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

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

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

Grateful for family and friends

Liberia

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

International Education Week: Teachers are always teaching

Colombia 2013

Once you get started, you can’t help but teach, right? This International Education Week, we asked RPCVs who are now teachers or who work in education what they’ve taught their American students about their time in Peace Corps, and we asked them to give advice to people interested in PC service and teaching (the overwhelming recommendation: do it!).

Q: What information do you share about Peace Corps with your students?

Jessica: I am always sharing my experiences, be it the “cool” ones like underwater diving or enriching history lessons with facts about other countries, or what it is like to be a student in other parts of the world. Being a PC volunteer while only a 2 year commitment is a life changing experience and you take the stories, memories, and people with you wherever you go and in whatever you do. Continue reading

International Education Week: What’s your “ah ha” teaching moment?

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This International Education week we talked with RPCV teachers and asked them to describe an “ah ha” moment or realization during service that affected their decision to become a teacher.

Question: Describe one teaching experience or “ah ha” moment during your service that really stands out for you and affected your decision to become a teacher.

Jessica: One of my most memorable experiences teaching was non-academic and only five months in to my stay. My school site found out that I had been in choir in elementary and asked me to teach 500 high school seniors a graduation song. … I was given a song and would go class to class with a recording of three vocal ranges (bass, alto, soprano) that I would sing and have them follow along. When graduation was a week away we switched to whole group instruction which was mortifying for me, since I was always very shy about public singing, but which the students were incredibly excited about. Continue reading

International Education Week: PC skills and experience make the grade for teachers

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Skills and experience: When you have the right mix you can do any job – or get the job you want. This International Education Week, we asked RPCVs who are now teachers or who have worked in education what types of experiences they had as Volunteers, both in and out of the classroom, that not only get them through their days but make their days successful.

Question: Describe the teaching experience you gained during Peace Corps service.

Jessica: In the Peace Corps I had two partner teachers at the high school level [who] took me in and really became family to me. I was able to learn from them the culture of the school, and how to navigate education in the Philippines. In exchange I was able to provide them with a different viewpoint to education, and new teaching strategies to use in the classroom.

Curtis: I supported 30 primary school teachers from three schools through the roll-out of a new curriculum with group and one-on-one training in team-teaching support, grant writing, classroom management, lesson planning, and community partnership development. Continue reading

Training on disease prevention — and culture — to fight Ebola in Guinea

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When the Peace Corps made the difficult decision to evacuate Volunteers and suspend our program in Guinea, people understood. Schools were beginning to close. The authorities were placing limits on travel. People understood—but no one wanted to see “their” Volunteer go. They told us, “Please, please, when this is all over, bring them back. We need them. And we will welcome them when they return.”

I have been with Peace Corps Guinea since 1998, first as a language trainer, then as a safety and security coordinator, and now as Deputy Director of Programming and Training. In this capacity, I provide support to all training and programming for Peace Corps Volunteers in Guinea. I help facilitate the training of trainers, develop training materials, conduct evaluations, and organize town halls that bring Volunteers, stakeholders, and trainers together for open discussions. What I’ve learned is that this young generation of Volunteers always welcomes feedback about how they are doing. And they are always eager to share their ideas and bring solutions to the table.

Now, even with Volunteers back home in the States — and emailing us nearly every day about how their Guinean friends and families are doing, how things are going at post, and how they can help — Peace Corps staff have been very busy. There is so much to do. Continue reading

RPCV Veterans share their take on service

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To recognize Veterans Day this year we spoke with a few members of a small, but mighty part of our community: RPCV veterans. Here, Ralph Caprilgione, Laura Curvey, and Lauren Dorosz share their insights on life and lessons learned as an RPCV veteran.

Question: How are Peace Corps service and military service similar? Continue reading

More than just a job — more than just Ebola

Mother and Son - Guinea

Ask newscasters and political pundits what they think about the West African country of Guinea, and many will present a very different place than the one that I had the pleasure of living in for the past year. Chances are they would sum up Guinea – as well as Liberia and Sierra Leone – in one word: Ebola. While I do not want to minimize the impact of this terrible disease on the people in the affected regions, I believe it’s important to tell another side of the story, my story, as a PCV.

If I were asked to describe Guinea, I would tell you about the musicality of the language and the heart-throbbing beat of the djembe; about the strength of the women carrying gallons of water with babies strapped to their backs and the vibrant richness of color in their wax fabric. I would tell about the salty grittiness of freshly pounded peanut sauce and the syrupy sweetness of bissap.

As PCVs, we play a bigger role in our communities than just our assignments: as the teacher, farmer or healthcare Volunteer. We are both observers and active members of our communities. Our sites are not just “places of work.” We become adopted sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and sometimes even husbands and wives. We are inextricably linked to these places by more than just a career opportunity; we reach out, our host community reaches back, and we create a human connection.

As PCVs, we are challenged and blessed by our unique opportunity in these societies to delve a little deeper. There are definitely days when we miss Internet access and air conditioning, but then we leave our huts, houses or apartments and we find a world where none of that is really necessary. The people we’ve met, the friendships we’ve formed, and the memories we’ve made will stay with us long after the news cycle is done.

But don’t just take it from me. Returned Volunteers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have chimed in to tell you how they each see their country of service: Continue reading