Breckenridge Texan

Jenny Everett Holt recounts Peace Corps experiences at ‘God, Girls and Giggles’

Jenny Everett Holt recounts Peace Corps experiences at ‘God, Girls and Giggles’
April 07
19:15 2019

Before Jenny Holt was the sheriff’s wife and the mother of two little girls, she was Jenny Everett, a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in a small Ugandan village in the middle of the African continent. In 2010, after graduating from Breckenridge High School, Baylor University and Texas Christian University, she embarked on the adventure that was both rewarding and challenging.

Jenny Everett Holt was the featured speaker at “God, Girls and Giggles: Ladies Night Out,” hosted by Breckenridge’s First United Methodist Church last weekend. The FUMC Women in God’s Service (WinGS) group organizes the annual event for local women.

After her speech, Jenny Everett Holt visited with attendees at “God, Girls and Giggles,” and showed them some of the beads that were made in a program she started in the Ugandan village where she served in the Peace Corps. She was wearing a dress and scarf from Uganda. (Photo by Carla McKeown/ Breckenridge Texan)

On March 30, the stage was decorated with quilts, baskets, clothing and other items that Holt brought back from Uganda.

Wearing a dress and scarf made in Uganda, she started out talking about the Peace Corps and explaining that speaking to groups, such as the crowd at “God, Girls and Giggles,” she was fulfilling one of the organization’s three goals: to share the culture of the host country with America.

The Peace Corps’ full program is for 27 months, but volunteers are not required to complete the full service. Holt said she was one of the 12 percent who stay for the full 27 months. (For more information about the Peace Corps, click here to go to the official website.)

She described one of her first experiences in the Peace Corps that involved adjusting from growing up in Breckenridge’s predominately Christian culture to being one of only five Christians in her training group of 35 volunteers. However, she said everyone was accepting of her and she found herself in a position of being able to answer religious questions that some of her fellow volunteers had.

After the initial training period, Holt was assigned to the village of Kaberebere, which she said is about half the size of Woodson. It is located in southwestern Uganda, and most people in the village were cattle raisers or farmers, growing cabbage, bananas and pineapple.

Holt was given a monthly stipend equal to the average income of the local residents. The Peace Corps also provided her with a house to live in. Holt described how the Peace Corps requires that houses for the volunteers be safe and secure but does not have requirements for electricity, water and sanitation.

“They don’t care if you’re comfortable; they have zero concern for your amenities, but they are all about safety and security, which I am very thankful for,” she said.

Although her house had water and electricity, they worked for only about 20 to 25 percent of the time. When the water wasn’t working, she collected rainwater, and she had a generator to use when the electricity was off. There was a shower in her house, but the bathroom was a pit latrine located about 20 yards away.

During her stay, Holt grew a garden with carrots, cabbage and green peppers.

Holt’s job in Kaberebere was with the Rural Health Promotion and Poverty Alleviation Initiative, an organization that worked with farmers to train them on better marketing strategies, farming practices and pest control.

“I was an agribusiness volunteer, which was only 8 percent of total Peace Corps volunteers, so I was in the minority on that. Most people are in the health sector or education,” she said. “But, this group helps train farmers in different practices.

“My job with them was to help and improve their office, basically. There’s only so much I could go out and do with the farmers, because I was just learning the language. And they’re dealing with bananas and pineapple farms, and I grew up with cows. So, I did not know anything about banana trees and plantations and cabbage patches and pineapple farms,” Holt explained.

She helped the organization create a record-keeping system on all of their farmers. “So, whenever the electricity would be on, I would work on their computer that was donated to them that was from the late ’90s to the early 2000s; it was a very old computer,” Holt said. “I built a database for them that had all the farmers, all the farmers’ information, what they grew, when they grew it, who they grew it with, how many times they’ve come in to the office to ask for help, what they’ve come in to the office to ask for help for.”

Using the database, the organization’s staff could help farmers with their problems, based on past issues and what worked and what didn’t.

“They had all this information that they just didn’t know how to put together, and so I just helped them put it all in one place,” she said.

Holt also developed a computer training program that one of her Ugandan co-workers took over to teach the village’s residents how to use a computer. “Literally, lesson number one is ‘This is a mouse.’ And how to turn the computer on,” she said. “Someone would come into the office for a computer lesson, and we would practice pushing the button on the computer, because they’d never seen one; they’d never been around it.”

