Goats to the rescue!

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This story is also posted on Feed the Future’s blog.

Preparing for and serving in the Peace Corps was a journey I could not have completely prepared for. My decision to serve stemmed from my desire to utilize the skills I had acquired in agriculture and resource economics and animal science at Tuskegee University by assisting individuals to reach personal sustainability in lower-income countries. Unaware of what I was getting myself into but excited about the opportunity to serve, I accepted my invite to serve in Malawi as soon as it arrived. I wasn’t exactly sure where on the map Malawi was (knowing only that it was located somewhere in Africa), but I knew this opportunity closely related to my personal and professional interests.

I arrived in Malawi during rainy season and instantly fell in love. The temperature was warm, the land was lush and green, and the people were welcoming and loving. I learned that I would be placed in Kasungu National Park and subsequently dreamed of animals and paradise, a beautiful landscape with lush surroundings. I imagined befriending one of the elephants and using her as my means of transportation.

What I envisioned — open land teeming with wild animals of all sorts — is nothing like what I encountered: a wildlife park with no wildlife! Continue reading

There is life after pre-service training

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About four months ago, I remember staring at the ceiling in my childhood bedroom and letting my mind wander. Up until then, I tried to have no expectations about my Peace Corps experience, have no pre-conceived notions and participate in absolutely no Facebook stalking of my fellow trainees (okay, maybe a little Facebook stalking). But that night – one of my last nights in America – I sat there just mulling over everything I had consciously blocked.

How will I learn the language to a point where I won’t be able to just survive, but to LIVE? What sort of people will be in my group? Will I make any friends? Will my host family like me? Will I make it through the intensity that every RPCV tells me defines Pre-Service Training, or PST? My stomach was churning.

Today, I’m proud and extremely humbled to say “përshëndetje” (hello) from the other side. Continue reading

Music makes meaning

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“Music can change the world, because it can change people.” –Bono

It was a cloudy Monday, not unlike any other morning in my mountainous town in northern El Salvador. Students’ voices resonated from every corner of the building, and the school pulsed with vivacity. As the usual pupils from Centro Escolar 22 de Junio stood in compliance in the great hall watching the Semana Civica presentations, more children clad in varied school uniforms shuffled in, eager with anticipation for the competition that was scheduled to take place.

For the previous two weeks, the members of the newly formed choir had been practicing daily for this competition, and the moment had finally arrived when they would perform El Salvador’s National Anthem (in its entirety) in front of representatives from every school in the city. This also meant that they would be competing for the opportunity to sing at the Independence Day Ceremony the following week.

Now, if you had told me a mere three months ago that I would be directing a choir of 30 students in El Salvador, I probably would have scoffed. Continue reading

Global Handwashing Day 2014: Let’s keep it clean

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Each year on October 15, Peace Corps joins more than 200 million people in over 100 countries around the world to celebrate Global Handwashing Day. Although Global Handwashing Day comes just once a year, Peace Corps Volunteers work year round to promote handwashing in their communities. The theme of Global Handwashing Day this year is Choose Handwashing, Choose Health, which is the focus of Volunteers’ work: helping their communities to make healthy choices through long-term and culturally-adapted behavior change approaches.

Handwashing with soap is the most important and impactful hygiene practice. Soap, when used at key times such as after using the toilet or before touching food, can reduce the risk of diarrheal disease by nearly half and cut the risk of pneumonia by nearly a quarter. These two diseases alone are the cause of 1.7 million child deaths each year, particularly among the poorest communities of the world. In addition, handwashing with soap can prevent skin and eye infections, intestinal worms and influenza.

Unlike many development challenges, handwashing with soap does not require any special skills or equipment, and it’s within the economic reach of households everywhere. Continue reading

International Day of the Girl Child: What’s good for girls?

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Nearly 20 years ago in Romania, a group of Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts responded to what they together saw as a need in their communities. They wanted to teach girls leadership skills because there were few women in decision making positions, and they wanted to help the girls develop a sense of civic participation and responsibility because they were not being encouraged to do so. Finally, they also aimed to promote cultural awareness and understanding between ethnic Romanians and Hungarians. The Volunteers brought girls together from different parts of the country to get to know each other beyond the stereotypes they had learned. The Camp, called Girls Leading Our World, or GLOW, has continued in its mission of girls’ empowerment and is now implemented in every Peace Corps country in the world.

October 11 marks the third anniversary of International Day of the Girl Child. This year’s theme is “girls’ education,” a topic that resonates with many PCVs who have engaged girls in different activities to build their self-esteem and confidence, increase their self-awareness, and help them develop skills in goal-setting, assertiveness and life-planning. Volunteers have been finding ways to ensure girls’ access to education long before the United Nations recognized this day. Continue reading

How to communicate when you can barely speak a word

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I thought I couldn’t communicate with my host Mama and Baba. They didn’t speak English. I didn’t (yet) speak Mandarin. My host sister Lina played translator for most of dinner, but it was a one-way street. Mama and Baba were told everything I was saying but I still was getting very few messages from Mama and Baba.

Lina asked if I wanted to go for a walk with Mama and Baba after dinner. An enthusiastic yes transpired and I then realized we were going to be walking in silence. Mama and I waited at the bottom for Baba after Lina left. She wouldn’t be joining us for the walk.

Straight ahead I gathered from their gesticulations. This is how it’s going to go… 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

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

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.