It didn’t come as a big surprise to those who knew Renee Paris-Buchy when she decided to join the Peace Corps in June 2011.
Helping others has long been part of her life.
“My mother used to take us to soup kitchens when we were younger,” Paris-Buchy wrote in an email from a small town in Cameroon. “I’ve always traveled and wanted to help people. My mom says she always knew there was a village somewhere waiting for me.”
The 1999 Greenbrier High School graduate felt inspired to serve in the Peace Corps after her husband’s untimely death in 2009. Paris-Buchy said her late husband, Peter Buchy, also was passionate about assisting those in need.
“When he died, I decided to do something to remember him,” said Paris-Buchy, who lives in Pennsylvania. “I also feel that God calls us all to help the less fortunate.”
Now in Mamfe, Cameroon, which has a population of about 20,000, Paris-Buchy is dedicated to helping locals increase their income by learning better business practices. She also has secured a fair trade certification for a local farming cooperative.
“I’m hoping to help people help themselves,” said Paris-Buchy, who earned a degree in international affairs and international economics from The George Washington University. “It’s not easy. Life here is really difficult and complicated, and corruption permeates nearly every facet of society.”
It didn’t take long for life in the small town to feel normal, said Paris-Buchy, who expects to stay until July 2013.
Situated in the jungle, Mamfe’s weather remains hot and humid year-round, but Paris-Buchy has gotten the chance to explore different habitats of the African country, including grasslands, a desert-like environment to the north and different jungle towns in the south.
Because of the rustic conditions, she’s also become accustomed to frequent power outages and having to wash clothes by hand on her front porch.
Paris-Buchy’s main passion remains helping others.
She recently helped residents create a vocational training program for Mamfe youth unable to pursue further education.
After raising more than $3,000 in donations, the first phase of the program is fully funded.
“At the end of the training, the top performers in each trade will receive start-up materials (as a loan) to start their businesses,” she said. “The repaid loans, along with the sales from the first batch of products made, will provide money to hold the training again in the future and hopefully in perpetuity.”
Without a student loan system, Paris-Buchy said she wouldn’t have been able to attend college and knows the same holds true for many students in Mamfe.
“Without education, they are doomed to stay in the same low-income jobs as their parents, and the poverty cycle continues,” she said. “I am hoping that this program can help offer some students here a hand up, not a hand out.”