New Britain native shares Peace Corps memories

By Brenda Maguire

Becky Coggins has accumulated a lifetime of memories during her two-year stay in Togo, a country on Africa’s west coast.

But the New Britain native said she will particularly cherish an event she helped organize during her first year in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer. Coggins at the time was working at a camp for children who have HIV/AIDS or are affected in some way by the disease.

“I’ll never forget how happy all the kids were, dancing well into the night to local pop music, and how proud I was to have had a part in organizing such a great experience,” Coggins said via e-mail.

Coggins, 25, went to Togo in September 2009 after graduating from George Washington University in 2008 and is set to return to her home in New Britain in November.

“I think I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps,” said Coggins, who graduated from New Britain High School in 2004. “Ever since high school I’ve been curious about other countries and cultures, and I’ve always tried to participate in community service activities.”

Coggins has been doing work under the Girls Education and Empowerment project during her time in Africa.

She’s been working with students, teachers and families to encourage young girls to pursue education and lead healthy and successful lives afterward. This has included organizing training sessions for teachers and summer activities for students.

This past summer, Coggins helped organize a conference whose aim was to have parents take their middle-school daughters to work with them. During that week the girls were taught life skills, including how to use a computer. They also met with several successful Togolese women who shared how they overcame adversity to become successful.

During that week, Coggins took a group of young girls to an Internet cafe to show them how to use a computer. Most of the girls were typing their names in Word documents or looking up “Togo” and “Barack Obama” on Wikipedia, but there was one girl’s work that caught the eye of Coggins.

“When I went around the room looking at what the girls had worked on, I noticed that one of the girls had typed in her document, ‘I now have the self-confidence to succeed in my studies and my life,’” Coggins said.

Despite the excitement of a homecoming, Coggins said she will miss living in Togo.

“People are incredibly nice and welcoming in Togo, and generally appreciative of the work that the Peace Corps does here,” she said.

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