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Marysville woman teaches English and s'mores in Azerbaijan

Marysville woman serves in Peace Corps in Azerbaijan

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By Amy Daybert
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Jessi Libbing, 24, taught English in Azerbaijan. She lived in Qazax, Azerbaijan, for the majority of her 27 months of Peace Corps service.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Jessi Libbing, 24, taught English in Azerbaijan. She lived in Qazax, Azerbaijan, for the majority of her 27 months of Peace Corps service.

  • Jessi Libbing, 24, taught English in Azerbaijan. She lived in Qazax, Azerbaijan, for the majority of her 27 months of Peace Crops service. Libbing, wh...

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Jessi Libbing, 24, taught English in Azerbaijan. She lived in Qazax, Azerbaijan, for the majority of her 27 months of Peace Crops service. Libbing, who recently returned home, is surrounded by crafts from her trip, including wool slippers, silk scarves and a silk tapestry.

MARYSVILLE -- Jessi Libbing is comfortable this winter in her pink wool slipper socks.
The colorful handmade socks keep her feet warm but they're also a way for her to remember the time she spent as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Libbing, 24, returned to her family home in Marysville around Thanksgiving after serving more than two years as an English teacher in Qazax, Azerbaijan. She brought back pairs of the traditional Talysh woolen socks to give as Christmas gifts to her family, and many memories of the people she met and time she spent in the predominantly Muslim nation, which straddles the European and Asian continents.
"For me, the most important part of my Peace Corps service was the relationships I made with people," Libbing said.
One person she'll never forget is Zeynab Abdalova, an English teacher at S. Vurgun Adina School No. 2 in Qazax, which is in the eastern European part of the country.
Libbing, a 2009 University of Washington graduate, worked with Abdalova as an education volunteer at the school. She was the first person Libbing sought out in December 2009 when she arrived at the school.
Libbing clearly remembers her first day at the school of 1,000 students.
"I was scared," she said. "I came in during a passing period. There were just kids, running crazy all around. I didn't know exactly what to do."
Libbing spent several weeks growing accustomed to the school day, the students, and the English teachers she would be working with in first- through ninth-grade classrooms. She grew especially close to a class of sixth graders and with Abdalova's help, organized a Halloween play in October 2010 to teach the children about the holiday they knew a little about, but did not celebrate. Students recited poems, carved pumpkins and wore bat, witch and ghosts costumes to act in the play.
Libbing organized several after-school clubs, including an English club, an art club, a gardening club and a movie club where she showed movies in English. She rallied friends and family at home to send supplies for 50 girls to make tie-dyed shirts and s'mores at a week-long summer camp. During Camp GLOW, short for Girls Leading Our World, campers learned about topics such as gender equality, leadership and health.
"We'd do bonfires, s'mores and just normal funny things kids here would do at a summer camp but it's also about empowering them," Libbing said.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, Libbing said her goals were to share some American traditions, learn about the culture of Azerbaijan and help teachers form modern lesson plans.
The Halloween play and a Christmas stocking filled with candy that she received in the mail from her family helped her talk to students about some traditions at home. After learning about Novruz, a Shiite Muslim holiday that marks the coming of spring, Libbing planned four art projects representing water, fire, earth and wind -- the four elements that are celebrated on days leading up to the holiday.
Although English lessons are mandatory at the school, Libbing said she tried to add puzzles and other activities onto them so students could better understand how to pronounce and use English words.
Her Peace Corps experience hasn't made her want to be a school teacher, Libbing said. It did make her consider pursuing a career in public health. In Azerbaijan, she taught students a lesson on the proper way to brush their teeth.
"There are so many issues and one big one is dental health," she said. "Another one is the health of women and educating about birth control."
Libbing kept a blog to update friends and family about her life in Azerbaijan. She plans to write a final blog post at libbing.blogspot.com about her favorite moments of her Peace Corps service.
One day, Libbing would like to bring her family to visit the people she grew close to in Azerbaijan or have Abdalova and her two daughters visit the United States.
"(Abdalova) ended up becoming a really important part of my Peace Corps service and a really good friend to me the whole time," she said.

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; adaybert@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » MarysvilleVolunteer

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