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.
May 2018 Spotlight
Samone has been serving in The Gambia, as a health volunteer, for the past 6 months. She is located in the North Bank Region of the country and primarily goes to the health center, schools, and to different family compounds to do her work.
By mid-April, Samone will have completed all of her trainings and will have the ability to start working on larger activities. Samone has completed a baseline assessment of her community and will soon be presenting it to prominent members of the community, as well as health professionals. While she was working on her assessment, she organized a small event at the health center where she taught young women, in 8th grade, how to make their own re-useable menstrual pads. This meant a lot to Samone because she was able to get to know these young women more and also teach them a new skill that will benefit them indefinitely.
Samone says the most challenging part of her service so far has been adjusting to cultural differences; from when meals take place to how she dresses and interacts with others. In order to gain respect from those in her community, she says she has had to change a lot about herself.
“Though it’s challenging at times, I have developed a newfound respect for the values of those living in The Gambia and little by little, I’m able to share parts of my culture and who I am with them.”
The best part of Samone’s service has been building relationships with her host family and members of her community. She says she is always grateful and open to learning about the different ways people live, work, and play. She is inspired by how often Gambians go above and beyond to take care of one another.
When thinking about the projects Samone can be apart of in the future, she hopes to improve waste disposal practices by setting up dumping sites in her community. She mentions that she lives in a town of about 4000 people, on the main road, and there is quite a bit of trash along the highway. She really hopes to decrease the amount of waste near the highway and throughout her town by teaching about composting, up-cycling, and encouraging the use of the dumping sites that would be set up.
To continue following Samone throughout her journey, check out her Instagram at: suhhmoan
April 2018 Spotlight
Kendra has been serving with the Peace Corps since March of 2015, just over three years! She served in Somotillo, Chinandega for her first two years in the health sector, and is now a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Masaya, Nicaragua.
During her time in Chinandega, Kendra formed and maintained three youth groups in her community that focused on sexual and reproductive health, self-esteem, pregnancy prevention, and the development of community projects. She also led weekly educational sessions about topics related to pregnancy, newborn care, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health at a maternity house. Among other things, Kendra also organized and coordinated a three-day health education sports camp for youth in her community, as well as a camp for HIV positive youth and their families to teach the basics of HIV/AIDS, stigma/discrimination, adherence to medication, and healthy living.
Now in her third year of service as a Regional Volunteer Leader, Kendra still works on health projects, but also frequently visits other Peace Corps volunteers to support and guide them through stressful times during their service. In doing this, Kendra acts as a liaison between Peace Corps Nicaragua staff and volunteers to overcome any issues that may arise.
Henry, a current Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Nicaragua who was our January Spotlight, has had the opportunity to work with Kendra during regional trainings. In reference to Kendra’s work as a Regional Volunteer Leader he says,
“Kendra has such an animated and infectious personality that makes you automatically excited to work on whatever project is at hand.”
Kendra has accomplished so much over the past three years and is a great example of how involved you can be as a Peace Corps Volunteer. When looking back on the most challenging part of her service, Kendra says for her it was self-motivation, especially in the beginning. But after the first several months in her community, Kendra says, “work came much easier, with the work connections and friends I had made, I had begun to mold my own service into what I wanted it to look like!”
To add to this, Kendra says the greatest part of her service will always be the people she has met and the connections made while with the Peace Corps.
“My Nicaraguan friends, Peace Corps friends, Nicaraguan host families, Peace Corps staff and fellow volunteers, I could never have done this without the constant support from them, we are a family!”
Kendra will be completing her Peace Corps service at the end of June, but she hopes that in the next few months she can continue to support and guide volunteers coming in after her. She hopes to finish her service strong and enjoy the time she has left as much as possible! Kendra says she would love to do Peace Corps Response in another country or serve again somewhere else in the future.
To see more pictures of Kendra’s experience with the Peace Corps, you can check out her Instagram @kennyg36.
March 2018 Spotlight: Celebrating Women's History Month!
Sydney has been serving in Zambia, Africa for the past nine months teaching English. Within the Education sector, Sydney leads an afterschool reading club where she conducts lessons about the alphabet and letter sounds. The students also get to read books that a non-profit donated to the students. Sydney hopes to use these books to start a library at her school. Sydney also has an adult literacy club, where she teaches community members how to read, write, and speak English. Outside of her role in the Education sector, Sydney co-directs a boys camp, called Camp Brave (Boys Respecting and Valuing Everyone), where boys are taught about HIV, malaria, safe sex, and Gender-Based Violence.
