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HHS grad heads to Africa with the Peace Corps

Jacci Zappa got her first international experience working in an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka while she was an undergraduate student at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Submitted photo1 / 2
Jacci Zappa said her experience at an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka in 2010 was a "once in a lifetime thing." But maybe not. She left Monday for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Tanzania2 / 2

Anyone who knows Jacci Zappa will probably not be surprised by her decision to devote the next two years serving others as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, Africa.

The 24-year-old graduated from Hudson High School in 2006. She was a member of the HHS Peer Helpers and one of the "popular kids" who had a reputation for being nice to everyone.

After high school, Zappa attended Oregon State University in Corvallis where she earned a degree in fisheries and wildlife in 2010. While there she worked for a month at an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka. Since that time she has done some research work but the Peace Corps was always in the back of her mind.

"When I was a freshman I went to a presentation by some Peace Corps members and I guess I kind of became a sort of groupie. It is something I have really wanted to do," said Zappa.

When asked where she would like to serve, Zappa said Africa was an easy answer and she feels fortunate to have been assigned to Tanzania. "So many of the Peace Corps people I have met have told me that Tanzania is the 'golden ticket' and they can't say enough about how wonderful the people are there."

Zappa left for a training period there on Monday. After that she will be assigned to a community and region where she will work with children on sustainable gardening practices as an environmental extension worker.

"In some areas, the adult community has been almost totally wiped out by HIV/AIDS. The goal is to teach these children who are often responsible for their siblings how to grow their own food and support their siblings. I will also be involved in HIV/AIDS awareness work. I've been volunteering with the Minnesota AIDS project here. There has been great progress made in Tanzania on the epidemic. I'm looking forward to that work as well."

Zappa will be on her own at her assignment but the Peace Corps keeps pretty close tabs on its 148 members in Tanzania using local communications. "It's kind of basic. They want us to have cell phones but coverage is pretty sporadic. The post office and bank are kind of the center of things. I should be able to get the Internet there and cell reception. "

When she first arrives, she will spend time with a host family before moving into her own accommodations -- likely a brick or block structure with a tin roof. She has been told that she will live like the people she will be serving and she likes that idea. It is unlikely she will have electricity or running water. That makes the gift of a solar battery charger from her mother's boyfriend, Doug Salmmon, a very big deal. "I can use it with my water purifier and recharge the phone, whatever I need power for and I hear the sun is in very great supply there."

Zappa said while she knows there will be a lot of adjustments to make, she is not intimidated by what is ahead. "I find it more exciting than scary. I think the trick is to make it your home for the time you are there and I've been told the people are so warm and welcoming that it won't be a problem doing that."

Zappa thinks the person-to-person skills she honed as a Peer Helper will be valuable to her. "I like dealing with people one-on-one and I think I am pretty good with nonverbal communications and cues as well. I think the key will be to be as much at ease with people as I can be. I'm struggling with my Swahili but I am determined to learn it. When I can tell a joke in the language, that will be the best."

Staying in touch with home will be something of a challenge. It will be back to traditional letter writing with sporadic emails. She has been told not to mail a pair of shoes or they will likely be taken -- better to send one at the time. "And postcards don't usually arrive. They tend to end up as wallpaper somewhere."

She has been told to bring several knee-length skirts as pants on women are not common. She was also told to bring a two-year supply of underwear. "I guess they don't sell it over there because they don't wear it..." She is also bringing a supply of deodorant, dental floss and forks as the locals eat most meals with their hands.

Zappa said saying goodbye to friends and family, especially one as extended as the Zappas in Hudson, has been difficult. As a farewell gesture Hudson Fire Chief Jeff Dabruzzi gave her a ride on one of the fire engines. "It is kind of surreal thinking about being gone for more than two years. I will miss Hudson and everybody here but I will stay in touch."

Zappa gets 48 days off during her two-year assignment but she doesn't think she will be coming home. "I think I want to travel and see as much of Africa as I can while I'm there. That's what most Peace Corps people do."

Zappa said her mother, Donna Zastrow, and Salmmon are planning a trip to visit and are already working to get in shape to hike on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and other friends and relatives are planning on visiting as well.

Zappa said she will keep a detailed journal of her experience and hopes to be able to blog about it but she expects the next several months will be filled with a lot of new experiences.

And that is just what she's bargained for.

Zappa is the daughter of Donna Zastrow and Eugene Zappa and the sister of Dominic Zappa and Kate Kidwell.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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