comments

Peace Corps offers volunteers adventure

Locals relate their experiences
By: Joyia Emard Loomis News Staff Writer
-A +A

Volunteers are wanted to experience adventure while helping people in foreign lands.

The Peace Corps, an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship, is looking for volunteers to serve in countries all over the world. Recently, the organization held an informational meeting in Loomis.

Marcy Spina, of Penryn, served in the Peace Corps on a small island in the Philippines during the late 1980s. She helped in agriculture and health.

“It changed my life in a very positive way. It gave me a whole new outlook. I felt like I could do anything,” Spina said.

Spina said a good candidate for the Peace Corps is “anyone who has any inkling of wanting adventure.”

Spina said the Corps taught her to accept people, acclimate herself to new situations and make adjustments.

“It’s been the greatest experience of my life,” she said.

Two Loomis women, Katie Payne and Elaine Hogan, both attended Del Oro High School and are currently serving abroad as Peace Corps volunteers.

Payne, 24, graduated from Del Oro in 2003 and is an educator and small business advisor in Nicaragua. Hogan, 23, graduated in 2002 from Maidu High School and is an HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal/child health educator in Honduras.

The young women spoke to the Loomis News via e-mail. Both of them recommend the program for someone seeking “adventure” and, according to Hogan, is interested “in traveling, learning about different culture and is passionate about helping people.”

Elaine Hogan is the daughter of Michael Hogan and Darlene Benham, of Loomis. Mike Hogan served on the Loomis planning commission. Hogan said he worries some about his daughter, but said, “I’ve been impressed with the way they take care of the volunteers.”

When asked why he thought his daughter signed on with Peace Corps, he said, “She’s interested in improving society.”

Elaine Hogan said she volunteered for the 27-month program because she wanted to live in another culture and was interested in working in international development.

Payne is the daughter of Mary Jo and Joel Payne, of Loomis, and said she found an opportunity to “represent the U.S. and show the global community that Americans care about those outside its borders.” She also said, “the work experience we get … is invaluable to our development as professionals and U.S. citizens.”

Peace Corps members volunteer in education, health, agriculture, youth and community outreach and business development.

“The beauty of being a Peace Corps volunteer is that every day is different and there is extreme flexibility in my work,” Hogan said.

According to Payne, service in the Corps "is not about living in a hut, reading a book in a hammock … we work, we don’t just ‘volunteer.’”

Both women said they learned invaluable lessons. Hogan said she learned that “fundamentally all humans are equal, but it is our education and our knowledge that sets us apart.”

Payne said her experience has made her appreciate her Loomis education. She said in Nicaragua “teachers are paid poorly, the students don’t have textbooks, class is cancelled for no reason.”

Neither of the women has decided what they will do when they complete their terms, but both feel it has been a great experience.

For more information go to peacecorps.gov.

The following is the unedited and complete text of the questions from the Loomis News and answers from Hogan and Payne.


Elaine Hogan
Peace Corps volunteer
Honduras


Why were you drawn to serve in the Peace Corp?

I was interested in serving with Peace Corps both for the opportunity to live in another culture and also because I am interested in working in international development.

What are your thoughts on the program?

Peace Corps has provided me with the cultural and technical training to effectively integrate into my community and become an effective leader, promoting sustainable programs that will help educate and develop the people of Honduras.
What do you do on a daily basis and what is your mission?

My mission as an HIV/AIDS Prevention & Maternal/Child Health volunteer is to educate community members and professionals on ways they can improve their basic health. The beauty of being a Peace Corps volunteer is that every day is different and there is extreme flexibility in my work. Right now I am working with students in the high school and the municipality to reduce garbage on the streets and teach people how to preserve the environment but I also have projects in a variety of areas, such as the development of a small business plan and website for a local coffee farmer. I also help teach English to adults who did notfinish school and I work with health center promoters giving talks to school children on topics such as puberty, menstruation, personal hygiene and family planning. Basically anything the community is interested in that I am also interested in.

Would you recommend it?

I cannot overly state how much my experience living and working in Honduras with Peace Corps has benefited me. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in traveling, learning about different cultures, and is passionate about helping people. Other useful and arguably necessary traits would be flexibility, patience and a sense of humor.

