Peace Corps and the First Lady: Let Girls Learn

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The Peace Corps, in collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama, is excited to be part of a new initiative to empower the education of girls around the globe. There are 62 million girls globally who do not have access to education. “These girls have diminished economic opportunities and are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS,” according to an administration statement, “early and forced marriage, and other forms of violence.”

The initiative, named “Let Girls Learn” takes a multi-pronged, goal-oriented approach to addressing the lack of education for young girls. The centerpiece of this initiative will be an expansion of the number of Peace Corps Volunteers focused on advancing girls’ education and empowerment in 11 countries: Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo, and Uganda.

 

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For those unable to become a Peace Corps Volunteer quite yet, there are still ways to actively help the Let Girls Learn initiative by donating to the Let Girls Learn Fund, which will serve to directly assist Volunteers on the ground working towards the goal of girls’ education and empowerment, as well as the broader Peace Corps mission.

The message from the Peace Corps and the First Lady is straightforward: Let’s work together to change the lives of girls overseas. You can be a part of that change: Check out the Let Girls Learn website, and follow the discussion on twitter with #letgirlslearn.

 

 

 

Celebrate the Peace Corps’ 54th Anniversary | Welcome to Peace Corps Week 2015

March 1 marked the 54th anniversary of the Peace Corps!  Help us will kick off our annual Peace Corps Week celebration by learning more about the far-reaching contributions of Peace Corps Volunteers.

Here in the Northeast, a variety of events and activities are taking place this week that encourage current and returned Volunteers to highlight their host country heroes and the friendships and relationships they developed with local community members during service. Check for an event near you:

Monday, March 2

Tuesday, March 3

Wednesday, March 4

Thursday, March 5

Friday, March 6

Snowbanks still blocking your doorway?  You can also connect with current Peace Corps Volunteers and their host country heroes in live video chats taking place throughout the week: http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/thirdgoal/pcweek/video-chats-pc/

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How to Find Your Origins in Another Hemisphere

LaShaya Howie learned much about her identity as an African American while volunteering in Zambia from 2007 to 2009.

LaShaya Howie learned much about her identity as an African American while volunteering in Zambia from 2007 to 2009.

When she joined Peace Corps, New York resident LaShaya Howie knew she wanted to serve in Africa as a way to connect to her roots as an African American. What she didn’t realize was how significantly the country would affect her perception of her own identity.

“I knew it would be the most meaningful experience being able to learn the language & stay for two years & really be immersed in a different culture & feel like I was at home,” said LaShaya, who served as a Rural Education Development Liaison in Zambia from 2007 to 2009.

During her two years of service, the Howard University alum worked to decentralize the local school system while facilitating training sessions for teachers & extracurricular activities for students. She also became proficient in speaking Chinsenga – a Bantu-based language frequently used in Zambia – to better communicate with people in her host community.

While working in a remotely rural village, LaShaya quickly realized that she was the very first African American to live among her neighbors. She found herself explaining notions about her racial identity that she had never openly discussed, such as the migration of black people to the United States.

“Being in Zambia reinforced what I expected to feel about race,” said LaShaya, who soon learned that Zambian racial lines derive from class, wealth, locality & religion. “Outside of the U.S., ‘American’ is equated with whiteness. When I traveled to more urban environments, people knew about African Americans but only in relation to pop culture and, now, President Barack Obama.”

When President Obama was elected to his first term in 2008, LaShaya used the first African American president to demonstrate diversity in the United States for locals in her village while discussing African diaspora.

As part of this cultural exchange, she would often give copies of Ebony or Essence magazines to her neighbors to observe the United States’ diverse racial spectrum – looking at pictures of celebrities like Beyoncé or Halle Berry – though she would receive questions as to why she didn’t have lighter skin or straighter hair.

“My Peace Corps service made me more keenly aware of my Americanness & I embraced the good, the bad & the uniqueness of it,” LaShaya explained. “I recognized & grappled with the privileges of it including the effects of the exportation of American popular culture, the face of which is primarily African American.

“Zambia also reinforced my identity as an African descendant person connected to all people of African descent around the world,” she added. “Being in Zambia also made me more aware of gender politics in Zambia & in the U.S. & deepened my identity as a feminist/womanist.”

Six years after closing her service, LaShaya credits her time in Peace Corps as a “truly transformative” experience that exceeded all of her expectations & encourages any interested applicants, particularly African Americans, to explore their origins.

“For the people that we encounter through international service, regardless of the place, it’s important to see black people from America who aren’t entertainers or the president!” LaShaya said. “For the Volunteer, you have an opportunity to experience another culture which is rare for anyone in the world. It’s truly a privilege.

