A Peace Corps Thanksgiving

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Peace Corps Recruiter Kathy Fidler (far right) marveling at this year’s Thanksgiving feast beside her family in the vein of Norman Rockwell’s classic painting, “Freedom of Want.”

Every Thanksgiving, when we all gather at the table to give thanks for our family, friends and livelihood, we often picture a traditionally American occasion reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. However, this year, Peace Corps Recruiter Kathy Fidler – the mastermind behind “Food Fridays” on Peace Corps Northeast’s Tumblr page – has cooked up a fresh take on the holiday by preparing the best recipes she’s shared online from various foreign countries.

Take a look at some of the delicious dishes served at Kathy’s table this year! We dare you not to salivate when scrolling through her list (Spoiler alert: it’s difficult).

1. Pumpkin Soup (Botswana)

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For a convenient first course, this Botswanian pumpkin soup is savory, hearty and pretty easy to make as a vegetarian or vegan meal. A small pumpkin or acorn squash would be ideal for this recipe. The soup freezes and reheats easily, so it makes for ideal leftovers!

2. Pavo Salvadoreno (El Salvador)

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If you’re looking to give your turkey a little kick this year, this customary recipe from El Salvador tastes juicy and mildly spiced. Its mustard and Worcestershire sauce marinade smells pretty strong, but once you add vegetables and the spice blend, it cooks down perfectly.

3. Causa (Peru)

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The Peruvian causa – which is a mashed potato and chicken recipe – can be served as a side dish, but might taste even better as an entire meal on a warm summer night. The vibrant colors of its dressing come from yellow pepper paste, avocado and red pepper sauce. It’s slightly spicy, very tangy and best served cold.

4. Five Spice Green Beans (China)

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These Chinese five spice green beans make for an easy side dish, taking all of 30 seconds to prep. You can cook frozen green beans, but fresh ones might have a better texture. (Disclaimer: Five spice seasoning is a strong flavor and might not go with everything in a meal, but it worked nicely with the Salvadorean spice blend in the turkey.)

5. Mango-Orange Punch (Tanzania)

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Why not wash down your meal with something fresh and tangy? Try this Tanzanian mango-orange punch recipe, which can actually look and taste more festive than a glass of cider. You can even try squeezing clementines instead of regular oranges to make it more fragrant.

6. Coconut Pie (Cameroon)

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Last but not least is everyone’s favorite course – dessert! This coconut pie baked from a Cameroonian recipe is insanely rich, but the custard’s flavor alone is amazing. This dish can be served on any occasion because, let’s face it, you can never have too much coconut pie!

If you would like to host your own Peace Corps Thanksgiving, complete with the dishes listed above, check out all of Kathy’s recipes here. On behalf of Peace Corps Northeast, we would like to wish you all a happy, safe and flavorful holiday!

Peace Corps Northeast Celebrates International Education Week

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New York City resident Ajith Satyanarayana (back row, seventh from left) served as an Education Volunteer teaching English to secondary school students in Lesotho from 2003 to 2005.

In celebration of International Education Week, Peace Corps Northeast commends the educators who transcend borders – both personally and geographically – in devoting their lives to the shaping of minds.

For over 10 years, Ajith Satyanarayana has spent most of his professional life in pursuit of education, whether by teaching others or learning on his own. Equipped with a thirst for knowledge, the New York City resident has built a vocation out of schooling that stems from his Peace Corps service in Southern Africa.

In 2003, Ajith graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan before departing for Lesotho that same year to serve in Peace Corps. While living and working in Lesotho, Ajith served as an Education Volunteer teaching English to students at a local secondary school.

“I believe my college education helped me learn how to view and analyze the world through multiple lenses,” he noted about his experience overseas. “My overall college experience helped me adapt to new situations while being away from home.”

During his two-year service, Ajith learned vital skills such as subsisting on modest resources and appreciating the value of self-reliance.

“My favorite part of my service was the simplistic life I lived,” Ajith said. “Living without running water or electricity was truly life changing as it taught me what was and is important in life.

