Salissa Wahlers was one of approximately 150 Peace Corps volunteers in Uzbekistan when terrorists toppled the World Trade Center. "I actually was made to leave," the Gulfport native said. "I would kind of say against my will."
The decision to leave was not a very popular one with the volunteers. "We knew that we needed to get home. We knew for safety's sake, we knew for our job's sake," said Wahlers. "But for a lot of us, we had our hearts ripped out."
Wahlers joined the Peace Corps to make a difference in underdeveloped countries. Whether it was teaching baseball to her Uzbekistan friends, or talking with the right political leaders to fund a camp, the 25 year old felt like she was headed down the right path. "Things were changing," she said. "I saw change, I saw things happening. And as soon as the ball got rolling, it was taken away."
Friends in Uzbekistan told Wahlers about the World Trade Center tragedy. Even though they were in the region where the terrorist plot was conceived, the Peace Corps volunteers felt like they should continue their mission. "A lot of us didn't really feel unsafe. I never felt unsafe at all," said Wahlers.
Nevertheless, on September 23, 2001 they all had to pack up and head home, before American bombs landed near them.
For the time being, Wahlers is back at her mom's home in Gulfport. But she doesn't plan on being here very long. An adventure to Canada is on the horizon. And so is a return to Uzbekistan, if the Peace Corps gives its blessing. You see, Wahlers believes she has a job to do, one she started, but wasn't allowed to finish.
"I want to get that area back on its feet, and going where it should be going," said Wahlers.
by Brad Kessie