Summer of change at Peace Corps

Some things never change, like Peace Corps Volunteers’ commitment to rolling up their sleeves to make a difference in a community abroad. The Volunteers I meet today are no different than the Volunteers I served with in Samoa in the 1980’s – they are creative, passionate and willing to try anything (including some pretty unexpected food options). Yet at the same time, today’s Volunteers bring new skills, interests and perspectives, and it is our responsibility to modernize our operations to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

So starting this summer, we’re shaking things up at Peace Corps. We’re revitalizing recruitment and outreach to cast a wider net of applicants than ever. We’re cutting red tape and putting in place sweeping changes to make applying for the Peace Corps simpler, faster and more personalized. Applicants will now be able to choose their country of service and apply to specific programs that meet their personal and professional goals – whether that means focusing on a certain area of the world, a particular language or one of our program sectors that most interests them. Continue reading

The 4 things we’ve done to make applying for Peace Corps easier than ever

VRSchanges The notion of going to another country to teach skills and learn about a different culture doesn’t seem out of the ordinary today, but for much of the Peace Corps’ history, we were the only volunteer program that let Americans make a difference and see the world. Over the course of 53 years, Peace Corps has sent 215,000 trained and skilled Americans to work beside people in host countries, learn new languages, embrace new cultures, and open hearts and minds – including their own.

We recognize that the Peace Corps has to modernize our processes to keep up with a rapidly changing world. That’s why today we’re announcing a brand new Peace Corps application and online user experience for people who want to make Peace Corps a part of their lives. Here are four new things that make it easier than ever to apply for Peace Corps service: Continue reading

Ending GHSP service on a high note

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A few days before I closed my Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) service, the residents at my post in Uganda hosted a dinner for me at the Buffalo Inn. Two of my colleagues, Drs. Kumba and Kiwanuka joined the evening’s festivities.

Following dinner, my counterparts gave speeches in my honor. Dr. Olive Keneema, Resident in Pediatrics at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, kicked off the evening and spoke for the Senior House Officers. Dr. Keneema said these residents (two of whom are pictured with me above) enjoyed working with me, especially for both my sense of humor and for how I could make the difficult more bearable. Then Dr. Kumba spoke, acknowledging that I was a great addition to the department, and how I often contributed a “different pair of eyes” to help give a non-Ugandan perspective to cases. He also praised my wife both for her charm and loveliness when they met, and also for her willing sacrifice of me for this year.

Dr. Kiwanuka amazed me. He said that, although it is not customary in Uganda to say good things about people until their funerals, in this case he wanted to acknowledge my contribution to the department “while I could hear it,” which received good-natured laughter from everyone. Continue reading

World Environment Day all month: understanding farming and livelihoods

This story was originally published on the EPA’s It’s Our Environment blog.

My experience while serving as a Peace Corps agribusiness adviser in Jamaica provided me with unique opportunities to learn, engage and research at the community level. I served in a small coastal farming and fishing village in Westmoreland parish in southwest Jamaica. I worked primarily with a group of organic farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and introducing climate change adaptation strategies through community engagement. As a participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program through Texas A&M University, I also conducted research on the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change.

As part of the community integration and learning process, I facilitated an assessment with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society, a local organization engaged in production agriculture and home economics. The results of the assessment helped us to better understand factors affecting the economic and environmental sustainability of their livelihoods. Through informal discussions with farmers, I also gained awareness of how changing weather patterns, such as variable rainfall, increased risk for these small-scale farm families. Continue reading

A new world of welcome

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I walked into the front office area of my new home and workplace in the northern Philippines. “Welcome, Ms. Kathy” was lovingly written on the white board. I went to the road to look back at the building and saw a big pile of dung just off our driveway. I asked my new social worker colleague what kind of animal left this behind and he smiled broadly: “Carabao! To welcome you!” (A carabao is pictured above.)

Four other Peace Corps Response Volunteers and I had just completed several days of orientation to the Philippines. Like many Response Volunteers, they all had previous Peace Corps experience, but this was my first time as Volunteer. My many years of experience with special education in public schools allowed me to qualify for this six-month assignment with a foundation addressing the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families.

I woke during my first night and turned on my flashlight to spot a spider as large as my hand waiting quietly on the floor next to my bedroom door. Continue reading

Facing my fear as a PC trainee

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It isn’t about being “fearless.” I heard that word tossed around a lot leading up to my departure. Though I appreciate the notion, I was not fearless. I was petrified. I was sad. I probably didn’t sleep for a week leading up to staging. It’s not about being fearless; it’s about having fears but conquering them anyway.

To me, the reward that Peace Corps yields outweighs the risk of leaving. And with that, on June 6, 2014, I departed on my new adventure in Kosovo — as scary as it was and as nerve-racking as it inevitably will be as I navigate a new place half a world away.

When life is about to change, it’s sometimes an inconceivable feeling. I didn’t know what I expected — but I knew it was exactly where I wanted to be. Continue reading

Move-in day at a Chinese university

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I remember moving into my dorm my first day of college. After unloading, I made a trip with some other freshmen to a local big-box store to get supplies for our common room. Somehow someone already knew an upperclassman who had a car, so we managed to cadge a ride out to this store to waste money we didn’t have on college-y things like shower caddies and soap containers.

It’s rather different in China. Continue reading

It’s World Environment Day all month: A video on how to go smokeless

After visiting Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory in the summer of 2009, Charles Hunt immediately thought of his host country, Vanuatu. The RPCVs of Colorado sponsored the trip to look at research on smokeless cook stove technology, and another RPCV who served in Vanuatu commented to Charles that families in Vanuatu would make great use of the stoves, which didn’t produce a large amount of smoke.

In 2010 Charles found out that David Stein, an RPCV who still lived in Vanuatu, was selling smokeless cook stoves as part of his promotion of green technology there. So he tapped into the Denver LoDo Rotary Club, where he serves as International Service Chair, and proposed donating 20 stoves to PCVs serving as Community Health Volunteers in Vanuatu.  Continue reading

Heading off to Kosovo, my next adventure

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Peace Corps’ first class of trainees in Kosovo begins their journey today, as they gather in Washington, D.C., for their staging event before getting on a plane. Trainee Vera Greene will regularly contribute posts about her experiences and observations as a member of this historic class. Below is her first post. Be sure to wish her well as she prepares to leave for Kosovo!

I could name a million different reasons for joining the Peace Corps, but the general creed I believe in is, “if I won’t, how can I expect anyone else to?” I can sit back and feel upset or helpless about issues I think will never change – or I can do something.

So why Peace Corps? Continue reading