“The beautiful mountains and the beautiful Basotho people were my favorite parts of being a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho,” he added.

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After completing his service, Ajith pursued his master’s degree in education from Columbia University Teachers College as part of the Peace Corps’ Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program. He currently works as an assistant principal for the New York City Department of Education.

After returning to the United States, Ajith felt compelled to pursue his calling as an educator and earned his master’s degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 2009 as part of the Peace Corps’ Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program.

Ajith currently works for the New York City Department of Education as an assistant principal at a middle school in Queens. His role primarily involves supervision of the school’s guidance, science, special education, Spanish and English as a Second Language departments.

While he now strives to impact the lives of middle school students in New York City, Ajith is still very connected to his Lesotho community and continues to impart his knowledge onto old colleagues and neighbors from another hemisphere.

“I am in contact with teachers with whom I have taught and provide them with teaching techniques and lesson plan ideas they can use in the classroom in order to help them move away from a teacher centered form of instruction to a more student centered,” he said. “I have reconnected with my students and villagers via social media and it feels like I never left.”

Click here to read more about the Peace Corps’ Coverdell Fellows Program.

Peace Corps Northeast Celebrates Veterans Day

Samir El-Gindi

In honor of Veterans Day, Peace Corps Northeast recognizes the dedicated servicemen and women who have followed their call to service in the Peace Corps.

Samir El-Gindi,
U.S. Air Force & Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi

Samir El-Gindi, of New York City – who first served his country overseas as a military veteran – is now serving in the Peace Corps as a Health Volunteer in Malawi. Samir lives and works in a community improving its standards of health care and participating in secondary projects to help meet community development needs.

Samir, who served as an Avionics Specialist in the U.S. Air Force in Iraq, believes the core values of his military service – “integrity first, service before self, and excellence” – have translated well into his service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

“As an Avionics Specialist, we were required to think critically and in a fast paced environment, at times under strenuous conditions,” said the Rutgers University graduate. “Here in Malawi, though under peaceful conditions, many of us face parallel emotions as one may experience in the military. However, I feel that my background allows me to constantly analyze every detail in a more critical and efficient way.”

Aside from his primary assignment, Samir has launched secondary projects such as working to lower the number of teen pregnancies at a local secondary school and reduce the subsequent dropout rate among female students.

Through his service, Samir hopes to embody a positive image of Americans so that his neighbors in Malawi will remember his commitment to serving their community.

“I think that we all want to leave a lasting impact on the people we interact with and the communities we work with on a daily basis,” he noted. “For myself, I could not ask for anything more than to be remembered by the Malawian people as a hardworking, dedicated, and loving person who served his community as if it were his own.”

Dennis Pastore,
U.S. Army & Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand
DennisBKKMar2015At an earlier age, Dennis Pastore, 65, of Adams, Massachusetts, considered pursuing his desire to serve in the Peace Corps before following that call elsewhere with the U.S. Army. Now, as an older Volunteer, he believes he can make an even greater difference in Thailand with his wealth of experience while projecting a positive image of Americans.

“My work as a Peace Corps Volunteer tests the image I have of myself, my desire to succeed, my ability to adapt and change, and the limits of my perseverance in ways that for most of us only occur once or twice in a lifetime – if we are lucky,” said Dennis, who is currently serving as an Education Volunteer. “I cannot imagine a more exciting adventure at this stage in my life.”

From 1973 to 1975, Dennis served as a Customs Investigator for the U.S. Army while stationed in Nuremberg, Germany. In the years after his military service, Dennis pursued a master’s degree in modern history at Friedrich-Alexander Universität in Erlangen, Germany and later attended American University in Washington, D.C., to earn another master’s degree in Applied Economics. He eventually received his license as a secondary educator at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and worked as an educator for many years — even during his retirement!

Through his Peace Corps service, Dennis hopes to instill in his young students a sense of pride for Thailand’s history and culture that resembles his own American patriotism.

“Contrary to what they learn as children, there is no inherent conflict between love of family, respect for tradition, and loyalty to country, on the one hand, and the pursuit of happiness, on the other,” he explained.

