With a passport filled with stamps and a world of experiences, Lynda Garvin has learned the key to helping people improve their lives is listening.
The Sandoval County Extension agriculture and horticulture agent brings a wide variety of Extension-type experiences to her new position in northern New Mexico. Ten years in the Peach Corps and numerous additional years of service with Food for the Hungry and CARE international programs have prepared Garvin to work with the diverse cultures of New Mexico.
New Mexico State University supports Cooperative Extension Service programs in every county across the state.
From a young age, the Ohio native has been fascinated with other countries and cultures.
“As a kid, I loved learning about other countries,” she said. “I spent all my time at the library looking at National Geographic magazines, travel books and books about Egypt. I already had the travel bug.”
Those seeds of wanderlust sprouted while she was an undergraduate at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when she studied abroad in Greece.
“Going to a new place, exploring and meeting people, it’s an addiction,” she said. “I love living in different countries and learning first-hand about their culture and customs.”
After graduation with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with an emphasis in botany, and a stint as a Vista Volunteer in the United States under her belt, Garvin’s wanderlust bloomed when she joined the Peace Corps.
In the past 23 years, Garvin has lived in seven countries besides the United States. Her work took her to Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique in Africa; Jamaica and St. Croix Virgin Islands in the Caribbean and Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Her last overseas assignment was with CARE International in Liberia where she experienced the lingering effects of 14 years of civil war.
Between her international assignments she returned to Colorado, Florida and California and worked on a variety of environmental/agricultural projects. She also earned a master’s degree from Colorado State University in crop protection, a combination of plant pathology, weed science and entomology in a form of holistic agriculture.
“The common thread in all people is that they know what they need to improve their lives,” she said. “If you sit and listen to people, and hear their stories, then you can help them formulate what it is they really need, not what you perceive they should do. That’s the true key to development. You empower them to take action.”
In the many roles Garvin played from volunteer and project manager, to associate country director she helped show the people how they could get to their goal themselves.
“Those were the things that were sustainable and what they will teach to other people and share with their neighbors,” she said.
The projects and programs she supported are diverse in their goals, but agriculture, maternal child health and nutrition, and protecting the environment were the ever present themes.
Along the way she learned the various languages of the countries, such as Vanuatu’s creole language that is a mix of French, English and local dialects.
“It was fun to speak this mixture of languages. It was easy to learn,” she said. “I really enjoyed living in Vanuatu. The island of Tana has a very active volcano where you can go up to the rim and actually watch it spew lava. That volcanic soil is great for coffee production, so Tana coffee is really nice.”
The tropical island land was so lush, Garvin tells of throwing a papaya seed out in her yard and a year later the tree bore fruit.
She also tells of the tradition of drinking kava tea that has relaxation properties.
“The root of the kava plant, which is related to black pepper, is made into a beverage. Traditionally it is drunk when the island chiefs get together. Also prior to community meetings, the opening ceremony includes drinking kava,” she said.
Her last overseas assignment in Liberia was the most difficult because the people’s lives were disrupted by many aspects of the 14-year civil war – the impact of former Liberian President Charles Taylor: children serving as soldiers, people uprooted from their homes and farms, communities and infrastructure destroyed.
“They have lost the ability to trust authority and, even, each other,” she said. “We worked with local women-run savings and loan groups. Besides helping each other financially, they provided emotional support for each other.”
From her many development work experiences, one lifelong lesson Garvin learned is from an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
“Through my travels and work I have learned that going fast is tempting, but going far is so much more enriching,” she said.
Information from NMSU