By Elisa Horta ’19
Archbishop Mitty High School’s alumni spread their wings and travel all over the world to serve others. With the social justice-based education and strong values that Archbishop Mitty instills, students are left with a long-lasting desire to help people around the world.
In a small village called Sinendé in Benin in West Africa, Archbishop Mitty alumna Clemence Couteau ’12, is volunteering as a rural community health agent for the Peace Corps. She recently joined Monarchs via Skype to share her experiences and inspire high school juniors to pursue service opportunities overseas. Clemence leads health education programs and teaches people about local issues like malaria, sexual health, nutrition, and maternal health. She is most passionate and enthusiastic about the work she did for International Women’s Day, where 400 girls from schools all around the commune came together to march for more concrete government action to support education for women. Clemence helped lead and organize this event because she feels strongly about gender equity and women’s empowerment projects.
“The hardest thing is just seeing the huge gap between men and women, and the opportunities that are not available to women simply because of their gender,” she said. “That’s why women’s and girls’empowerment activities have been an huge passion of mine throughout my service.”
Clemence, who studied public health at Stanford University, is highly informed about what she teaches the people of Sinendé. She has the advantage of speaking fluent French, the official language of Benin. Although these conditions pulled her to Benin, they are not what ultimately pushed her to join the Peace Corps. Clemence felt Archbishop Mitty’s Ethics, Culture, and Justice immersion trip to India had a strong impact on her decision to join the Peace Corps. Archbishop Mitty currently offers six ECJ trips that study the culture, religion, and history of one of the following places: California, the Appalachia region in West Virginia, Central America, India, Jamaica, and South Africa. These trips widen students’ perspectives of the world, promoting service, cultural appreciation, and a better understanding of themselves and others.
“Mr. Wesmiller’s ECJ India trip in 2011 was actually the first big event in my life that made me realize I wanted to do more service work in foreign countries,” Clemence said. “I loved every moment of that trip, from the cultural immersion to learning about new religions, languages, and cuisines and, of course, the amazing feeling that comes with connecting with people halfway across the world. It opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone lives the way I do and that not everyone has equal access and opportunity to basic needs such as health care and education. This trip ignited something in me that wanted to work in the global context to solve some of these problems.”
Giving back to the school that inspired her to take this journey, Clemence recently Skype called Archbishop Mitty’s current ECJ California class from a Peace Corp facility in Benin to talk about her experience in the program.
“The experience was really inspiring because I was thinking of doing something similar in the future,” said junior Kristie Park. “Talking with her allowed us to learn about what her daily life looks like, and it was interesting to hear a first-hand account of the culture differences. The fact that she is an Archbishop Mitty alumna made her very relatable and approachable, and I really enjoyed learning things about her work ranging from a general overview of what exactly she is doing to what she misses most about home.”
Clemence’s interaction with the class has encouraged current Archbishop Mitty students to consider pursuing their interests in serving other people on an international stage. This growing cultural appreciation builds peace within communities and advocates for those who are struggling. Clemence shared that her long-term goal is to work for an organization like the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, or the United Nations, where she can continue to positively impact the lives of others. It truly is amazing how her ECJ trip to India has altered her life path and goals. She hopes that her story can have a similar effect on those she talks to at Archbishop Mitty.