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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

From Rathdrum to Rwanda: Gonzaga grad Cameron Marsh, 24, serves among first Peace Corps units overseas after COVID-19

Rathdrum resident Cameron Marsh is photographed on May 25 at his home. The 2020 Gonzaga graduate is leaving soon for the Peace Corps in Rwanda.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Rathdrum resident Cameron Marsh first intended to serve in Rwanda a few months after his 2020 graduation from Gonzaga University, and then COVID-19 hit.

This week, he’s finally set to meet with a Peace Corps group in Washington, D.C., to leave the U.S. on Wednesday for Rwanda. His cohort is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service since the agency’s global evacuation in March 2020.

While waiting, Marsh had kept his focus on public health, working since September 2020 for the Panhandle Health District on its COVID-19 response team. He left that job in May to prepare for Rwanda, where he expects to work as a maternal, newborn and child health educator in a nutrition program alongside a local clinic provider.

“I’ve been lucky that my position and country haven’t changed,” said Marsh, 24. “I applied specifically to that position in Rwanda. I know some people in our group – we’re going with about 20 in our cohort – some of them were originally set to go to other countries and have since been reassigned based on what posts are open sooner.

“It will ultimately depend on the wants and needs of the community I’m hosted in, but a great deal of my work as I understand it will be with a nutrition program that is run by Rwanda to help kids through their first 1,000 days of life making sure they’re developing and getting adequate nutrition.”

The Peace Corps volunteers are scheduled to spend the first three months in training before members disperse to their assigned regions, he said. The training includes language, culture, safety and security and other overviews. He’ll stay with a host family for that three months before living in his assigned community for two years.

Once there, Marsh will work with a local counterpart at a health clinic to partner in the community’s projects.

“I would imagine it will be a small village setting, but I won’t know for sure until I’m in training, I think about four weeks in, and we’ll be assigned a post,” he said.

Marsh said he still gets asked often why he chose to do a Peace Corps mission. Partly before, he thought it would be a good break between undergraduate and graduate school, but COVID-19 provided that unexpected gap.

He still wants to go for another goal to expand his introduction to other parts of the world. He was accepted into the master’s in public health epidemiology program at Columbia University, which is allowing Marsh to delay admission for his two years in Peace Corps service.

“I think part of what really drew me was the opportunity to get out of our little Inland Northwest bubble,” he said. “I think it’s a beautiful place, and there are a lot of things to do and explore, but I think it’s important to get out and see other parts of the world. This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that.

“The fact that it’s two years also is really appealing and a strong part of what the Peace Corps does because it really allows you to integrate into the community, to build those relationships with people, to learn the language and culture, which are all things that you couldn’t do if you were going for two weeks.”

Once he returns, Marsh plans to complete his graduate work. Becoming a physician is one possibility or work in a global health position. Marsh said he’s interested in a career helping overseas communities that have less access to health care, perhaps refugee populations and a focus on infectious diseases work.

“Infectious diseases are something I find interesting to study and learn about, so hopefully working with that, as well.”

In the meantime, he’s hoping to build relationships in Rwanda. He’s inspired by hearing stories from other people he had worked with who did Peace Corps volunteering.

“I think that’s probably what I’m most excited about is to go there and build these relationships and learn from the people in the community.

“At Panhandle Health District, there were some of my colleagues who were returned Peace Corps volunteers, so talking with them, I’ve heard about the friendships and the connections that they were able to form through their work. I’m excited to foster that – especially after COVID and that the Peace Corps hasn’t had volunteers for two years, so it’s an important time for us to be going.”

Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 countries.