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In her senior year at Mason, Jennifer Bent needed to fill her last few credits and found herself enrolled in an introduction to anthropology class.

Little did she know that a few years down the road that class would play an important role in her life and career.

“I remembered the professor teaching us that you cannot make assumptions on another culture based off the rules of your own,” said Bent, who is now in Togo, Africa working as a girl empowerment and education volunteer with the Peace Corps.

Currently, Bent is working on a Peace Corps Partnership Project to raise $5,000 to buy desperately needed textbooks and chalkboards for the poor village she lives in. She has already raised nearly $1,000.

The villagers have pledged to donate to help build new desks, plant trees and contribute to the classroom supplies.

The overwhelming poverty and lack of development in the small village she lives in are made even more difficult by the rigid gender roles in the Togolese culture that Bent must battle.

“It’s unlikely that I will be able to alter a whole cultural belief system overnight, or even over my entire time in service,” Bent said. “Despite this, I intend to persevere and stay true to my aspirations. I might not change the way women are viewed and treated in Togo immediately, but I can hope to sow the seeds of the future into the next generation.”

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As part of that initiative, Bent also created a program called Men as Partners, which teaches how to be a better partner to wives, mothers, daughters and students through promoting gender equality in the community and the classroom.

Bent teaches life skills classes that teach gender equality, HIV/AIDS awareness and income generating activities. Part of her work is convince the village families to send their young daughters to school and let them continue with their education.

Bent graduated from Mason with a degree in government and international politics, which she credits as being useful in her preparation to join Peace Corps. She first realized her passion for volunteer work and service as an undergrad.

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“I knew that I wanted to become a Peace Corps volunteer following my mission trip to Banica in the Dominican Republic with the Catholic Campus Ministry,” Bent said. “I have always been involved in service and helping others, but my work in this poor community changed how I saw the world and my place in it. My eyes were opened to a whole new world where helping others gave me a sense of well being I had never experienced before.”

In spite of the challenges presented land with no modern amenities and a foreign culture, Bent has found a real connection to the youth in the village.

“I’ve worked a lot with students and apprentices and it’s just heartwarming how excited they are to be in my class,” Bent said. “I look at them and can’t help but hope that something I relay to them will touch them and create real cultural change.”

Donations can be made to Bent’s project on donate.peacecorps.com.