Northeast Bloggers Bring the World Home

Erika Hooker

Peace Corps Volunteer Erika Hooker, a Blog it Home winner, in her host community.

Once upon a time, Peace Corps service meant waiting weeks to receive letters and packages from family and friends back home. That’s no longer the case for most Volunteers; in 2013, more than 70 percent reported access to Internet connectivity.

To mark this sweeping change in the service experience, Peace Corps launched the Blog It Home contest to support Peace Corps’ third goal of promoting a better understanding among Americans of other people and cultures around the world.

In September, nine winning bloggers will head to Washington, D.C., to present their blogs and talk about using technology to bring the world home. Residents of the Northeast are well represented in the group:

  • Cornell University alumna Erika Hooker of Ithaca N.Y., is 23 years old and an Agriculture Volunteer in Senegal.
  • 26 year old Julia Lingham of Holliston, Mass., is a graduate of Boston University and a primary teacher trainer in Uganda.
  • Anna Nathanson, 24, of Teaneck, N.J., is an English Volunteer in Cameroon.

“Cameroon is a beautiful country that most Americans will never have the opportunity to visit, and I get to live here for two years,” says Anna, who has been living in Cameroon since 2013. “With my blog, I try to take the reader to Cameroon with me. I try to tell you stories or show you pictures of what me and the other residents of my town experience day to day.”

The nine winning bloggers were selected among more than 350 Peace Corps Volunteers from 60 countries for their focus on using their blogs to increase cross-cultural understanding. The entries were narrowed down to 20 finalists who were then voted on by the American public through Peace Corps’ Facebook page. You can link to all the winning blogs here:

A Personal Peace Corps Mission: Serve & Inspire

“I hope to inspire students and young women to join the Peace Corps and learn about other cultures of the world.”

With those words, Tamara Buchanan left for Botswana this summer to begin training as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The 30 year old Bloomfield resident views her Peace Corps Service as an opportunity to serve her country. “I hope to just work hard at my role as a volunteer and become a great asset and friend to those in my community,” she stated. “Professionally, I plan on joining the Foreign Service and this will be great training!”

Tamara, who previously worked for Dana Farber Cancer Institute, is a graduate of Bloomfield High and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Bloomfield, Conn. She attended Northeastern University where she earned a Bachelor’s degree and earned a Master of Arts in Women’s Health from Suffolk University in 2011.

Tamara joins 116 Connecticut residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 3,263 Connecticut residents have served in the Peace Corps since its establishment in 1961.

 There are currently 156 Volunteers in Botswana working in the areas of health, community economic development and education. During their service in Botswana, Volunteers learn to speak the local languages, including Setswana and Ikalanga.

Syracuse University Alumna Organizes Girls Soccer Tournament in Benin

This past month, Volunteer Kelly Baug, of Hamlin, NY, worked with her community in Benin to organize a national girls’ soccer tournament.  More than than eight secondary school teams competed in the tournament. A portion of the funds for the project were raised through the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP), a program that helps support Peace Corps Volunteer community projects worldwide

Kelly, a Syracuse University alumna, called the tournament  “…an exceptional platform for the girls to display all their hard work and strengthen the ideals of discipline, leadership and confidence that participation on a sports team fosters.”

The sports project promoted gender development in Benin and games were played over the course of several days in Parakou, one of the largest cities in Benin. Each night, the girls were educated about women’s empowerment and healthy life choices, and they watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

Soccer events tend to be enthusiastically supported by communities and are extremely rewarding, Kelly explained. She added that “… soccer addresses so many key issues all at once – gender inequality in the school setting, traditional gender roles that can be restricting, confidence, and discipline – with something that is both fun and challenging.”

Girls celebrate at the soccer tournament in Benin.

Girls celebrate at the soccer tournament in Benin.

The success of this event promoted gender equality and strengthened important characteristics within these girls through teamwork and sports participation. Kelly has also empowered girls in Benin through organizing Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Parakou, Benin.

Peace Corps Announces Historic Changes to Application and Selection Process

Peace Corps also Releases New Public Service Announcement from President Obama Calling on Americans to Serve

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet has announced sweeping changes to the agency’s application process that will make applying to the Peace Corps simpler, faster and more personalized than ever before. Under this new recruitment initiative, applicants will now be able to choose their country of service and apply to specific programs, and do so through a new, shorter application. As part of today’s announcement, Peace Corps also released a new video from President Obama calling on Americans to serve. It can be viewed here.

“Today our world is smaller and more interconnected than ever before,” said President Obama in the new public service announcement. “And it presents us with an extraordinary opportunity: to connect with people in some of the most remote corners of the globe and show them that America is paying attention, that we care, and that we’re here to help. That’s what the Peace Corps is all about.”

“More than 50 years after its founding, the Peace Corps is revitalizing its recruitment and outreach to field a volunteer force that represents the best and brightest the country has to offer,” Director Hessler-Radelet (RPCV Western Samoa 1981-83) said. “A modernized, flexible application and placement system will help Peace Corps recruit Americans who are not just interested in imagining a better world, but rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it.”

The key recruitment reforms include:

  • Peace Corps applicants can now choose the programs and countries they want to apply to – selecting the path that best fits their personal and professional goals. Applicants can apply to between one and three specific programs at a time, or they can choose to apply for service wherever they are needed most. The Peace Corps website now lists all open programs by country, work area and departure date, so applicants can browse service opportunities.  
  • A new, shorter application is now available on the Peace Corps website that can be completed in less than one hour. What used to be more than 60 printed pages that took more than eight hours to complete is now a short online application that focuses solely but rigorously on the most relevant information to help the agency select the best candidates.
  • Each open Peace Corps position now has clearly identified Apply By and Know By deadlines, so applicants know when they can expect to receive an invitation to serve. If they apply on time, they’ll know if they were selected on time – just like applying to college or a job. These deadlines give applicants more certainty than ever and help them plan for the future.

“With the tools, technologies and opportunities of the 21st century, the Peace Corps is giving Americans of all backgrounds the freedom to re-imagine their future and redefine their mark on the world,” Hessler-Radelet said. “I believe these changes will help re-ignite the passion of Peace Corps’ early days and that more Americans will seize the opportunity to make a difference across the world and here at home.”

Trio Bound for South Africa

Joshua Murkens

Joshua Murkens

While we prepare to set off fireworks in celebration of Independence Day, three Northeast residents are packing for Peace Corps service! Joshua Murkens, Kelsey Gaus, and Christopher Harris are packing for South Africa, where they will spend three months in training and two years serving local communities as they teach secondary English Education.

Joshua Murkens, 23, of Meadville, Pennsylvania is a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Following graduation, Joshua worked as a substitute teacher which has helped prepare him for his service. He hopes to “improve my own teaching skills, and pass on what I have learned to help others.”

Kelsey Gaus

Kelsey Gaus

Kelsey Gaus, 24, of Audubon Pennsylvania, will teach conversational English to her students and develop teaching materials with local teachers. The 2010 university graduate believes that college prepared her for service in the Peace Corps by providing international experience and background in English Education. Her minor in anthropology will also prove helpful as she learns local culture and is integrated into her community.

Christopher Harris
Christopher Harris

Christopher Harris, 22, of Hillsborough, New Jersey, received his degree in Philosophy from Rider University just this year. His studies in philosophy “fostered a concern for worldly affairs and issues,” said Christopher. He has begun his growth as a global citizen by already working as an English Teacher in Thailand as well.

As secondary English education teachers, these three soon-to-be Volunteers will work with students and help them flourish. “I would like to help the students to develop an appreciation for education,” said Christopher.

We wish all three the best of luck as they make a difference overseas!