June 27, 2023

Although Phoebe Kurien ’19 Marshall’s Peace Corps experience didn’t end the way she expected it to, the lessons she learned in Malawi continue to support her in her career today.

After graduating from Susquehanna with a degree in biomedical sciences, Marshall set off for Malawi, landing in the village of Ntonda, in the state of Ntcheu, where she lived among the Ngoni people. Marshall served as a community healthcare specialist. While there, she developed educational programming that focused on HIV prevention, malaria, nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene.

Upon her arrival, she underwent intense training that included daily language and cultural lessons, as well as meetings with nongovernment agency and nonprofit officials, community leaders and village chiefs, and connected with different mothering groups, schools and other community partners.

“Malawi is an incredibly beautiful country. I genuinely was in awe of how beautiful my village was every single day,” Marshall said. “We lived by a mountain and the soil was rich, so we had decent greenery that just exploded when the rain came. Ntcheu was known for their rich harvest, and I lived right next to a trading market where every Tuesday massive trucks from far and wide would come to trade vegetables, fish, chitenje (traditional fabric), pottery and all sorts of goods.”

After about a two-month training period, she was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer in an elaborate ceremony.

“Malawian government heads of departments attend, as well as the U.S. ambassador,” Marshall remembered. “We were even visited by the Gule Wamkulu, a secret society that performs ritual dance traditional to the Chewa people. It was a memorable send-off to my community.”

Covid sends Marshall back to U.S.

But as 2019 turned to 2020, the world was raising alarm bells about Covid-19, and even remote Ntonda could not go untouched. With only one day to pack, Marshall was whisked out of Malawi – projects left unfinished and promises broken, she said.

“There were many additional projects and initiatives I was very much still in the process of that I abruptly ended,” she said. “I had a lot of hopes shared with me from my community, like building a dorm and starting youth camps, that I didn’t get to help with. So many of those projects ended entirely. I didn’t even get to say goodbye because of how quickly I had to leave.”

Despite her truncated Peace Corps experience, Marshall said she still uses lessons she learned from her time in Africa in her career today. She most recently worked as a pre-implantation genetic testing laboratory technician for patients seeking in vitro fertilization. She hopes to pursue her doctorate in molecular biology.

“Peace Corps is often said to be the toughest job you’ll ever love. It’s true. I wish I got to finish my time. But I’m so grateful for what I did get and the wonderful connections I made,” she said. “Being a returned Peace Corps volunteer has helped me become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Things aren’t always uphill, and Peace Corps taught me to be resilient.”