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Peace Corps volunteer Garrett LeBlanc (kneeling) works with fishermen in Zambia. (Photo submitted)

Garrett LeBlanc proudly displays a fish he caught while in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer. He said this was the first one he caught that was big enough to fillet. (Photo provided)

Rural Aquaculture Program Specialist Garrett LeBlanc graduated Indian Lake Central School in 2009 and is now serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, Africa. (Photo provided)

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Peace Corps getting a hand from LeBlanc

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - Updated: 12:21 AM

By PETE KLEIN

Express News Staff

INDIAN LAKE -- It's a long way from Indian Lake to Zambia in southern Africa, and for one Indian Lake Central School grad the trip included a number of stops.

Garrett LeBlanc was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer April 25.

In February he accepted an invitation and departed for Zambia as a Peace Corps trainee. Before being sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer he received three months of language and technical training.

As a Rural Aquaculture Program specialist he is working with local farmers, teaching them how to build and maintain fishponds for a sustainable income in addition to their current farming endeavors.

Some ideas he has for secondary projects during his stay in Zambia are raising chickens, keeping bees and starting a swim program for local children at the lake near his village. Many are children of fishermen who themselves have never learned to swim.

LeBlanc graduated Indian Lake Central School in 2009 and attended Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. as a marine biology student.

Beginning in his freshman year he started doing research with a professor who mentored him throughout his four years at RWU. His research focused on varying mercury levels in black sea bass in Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound.

He also traveled to Bermuda and Panama, conducting research projects in both locations. His contribution to the Bermudian fisheries resulted in changing legislation in the lobster fisheries there in 2013.

MARINE BIOLOGIST

During his four years at RWU he also worked for Coastal Visions, as an assistant scientist aboard two fishing vessels, getting baseline data for studies concerning the impact of off-shore wind farms that are proposed for sites in Block Island Sound.

He graduated from RWU in May 2013, magna cum laude, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Math.

After graduation he spent a season aboard a commercial salmon fishing vessel in Bristol Bay, Alaska where he learned first-hand some of the hardships and complexities of a commercial fishing industry.

SCUBA DIVER TOO

LeBlanc has been a scuba diver since he was 14 years old and recently attained the level of dive master. He also has become a freediver, able to dive over 60 feet on a single breath with the help of his trainers, who were the divers in the documentary film, "The Cove."

His love for the ocean, however, has temporarily taken a back seat. LeBlanc's plans for "after" the Peace Corps are on hold until he gets a little closer to the end of his two-year commitment.

LIFE IN ZAMBIA

Perhaps the most notable feature of Zambia is Victoria Falls, which has the world's largest sheet of falling water and is something LeBlanc hopes to see next year.

Zambia is a land-locked country in south central Africa. To zero in on his location, LeBlanc says, "I am in Luapula Province, about eight kilometers from the Town of Nchelenge, which is on the southeastern shore of Lake Mweru."

Although English is the official language of Zambia, it is not the common language of the people and LeBlanc is adjusting to it.

He says, "My counterpart speaks English well and so do a couple other members of the community. But most people only speak Bemba, spoken primarily in northeastern Zambia. I do okay but it is very slow going learning. I can greet people at any time of day, so that's what I use the most."

He says of the food, "The food is good, now that I am cooking for myself. I eat pasta or rice instead of Nshima, which is made from ground maize (corn) flour. When I was living with my host family, I ate Nshima twice a day and sometimes even Nshima porridge in the morning. They fry a lot of their food and use a lot of oil and salt in everything because, I think, Nshima is pretty bland."

On being in central Africa, LeBlanc says, "I have always loved the ocean and wanted to be a marine biologist as long as I can remember, and now I am in the middle of a continent. Go figure!

"I have only done a little traditional fishing here. Mostly I have been spear fishing or more recently using a blowgun. The fish are very small and you just fry the hell out of them and eat them bones and all.

"I just got my first one big enough to fillet the other day. They taste great but what I wouldn't give for a big striped bass!"

DOESN'T MISS SNOW

Zambia is south of the equator so one could say it's almost winter there -- the dry season.

Addressing a climate much different than the Adirondacks, LeBlanc says, "I will not miss winter but since I do actually live next to a rubber tree plantation, their leaves are just starting to change color for the dry season."

It is too early to tell who will learn the most from LeBlanc's time in the Peace Corps -- him or the people he hopes to help.

But LeBlanc has a positive attitude and says of his experience to date, "Some of the people I work with really do appreciate what we are trying to do.

"For the most part, I really only know well a couple adults and a hand full of kids, so they do ask me questions about home. What they really like is seeing pictures. I am still not sure they understand what snow is."

THE PEACE CORPS

As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world.

Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level toward sustainable change that lives on long after their service while at the same time becoming global citizens serving their country. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences and a global outlook that enriches the lives of those around them.

peteklein@hamiltoncountyexpress.com

     

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