An unexpected journey: Peace Corps takes alumnus from Richmond to southern Africa
By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)
December 2014 marked six months since Anthony Muron (B.S.’14/H&S) had interviewed with the Peace Corps. He spent those months keeping busy, volunteering with Commonwealth Catholic Charities and working the house painting job he had held for five years. In fact, he was 30 feet in the air on a ladder when he got the email.
Muron still remembers the feeling that brisk December day, climbing down the ladder teary-eyed to tell his co-workers that he had been invited to serve.
“I called my mother immediately to tell her the good news,” he says. “If it wasn’t for [her], I would have completely lost my way and may not have even gone to college. All my hard work had finally paid off.”
His father helped him pay his way through college, but it still took a few years for Muron to strike a balance between studying and working during his time at Virginia Commonwealth University. By his third year, he was so concentrated on work that graduating on time was not an option. He knew that if he didn’t refocus on his schoolwork, his only other option would be to drop out of college.
“That was the moment where I told myself to pull up my bootstraps and put myself on the right track,” Muron says.
Wanting to make the most of his college experience in his senior year, which he paid for himself, he hit the ground running and signed up for every extracurricular activity that came his way. He re-joined Students Today Alumni Tomorrow, VCU Alumni’s student organization, serving on its Leadership Council and later its board of directors. He also became a member of the Student Government Association, Honor Council and Psychology Anonymous.
“Being involved with STAT was a huge turning point in my college career,” he says. “I was constantly working, zipping around campus on my bike, and attending meetings on both campuses right up until my last day as a student.”
Brendan Hood (B.S.’15/B), who worked with Muron on STAT’s board of directors, praised him for his work ethic.
“[Anthony] is a proud VCU alumnus, who always put others before himself and leads the way in showing the world how far loyalty, friendship and positivity can go,” says Hood.
Less than a year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Muron was on a plane to Mozambique. He has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the country for the past two years, working closely with local hospitals to counsel HIV patients about treatment options, to form patient help groups to ease medication distribution, to search for patients who have missed consultation dates and to educate the public about malaria and nutrition.
He also works on the Jovems Unidos no Trabalho do Oportunidades e Successo (United Youth in the Work of Opportunities and Success) project that meets weekly with local youth ages 13 to 23 to discuss health-related topics, to practice theater and to dance and play games. Youth also learn English through the English Theater Network where children from all 10 provinces in Mozambique come together annually to perform a play centered on various health and social topics.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Muron says. “Each one of them is active in their community, and they all have bright futures ahead of them.”
Last summer, Muron had the opportunity to pursue another one of his interests, environmental sustainability, while continuing his work with the Peace Corps. After visiting Mount Namuli in the heart of the country’s Zambézia province, he learned about the work that the Legado Initiative, another nongovernmental organization, was doing to introduce perma-gardening and sustainable agricultural activities in the area.
“Local leadership knows the damage that is being done to the rivers and streams through unsustainable farming methods and that preventing them requires a collective effort and alternative economic resources,” says Muron, who volunteered to help with the initiative. “The Legado: Namuli team realized this as well and wanted to use education as the first step.”
With support from government leaders, the team is working to identify change agents who can stop farmers from using the slash-and-burn agriculture method and recruit them to help introduce sustainable farming techniques.
“So far we’ve held training sessions in each of the six Namuli communities and reached 15 leaders in each, many of whom have already begun to implement perma-farm techniques in their own farms,” Muron says. “The key is perseverance and communication. There will be a lot of resistance and setbacks, but without pain there’s no progress.”
Today, the project has agreements with community leaders to stop the farming and burning of high-elevation forests in exchange for agricultural development, income generation and infrastructure building as well as funding from multiple private organizations that will help Legado accomplish its goals.
Over the next decade, the Legado: Namuli project will continue toward its goal of protecting one of Mozambique’s most ecologically diverse and important environments while at the same time ensuring that future generations will have adequate access to natural resources and freshwater supplies.
“If you give corn to a community, it will go hungry the following year; but if you teach them to grow corn, they’ll have food for generations,” he says. “We’re not saving these communities. We’re providing them the means to save themselves. That’s the purpose of sustainable development.”
In August, Muron will become Mozambique’s Northern Regional Peace Corps Volunteer leader where he’ll provide Volunteer and organizational support and develop sites for new Volunteers to live. Although he’s leaving the Zambézia province, he knows that the work he’s done will continue and is excited for the next step in building a better future for the country.
“I haven’t changed the world, the world has changed me,” Muron says. “The people I’ve encountered in this part of the world have taught me so much more than I’ll ever be able to teach them.”