Ryan Britch,
U.S. Army National Guard & Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland

Ryan BritchVermont native Ryan Britch is currently serving as a Youth Development Volunteer in Swaziland. Ryan, who dedicated six years to serving in the U.S. Army National Guard, believes the sense of resiliency he gained from his military service has translated well into empowering Swazi youth to fight for causes like gender equality.

“During my time in the National Guard, I spent a considerable amount of time in remote and austere environments under constant stress,” noted the University of Vermont graduate. “I learned to roll with the punches. My ability to deal with difficult situations in a cool and calm manner has helped me adapt quickly to life in Swaziland.”

While overseas, Ryan has launched several other projects such as building libraries at local primary and secondary schools. He has also founded a local club for teenage boys that educates them on positive male identity, men’s health, HIV education, drug and alcohol awareness, among other subjects.

Through his service, Ryan hopes to discover challenges, adventures, a sense of purpose, and most importantly, a chance to prove his humanity.

“A former first sergeant, and a good friend of mine, once told me that a warrior seeks the truth in all things, but first in himself,” he said. “Peace Corps would be yet another test of what truths I will discover in myself.”

Peace Corps Northeast Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

Anthony Trujillo served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia from 2005 to 2007. He currently works as a Recruitment Supervisor at the Peace Corps Northeast Regional Office in New York City.
Anthony Trujillo served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia from 2005 to 2007. He currently works as a Recruitment Supervisor at the Peace Corps Northeast Regional Office in New York City.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Peace Corps Northeast Regional Recruitment Supervisor Anthony Trujillo discusses how his experience living and working as a Native American in Mongolia helped to fortify his identity. Anthony served as a Secondary English Teacher in Mongolia and currently works at the Northeast Regional Recruitment Office in New York City. His story – titled “Trujillo: On Being a Cultural Ambassador with the Peace Corps” – was first featured in Indian Country Today.

I grew up in Ohkay Owingeh, one of the Eight Northern Pueblos of Northern New Mexico. As a child, the thought of living in another country was only slightly more plausible than moving to Mars, but looking back it’s clear that my journey into international service started there, in the heart of Indian Country, and was shaped significantly by my connection with traditional Tewa culture and language.

When I finished college, I began contemplating how I might bring together my varied interests. The eureka moment came upon first seeing the Peace Corps website. I knew it was something unique.

The Peace Corps emphasized the necessity of learning the local language and culture and affirmed this with more than two months of intensive language and cultural training while living with a host family. Finances were another important factor. Though the Peace Corps is a volunteer service organization, it provided everything necessary for living and working abroad: travel, training, housing, health care and a living stipend which, though not an American salary, was plenty to live on. It was also important to know that after finishing 27 months of service, Peace Corps would provide career transition resources, a wealth of graduate school opportunities and transition funds (currently over $8,000) to help with resettling in the U.S.

The 27-month commitment was substantial, but this was an opportunity unlike any other to represent my country and my tribe, while working with people in another part of the world. A little less than a year later, I was in a plane bound for the land-locked country in Central Asia about to become my home: Mongolia.

Flying in, all I could see were waves of rolling green hills and plains stretching into the distance: the Steppe. In stark contrast to the view of the countryside from the plane, Ulaanbaatar, the capital, was full of activity, people, traffic, technology, and buildings old and new. It was striking to see the overlap of different

eras of history and culture as semi-nomadic herders in traditional clothing conversed with businessmen in freshly pressed suits.

As I learned more about Mongolian cultural traditions from my host family and teachers, it was fascinating to explore connections with my own tribal culture. As with pueblo culture, the land and sky play central roles in the Mongolian worldview. The supreme deity in ancient Mongolian religion is the Eternal Blue Sky. I learned that it was also important to show due respect to significant hills, rivers and trees which all had spirits, demonstrated by walking around a rock cairn at the top of a hill and adding a stone or by tying a prayer flag to a special tree. I showed my Mongolian friends pictures of my uncles, pueblo jewelers, and their work with silver, turquoise, coral, and lapis; and we were surprised to see the same materials and many similar designs used in Mongolian jewelry.

