicles, organizing the transport of vaccines, etc.
Bryan is attracted to the work of DWB because he feels that it really matches his own ideals and recommends the organization to other RPCVs (DWB is especially in need of French speakers).
“It’s an organization I’ve always thought highly of where they're typically filling an immediate need of providing medical care to people who have few other options if any.”
Bryan’s advice for returning volunteers:
Be patient when you get back. Good things will happen but sometimes it takes some time. For Bryan, almost a year passed before his first deployment to The Ice.
Do not undervalue your Peace Corps experience. Whether you know it or not, it does open doors.  People, employers, and graduate schools know that Peace Corps volunteers have the flexibility, resourcefulness and grit to work in challenging places.  Bryan believes that this is one of the reasons he was interviewed for McMurdo and Doctors without Borders. In fact, he says that McMurdo had a group of RPCVs on The Ice who get together for Peace Corps lunches and he is now getting to know some of the RPCVs at DWB.
Bryan also notes that it is difficult to ever know how much of an impact you had during Peace Corps. He recalls how one of his friends from village who was studying to take the National Exam for elementary school teachers and would constantly ask him to tea so that he could go over questions with Bryan in preparation for the exam. When Bryan went back to Burkina Faso in 2011, he found that same friend had passed the exam and is now teaching classes of his own.


By Anna - Posted on 24 May 2015

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