Marquita Rusley was preparing to go overseas to the West African country of Togo so she could teach English there as a Peace Corps volunteer. She was in the middle of the required medical evaluations in March 2020 when COVID-19 put those plans in limbo.
“We didn’t know what COVID was,” said Rusley, a 25-year-old Hollywood woman.
But the Peace Corps did. The federal agency sends American volunteers across the world to offer training in basics like English and business skills. But suddenly, the organization had to send home almost 7,000 volunteers in more than 60 countries in a span of two weeks when COVID-19 hit, said spokesman Tamim Choudhury.
Rusley hoped the pandemic would end quickly, and patiently waited for her trip abroad to get the green light.
“It’s March, I’m going in May, so it’ll be over by then,” she thought.
As we know now, it was far from over.
The Peace Corps continued to send her updates through the waiting period, but she was stuck, not sure whether to continue her education or wait to be dispatched to West Africa.
Now, two years later, Rusley is finally going on her Peace Corps assignment.
She had to undergo the same months-long evaluation process with the added COVID-19 evaluations and has been in Togo since June 22. She’ll remain there for two years teaching students English.
Rusley filled one of the first 40 overseas volunteer posts since the start of the pandemic. The Peace Corps hopes to fill additional assignments by the end of the year, Choudhury said.
The Peace Corps is taking precautions with its volunteers. They must be vaccinated and also stay clear of public transit to avoid the spread of COVID-19, Choudhury said.
This is Rusley’s third trip overseas as an English teacher. In 2018, she went to Ghana to teach kids with learning disabilities, and in 2019 she taught in Ecuador.
In 2020, she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in social and natural sciences. During her college years, she volunteered as a Peace Corps ambassador on campus and got experience working in the Florida Senate and the United Nations Foundation.
When Rusley first tried to go to Togo before the pandemic, her long-term goal was to be involved with public health. During her time waiting out the pandemic, she realized she wanted to focus on education within the public health field.
After her two years in Togo, Rusley said she’s hoping to pursue a master’s in public health with the help of the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program, which gives returning Peace Corps volunteers a chance to pursue a higher degree while still helping underserved communities in the United States.
She said education has always been an interest of hers — she just didn’t realize it until she thought back on her time in Ghana and Ecuador.
“I have a younger sister, so as a kid, my parents bought us these math books and reading books just to help us pass time and still educate ourselves. So I always played teacher with her,” she said. “Then, as I grew up, I always helped my younger cousins with their homework and everything, so I think it was always there.”