In Service, Alumna Takes on the Globe

There are dreamers and then there are doers. Florida A&M alumna, Ashley Butterfield from Cocoa, Fla., chose to be courageous and live outside the box.

“I have danced with 60,000 topless virgins, swam beside the largest shark species in the world, fed a pack of wild hyenas and even dislocated my ribs bungee jumping. This experience has been unreal,” said Butterfield.

These experiences took place during Butterfield’s 27 months of working with the Peace Corps, a volunteer leadership experience that serve more than 76 countries allowing volunteers to live, learn and work with a community on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.

An opportunity came for Butterfield to go overseas and explore in 2009.

“In the fall of 2007, the beginning of my senior year of college, I asked myself, ‘What do I really want to do? What would really make me happy?’ My answer was to get out there and see the world,” said Butterfield. “The Peace Corps fit. It afforded me an opportunity to catch my dream, whilst making a positive contribution to my professional career.”

On Nov. 1, Butterfield returned to America for the first time in two years following what she describes as a “life-changing” experience.

“Her leaving was nerve wrecking because she was going to a foreign country, but she is determined and strong-willed,” said Shauncey Battle, a friend and former co-worker, said.

Abroad, Butterfield has traveled to 11 countries in Africa: Swaziland, where she did her Peace Corps service, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt. In addition to Africa, she has traveled to Jordan, which is an Asian country in the Middle East.

“I am blessed to share that I have had so many awesome, once in a lifetime, experiences that it is merely impossible to select a favorite memory,” she said.

Butterfield said many Americans have serious misconceptions about everyday Africans.

“The majority of Africans eat daily (or) several times a day and they live peaceful and happy lives,” Butterfield said. “What I found interesting was to learn that, through the media, Africans have learned to observe black Americans with the same caution and distaste that Americans regard Africans; how unfortunate.”

The Peace Corps works to engage in essential areas such as information technology, business development and contributing to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“People might not realize it, but the quality of their neighbor’s life (and) their community’s life affects their own,” said Butterfield.

Butterfield said she is looking forward to spending the holidays with her family. Her mother, Margaret Butterfield, said she missed her daughter over the 27 months.

“We knew that she was doing something she really loves,” she said. “We missed her dearly, but we swapped pictures over the Internet, made phone calls and used Skype.”

Butterfield said she isn’t concerned about over-planning for her future but is enjoying the present.

“Tomorrow is next, and then the day after that. Being abroad has taught me to really chill out and not take life so seriously all the time,” Butterfield said. “I have finally realized that whatever I plan today may or may not happen, despite my efforts, so I no longer waste my today making big elaborate plans for the future. My goal is to be happy.”