Local ‘ambassador’ heads to Russia

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Allison Cook (right) waits in line to greet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left). (Photo courtesy of Allison Cook)

Beaufort County native Alison Cook is not in Kansas anymore. In fact, she’s in Georgia — the Republic of Georgia.
Georgia is a small nation and a former member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It borders the Black Sea and is located north of the Middle East and south of Russia.
Cook, 35, is a member of the Peace Corps Response, a branch of the Peace Corps that focuses on shorter-term, higher-impact projects, with assignments generally lasting from two to six months.
Cook is the daughter of Wayne and Jennifer Cook of Bath.
Previous to her current assignment in Georgia, Cook was living in Kazakhstan and teaching English, also through the Peace Corps. The move came in mid-April after the U.S. government decided to pull all of the Peace Corps volunteers out of Kazakhstan because of mounting safety concerns. Cook asserted that she did not feel endangered where she was living and would have liked to stay, but events in other parts of the country necessitated the government’s decision.
“But you see I’m not very concerned because I’m taking my eight day vacation in Kazakhstan,” Cook said with a laugh.
She has spent several years in Kazakhstan and has made many close friends there.
One of the tasks of the Peace Corps Response is to go into countries and help them develop their resources, laying the groundwork for economic growth. Cook is living in Kutaisi, Georgia, and working for the Georgian Ministry of Environmental Protection’s Agency of Protected Areas through the Peace Corps Response. One of her many tasks is promoting tourism at two protected areas: Prometheus and Sataplia. She has launched a Facebook page for Prometheus and hopes to have one for Sataplia up soon.
According to Cook, Prometheus is known for its beautiful limestone cave system. The caves are so deep that they take and hour to walk through. There are live formations, a river and five halls —each with their own unique formation.
“It’s amazing,” Cook said. “Pictures do not do it justice.”
Sataplia has a cave, as well, but it is not as extensive and developed as the Prometheus caves. Sataplia’s claim to fame is its dinosaur footprints. It also boasts a trail up the mountains, with what Cook describes as a beautiful view of Kutaisi.
Cook, using English, leads tours of the two protected areas. She also teaches English to the staffers. She is beginning a project of translating sign for the areas into English. She lives with a family in Kutaisi and has a ministry employee drive her to and from work.
Cook had nothing but positive things to say about the Georgian people and their hospitality. She said the people are friendly to Americans in that part of the world.
On June 6, Cook had the privilege of meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was on a diplomatic visit to the country. She was one of five Peace Corps Response members who were invited to meet Clinton in the town of Batumi.
“I was absolutely in awe of getting to meet her,” Cook said.
Clinton voiced her support for the Peace Corps and Peace Corps Response, stressing the importance of their work. Clinton said they serve as “working ambassadors” and share the values of the U.S.
“She was so complimentary of the Peace Corps volunteers and the Peace Corps Response, thanking us for what we do,” Cook said. “That meant more to us than anything, just to have someone acknowledge our work and acknowledge that we are here representing America.”
Cook will be in Georgia at least until August 15. She will then have the option of taking a new assignment, finding a local job or looking for something stateside. She said she is enjoying living in Georgia and is considering all of her options.
Whatever she ends up doing, the experience she has gained during her time in the Peace Corps Response will serve her for the rest of her life, Cook said.
“I absolutely encourage young people to apply to the Peace Corps,” Cook said. “Go somewhere else, and experience something new, because you learn so much, not just about that country, but about yourself just by doing what we do. It’s wonderful just to be able to know that you’re here and you’re helping and you’re making a difference. If you can make a difference in just one person’s life, that, to me, is worth living.”