Margaret Elizabeth Schutzius served in the Peace Corps in Africa from 1987-1989. While living and working in impoverished conditions in the city of Mondou, Chad, she taught English and developed a teacher training manual. She was much loved by her students , fellow volunteers and local townspeople, who appreciated her dedication and good humor despite the often dire circumstances of daily life in Chad.
After serving nearly two years, she was stricken with a parasitic disease, and became so ill that she had to be evacuated. As she recovered back in the U.S., the Peace Corps offered to release her from the balance of her term, but she insisted on returning, and in fact extended her stay when she was selected to help train the next group of volunteer teachers.
On September 19, 1989 the plane on which she departed the country was exploded by a bomb placed by Libyan terrorists, and she was killed along with 170 other passengers and crew. In 1991, a medical clinic in Mondou was built in her honor, named the Dispensaire Margaret. Her Mother, Mary Kathryn Hassett, and her brother, John Schutzius, attended the dedication ceremony. At this event, they were approached by many of Margaret’s former students and friends, who had heard about the ceremony on Chad’s national radio. People from the community told them how she had touched their lives and recounted their special memories of Margaret. Margaret’s mother told them that in her letters home, she often expressed great concern about her student’s health, so the dispensary was a very fitting tribute.
A memorial to Margaret and the other victims of UTA Flight 772 was constructed at the crash site in the remote Tenere Desert region of Niger. The flight, which was en route to France, is also memorialized at a cemetery in Paris. In 2004, Margaret was posthumously honored as a “Freedom Hero” by The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is located in her childhood hometown, Cincinnati.
Prior to her service in the Peace Corps, Margaret attended The University of Chicago, and, with a talent for writing, was an editor for the school newspaper at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas,
Here is an excerpt from one of Margaret’s letters home from Chad:
My letters home rarely have any cultural information. This is a real failing on my part…I will try to describe some things which seem so Chadian I can’t stand it…
Most government offices are like the post office-dirty, dingy, and unwholesome. At the prefecture, there is little activity. At the bank, a sleepy guard lets young hooligans puncture tires with rusty nails; at the police station, you pay a bribe for whatever service you desire or whatever trouble you want to avoid. One the way out, you can hear the screams of the prisoners or detainees. If you care to listen, you can hear the guards laughing too.
Yes, the struggle of man against the government is a difficult one in Chad. Add it to it hunger, poverty, unemployment, apathy, and alcoholism, and you have Chad. Also add laughter and jokes and joy an love because the people here love to enjoy life. Don’t forget grief either. It is always present, following closely behind infant deaths, epidemics, starvation, and everyday disease. I hope I haven’t forgotten to mention tribalism, fraternal rivalry, oppression, or war, because these are part of Chad too.
For all of it’s many problems, I like Chad and Chadians; not all of them, but many. I can’t tell you why. Maybe I like going to market instead of Safeway. Maybe because time moves both slowly and quickly. Life here seems like a continuous flow, not a series of career moves or notches on a demographic chart; child, teenager , young adult, young married adult, parent, middle aged, retired, senior citizen, older senior citizen, burden to society, dead. The other side of this coin-closeness to life and death-is the confusing simplicity of it all. Having been taught that life is more than just surviving- it is ideas and beauty and good works-I am learning that a lot of life is surviving. How can I reconcile these opposing and equally powerful viewpoints? Every day I see children who are undernourished, and maybe dying. For them life is today, and tomorrow seems far away when you beg for food or go hungry or both. I see this world where the importance of a strong fiscal policy is unknown or irrelevant. The importance of Decartes’ establishment of the scientific method in philosophy and whatever its flaws might be as far away as Andromache. I think that growing up in aplace where teenagers die a little if they can’t get the latest fashion and young children clamor for electronic toys makes me appreciate the closeness these people have to nature. Despite their ignorance of Mozart’s great mass. Chadians are amazing. They can work a full day with no food. They can build a house with nothing. Mechanical difficulties are like games for them. They know plants and animals the way I know the Chicago public transit system
I am of course, hopelessly tied to my culture. The sound of Tom-toms is stirring, but American jazz is what I love, and a night at the symphony is much more comfortable than a traditional funeral procession. I think that coming here made me realize that despite the many things I dislike about the US, and there are many, I also love. I am hopelessly and gratefully Western. Being born in a country binds you inextricably to it, like being born into a family binds you forever and inextricably to every member of it.
About Malaria-even if I take cholorquin every week I can get it but it is dangerous only if not treated early. My health is fine.
P.S. Things I need re a swim suit size 10 or 12, games, a good coloring book, raisins, spices, tea
Excerpt from a letter from Margaret’s father, William Shutzius:
“My daughter, Margaret Schutzius, was a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. Because she was fluent in French, she was sent to Chad. Most of the time she was a Moundou in Southern Chad teaching English to school children. When her duties were over in Moundou, she extended her two year commitment to the Peace Corps for several months and worked in Ndjamena preparing teaching materials for other Peace Corps volunteers.
She had a difficult time in Chad, and at one point was sent back to the United States for treatment of schistosomiasis. The treatments were long and painful. She could have stayed in the United States at that time and ended her Peace Corps commitment honorably, but her devotion to her work and to the children of Moundou was very strong. She insisted on returning to Chad when she recovered.
When she left Ndjamena on September 19, 1989 she was bound for Paris. She was to meet a friend there, and they planned to tour Europe for a few weeks. That would have been a well deserved holiday after many months of hard work and discomfort in Chad. Had she lived, she would have returned to the University of Chicago and completed her degree in French Language and Literature. She was twenty-three years old.
I cannot describe the anguish of the family and her friends when we learned of her murder. I am sure the families of all the victims had the same feelings of crushing grief. Time has eased the overwhelming pain, but we shall all be sadder people the rest of our lives.”
– Shared by Margaret’s brother, Christopher Schutzius