Ghouls & Goblins Around the Globe

Kids at the Halloween carnival organized by  Peace Corps Volunteers in southeastern Morocco

Kids enjoy the Halloween carnival organized by Peace Corps Volunteers in southeastern Morocco

Americans love Halloween, and most of us have fond childhood memories of carving jack-o’-lanterns, selecting costumes and trick-or-treating.  For Peace Corps Volunteers, this spookiest of holidays can also be a fun way to teach students, friends and neighbors about Halloween traditions and American culture.

Muhlenberg College alumna Samantha Ginsburg, who recently returned from Peace Corps service in Morocco, brought local youth to a Halloween carnival organized by her fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and community members. The carnival was held at a youth club in southeastern Morocco and more than 120 children attended.

“The kids participated in classic Halloween activities like bobbing for apples, pumpkin carving and face-painting,” Samantha explained. “The event was a huge success!”

Bobbing for apples in Morocco.

Bobbing for apples in Morocco.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, New York City resident Esteli Pacio took part in a four-week English camp where Peace Corps Volunteers used the ghostly celebration as a vocabulary lesson. The Volunteers taught local secondary school students Halloween words and had them practice telling scary stories in English.

“It was the first time most of these children had heard of or celebrated Halloween,” said Esteli, who served in Costa Rica from 2012-2014. “These activities got them excited about English and American culture.”

In Costa Rica, Peace Corps Volunteers held Halloween-themed English lessons.

In Costa Rica, Peace Corps Volunteers held Halloween-themed English lessons.

Globetrotting in the Big Apple

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Ethiopia chat with an Around the World attendee.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Ethiopia chat with an Around the World attendee.

For two days in October, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers came together in New York City – one of the most diverse cultural hubs in the nation – to learn about international career opportunities with the United Nations and share their stories of service with potential applicants exploring a new opportunity to choose their host countries.

As part of the Peace Corps’ Around the World Fair, Returned Volunteers gathered at The New School to inform students and guests about serving overseas in hundreds of countries, spanning from Armenia to Zambia. Returned Volunteers showed off their international pride by wearing customary attire from each of their host countries and displaying flags and other mementos from their time abroad.

Guests were also encouraged to try on a selection of traditional dress at the fair and pose for pictures in their outfits. Click here for a photo gallery of fashions from around the world.

Among the festivities, Associate Director of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection Helen Lowman delivered a speech to introduce guests to the agency’s mission and history. She also welcomed attendees who were recently invited to serve as Volunteers to speak to the crowd and meet their new Peace Corps family.

The next day, Returned Volunteers attended a career event to learn about working with the United Nations. At the event, Chief of Staff Laura Chambers delivered opening remarks before introducing John Ericson, Chief of the Outreach Unit in the Office of Human Resources Management for the U.N. Secretariat, who offered information about applying for career opportunities in the organization.

Later that day, U.N. representatives participated in a panel discussion to field questions about their overall roles in several agencies. Returned Volunteers also had the chance to network with U.N. staff members and ask questions during an informal session.

New Jersey Volunteer Takes Students Online in Mozambique

Veronica with her students in Mozambique

Veronica with her students in Mozambique

When Veronica Armstead-Williams, 24, left her home in Moorestown, N.J. to depart for service in Mozambique, she prepared to work as a secondary English education Volunteer at a local school. It wasn’t until she finished training that her role changed to teach another language – one that’s a bit more high-tech.

Despite training in multiple levels of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Veronica was eventually assigned by her school’s director to work as a tenth grade Information and Communications Technology teacher. With four years’ experience working at Best Buy Mobile under her belt, the Fordham University alum chose to step up to the challenge with any teaching resources that were available.

“How do you teach ICT with just a chalk board and chalk? With a lot of patience and creativity,” she explained.

Veronica learned that for her to teach about technology, she would need the technology. Her school’s computer lab was equipped with only three computers, which could accommodate about 2,500 students in a school of more than 4,000.

To furnish her classroom with more tech supplies, she wrote a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) grant to raise funding for these tools, which is currently around $200 away from its $9,786 goal. She also acquired two SmartBoard systems from the local Ministry of Education, along with a modem, wireless router and firewall that were installed by the school.

While she still seeks financial support for high-tech teaching materials, Veronica has now supplied her classroom with five working computers that have helped her teach students how to use multiple programs and software.

“I am proud to say, through practical testing, all 464 of my 11th grade students can turn on a computer, use a mouse and keyboard and open Microsoft Word to type a document,” she said. “It may not seem like much, but most of these kids hadn’t even touched a computer mouse before this year.”