One of my favorite exchanges was sharing music and dance. I played examples of the extraordinary traditional vocal music from several American Indian tribes. In return, my Mongolian family and colleagues introduced me to the soul-piercing Mongolian Long Song and mesmerizing Khuumi (throat singing) that completely blew me away. During the summer festival of Naadam, before a wrestling match, Mongolian men perform an eagle dance, which any Tewa person would immediately recognize as a cousin to our own sacred dance.

It was a paradox to be so far away from home distance-wise, but, in terms of culture, to feel like I was visiting a neighbor or relative. In my work over the next two years, my cultural heritage, education, talents, and values converged and intersected more than I ever could have imagined.

My Peace Corps experience not only brought the idea of being a cultural ambassador full circle, but gave it a deeper meaning. There were certainly challenges and differences that had to be navigated, but the circles of who I considered to be part of my family, clan and tribe expanded exponentially.

I also learned that service, at its best, whether in one’s own community or on the other side of the world, starts with the simple act of giving and receiving hospitality and taking the time to learn from and love the people and culture around us.

Anthony worked as a Secondary English Teacher for fourth to 11th graders at a local school in Mongolia.
Anthony worked as a Secondary English Teacher for fourth to 11th graders at a local school in Mongolia.

Where did you live and work during Peace Corps? For my service, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia from 2005 to 2007. Mongolia is sandwiched in between Russia and China. Its climate can be extreme, with temperatures in the summer reaching the mid-90s and in the winter, plunging to -30 or -40. Nevertheless, Mongolia is an incredibly beautiful country with grassy plains and hills that stretch out for hundreds of miles in every direction and a rich culture that is just as long and expansive going back to the time of Genghis Khan.

What was your main project while serving in Mongolia? I was invited to be a Secondary English Teacher in a local public school teaching children in fourth to 11th grade. I viewed my assignment through a couple lenses. First of all, Peace Corps is about strengthening relationships between people and countries and being able to communicate is the first step in developing respectful relationships. It was important to me that my students saw that I valued their culture and language. Secondly, prior to becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, I studied vocal performance in college and there was a deep connection between my musical background and my teaching. For one, I incorporated music into just about every lesson and, since Mongolians love to sing, this was by far the most successful teaching technique I used. Also, I saw my job as helping my students discover and strengthen their own unique personal, professional and academic voices.

As you explain in Indian Country Today, you felt a near kinship with the people in your Mongolian village in the way that you bonded over your Native American heritage. As a result, what exactly did you discover about your own cultural identity? My own cultural identity is multi-faceted, but being immersed in a completely different culture gave me two very different experiences. On the one hand, Mongolia is a completely different culture with its own unique culture and complex history that are vastly different than my own. At the same time, having grown up on a reservation in rural New Mexico, there were aspects of Mongolian culture that seemed very near to my own experience – the desire for self-determination, a pride in cultural heritage, some anxiety about what the future holds for the continuation of traditions and language. These are questions both Native communities and Mongolians wrestle with. A significant part of my motivation for joining Peace Corps was to help a community in another part of the world meet these challenges and, in doing so, to get another perspective on my own culture and community.

Through your Peace Corps service, did you educate people in your communities about diversity in America? My Peace Corps service in Mongolia definitely offered a new perspective on diversity in the United States for the students, teachers and community I worked with. The only images of Native Americans most Mongolians have are from old Western films. They’d really never met contemporary Native Americans. I used this as an opportunity to explain to my community that Native people and cultures are still alive and vibrant. By the end of my service, people were proud to introduce me to their friends and families as a Native American.

Conversely, what did you learn about the perception of diversity and race overseas? What challenges or insights did you encounter when educating others? Through my service, I learned a lot about how people in other countries view diverse populations in the United States. Primarily, American culture is viewed through the lens of what’s portrayed in entertainment through TV, film, sports and music because this is what people have access to. On the one hand, our current entertainment culture does show that the United States is a diverse place. However, many of the stereotypes that come through are wildly out of sync with the realities of day-to-day life in the United States for many communities. As a teacher, I often used entertainment as a springboard for having conversations around diversity and inclusion in the United States, especially with the older students. We would then move to talking about minority groups within Mongolia, how they are treated, and tangible ways of showing dignity and respect to others. It was a great way of cultivating empathy and openness.

