On a college mission trip to Haiti in 2013, Naperville native Jeff Bart became a man on a mission of his own. The 23-year-old realized he wanted to serve in the Peace Corps, and in February, began a two-year assignment in Ghana.
“I wasn’t sure if Peace Corps was right for me, and thought that my first third-world experience (in Haiti) would help me determine whether I wanted to continue pursuing it,” said Bart, a 2009 graduate of Neuqua Valley High School. “It turned out to be an eye-opening trip, and it ultimately helped me decide that I wanted to help in a way that was more than just a mission trip, but actually living and integrating into another culture.”
Bart graduated from Purdue University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in communication.
“I never wanted to graduate and go straight to an entry-level job,” he said. “Volunteering in the Peace Corps seemed like a great fit that matched my ideals and could help launch my career after coming home.”
His parents, Tom and Carol Bart, aren’t surprised by their son’s post-college venture.
“Jeff wanted to do some sort of service before he went on with life and a career,” his mom said. “Tom and I are so very proud of him. We hope he gains a great appreciation for our very abundant American way of life, and (learns) to always care for those less fortunate.”
During the first three months of his service, Bart is living with a host family, learning the local language and integrating into the local culture.
“I’m learning a language called Dagbani, which is spoken in parts of the northern region,” he said. “We’re integrating into our communities, just getting to know people and building trust. I don’t know my project specialty yet, but we will be working on nutrition education, HIV/AIDS education, malaria prevention, and water, sanitation and hygiene projects.”
Bart said his group will specialize in one of those areas, depending on the community’s needs, but he expects to learn about all of them.
“Our work is summarized by ‘helping people help themselves,’ and this will be the greatest challenge,” Bart said. “Our job is not about giving people new facilities, telling them how to live, or even exclusively teaching. Many people we’ll serve already know healthy habits and how to live by them, but choose not to. Our job is to instill behavior change that is recognized and chosen independently.”
He is looking forward to making a difference there during his two-year assignment.
“I hope to be successful in helping others in my projects and interactions once I get to site,” he said. “I hope to give people a better idea of what we’re trying to do here, and through my blog , try and show the motives of why we’ve committed to two years of service, which I feel is a hard thing for people to understand. You certainly don’t join Peace Corps for monetary or physical benefits.”
And, he says, he’s already noticed a difference in himself.
“Personally, I think I’ll grow as a person, and feel as though I already have living here for just a month.”