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Article updated: 8/11/2011 1:40 PM

AIDS clinic volunteer from Hoffman Estates meets Michelle Obama


Wanderlust led Hoffman Estates native Peter Butzen to the Peace Corps, a journey which has changed his life and which led this summer to a meeting with first lady Michelle Obama.

Butzen's involvement with the Peace Corps started after he graduated from Illinois State University with a bachelor's degree in public relations.

"I found that PR wasn't exactly the right calling for me," he said. "I've always loved traveling so I decided to sign up."

He began his assignment in Uganda in August 2008. When he completed his two years of service, he signed on for a third year of work in another African country, Botswana, with the Baylor Children's Clinical Centre of Excellence's teen club and tutoring program.

"I wasn't ready to go home yet," said Butzen, a Hoffman Estates native. "I thought I could help more people."

This gave Butzen the opportunity to not only counsel and work with about 600 HIV positive teens, but he also had the chance to meet Michelle Obama in Gaborone, Botswana, on June 24.

Butzen and the Peace Corps organization are working to build a new clinic in the African nation that would benefit HIV-positive residents.

"(Obama) was very interested in knowing what the clinic was about and said she'd be more than interested in coming back once the clinic opened," said Butzen.

"Meeting her, it was very amazing," he added. "We even joked about the Cubs."

The first lady, along with her daughters, mother, niece and nephew had traveled to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa before visiting Botswana.

The June 24 meeting with the first lady and her family is something that Butzen will never forget.

"It was incredible to see them," he said. "And it was great to see how excited the girls (Sasha and Malia) were to be there."

Butzen is currently home for a brief break from the Peace Corps. Soon, he will return to Botswana to complete the final two months of his service.

He will resume his work in the Baylor clinic where he helps to counsel and provide psychological support for the growing number of adolescents who are HIV-positive.

"The best part of this whole experience is just working with the teens," said Butzen. "They're absolutely normal and it's amazing to be with them."

And the life experiences and lessons he will take away from it are invaluable, he said.

"I've learned that it's all about the people and relationships with others," Butzen added. "It's about trying to find the balance between doing good with what you think should be done and respecting the culture."

After his service is complete, Butzen will continue traveling and plans on visiting friends in Uganda. Later, he is planning on pursuing a master's degree in nursing and public health and hopes to one day become a pediatric nurse practitioner.

"I've always loved kids, but the medical side really pushed through with the Peace Corps," Butzen said.

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