Peace Corps lesson: grit, agility, gratefulness

How one RPCV rediscovered her spirit of service and landed at LinkedIn for Good

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For many, the Peace Corps is a way to jumpstart their careers to get experience in international development in a grassroots way. But what happens when you finish your service unsure if you met your goals or if you made a difference in the lives of your community members? What then?

That’s what Meg Garlinghouse felt when she left her service in Niger in 1992—disillusioned with international development work in general.

“I was sort of the poster child of Peace Corps experience, living in a small village, in the middle of nowhere in West Africa,” she said. “In my village, the development aid programs hadn’t been designed in a culturally relevant way—there was a John Deere tractor off its wheels, farmers were financing seed, paying on credit, but there was no irrigation. Factors outside of their control impacted them.”

“Outside of the Peace Corps experience, the foreign aid professionals were mostly in big cities, barricaded in a compound,” Garlinghouse said. “That was not attractive to me.”

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Photo essay: the anatomy of a Senegalese drum circle

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In Senegal, drum circles are usually planned with special events. This one was after a political rally. They’re a way to let loose and enjoy dance and music. That being said, they have historical significance, having been around “Since Allah,” meaning there have been drum circles as long as anyone can remember. There are slight differences within ethnic groups about the how, when and why of drum circle traditions. Different ethnic traditions have different dances and styles such as the Pulaar (which this drum circle is an example of), the Sereer and Wolof ethnicities.

Above: The Senegalese start dancing young; after experiencing several drum circles now, and getting thrown into the middle of all of them, I’m convinced it’s genetic. Continue reading

Ultimate (Frisbee) Cambodian women

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Each time I pass the volleyball court on the campus of the Kampong Cham Provincial Teacher Training College (PTTC) in Cambodia, I notice that it is exclusively dominated by men, even though my school is 75% women. As I bike home across the large plaza in front of my school, the young male soccer players sometimes accidentally kick the ball in my path. After a couple of months of unsuccessfully trying to find other women to engage in sports with me, I resolved to do something about it.

Before accepting my Peace Corps invitation to Cambodia in July of 2012, I was an avid member of the Ann Arbor Ultimate Frisbee Association. I was a volunteer coordinator, board member and repeat captain for the recreational league. I’ve played for seven years, three of them at Yale University where we were very good, but not good enough to be at Nationals. That gave me a healthy sense of discipline in athletics, but I wasn’t so serious that it ceased to be fun.

In the beginning, I wanted to be very respectful of the local culture and not barge in with a frisbee. Though Ultimate Frisbee tops my list of interests, I didn’t want to force it on my students. So I decided to observe the local culture of sports first before introducing something new. Continue reading

6 little differences in Thailand

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Like Vincent Vega rhapsodized about in the Quentin Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction,” (“You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? … It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same [stuff] over there that we got here, but it’s just…it’s just, there it’s a little different.”) Here too, in Thailand it’s the little differences. And I know you are sitting there, like Jules, asking for an example, so here are six examples of the little differences of Thailand. Continue reading

How do you get girls involved in global technology? Just ask.

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Last January, my girlfriend proposed that I organize and lead a group of girls from my school, in rural Moldova, to participate in an international coding and business competition for girls called Technovation Challenge. At first, I laughed. The idea was kind of funny. Didn’t she realize how busy I was with teaching English? Or that I knew very little about business, not to mention even less about software development? Plus, I really couldn’t imagine any of my students being interested in something as out-there as computer coding.

Seeing my hesitancy to take on such a project, she presented an infographic that showed how the projected number of jobs in computer science was growing at a much faster rate than the people expected to study computer science. By participating in this project, I could share economic opportunities with my students that they didn’t know they had access to. This could mean a career path and better future, here in Moldova, and no green card or a work visa needed. Plus, she noted that the curriculum is in English, and it would be a great way to get some students to practice outside of class. My reluctance waned as I saw it as a way to nudge my students into extra English practice. Economic opportunity would be a tool to draw attention to the usefulness of the English language.

