Peace Corps changed my life before I was even born

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This Piece Originally Appeared on “Returned Peace Corps of Washington, D.C.

When my father was 12 his father died. At the funeral he met a man named Kevin O’Donnell and his wife, who were close friends of his father. My dad told me that he felt an immediate connection to this man and wished he could be his father. I learned this when my father gave Kevin O’Donnell’s eulogy in 2012, almost 40 years after he first had that thought. It turns out that Kevin did become his dad, because just a few months later, his wife died in childbirth. This left my dad’s mom, Ellen, widowed with two kids and his dad-to-be, Kevin, widowed with six kids. Within a year they decided to get married.

At the time, Kevin was the general manager of a steel company but was ready for a new challenge. He saw an article in the newspaper about the Peace Corps and their need for experienced leaders. Kevin applied and within two weeks was offered a job. Before they knew it, Kevin, Ellen and their eight children were moving to Seoul, South Korea, where Kevin would serve as the first Peace Corps Korea Country Director. My dad spent all of high school at Seoul Foreign School (SFS), which at the time was a small school mostly for the children of missionaries.

Twenty-seven years later my father returned to Korea for his high school reunion, and my mother and I went along. I fell in love with the country and started crying on the plane home I asked if we could move to Korea, so I could go to SFS. Continue reading

Ghana adds modern twist to Stomp Out Malaria

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For Peace Corps Volunteers, the rate at which we are required to adapt to new situations with creativity and flexibility can at times be overwhelming. The limited stay in our host countries, combined with the speed at which the international community is developing alongside our villages, builds pressure for action. Developments in technology and easier access to various mobile devices have set the stage for a dramatic shift in the way PCVs work with their host countries to disseminate valuable, life-saving information, and one of the greatest beneficiaries of these advances is the fight to end malaria.

With nearly 3.5 million reported cases annually, malaria remains the number one killer in Ghana. Roughly one-third of all reported cases in Ghana are among children under the age of 5. This equates to nearly seven newly diagnosed cases of malaria every minute and almost 40 deaths of children under the age of 5 every day.

In an effort to optimize resources, Peace Corps Ghana’s Standing with Africa to Terminate (SWAT) Malaria Initiative teamed up with Tech Think Tank and an impressive crew of nearly 27 computer programmers to address this burden. The result of this collaboration was a hackathon,with malaria as the sole focus. Continue reading

How is packing for Peace Corps different for people with disabilities?

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“Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

One of the most common blog posts written by PCVs is about packing.  My blog post about packing for Peace Corps in Cameroon is a bit different because I’m focusing on how the packing experience may be different for people with disabilities, especially those with hearing loss, like me. I use cochlear implants, a technology that allows people who are deaf to hear, and need some extra preparation to make sure I am ready for my service.

When packing, the first question I have to ask myself is: “What items will I need to compensate for my disability in everyday life that I can’t get in an ordinary store in most countries?” Continue reading

Innovating change at the Peace Corps

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Every day, Peace Corps Volunteers are innovating solutions to challenges faced by millions of people worldwide. From developing mobile software to help cashew farmers in Ghana streamline their business to launching a text messaging service for youth to answer their health questions in Nicaragua, Volunteers employ their ingenuity and tech savvy to make a difference in communities around the world. It’s why today’s Peace Corps is a life-defining opportunity for service and a launching pad for a 21st-century career.

This summer, Peace Corps took a major step toward matching the pace of change set by our Volunteers. As an agency, we knew that if we wanted to reignite the passion that characterized Peace Corps’ early days, we had to offer Americans from all backgrounds greater freedom to define their impact on the world.

So we overhauled our application process from start to finish, making the process of applying to Peace Corps simpler, faster, and more personalized than ever before. Continue reading

Corps to Career: It takes a village to make a movie

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A year into service in Ghana, Travis Pittman scrawled “HOW DOES IT FEEL?” a line from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” onto a bedroom wall. It was a reflection on being the outsider, spending time living away from a privileged life and learning how others live. Travis was totally and completely immersed in another culture — working along Ghanaians, learning their language and eating their food. That level of immersion left a lasting impression.

Feeling an outsider, Travis also observed that Ghanaians felt like outsiders themselves in the rapidly modernizing world. Years after finishing Peace Corps, Travis returned to Ghana to create Nakom, a film that Travis hopes will honestly reflect the struggle between Ghanaian traditions and the desire to modernize. Travis says it is an opportunity to give audiences “a different lens to see the world,” which is what Peace Corps gave Travis.

