PORTAGE | At 24, Lauren Falk has learned a lesson many people don't learn in a lifetime.
"No matter where you are, people are people, and no matter where you are, you find a way to fit in," she said this past week.
The 2007 graduate of Portage High School returned home for the holidays Dec. 20 after spending more than a year in Togo, a west African country, where she has volunteered in community health and AIDS prevention with the Peace Corps.
After graduating from high school, Falk, the daughter of Lillian and Scott Falk, studied anthropology and folklore at Indiana University. During her college career, she studied for a year in Ghana, interning with the Red Cross and teaching. After graduation, she decided she wanted to see more of the world.
Accepted as a Peace Corps volunteer, Falk left June 1, 2011, for her assignment.
Since then, Falk has lived in a village of about 2,500 people, where there is no electricity or running water. The national language is French, but most of her community speaks Ewe.
Her mission is to learn the Togonese culture and to share American culture with her new community. It is also to help her community in any way she can. She works at a clinic and assists in lessons in nutrition, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education. She lives with a host family.
"I play soccer a lot because it is a good way to connect with the kids," she said.
The village in which she lives is rural. People have cellphones, but there are few computers. There is a lack of basic infrastructure, and most people haven't finished high school.
There is poverty, Falk said, but there is also poverty in America. And, most people there have the same concerns as people here.
Falk said she enjoys her service in the Peace Corps. Through it, she said, she's learned to appreciate things Americans often take for granted, such as education and the opportunities it provides.
She misses her family and friends, she said, along with hot showers and broccoli, the first food she asked for when she came home to visit.
The experience has reinforced her desire to work in health care, but she's uncertain where that desire will take her after her service in the Peace Corps is completed.