Williamsburg Woman’s Volunteerism Inspires New Career Path

By Sally Grace Holtgrieve
The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg.


Eve Brecker says she’s always had a bit of wanderlust.

The 27-year-old Williamsburg native graduated from James Madison University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and soon landed a job with International Youth Foundation, a nonprofit in Baltimore.

Brecker enjoyed the work, but wanted more. She kept thinking about the Peace Corps, a long-time dream.

“I wanted to see and interact with the people I was helping,” she said. “That’s when I was like, okay, I’ve wanted to do this for years, it’s time to pull the trigger and go.”

After a year-long application process Brecker was placed in Morocco. “I think about 95 percent of volunteers (working in Morocco) have running water and electricity, but there’s many emotional and mental challenges because of gender differences and such.”

Brecker integrated within six months, but says it took a full year before she truly felt like part of her community.

“You have to change everything about who you are,” she said. “You have to change the way you dress, the way you eat, and how you speak and act.”

While fellow volunteers often caught stomach flu and colds, Brecker described herself as “bizarrely” healthy the majority of time. She wondered if it had to do with her vegetarian diet. She found local food took some adjustment due to heavy use of fat, oil and sugar, but loved staples such as couscous and mint tea.

“I think loneliness and boredom are probably the most prevalent and challenging parts of Peace Corps,” Brecker said. She combatted boredom by spending time in the community, exploring the town and meeting people who would invite her in for tea or dinner.

Being the only foreigner in the area, everyone knew who Brecker was, including police officers. She said she felt protected by the town, was never nervous and walked around freely.

Throughout her service Brecker spoke in Arabic. Though she’d been assigned to teach English, there was little demand to learn because the language was seldom used in the rural town.

Because she only taught three hours of English a week, Brecker asked how else she could be of service. Local women started coming to her with health questions, so she would research answers.

“It was scary at first,” Brecker said. “They thought because I was foreign and teaching, I was a doctor. I have no medical background.”

Brecker loved seeking the answers so much she started volunteering at the hospital and with local midwives. While in Morocco Brecker planned and hosted a women’s health workshop.

“The women grew up in a culture where talking about reproductive health can be embarrassing and sometimes shameful,” she said.

“It was so rewarding for these women to trust me enough to be comfortable coming with questions I often took for granted as common sense.”

Working with the women sparked a new passion. Brecker plans to attend Emory University this fall, where she will pursue a masters degree in public health.

She returned to the United States May 30.

“I’m struggling to hold onto my memories,” Brecker said. “Now that I’m back, I’m readjusting so fast it seems like it never happened, which is crazy because it’s two years of my life.
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Brecker barely recognizes the person she used to be.

“I’m really Type A. Before I left for Peace Corps I was tightly wound. I liked to do things in a specific way,” she said. “You can’t be like that over there, you won’t survive. You can’t control 80 percent of what happens to you, so you learn to just let go.”

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