Peace Corps Experience

Alden had long dreamed of joining the Peace Corps, and her determination was finally rewarded in mid-2011 when she was selected to go to Mozambique, Africa, to teach high school students in the rural village of Chissano.  First, she had to learn Portuguese, and she threw herself into the task. One of the volunteers, who Alden had promised to be her “personal surfing teacher,” remembered Alden “spending so much of her spare time improving on the language that within a week she was on a whole different level. I was really impressed by her dedication and commitment to her work but at the same time she was able to goof off with the rest of us. She was incredibly funny, strong willed, and with a good heart.”

All the volunteers lived with a host family during their training in the first several weeks after their arrival.  Alden decided to enliven her host family’s home with frequent Michael Jackson dance parties.  She encouraged other volunteers to join her in long morning runs before their classes, heading west through a broad valley and then ascending the foothills to the border of Swaziland.  But she never neglected her studies and prepared intensely to become the best teacher she could be.  One volunteer, who watched Alden’s model school classes, was struck by the great rapport that Alden had with her students.  “She was going to be an amazing teacher.”

Alden never got to teach chemistry in Chissano.  During her third month in the Peace Corps, she was riding with four other volunteers in a van coming back from a beach outing near Xai Xai in the late afternoon of December 20, 2011. The driver of the van, a local Mozambican, was speeding, lost control, and crashed in a ravine. Alden and another volunteer, Lena Jenison, were killed.

There followed a huge outpouring of condolences, remembrances, love and support from the entire Peace Corps community in Mozambique and beyond.

As one of Alden’s fellow “Moz 17” volunteers wrote:

Her charisma, beautiful smile and lust for life were contagious. I was so amazed by how adventurous her life was and even more so, what a strong and independent person she was for being able to follow her own path. She had an insatiable thirst for knowledge; she always wanted to know more, learn more. Alden wanted to live life to the fullest and from the short, but precious time I got to spend with her, she did it better than anyone I had ever seen. She was dearly loved here in Mozambique . . . .

Alden not only wanted to make the world a better place, but as as her Peace Corps comrades emphasized, she took action to bring peace to the world.  Although Alden and Lena didn’t get the chance to begin teaching, “they made this world better with every encounter, every interaction they had with us, with their families here, in their new homes, and in this country.”

At the Peace Corps headquarters in the capital city of Maputo, there is a memorial garden to Alden and Lena.  On the wall is a colorful mural with individual tiles painted by each of the remaining Moz 17 members, 37 in all. A plaque is attached to the tree in the center of the garden, emblazoned with the Moz 17 group motto — “Estamos juntos.”  We are together.