Aside from her work as a secondary Education Volunteer, Veronica has also devoted her time to several secondary projects, particularly JUNTOS – a youth activist program started by Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts to promote positive behavioral change among Mozambican youth. Such change is aimed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Mozambique and reinforce the ability to identify cultural norms and unhealthy gender stereotypes through cultural expression.

Last year, the JUNTOS group offered weekly Health Education courses to five classes of 56 students each in local schools. The group is currently planning to collaborate with the local Health Center and other community organizations to build a small youth center, in which students can meet with peer educators to learn about the prevention of malaria, HIV/AIDS and early or unplanned pregnancies.

After months of educating local youth on managing technology and healthy lifestyles, Veronica said she has spent some of the most fulfilling years of her life in Mozambique and looks forward to next year’s adventures with “full anticipation.”

“No one can fit 27 months into two suitcases,” Veronica said, “And I wouldn’t have been able to even imagine my life folding out the way it has over the past 24 months.”

“It is something that takes commitment, patience and flexibility,” she added. “You have to become part of the community and with that comes creating relationships and memories that will last for a lifetime, let alone the relationships created within the Peace Corps community.”

Click here to learn more about Veronica’s PCPP grant or to make a donation.

Peace Corps Honors Bronx Resident with 2014 Franklin H. Williams Award

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet honored Bronx resident Ferney Giraldo along with five other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with the Franklin H. Williams award during a ceremony at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet with Bronx resident Ferney Giraldo at the Franklin H. Williams award ceremony.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet with Bronx resident Ferney Giraldo at the Franklin H. Williams award ceremony.

The award honors Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from ethnically diverse backgrounds who exemplify an ongoing commitment to community service and Peace Corps’ third goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

“In memory of Franklin H. Williams, we honor some of the brightest stars in our Peace Corps family who are incredible champions of our mission at a time when the Peace Corps has never mattered more,” Director Hessler-Radelet said. “These extraordinary individuals embody what the Peace Corps is all about – a lifelong commitment to service, social justice and cross-cultural understanding.”

Ferney Giraldo, who served as a Youth and Community Development Volunteer in Guatemala from 2008–10, has spent over 10 years working in youth and family advocacy and community outreach, both in the U.S. and abroad. The native of Columbia continues to work in youth development, now for the Human Resources Department of the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Bronx. He is involved with the Future Leaders and the Future Conservationists programs, mentoring and teaching underserved Bronx youth about work readiness, life skills, college preparation, and international service learning.

“Peace Corps service has taught me that communities far and near can become empowered through hope, compassion and service regardless of your background,” he explained. “Being able to use your capacity and resources as a platform to propel others to reach their highest potential is one of the greatest forms of gratitude a person can receive.”

In addition to Mr. Giraldo the following Returned Peace Corps Volunteers also received the award, selected from each of Peace Corps’ regional recruitment territories nationwide.

  • Trudy Anderson of Morganton, North Carolina (served in Morocco, 1987-1989)
  • Manuel Colon of Urbana, Illinois (served in Paraguay, 2010-2012)
  • Emily Ellison of Gallup, New Mexico (served in China, 2009-2011)
  • Alexandra Escobar of Long Beach, California (served in China, 2012-2013)
  • Hugh Williams of Atlanta, Georgia (served in Sierra Leone, 1974-1976)

Peace Corps Applications Reach 22-Year High

It’s a 70% increase! The Peace Corps recently announced that 17,336 Americans applied for two-year service positions in fiscal year 2014 – a 22-year high for the agency. In 1992, the Peace Corps received 17,438 applications, with the next highest number of applications received in 1979 at 18,159.

“This milestone reminds us that Americans today want to serve others and make a difference, and we are making great strides to reduce barriers to service and modernize the Peace Corps,” Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “There is great demand for Peace Corps Volunteers around the world, and our reforms have better positioned us to offer assignments where volunteers have the most interest in serving and are able to make the greatest contribution.”

In July 2014, the agency launched historic changes to the application and selection process, and saw an increase in applications of more than 400 percent over July 2013.  In fact, it was the highest total number of applications received in one month in more than 15 years.

Applicants can now choose their country of service and apply to specific programs through a new, shorter application that can be completed in less than one hour. The recruitment reforms cut red tape, increase transparency and reduce uncertainty to deliver a better experience for Peace Corps applicants so they can choose the path that best fits their personal and professional goals.

Since the reforms were implemented, 54 percent of all applicants have selected the option to serve anywhere they’re needed, and 49 percent have selected the option to serve in any of Peace Corps’ six work sectors.