Alumni Meet in Sierra Leone

Jillian Jones ’12 and Cindy Nofziger ’79

Alumni Jillian Jones and Cindy Nofziger met each other through service work in Sierra Leone.

Alumni Jillian Jones ’12 and Cindy Nofziger ’79.

Recently, I was able to talk to Cindy Nofziger ’79, the founder of Schools for Salone, an organization dedicated to improving education in West Africa’s Sierra Leone. To date, the organization, which graciously accepts donations, has built 25 schools, three libraries, and numerous water wells and latrines; the program also trains teachers, offers student scholarships, and works to keep girls in school. Earlier this year, in a happy coincidence, Nofziger teamed up with Jillian M. Jones ’12, a current Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the Kabala region of Sierra Leone. Both Nofziger’s and Jones’ experiences at Hood encouraged them to help others and travel abroad.

“I loved my experience at Hood” said Nofziger. “(The school) provided me a strong academic foundation and life experiences that have carried me to where I am today. My coursework at Hood opened my eyes to a larger world and provided experiences that pushed me beyond my comfort zones. While at Hood, I made connections to travel a couple of times overseas, opening my eyes even more and fostering my curiosity about other cultures and ways of life.”

A Hood education had a similar impact on Jones.

“The education I received at Hood was amazing!” she said. “I was able to connect with so many professors there, particularly my advisers Dr. Jennifer C. Ross (professor of art and archaeology) and Dr. Scott Pincikowski (professor of German). I am still connected with them. They impacted my interest in cultural exchange through my study abroad in Munich, Germany, in 2011, an archaeological internship opportunity, a Mayan research program in 2010, and Dr. Ross’ excavation project in Yozgot Province, Turkey.”

Nofziger and Jones had different paths to the Peace Corps. Nofziger attended Boston University, where she earned a master’s degree in physical therapy, completing her formal education in 1981. Her life was changed when the Peace Corps reached out to her.

“After several years gaining experience and skills, Peace Corps invited me to serve as their physical therapist (PT) in a couple of countries that were requesting PTs, with Sierra Leone eventually being the better placement for me and my skills,” said Nofziger. “Another PCV in Sierra Leone who was working at Masangna Leprosy Hospital had put a request in for a PT, knowing the hospital was in dire need. Until my invitation to serve as a PCV in Sierra Leone, I had never heard of the country or had interest in traveling to West Africa. It was a decision that changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined and connected me with friends for a lifetime.”

Nofziger went on to serve in Sierra Leone from 1985 to 1987. She then moved to Nepal for a year, teaching physical therapy at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. Nofziger moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1994 where she has raised her son who now attends Whitman College. In 2004, she traveled back to Sierra Leone after the country had experienced a devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002. This was the trip that changed her life forever.

“It was on this trip, I reunited with friends and colleagues who I had worked with at Masangna Leprosy Hospital,” said Nofziger. “One asked if I could help rebuild the school in his village that had been destroyed during the war. I left Sierra Leone telling him I would try. One year later, I was back in Sierra Leone for the opening of that first school.”

She has been back to Sierra Leone every year visiting schools and meeting with Schools for Salone’s in-country partners. Her most recent trip in January of this year, was when she met Jones.

“While planning our January 2019 trip to Sierra Leone, another PCV connected me to Jillian, a PCV who lived in a remote part of the country where we planned to travel,” said Nofziger. “Jillian immediately invited us to stay at her house—no small undertaking for the 10 of us traveling to Kabala. It was during our messaging back and forth about logistics that we discovered we both graduated from Hood College. That was a wonderful connection and made the visit much more enjoyable, sharing stories about our time at Hood. My time with Jillian was so inspiring; not only had she adapted to living in her remote village, but she was thriving and enjoying her experience in the community where she lived.”

After graduating from Hood, Jones felt Peace Corps gave her a good building block to translate her bachelor's degree into project management and developmental work.

“Sierra Leone was my first choice,” said Jones. “I liked the job description of teaching secondary education English but was also attracted to Sierra Leone because of the hardships the country has been through. The country is trying to rebuild after a 12-year civil war and most recently, Ebola. I wanted to be a part of that rebuild. Meeting Cindy there and finding out she attended Hood was pretty cool! Cindy is an amazing person and has a lot of passion for what she does and in Sierra Leone.”

Currently, Jones is a secondary school teacher, teaching grades 6-8 how to read.

“I work mostly with teachers at my school on whatever projects or improvements they seek to make,” she said. “Two teachers recently came to me to help them start a drama club to help improve self-esteem and English-speaking skills.”

Jones is also helping her village primary school develop a library. The team has invited the local government librarian to train teachers on how to properly use books in the classroom. The African Library Project has donated 30 boxes of books for this project.

Both Jones and Nofziger agree the Peace Corps is a life-changing experience.

“Peace Corps is what you make it to be”, said Jones. “Everyone will have their own unique experiences, whatever country you go to. It is a good way to bring a different culture to the United States and bring American culture to a different culture.”

Nofziger agrees: “If you love to travel and are interested in other cultures, being a Peace Corps Volunteer will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. For me, Peace Corps opened my eyes to other ways of life, other kinds of people, and more diverse and richer experiences.”

After being in Sierra Leone for almost two years, Jones’ tenure is up in August, but she hopes to apply for a third year to continue some projects and work for more youth outreach.

After leaving Sierra Leone, Jones will be heading home to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and hopefully head back overseas for more development work with a non-governmental organization. After that experience, she hopes to return to the U.S. to continue her education through the Coverdell Fellowship Program, a graduate fellowship program that offers financial assistance to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.