How did your service as a Peace Corps Volunteer fuel your work as a Peace Corps Recruiter? After returning from service, I was fortunate to work for Peace Corps in recruitment where my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer fuels my work on a daily basis. First of all, I think the amazing relationships I developed through my service and the students and teachers whose voices were strengthened and encouraged through our work together. Then I think about the thousands of Volunteers abroad right now who are developing stronger connections and coming alongside others to create more opportunity and growth for their countries – that’s an incredibly inspiring and hopeful thought!

What would you tell other Native Americans who are looking to join Peace Corps about serving overseas? Being a Native American in Peace Corps is a highly rewarding experience. For me, it was an incredible privilege to represent my tribe to Mongolians as well as other Volunteers. Peace Corps has opened up a wealth of opportunity professionally and academically through benefits such as graduate school fellowship opportunities and non-competitive eligibility for government jobs. In my recruitment work, I want to make sure that Native Americans, and Americans of all backgrounds, have the opportunity to have a positive impact while representing their home communities abroad through Peace Corps service. The 27 months go by quickly, but the perspective and professional experience we gain through international service can change the way we grow as professionals, individuals and as members of our tribes for years to come.

For more about Anthony’s service as a Native American, make sure to visit our YouTube channel later to watch a video about his Peace Corps experience. 

Peace Corps and Binghamton University’s Department of Public Administration Announce New Master’s International Program

The Peace Corps and Binghamton University’s Department of Public Administration recently announced the launch of a new Master’s International program that will offer students the opportunity to integrate Peace Corps service abroad with a graduate degree in public administration.

Prospective students apply both to graduate school and the Peace Corps, and typically finish one year of graduate school in the U.S. before traveling abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

“We are delighted to partner with Binghamton University to give students the opportunity to incorporate Peace Corps service into their graduate studies,” Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “Peace Corps volunteers develop cross-cultural, leadership, and language skills during their service that – in combination with a graduate degree – make them extremely competitive candidates in today’s global job market.”

During their 27 months of service, Volunteers work on an academic project for their graduate degree, and when they return to the U.S., they complete any remaining academic requirements.

“The Peace Corps’ Master’s International program provides an excellent opportunity for students to combine their Peace Corps experience with a professional degree, leveraging both experiences to prepare students to become leaders in public service,” said David Campbell, chair and associate professor of public administration at Binghamton University.

Master’s International students will complete a total of six credits at no cost to the student (four credits are covered by the Graduate School at Binghamton University and two credits of internship are waived).

“We are proud to say that the State University of New York is the only university system in the country that has a special relationship with the Peace Corps for the establishment of its Master’s International program,” said Sally Crimmins Villela, assistant vice chancellor for global affairs at the State University of New York. “We would like to commend Binghamton on establishing an MI program in public administration. The benefits that Peace Corps service will bring to master’s graduates will be significant and tangible, as they will learn firsthand how to practice their profession in a developing region of the world, all while learning another language, culture and history.”

“The Peace Corps’ Master’s International program is an important development for the College of Community and Public Affairs,” said Laura Bronstein, dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs. “It reaffirms our commitment to preparing students for public service careers globally, not only in the United States.”

The Peace Corps has Master’s International program partnerships with more than 80 leading academic institutions nationwide that offer more than 150 degree programs. Established in 1987, the program aims to meet the demand for Peace Corps Volunteers with high levels of education and technical expertise, and to support schools’ efforts to provide substantive, internationally focused experiences for their students.

For more information about the Peace Corps’ Master’s International program at Binghamton University, contact Susan Appe at sappe@binghamton.edu or (607) 777-9182. To learn more about Peace Corps’ Master’s International program, visit www.peacecorps.gov/masters.