“For me, it was important for me to experience a place in Africa or where other people of African descent live outside of the U.S.,” she added. “It makes the world smaller & we all benefit.”

Empowering Young Girls in The Gambia

Volunteer Elizabeth Watts prioritizes teaching young women in The Gambia, including her host sister, about gender equality & fostering widespread female empowerment.

Volunteer Elizabeth Watts prioritizes teaching young women in The Gambia, including her host sister, about gender equality & fostering widespread female empowerment.

Since starting her Peace Corps service in The Gambia last September, Volunteer Elizabeth Watts has striven to initiate growth not only in her host community, but also herself.

As a 2014 graduate of Saint Michael’s College – which claimed a top spot on the Peace Corps’ 2015 rankings of small colleges & universities for producing Volunteers – Elizabeth believes she wouldn’t have joined Peace Corps if her alma mater didn’t feed her motivation to volunteer.

“The school helped me develop the confidence to challenge myself to do something different in order to try and make an impact in the lives of individuals,” she said. “I have been lucky enough to have every opportunity in the world available to me, so I felt I needed to take the time to at least try and give back to our global community – and St. Mike’s gave me the courage to do it.”

Through her service as a Primary Education Teacher Trainer, the Wellesley, Ma. resident primarily trains educators at a local school to teach literacy & facilitate a writing workshop for students from first to third grade.

Some of her secondary projects include Leadership Trek – a team building program that involves nature outings in the development of core leadership kills – and Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), which is a Peace Corps initiative designed to empower young women to embrace leadership roles & develop self-confidence while acquiring relevant skills.

“Both programs help develop gender equality, future planning & leadership skills among senior secondary students,” she noted.

While shaping the lives of local youth in her village, Elizabeth mostly enjoys connecting with her neighbors in such a way that fosters numerous friendships.

“I have built many close relationships and these relationships are what I believe is truly going to make a difference,” Elizabeth said. “Small things that I say to my friends are: if you beat your family in America you go to jail, if you don’t want a baby I will go get you birth control, it’s your body not your husband’s – to make a real difference in their lives.

“They show me that they are thinking about these ideas and I believe that the more they are exposed to these ideas, they will create their own changes in their society,” she added.

Click here to learn more about Peace Corps The Gambia.

Sowing Seeds of Change in Africa

Cornell graduate Elizabeth Leuin is currently serving as an Agricultural Extension Volunteer in Cameroon.

Cornell graduate Elizabeth Leuin is currently serving as an Agricultural Extension Volunteer in Cameroon.

Embarking on her second year of service, Peace Corps Volunteer Elizabeth Leuin has embraced many local comforts in her host country of Cameroon.

“I love the slower life tempo, sense of family, traditional dress, and tropical fruits!” noted the homegrown Californian, who left her Mill Valley home to serve in November 2013.

Though her time in Peace Corps hasn’t just been soaking up the sun & eating sweet mangoes. If anything, Elizabeth strives to protect such resources for the Cameroonian people with a local development organization.

“In collaboration with host organization GROUPELMA, I am initiating a sustainable agriculture project in response to deforestation and depleted soil fertility. We are introducing soil-regenerating agroforestry techniques paired with beekeeping as an associated income-generating activity,” she said. “Thirty-three farmers are now applying new techniques on their personal fields, with over 9,000 soil-regenerating saplings planted. Ultimately, these sustainable practices will regenerate and protect the soil, increasing family food security and community livelihoods for generations to come.”

Earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Cornell University – which ranked third on Peace Corps’ list of top medium colleges & universities for producing Volunteers this year – Elizabeth felt drawn to a career in international agriculture development, but also felt she needed on-the-ground experience to further realize that goal.

Through her Peace Corps service, Elizabeth has coordinated a pig-raising program that teaches under-employed youth how to gain business expertise from breeding their own piglets.

“We distribute initial inputs, such as piglets and feed, to participants who take part in a six-month course covering the pig-raising trade, entrepreneurship and life skills,” she explained. “At the end of the program, candidates sell their pigs, reimburse the organization for the initial loan and retain remaining profits to continue pig-raising.”

Nearing the end of her service, Elizabeth intends to leave her mark by the time she leaves Cameroon with all of her agricultural efforts in her host community.

“In addition to the impact from technical project work, I believe I will leave my Cameroonian colleagues with a greater understanding of and capacity for development work,” she said. “I hope my community members will be left more open-minded & with a greater tolerance for different cultures and ideas.”

Click here to learn more about Peace Corps Cameroon.