What Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is Really Like
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(StatePoint) For many, Peace Corps service is a first step toward a career or the continuation of a life’s work.

“The idea of the Peace Corps -- that volunteers could serve their country for the cause of peace by living and working in other countries -- struck a chord with thousands of Americans in the early 1960s. That enthusiasm continues today,” says Peace Corps director, Jody K. Olsen.

But what’s the experience really like? As the agency explains, selected volunteers are placed overseas in service in one of six sectors. Here’s a bit about each, as well as volunteer insights:

• Agriculture volunteers work with farmers and families to increase food security and adapt to climate change while promoting environmental conservation. 

Anna Brettman volunteered in a Zambian village helping secure equipment needed to keep cattle disease-free. She says, “It will take time for the farmers to grow their herds again, but this should provide support for years to come.”

• Community Economic Development volunteers work with development banks, nongovernmental organizations and municipalities to promote local economic opportunities. They teach skills and work with entrepreneurs to develop and market their products.

“My business career took me to countries where I saw firsthand what many political and class systems do, and more importantly don’t do, for the majority in need. The agency gave me the opportunity to do something meaningful,” says Ken Kodoma, who volunteered in Namibia facilitating business workshops.

• Education is the Peace Corps’ largest program area. Volunteers may inspire students in elementary, secondary, or post-secondary schools, work as resource teachers or teacher trainers, or develop libraries and technology resource centers.

“I taught mathematics, biology and citizenship, led science clubs, helped increase literacy and worked with my Cameroonian counterparts in developing a book for math teachers,” says Jomara Laboy Rivera, a returned volunteer who now works in the Peace Corps’ Office of Programming and Training.

• Environment volunteers lead grassroots protection efforts and strengthen understanding of environmental issues, empowering communities to make their own conservation decisions. 

“In the Pacific, residents deal with the effects of climate change, such as large storms, and also see ocean pollution, coral bleaching and coastal degradation up close. I liked using my creativity to spread awareness about Tonga’s waste problem to help come up with solutions there,” says Breanna Kazmierczak, a volunteer who served in Tonga.

• Health volunteers promote nutrition, maternal and child health, basic hygiene and water sanitation, malaria prevention and work in HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs.

“Working with the municipal water authority, we came up with a plan to maintain or improve water quality in 15 communities. Most communities wanted help in treating water to prevent parasitic infection and exploring better usage and storage techniques,” says Nicole Bryer, who volunteered in northern Peru.

• Youth in Development volunteers promote youth engagement and active citizenship, including gender awareness, employability, health, environmental awareness, sports and fitness programs and information technology.

“I helped with the film club at the youth center, which combined fun with opportunities for growth. We encouraged the youth to analyze the works we watched and gave them an opportunity to write and produce their own work,” says Dominick Tanoh, who volunteered in Morocco and also ran soccer and basketball workshops.

To learn more about the different Peace Corps volunteer sectors, visit www.peacecorps.gov.

While there’s no one, defining Peace Corps experience, all volunteers immerse themselves in communities abroad, building friendships and working locally to address pressing challenges.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Peace Corps

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