What were you most surprised about?

I have been most surprised by the far reach of corporate America for the fact that here, miles from a paved road, where people are living without water and electricity, a Pepsi truck still arrives to sell them soda.

How have you been received by the local people?

The people who live in my town are some of the nicest people I have met. I have been well received and have made life long friends. I have a strong support network of local people who care about me and look out for my well being. More than anything, people are curious when they see a young American woman walking down the rocky dusty streets of their town. People, especially children, always strike up conversations with me about why I'm here and what it's like to be from the USA. Especially in a countrywhere an estimated 1 out of every 7
people have gone to the USA to find better opportunities, they are very curious as to why I would come here, when most people from here are trying desparately to get to the USA.

What do you miss most back in the USA?

I honestly don't miss anything. I was born to travel and live in different places. With the world so connected through email and phone, I regularly speak with my friends and family.

What is the single greatest lesson you have learned?

The single greatest lesson I have learned is that fundamentally all humans are equal, but it is our education and our knowledge that sets us apart from one and other culturally. Something as simple as throwing garbage in the trash can had to be taught to us, and if no one had ever told us it was wrong to litter in the streets and that it harmed the environment, we wouldn't think twice about throwing anything and everything in the street.

What will you take with you at the conclusion of your stay in Honduras?

Along with some of the best memories of my life, I will take with me the knowledge that change happens slowly, one person at a time and even when you think you aren't making a difference, you inevitably are.

What are your plans after Peace Corps?

Short answer: I don't know yet. But my experience with Peace Corps has opened a world of opportunities for me. I know I want to persue a career in international development. Peace Corps has a Fellowship partnership program with some US universities that would give me certain benefits for persuing a Master's degree. I also will have a one year non-competitive status for applying to federal jobs. I could also apply to work with international development organizations such as Doctor's Without Borders or any of the United Nations development programs.

Katie Payne

Peace Corps volunteer

Nicaragua

Why were you drawn to serve in the Peace Corps? 

By joining Peace Corps I felt I had the opportunity to represent the U.S. and show the global community that Americans care about those outside its borders. Many times the only impression other nations gain about the U.S. is through the media and entertainment industry, which is no where close to being representative of the entire U.S. nation. In addition, I wanted to learn more about development work and decide if that was the type of career I wanted to pursue.

 Peace Corps has grown up a lot since President Kennedy inaugurated the program in 1961. We have goals set up by country and by each separate program within the country. The word "volunteer" I feel only applies to the part that we volunteer ourselves for at least 27 months of our life. Peace Corps service is not about living in a hut, reading a book in a hammock. We are working with the schools, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), government offices, health services, etc. We work, we don’t just "volunteer". It is an opportunity cost to not be earning a living wage in the U.S., but the work experience we get while abroad is invaluable to our development as professionals and U.S. citizens. I think in the future Peace Corps will offer more valuable professional training to its volunteers, which will create a stronger program with greater impact.

 I am a Small Business Advisor and Educator, so my primary assignment is teaching in 4 different high schools and advising small businesses in my city. Every day I either co-teach (with a Nicaraguan teacher) entrepreneurship classes to 4th year highschoolers (15-17 year olds) or I observe the classes already functioning on their own (taught by Nicaraguan teachers) that the PC volunteer before me had established. I have an amazing opportunity to work with both the public highschool and an NGO called Familia Padre Fabretto. The NGO has an after-school program which includes the entrepreneurship class, so in 3 of my schools the class is actually an extracurricular activity. I oversee about 500 students, and the goal is for each of them to organize themselves into groups, develop a product or service, and little by little write a business plan. At the end we have a competition to see who has the best business plan and who was the most creative. The biggest emphasis of the program is creativity and planning! Kids are not encouraged to be creative, so I am constantly pushing them to think above and beyond the norms. We promote business planning because many times businesses open in Nicaragua without the owners taking into account the variable and fixed costs, start up costs, an evaluation of the existing competition, and most importantly recognition of a potential market.