In addition to working for the organization, Holt also had two secondary projects that she did on her own. She organized beading and quilting groups.

For the beading groups, she taught high school students to make paper beads to sell. While they were making the beads, Holt gave them talks on marketing strategies, money management strategies and savings plans.

“Some of these students made hundreds of thousands of shillings. Which 2,500 shillings is equal to one dollar, and so 100,000 shillings is a big deal over there. That’s about a month’s wages for some people,” she said. “Some of those kids were able to pay for their schooling – so their parents didn’t have to – just selling these paper beads, necklaces and bracelets they made. Not only did tourists buy them in the big cities, but Ugandans bought them, as well.”

Jenny Everett Holt displayed some of the quilts, baskets and other items made in Uganda. (Photo by Carla McKeown/ Breckenridge Texan)

Holt’s second project goes by the name Peace by Piece. She taught groups of Ugandans to use scraps of material that would otherwise have been thrown away to make quilts, hand bags, clothing and other items.

“This project, the Peace by Piece project, is the most special in my heart, because it was mine,” she said. “It was something that I had an idea for, and I worked on it, and God helped me, and now it’s really, really grown. When you go to Uganda and you land in the airport, you have the gift shop, and when you walk in, the first thing you see is the Peace by Piece blanket. When you go to the shopping malls in Uganda, at their gift shops, you see Peace by Piece blankets, Peace by Piece shirts, Peace by Piece bags. And, then they have their very own storefront that they’ve opened up, and they’re all working together. It’s just an amazing feeling to know that I was a part of that.”

Holt also shared some of the hard times she experienced during her Peace Corps service, including times when she was sick and a couple of times when she felt threatened.

“It was not always rainbows and hearts and stars,” she said. “There were some very hard times that I had, difficult moments when I was scared, when I was lonely, when I didn’t have any English speaker to talk to that understood what I was going through, times where I was sick when I could not get well. I had a couple of different sicknesses while I was there, and it was a rough time. I cried a lot.”

The Peace Corps requirements that the housing for volunteers be safe and secure came into play when several men tried to break into Holt’s house when she was at home. The men were unsuccessful and could not get into the house. She said at that time she felt God’s protection over her.

“I would not have made it the full 27 months of service, if it were not for one thing. I would not be part of the 12 percent of people who make it the whole time, if it were not for one thing. And, I would not have had the success in my projects and my organization being so wonderful and so great to me, if it was not for one thing,” she said. “I took my Bible with me, and Michele Arnot gave me a copy of ‘Jesus Calling’ right before I went.”

Holt told the crowd at “God, Girls and Giggles” that every morning during her Peace Corps service, she read the Bible and the devotional book “Jesus Calling.”

“Every morning when I woke up, I would make instant coffee, and I would read the Word,” she said. “And, I’ve never felt closer to the Lord than I have when I was in Uganda. I don’t feel like I’m as close to Him now as I was when I was over there because of all the distractions. I very strongly believe that distractions are one of the devil’s biggest tools that keeps us away from the Lord. I didn’t have TV to distract me; I didn’t have radio stations where I understood the music to distract me. I didn’t have those things that consume our time here, and so I learned how to pray. I learned how to take things to God.”

Holt experienced danger again just before she left Uganda. When word spread around the village that she was preparing to leave, rumors started circulating that some men were going to break into the house, steal all of her stuff and possibly commit other crimes against her. She contacted the Peace Corps, who advised her to use her backpack to smuggle out what she wanted to take with her. So, she made several trips to the nearest city, taking some items, including the Ugandan quilts, baskets and clothing that she had on display at “God, Girls and Giggles.”

Shortly before her last trip to the city with a backpack full of her belongings, she said goodbye to her co-workers and friends and left Kaberebere for good. Within a week, she had gone through the Peace Corps’ final program and was back home in the United States.

“Again, God protected me, put his arms around me, ensuring my safety and my success in the Peace Corps,” Holt said. “Not success because I went over and helped people, but success in that I grew. I grew with Him, and I’m able to come share all that with you.”

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Jenny Everett Holt addressed the crowd at “God, Girls and Giggles” on March 30 about her experiences in the Peace Corps from 2010 to 2012. She brought with her quilts, baskets, clothing and other items made by the residents in the Ugandan village where she lived for two years. (Photo by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan)

 

 

 

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