Gig Harbor High School graduate Ashley Flateland was at a transitional point in her life when she joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Botswana.
“I had just finished my undergrad work a year before, (and) had time to help others and to travel — to do something different,” she said.
Flateland attended the University of Tampa where she played soccer (and won a national championship), then transferred and graduated from James Madison University in Virginia before joining the Peace Corps for a 27-month commitment.
When her commitment to the Peace Corps ended, the 27-year-old extended her stay to help see the construction of a recreation center come to fruition.
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“The rec center was pitched to me and wasn’t originally to be for this village,” said Flateland, who talked to folks living in the village and then reported back to the U.S. Embassy.
The Embassy decided that Gakhibane, located in the Kgalagadi Desert, was an ideal spot in which to pilot a rec center, and a $25,000 self help fund grant was awarded to build it. Flateland has collaborated with the community and village leaders, and together they have been responsible for the project’s planning, implementation and evaluation. Village members have also been responsible for the labor and building of the center.
Flateland is currently staying in a rural area and there aren’t many resources available to people in the village.
“Time moves really slow here,” she said of the mid-sized country with a population of just over 2 million people. “We have the second and third highest AIDS cases in the world. Rural villages are at an extremely high risk. The idea of the center is for in- and out-of-school youth.”
The youth in that area doesn’t progress in school, Flateland said, only attending primary and secondary school. They must test high enough to attend high school.
“It is a cycle of poverty,” she said. “The rec center will create new learning opportunities to engage their minds and encourage positive growth.”
In school, most of the teaching is in the form of lecturing, and Flateland said the students don’t really care.
“They aren’t engaged. They go home and don’t have access to anything so they don’t learn very well,” she said. “Not that they aren’t capable, but there aren’t any good resources.”
The rec center would help to keep the youth from engaging in risky behavior.
Ashley’s mother, Sharon, said she has learned a lot from her daughter’s experiences. Ashley has been without electricity at times, and has to haul her own water, her mother said.
“She has been roughing it and it is quite an experience, but she has loved it and it has definitely impacted her life,” Sharon said.
When asked if she worried about her daughter, Sharon said, “I worry about her, but we keep in contact. I pray about it. I can see how lives have benefited from her experience.”
Flateland’s commitment to the Peace Corps ends Dec. 11, and she plans to head back to the States.
“There will be someone to replace me here, another volunteer. You want projects to be sustainable,” she said.
When she returns home, Flateland plans to enroll in massage therapy school, work as a massage therapist and then attend school for a career in physical therapy. She has mixed feelings about returning home the end of this year.
“I miss the people at home,” the Gig Harbor native said. “You can get used to being without running water and electricity, but you never fully get past missing your loved ones.”