This is where the other half of our assignment comes into play: small business advising. Current businesses usually have little knowledge of basic business practices such as accounting, marketing, and price fixing. I currently advise two businesses and have three more interested in learning more about how to successfully run a business. I’m no business expert, but I can help small business owners realize their actual expenditures, create a basic accounting sheet, or identify prices of their competitors. One of my biggest challenges is showing business owners that they don’t begin to make a profit until they have covered all their costs. Most believe that once they sell something it means money in their pocket right away!

In addition, my assignment is travel intensive, so I have to travel 2.5 hours by bus to one of my schools and 3.5 hours to another. The buses only run a couple times a day to these towns, so I have to spend 2 nights a week away from my home base. Luckily my NGO provides housing for me when I am working up in the highland towns, so I have a home away from home.

 I recommend Peace Corps for someone who is ready for an adventure and willing to move anywhere in the world. If you want to gain experience in development and see how foreign aid works in developing countries, this job is for you! Be prepared to miss home sometimes, but usually one remembers that home will always be there to welcome you back. All PC volunteers have different reasons for serving, so talk to as many current or returned Peace Corps volunteers as possible to get a well-rounded idea of the experience.

 I was surprised how much networking would be involved with other organizations, meaning I work with more gringos (foreigners from the U.S., Europe and Japan) than I ever expected! Every day I run into foreigners from NGOs, international aid organizations (World Food Program, UNICEF), foreign government organizations (USAID, JICA), and religious organizations. Last week alone I hung out with Japanese volunteers, Spaniard university students, and fellow PC volunteers. I am certain the networks I have created in Nicaragua will help me in future job searches, should I decide to continue working within the development community.

Also, I was surprised to live in a city of 23,000 people, which includes access to a bank, internet, and a grocery store. However, a city does not guarantee constant water or electricity! We usually have water from 5pm till 8am the next day and the power can go out for days at a time.

 Everyone in Nicaragua is always curious to know my story, where I’m from and what I’m doing here. Then after my story they will almost always share with me where their relatives live in the U.S. Sometimes they think I am from Spain, which is a great compliment to me because I’m obviously getting rid of my "gringo" accent. Nicaraguans are usually very giving people and will offer you a coffee with cookies, or invite you to come with them to visit their farms. However, there are some that see foreigners as nothing but banks, who are willing to hand out money or things. Even if I explain that I am a Peace Corps volunteer, they still don’t understand why I can’t give them anything. It’s a problem that all developing countries face. I’ve never received any anti-American sentiment, which I attribute to the fact that most Nicaraguans have family members who live in the US.

 What do you miss most back in the USA?

I really miss my friends and family; going away has made me realize how much I love them and how much a support base they are for me. I know they are always there for me through phone calls, letters and emails, but nothing beats a family meal together or a cup of coffee and chatting to a good friend. If I had to say a "thing" I miss the most, it would be California wine! Syrah from Carneros in particular!

I am so thankful for the education I received in Loomis! After teaching in the Nicaraguan public school system where the teachers are paid poorly, the students don’t have textbooks, class is canceled for no reason, and where there is little opportunity for extracurricular activities (especially for girls), I can feel nothing but deep gratitude for my teachers, coaches and administrators.

 

Patience! I think I will be so much more patient and I will be much calmer when things do not go to plan. Just this weekend the bus broke down halfway through the 3 hour ride down the mountain and I had to wait 4 hours for the next bus to come. One just has to accept unfortunate occurrences and realize that it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on and it’s not worth being upset over the small things! Yes it was annoying that I had to wait for a couple extra hours, but I eventually arrived at my destination.

My future plans change every week and I haven’t quite nailed down what I’d really like to do. I finish in July 2010, so it would be great timing to start a graduate program. However, I don’t know what I want to study yet! I’ve thought about a Masters in International Development, but I’m not 100% sure. Some other ideas I’ve also considered are coming back and working in Washington, D.C., going abroad to France to study French, and the newest (and craziest) idea I have is opening a Central American Import store with a coworker who works with me at my NGO.

 

 

 

 

What are your plans after Peace Corps?

What will you take with you at the conclusion of your stay?

What is the single greatest lesson you have learned?

How have you been received by the local people?

What were you most surprised about?

Would you recommend it?

What do you do on a daily basis & what is your mission?

What are your thoughts on the program?