Chris Ruli '10

Red Hawk in the Sahel: Adventures Post-Montclair State

Ruli at PC Malaria Bootcamp, a weeklong conference for volunteers to discuss malaria projects in Africa.

Back in the fall of 2007, when I was a sophomore undergraduate student at the School of Business, I stumbled upon an interesting article in a major publication regarding business students choosing to go into the Peace Corps after graduation. I originally thought that this was a particularly odd trend. Most of my classmates were focused on landing a job in accounting, consulting, or something within the realm of business administration. I wanted some international experience to compliment my degree and looked at several internships opportunities but something, or someone, would always reference the Peace Corps.  It seemed that the more I researched, I better it sounded.

After talking it over with friends, family, and Montclair State University faculty, I decided to apply. After a long and rigorous application process, I received my invitation to become a Small Enterprise Development trainee in Senegal, West Africa. Trainees are sent to their respective countries and receive 9-week intensive language and technical training. You become a volunteer only after you have completed the training process.

For many volunteers the first months were dedicated to absorbing as much of the language and culture as possible. Much like the work of a general consultant, we had to create networks of work partners, grasp various aspects of daily life in our towns/villages, and research. We spent weeks talking to teachers, farmers, doctors, town elders, etc. Flexibility was key.

I was fortunate enough to have a dynamic Peace Corps service while living in Senegal. I lived in three different locations (a small town, a city, and the capital city) and worked on three separate projects. The largest of those projects, and my favorite, revolved around working with the health organization PATH, or Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, on a malaria surveillance initiative in the northern part of the country.

The goal of the project was to set up a network for health care providers (doctors, nurses, etc.) to submit weekly reports on malaria transmission from their respective health centers. This data would provide the World Health Organization and Senegal’s Ministry of Health with a clearer picture of malaria transmission.  Submissions were done through text messages eliminating the need for computers or a hardline connection to the Internet. My job in this process was to collaborate with local health care providers and analyze the data results. By taking advantage of cellphone coverage and usage, we were able to capture weekly real-time data from health posts including those with little to no access to electricity.

I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish through this partnership. The real success came from strength of our partnerships with Senegal’s Health Ministry and the national malaria coordinators. Our partners were highly involved in strategic planning and invested much into the project. We were able minimize costs by utilizing technology that was cheap, readily available, and required little to no training.

Admittedly, my service was unique compared to my follow volunteers.  Many volunteers don’t work on regional specific jobs. In fact, it’s very difficult to describe a day in the life of a single volunteer. Experiences vary from town, region, country, and even continent. Some volunteers travel 20 to 40 miles on bikes to get to work.  Most don’t have access to running water or electricity (Sorry folks, no twitter or Facebook here). Many of us worked with talented individuals that have never had access to formal education or job training. It is through these hardships and sacrifices that define our service and strengthen our world perspective. We returned with two or more languages under our belts and unique set of skills and competencies.

As alumni, we must find ways of promoting these values to our undergraduate and graduate students.  Surely there are more students like myself who are interested in cultivating a global perspective. In a recent commercial, a former volunteer was asked a question during an interview to which his response was, “You think managing a sales team is tough, try working with five different villages.”

Indeed, truer words have never been spoken.    

Chris Besmir Ruli is a member of the graduate class of 2010. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Political Science from the School of Business. Mr. Ruli has served as Attorney General, Secretary of Commuter Affairs, and Secretary of the Political Science Club under the Student Government Association of Montclair State University. While serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, he became the liaison to Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). He is currently a Master of International Relations candidate enrolled in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.