She Found Her Calling — and Her Home — in a West African Village
“You only get one turn around this planet, and I’ve had incredible opportunities since the day I made the decision to join Peace Corps,” says Career Development Grantee Lauren Erickson-Mamane. From marketing professional to Peace Corps Togo country director, Erickson-Mamane has ended up dramatically shifting the course of her career. But she seems more than content now: Her love affair with on-the-ground development work radiated throughout our interview on Skype.
Always interested in health but unaware that there were options beyond acute clinical care, Erickson-Mamane dove into community health work with a passion. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger (1997–2000) she worked with the U.S. Ministry of Health and with the Carter Center’s Global 2000 program on Guinea worm eradication “doing epidemiological studies, pulling worms out of people — I just thought, ‘This is fantastic.’” She was struck by the idea that there are so many preventable diseases and afflictions that could be solved with simple solutions and better education.
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After completing her Peace Corps service Erickson-Mamane began working with Africare on food security and realized that in order to progress in the field, she needed to go back to school. She then applied for an AAUW Career Development Grant and went to Johns Hopkins to get a master’s in public health, after which she began to work with Food for the Hungry. “We were working in rural communities in southern Africa to empower women to educate their neighbors,” she said. “We would work with care groups — a group of 10 households that are brought together and elect a woman amongst them as leader mother. Those leader mothers would meet every two weeks with our program to receive information about health.” The model met with great success and further buoyed her commitment to community-based work.
When the combination of small children and lots of field work started to grate, Erickson-Mamane and her husband decided to quit hopping continents and make the move to Africa full time. She began working with the Peace Corps again, this time as health director in Benin, and brought the care group model with her.
Since then she has worked as program and training director for the Peace Corps in Zambia (which at the time was the largest program in Africa), and most recently as country director in Togo. “What I like most about West Africa is that it’s so alive. Always a sense of community — you stop and greet all of your neighbors,” she told me of her current home. She loves it when the job takes her out to visit volunteers in their communities and told me, “The Peace Corps story sets us apart from any other development organization: We live in the local communities, speak the local language, eat the local foods. [Volunteers] are sharing a face of America that people don’t see on television.”
Looking back, Erickson-Mamane says, “I’ve had an incredibly blessed and amazing life. … Most people go in wanting to serve, wanting to give back, wanting to help others. I think the lesson we all learn is that we always get far more out of it than we feel we give in, because it is a completely life-altering experience. You will never be the same. You will forever be touched by it.”
Lauren Erickson-Mamane’s Career Development Grant was sponsored by the following endowments: the Allentown (PA) Branch, the Ruth I. Anderson/Dayton (OH) Branch, Mary Owen Bass, Frances T. Bourne, Olivette H. Buford, the Denver (CO) Branch/Mary Puffer, Marilyn K. Gardner, Eleanor S. Jones, the Bea Dunning Jorgensen/Calvert County (MD) Branch, the Lancaster (PA) Branch, the Mansfield (OH) Branch, the Naperville (IL) Branch, Jeannette Pool, the Sharon Purkerson/Humboldt Inc. (CA) Branch, the San Francisco (CA) Branch/Helen Fell, the Dallas Shenk /Los Angeles (CA) Branch, the Somerset Hills (NJ) Branch, Vermont State Division, and the Wilmington (DE) Branch.