Sydney believes one of the toughest parts about her service so far has been learning the language of her community and using it to teach her students English. Sydney is serving in a very rural post where not a lot of English is spoken, so when she teaches English classes it can be extremely difficult to communicate with students at times.
Despite the language barriers, Sydney says the greatest part of serving so far is the great people she has met:
“From the other volunteers, Peace Corps staff, and the amazing people I work with in my community. I like that I have motivated people around me and people constantly support me in everything that I aspire to do.”
With a bit more than one year left of her service, Sydney hopes to build more classrooms for her school. There are currently only two for all the students in grades 1-7 and she teaches her 5th and 6th graders in a church. Sydney believes that:
"With more school classrooms, our classes will not be combined, enabling better learning environments.”
To keep up with the awesome work Sydney is doing with Peace Corps, check out her blog at: https://africaawaitsblog.wordpress.com
February 2018 Spotlights: Celebrating Black History Month!
Nyassa has been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi since 2015. While Peace Corps is typically a two-year commitment, Nyassa has extended her service and is now serving for a third year; her first two years were spent in the education sector, while her third year is now in the health sector as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. Nyassa is currently the District Coordinator for a USAID/PEPFAR funded program called DREAMS. The program aims to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS in adolescent girls and young women ages 10-24. A lot of what Nyassa does for the program revolves around coordinating and advising for 13 different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)! Prior to working as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Nyassa served as a teacher working on a variety of projects, many of which focused on girl’s empowerment. Nyassa facilitated a girl’s club and had a school garden for girls in order to help teach them about nutrition and other life skills.
While Nyassa has been in Malawi for multiple years now, she says she hasn't face too many challenges throughout her experience. However, she does mention that having to switch her environment/job/housing/etc. after the first two years of service was a difficult for her. The transition from one reality to another has been challenging for Nyassa, as she considers herself a very hands-on worker who is now doing most of her work from a bird’s eye view. Nyassa describes this transition by saying:
“I went from teaching students in a very far and rural village in the southern region of Malawi to now working in a town where I am sitting at a desk most of the time.”
Although it’s been challenging, Nyassa says that overall the experience has been very formative and she is enjoying her new position a lot. As many Peace Corps Volunteers have said before, Nyassa also expresses how grateful she is for the relationships and friendships she has made throughout this experience.
“I feel everyone says that so it seems so cliché but it’s totally true. The people I’ve met, worked along side of, chatted with, and learned from have made my experience in Malawi that much more fulfilling and enjoyable. The bonds I’ve created here in Malawi will be ones that I take with me for the rest of my life and I will always be impacted by them.”
With seven months left of her service, Nyassa has been considering working for the Peace Corps at headquarters in Washington D.C. or somewhere in the United States following her time in Malawi. Nyassa would love to see her professional path always come back to Peace Corps.
Nyassa has been featured in many Spotlights throughout her service, much like the video above! To read others written on her experience, check out these links:
Morgan, a University of Iowa graduate with a B.A. in Spanish, has spent the past year and a half in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Morgan is serving in the Youth, Family, and Community Development sector and spends most of her time working with the primary and secondary schools in her community. She is currently co-facilitating programs of positive self-esteem, leadership, and sexual health for students in 8th-11th grade classes. Morgan is also facilitating a business program focused on entrepreneurship among 12th graders.
During the time that Morgan has spent in the Dominican Republic, she finds the most challenging part of her experience to be living in another place and within another culture. When comparing her experience in the Dominican Republic to her life in the United States, Morgan says:
“Sometimes it gets lonely and sometimes you are misunderstood. Sometimes you want to speak English and sometimes you just want a hamburger. Sometimes you want everything at your fingertips and sometimes you want everything to be instantaneous, just like where you’re from. Sometimes you miss your family and friends and all of the comforts of the United States.”
While living in another place and within another culture may come with challenges like the ones Morgan mentions, it can also contribute to some of your greatest experiences. The welcoming community members and the family that Morgan has surrounded herself with bring love and comfort to her time in the Dominican Republic. Morgan has the opportunity to embrace cultural customs that are different from those of the United States. She gets to meet new people, some of which she teaches, and some of which teach her. She mentions the neighbors who bring her dinner every night to show their appreciation for her and the children who spend every waking moment at her house because they are comfortable with her. When detailing these amazing moments of her service, Morgan beautifully says:
“Sometimes you consistently answer to a mispronunciation of your name because the word means love, which is what you hope to exude.”
While Morgan continues her work and explores her possibilities moving forward with the Peace Corps, she mentions the goal of holding an English class during the summer months for adults in her community.
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 two 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 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 two 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 two 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 the 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. He 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.