Even going into Peace Corps, Travis wasn’t necessarily looking to make an enormous impact in the world. Travis simply wanted to lend an extra pair of hands and gain a wider understanding of the world and focused on building relationships and making small differences in the lives of the people in the community. Pittman devised small-scale projects that helped local families generate income by raising and selling rabbits and also arranged for a village-wide tree-planting that still excited the community when Travis went back to film. Continue reading

10 Albanian habits that are making me a rude American

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When you’re living somewhere new, it’s easy to acquire traits to mimic what is around you. Living in Albania, I’ve started to “become Albanian” in many ways: the way I cross the street, order at restaurants, look (i.e. WEAR ALL THE LIPSTICKS), but especially the way I communicate. However, many of these habits are considered rude in America. So, when I move back, I’m in for lots of dirty looks.

1. Finger wagging: This is a necessity. Continue reading

Bringing PC Moldova home

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I tend to fall in love with places. Pretty much any place I visit, I can find something charming and imagine a life in that community. This makes sense on a tropical island or in a resort town. But would it hold in Europe’s poorest country? It turned out that my Peace Corps home was no exception to the falling in love rule. When I arrived in the Republic of Moldova in the summer of 2011, I immediately took a liking to the backyard chickens, cherry trees, homemade wines and slower lifestyle, and I also really loved my host sister. We bonded quickly and I kept dreaming of ways I could someday get her to visit – or even to stay – in the U.S. I kept up this tendency with many of the people I met during the following two years, imagining how we could keep our lives connected even after my “official” time with them was over.

Toward the end of my service I was introduced to the idea of a project in entrepreneurship education for youth, run by the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, by a family friend and mentor. He was a wildly successful entrepreneur and was passionate about sharing the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Known as the Diamond Challenge, the project is an original curriculum in entrepreneurship that teaches youth how to build a business like a scientist, and it culminates in a start-up competition. Continue reading

National Day of Service: service in our own backyard

Day of Service with Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet

To commemorate today’s National Day of Service and in remembrance of the September 11 attacks, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet joined RPCVs and former AmeriCorps volunteers for an afternoon of volunteer service.

Their volunteer work wasn’t at your typical food bank: Food & Friends in NE Washington, D.C., fosters a community that cares for men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries, and they conduct nutrition counseling.

Director Hessler-Radelet donned a hairnet and spent the afternoon hours with MCC CEO Dana Hyde, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer and NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst packing meals and groceries that are to be delivered to the Food & Friends community. The Peace Corps Director joined thousands of other Americans who dedicated their day to service events to pay tribute to and honor the victims and heroes of the events on September 11, 2001.

International Literacy Day: What’s in your book-locker?

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Wait, what’s a book-locker?

For a few years in the early 1960s, Volunteers would receive “book-lockers” from Peace Corps: a large cardboard box full of books. Book-lockers contained everything from classical and contemporary fiction to an abundance of nonfiction titles in politics, history, technical instruction, psychology, health and geography. Some book-locker books were tailored to the country (Brazil, Ethiopia) or continent (Africa, Asia) in which a Volunteer served. Some book-lockers also had illustrated materials and abridged titles to be used as teaching materials for children and adults learning English. These book-lockers were standard supplies for the early Volunteers and served as sources of leisure, company and instruction. Many book-lockers became the beginnings of classroom or community libraries.

RPCV Mimi Calhoun worked as an English and math teacher at a local school in Nepal from 1966 to 1967, where she taught English in every class from third through 10th grade. Neither Peace Corps nor the school provided teaching materials, so Volunteers were responsible for making instructional materials and lesson plans.

So when the book-locker arrived with Calhoun’s luggage, it was A BIG DEAL. Continue reading

On preserving and sharing world cultures

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RPCV Jeremy Wustner-Brown has gone from teaching English in rural Romania as a PCV to working to preserve Mayan culture in his newest project. We asked some questions about his work and his views on why it is important to have intercultural dialogues.

Q: Why did you become a Peace Corps Volunteer?

A: One of my favorite authors, Viktor Frankl, puts forward in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” that as human beings we thrive best when we have meaningful purpose in our lives and in the work we do.  Although I have been very fortunate to collaborate with some exceptional companies over the years, I felt that there was an opportunity to have a greater, and more meaningful, impact through service.  For me, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer has been the best way to begin that search.

Q: How did you become involved in the preservation of the Mayan culture? Continue reading