“I’d say the most compelling environment I’ve ever been in is Liberia,” he says. “When I landed at the airport, armed Marines were there to pick me up because that day the United Nations had started buying weapons, in an attempt to disarm the people fighting the civil war. The money ran out, and the soldiers got upset and started shooting again.” In the midst of sometimes chaotic experiences, Chapman’s focus remains firmly on making economies work. “We give technical assistance to ministers of finance in developing countries so that they can get their financial management and their budgeting systems in order.” Chapman helps “to develop their information systems, their decisionmaking processes, their capacity to gather and analyze information, to be responsive to national policies, and to mobilize their bureaucratic organization to create results.” Basically, he says, his job is “building credibility for a government in the eyes of its own citizens.” Setting up hardware and software and teaching best practices for managing economies is not so hard. But “I’m perplexed by the level of corruption in the cultures that I tend to deal in. There’s a lot of theft at the micro level on one hand. On the other hand, it’s how people make a living because they really don’t get salaries. In Georgia, the monthly salary at the Ministry of Finance wasn’t enough to pay bus fare back and forth to work each day.” Still, he says, “I’m amazed by the dignity and the seriousness and the integrity of the people I work with just about everywhere I go. People’s motivations are similar everywhere,” he adds. “In the countries I work in, it’s very fundamental. It’s pretty much food, medical care, and trying to generate confidence in the future.” Chapman, his wife Dianne, and their two dogs now live in Sri Lanka, where he is a resident advisor.
Jessamyn Miller Priebe’s murals teach Guinean children and their parents good health habits.
THE PICTURE OF HEALTH Jessamyn Miller Priebe ’01BIS/ H&S studied photography, Spanish and French as an Interdisciplinary Studies major. She caught the travel bug during an internship with the Wall Street Journal Europe in Brussels. “The best part about it was the newsroom,” Priebe recalls vividly. “You’re sitting in this tiny room with 30 journalists crammed in and they’re all speaking different languages all day long.” Determined to work internationally, Priebe, like many VCU alumni, applied to the Peace Corps. In October 2002 she arrived in Guinea, Africa. For the first three months she stayed with a host family and attended classes every day, learning to be a public health worker. “When you’re in Africa, you watch every aspect of life happen right before your eyes,” Priebe explains. “There’s no privacy, no personal space. Everything is done outside—eating, cooking, going to the bathroom, discussions. You see so much. It’s like a performance every day.” Working for the Health Ministry in the city of Labe was a crash course in community organizing. “I can’t even tell you how hard it was to get somebody interested in change,” she says. “We were trying to motivate people to do health promotion and not just wait for people
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to come to them because they were sick. They weren’t interested unless there was money involved.” So Priebe followed Peace Corps advice to seek out and cultivate community leaders. “They’re the ones who are going to stay behind. If you can encourage them, give them ideas and information, that’s the best you can hope to do.” She used her art to educate, painting 50 murals at 10 clinics. In pictures, children are weighed on scales, pregnant women sit under trees resting from field work, children wash their hands, mothers are breastfeeding. “The doctors and nurses could use the murals to explain things to people,” Priebe says. “There’s not much visual art in that culture, so anything that’s written or printed is just fascinating and amazing. I remember one time when I was painting a white square to put a mural on, a woman came by and she said ‘it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful.’ She was just blown away.” Today, Priebe works in the graphics print department of a large advertising company, but she and her husband Adam have big plans for the future. “I know we’re going back overseas. That’s our dream. We crave it.”
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Excerpt from Shafer Court Connections, The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of Virginia Commonwealth University, Spring 2006