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.

Peace Corps and Wheelock College Announces New Master’s International Partnership

The Peace Corps and Wheelock College in Boston are partnering on a new Master’s International program, one that will enable passionate, idealistic people to earn a Master of Science in Integrated Elementary and Special Education while also fulfilling their Peace Corps service.

Since 2010, Wheelock has offered an M.S. in Educational Studies which allows for several areas of specialization but without licensure working with children, youth, and families. Currently there are three Wheelock Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) students serving in Mongolia, Costa Rica, and Tonga.

Students in Peace Corps Master’s International programs typically finish one year of graduate school in the U.S. before earning additional academic credit as a Peace Corps Volunteer abroad. Following Peace Corps service, students in the new Integrated Elementary and Special Education program will return to complete additional courses and requirements, including a one-year paid internship in an integrated elementary education classroom in Massachusetts. Like their peers in the Educational Studies program, at the end of their studies, students will present a portfolio integrating what they’ve learned in Boston with what they learned in the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps has Master’s International program partnerships with more than 80 leading academic institutions nationwide that offer more than 150 degree programs. To learn more, visit www.peacecorps.gov/masters.

Founded in 1888 and located in Boston, Wheelock College has known that improving the lives of children and families isn’t always easy – but it’s always worth it. For more information, visit www.wheelock.edu.

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: http://www.peacecorps.gov/media/forpress/press/2426/