I was surprised how many students were interested in participating right off the bat. Continue reading

What textile entrepreneurship has to do with community health and Ebola

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At first, our scholars were afraid.

They were frightened by the images they saw and the news articles they read in our computer lab, describing the strange virus that had spread so quickly. The idea that you could get this disease by shaking hands with someone who was coughing or sneezing, or sharing a meal with someone who had come from an affected region, or taking care of a loved one who had fallen ill, was very foreign to our girls, and very hard to believe.

Our scholars were afraid, but they were also determined to help.

At Bosh Bosh, Inc., our motto is “Sewing dreams together one stitch at a time.” That is what our scholars have done since our founding in 2011, when a Peace Corps Volunteer named Charlene Espinoza arrived in our community and agreed to help me realize a seed of an idea: to teach girls and young women a trade so that they could support themselves, stay in school, and dream dreams of their own. Continue reading

Peace Corps + business school = collaborating with companies to improve the world

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A few years ago, I was a PCV working with sesame farmers and exporters in Burkina Faso in West Africa. Together we designed a community-based system for sourcing sesame (see a photo from a training event above), and I worked with the exporter to pre-finance the purchase from the farmers. It was risky and we weren’t sure if it would work, but this pilot project grew to include about 500 farmers. Through this experience, I of course saw firsthand the challenges for small scale farmers. However, I also realized there were many opportunities to use business to connect farmers and companies in a way that benefited everyone.

This experience prompted me to go to the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan to develop the skills necessary to use business to help influence large companies and create more value for the farmers from whom businesses source raw materials. I chose Ross because it has been a long-time leader in positive business and hands-on learning. Continue reading

World AIDS Day 2014 and the expansion of the Global Health Service Partnership

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I am part of a generation that has never known a world without AIDS. I dream that someday my children will not utter these same words.

Today, on World AIDS Day, we should all reflect on how far we have come in our global understanding of epidemics and health equity. Lessons learned through the AIDS crisis over the past two decades have certainly provided some guidance in the battle against the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. But both crises underscore the devastating consequences of severely under resourced health systems. We face a critical shortage of human resources for health worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that in 83 countries around the world there is a dire shortage of 7.2 million doctors, nurses, and midwives.

People are at the heart of a health system, and if we are to improve health over the long term, whether for HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, childbirth complications, or Ebola, we must invest in training the next generation of skilled health professionals in countries with dire shortages. That’s what the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) — a unique public-private partnership between Peace Corps, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the non-profit I lead, Seed Global Health — does. Continue reading

Grateful for family and friends

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With the holiday season now upon us, we have so much to be grateful for. Even if we are separated from friends and family by oceans or continents, we are holding them close in our hearts. We know that family and friends are so important in helping loved ones have a successful Peace Corps experience.

For me personally, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, my family and friends were a huge part of my service. They wanted to know everything I was doing and they were a major support to me when I was so far from home. Today, there are so many more ways to connect with each other than when I was a Volunteer. Many of you are already taking advantage of these great tools and interacting across social media. The Peace Corps wants to build on that ingenuity.

I am excited to announce the launch of a new Peace Corps Family and Friends Facebook group. Continue reading

Corps to Career: From robotics student to social entrepreneur

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Peace Corps was excited to participate in the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Summit taking place in Marrakech, Morocco, November 19-21, where we helped the U.S. government promote economic and social entrepreneurship around the world. This post highlights one way that Volunteers promote entrepreneurship every day.

As a Volunteer in rural Mexico, Sam Bhattacharyya saw the problems his community faced, experienced those problems firsthand and, as a result, truly understood them. Now he’s working to solve these problems for his community — and the rest of the developing world. After wrapping up his service, Sam is now pursuing an MBA at MIT with the intention of growing two of his secondary projects into social enterprises.

A few years ago, Sam was pursuing a PhD in robotics from Vanderbilt University when he realized he wanted to put his knowledge to more practical use and have a positive impact. That was when he remembered the photos his high school physics teacher, an RPCV from Senegal, showed him. So, he decided to leave academia and apply to Peace Corps.

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