Volunteer Valentines: Santee Couple Romances the Peace Corps

The Dapremonts- usually local to Santee- are midway through two years of service in the jungle of South America, in a culture much different than ours.

You think your relationship is tough sometimes? Try leaving the life you know for two years for a culture that sees marital partnership a bit differently. That's what Santee couple Lindsay and Ryan Dapremont are in the midst of- a year and a half into their Peace Corps service in Suriname.

Married for nearly three years, Lindsay works in health education and Ryan works as a community economic development volunteer, a bit different from his job back home with a reality TV production company.

“I am serving in Peace Corps with my wonderful husband. We’re always up for trying something new, especially if it involves food or an outdoor activity like hiking or windsurfing,” said Lindsay.

“I have always enjoyed reaching out and helping people and anyone who knows me will tell you that I love to learn new things. Peace Corps perfectly fulfills both," Ryan said.

The challenge of celebrating Valentine's Day in the wilds of South America keeps the couple on their toes- it isn't as simple as going to Godiva.

"As far as celebrating Valentine's Day here in the jungle, we both have modest surprises in store for each other. With no florists, chocolate shops, or fancy restaurants nearby, we have to get creative with the romance," Ryan said.

The couple explained that the gender roles in Suriname are very strict and the community took a while to accept their more equal partnership.

"At the beginning of our service, I would do the majority the domestic chores like washing our laundry in the village river, but slowly Ryan and I started to mix things up. When villagers asked why my husband was washing the dishes we would explain that we lived a different way, as partners, so we split up the work equally. At first we received many disapproving looks for splitting up our household chores but now the women in my village commend me on the partnership we’ve created, understanding how much more we can accomplish with two people working together," said Lindsay.

She explained how their relationship is having a positive impact on the community, opening minds to positive choices.

"Ryan and I have helped with three empowerment camps for young girls aged 12-15 in the interior of Suriname. At each camp, Ryan and I do a session where we share our viewpoint on gender roles in our marriage. This is a sensitive subject in the local Saramaccan culture because the gender roles here are extremely defined and it is socially acceptable for men to have multiple wives. Being careful not to impose our views on others, we simply demonstrate that various cultures and various couples choose their own relationship path, encouraging the girls to make positive decisions, whatever they might choose.

"The girls (and local staff) always get a huge kick out of learning that Ryan and I are married and hearing the story of how we met and fell in love. The hope and interest that we see in the eyes of these girls when we discuss the equality in our relationship is always rewarding."

The Dapremonts explained that serving as a couple has many advantages, but also brings additional challenges.

"We have a built in support system, which is invaluable during this often stressful and trying experience. We can be each other’s respite when one needs a break from speaking the local language or having the same local conversation over and over again. Cooking is much easier with two people, especially when we do not have a refrigerator!

"However, learning the local language (Saramaccan) is more difficult with couples because we are not forced to speak it all of the time. Integration can be tricky because the local culture demands we both adhere to its gender roles and marriage model when ours is extremely dissimilar."

How will this experience affect their relationship when they come back home?

"Perhaps the greatest gift is yet to come, however, when we re-integrate back into the U.S. Like all Peace Corps volunteers, we have each grown, changed and experienced things that are impossible to explain to people back home. It will be wonderfully comforting to have each other to understand what we have been through during our life abroad and to look forward to our life together in the future." 

They even partnered with Mrs. Tracy's Third grade class at for the Peace Corps World Wise Schools program.

"The goal of the program is to encourage cultural exchange. Within the next month, students in Mrs. Tracy's class and students from our local school will simultaneously paint world maps. We will be exchanging photos of the process and discussing the differences and similarities between the two cultures," Ryan said.

We wish the Dapremonts well as they celebrate in Suriname this Valentine's Day!

Do you know the Dapremonts? Have you spent any Valentine's Days in an interesting situation? Let us know in the comments.

The Peace Corps have sent more than 200,000 Americans to volunteer in 139 host countries since 1961 with the mission to "promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries."


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