Hear from University of Iowa graduates who are currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers! Monthly spotlights will shed light on the experiences of these alumni as they serve in locations all over the world. Stay up to date on their adventures and get a better idea of the work Peace Corps does.
January 2018 Spotlight:
Henry is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Education who has been serving in La Trinidad, Estelí, Nicaragua for the past five months. Henry is working within the Environmental Education sector where he has just wrapped up an environmental summer camp for three mornings at an urban school and two days at a rural school. He also assisted a friend and coworker with an English/environmental summer camp for three days in Sebaco, which is about a 30-minute bus ride from where Henry's community. At the beginning of December, Henry started his personal vegetable garden, tree nursery, and organic compost, and will be planting this month. In January, Henry will also begin teaching English to a group of incoming 7th graders in their "cursos libres," before they begin receiving English classes in February. Additionally, he will be working with the director of his town's Ministry of Education to realize a bi-weekly English class for the professors that will be teaching English in schools.
Over the past five months, Henry has found the most challenging part of his service to be adapting to the collectivist culture of the community and explaining differences in cultures in almost every conversation. Henry recalls that many Nicaraguans are shocked to learn that he lived independently from his parents during his 4 years at the University of Iowa, and only saw his parents during school breaks. People are also surprised to learn that he grew up living 4 hours from his grandparents. Henry reflects on this by saying:
“The wonderful Nicaraguan people and families that I have met so far during my service often live in multi-generational households and most decisions are made according to the opinions of the family as a collective unit. It has been very different than the independent lifestyle to which I was accustomed to back in the States.”
Despite the challenges, the past five months have been filled with many high points as well! Henry says the greatest part so far has been integrating into his community. Given that Henry finished training and entered his community during a school break, he has had just a few weeks to introduce himself to the teachers, students, families, and the community outside of school. His is focused on building confianza (trust) so that people will recognize and know him the following school year. Henry believes that being involved in the summer camps was an excellent way to get to know his students. Apart from organizing the camps, most of his days have been spent sipping coffee and eating bread with his neighbors, family, and friends within the community. Henry says, “this meaningful time spent talking, laughing, and exchanging culture and conversation with each individual has been invaluable to me as I continue to form community connections.”
Moving forward, Henry hopes to form strong professional relationships with both the teachers he will work with and the Ministry of Education officials. Henry would like to start an after-school tutoring program at the local public library with the support of these coworkers and the librarian. He also hopes that his students will become excited about learning and discover a passion that they can eventually turn into a career. Henry is also motivated to help out with the projects of other volunteers that live close to him and learn more about how the people and cultures within varying Nicaraguan regions are similar and different from his community.
To hear more of Henry’s story, or to keep up with the amazing work he is doing, follow his blog at https://cafecitofueledaventuras.wordpress.com
December 2017 Spotlight:
Zach is currently serving in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR) in Ethiopia as an educator through a program called Promoting English Language Learning in Ethiopia (PELLE). Through this program, Zach has taught English to almost 200 ninth and tenth grade students. Zach also holds seven English clubs for grades 5-12 in his town as well as two neighboring towns. In these clubs, he mostly works to improve the students' confidence and motivation to use English. Together they do reading, speaking, writing and listening activities. Last summer Zach was able to accompany four of his students to Camp English. Along with 40 other campers, they immersed themselves in English; teaching and learning in reading, writing, and public speaking classes. Volunteers and teachers also held sessions on peer pressure, gender issues, critical thinking and educational morality during the week-long camp. Zach hopes to bring even more of his students to an English Camp this coming summer.
Last month Zach worked with another volunteer to hold a girls' empowerment program for 20 female students. The goal of this project was to empower the girls and have them bring some motivation back to their communities. They held sessions on goal setting, decision-making, coping, and gender stereotypes. At the end of the three-day program, Zach sat down with the students and asked them how they could continue empowering girls at home. During his remaining months in Ethiopia, Zach hopes to continue working with his female students. Zach hopes to start a Girls' club or gender club at school that would be facilitated by female teachers.
At the high school Zach is teaching at, he also co-facilitates a support program for other teachers. At these meetings they work to improve student-centered teaching approaches, student participation, classroom English and more.
Zach has been in Ethiopia for about a year and a half, and says the most challenging thing for him is being patient. Zach describes his experience by saying: “Since being in Ethiopia, my patience has been tested many times. I moved to site extremely motivated and ready to get "things moving." However, people do things the way they have for years. They have lives beyond the school. They have families. They have other jobs. So, often things don't go exactly the way I thought they would, they don't end up happening when I thought they would and they don't have the same outcome as I thought they would. Many activities and projects don't even make it past the planning phase, and that's okay. I'm forced to work harder, communicate more and cooperate efficiently. I'm learning a lot.”
While practicing patience can be a challenge, Zach also says that his greatest success so far has been working and spending time with his students, and getting to see them smile. The students always seem to make him laugh. They are hard working students, so to see them enjoy themselves and laugh with each other at school is his favorite thing.
November 2017 Spotlight:
Blake is a graduate from the University of Iowa College of Public Health and is currently serving with the Peace Corps in Swaziland.
During his time in Swaziland, Blake has gotten involved in many different projects as a Peace Corps volunteer. From HIV prevention and support programs at a rural clinic, to assisting with the creation of the local school's first library, Blake has had many opportunities to gain hands-on experience working with community members on various projects.
Through his work at the clinic, Blake has also been working to educate high school girls on how to make affordable and reusable sanitary pads to prevent them from missing school as a result of getting their periods. Outside of the clinic Blake has been involved in developing income generating projects and teaching financial literacy and general business skills to caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children.
While Blake says one of the greatest challenges he faces during his service thus far is the social isolation that can come with being a Peace Corps volunteer, he also mentions that once deep and close relationships are formed with local people, you begin to feel like you really are an important part of their lives and community; "it's an amazing feeling." Blake shares this type of relationship with members of his host family, which has transformed his experience in Swaziland and influenced how he will look back on these two years with the Peace Corps.