Peace Corps Announces New Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Partnership with The College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15, 2014 – The Peace Corps is proud to announce the launch of a new Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program in partnership with the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business. The new program will provide graduate school scholarships to returned Peace Corps volunteers pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) while concurrently completing a degree-related internship in an underserved American community.

“The Peace Corps isexcited to extend this opportunity to returned volunteers in partnership with the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business to support continued public service and education,” Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “The Coverdell Fellows Program gives returned volunteers the chance to build on their classroom experience by sharing their unique knowledge and skills with local organizations in need.”

This is the College of William and Mary’s first such partnership with the Peace Corps. Selected Coverdell Fellows will work full-time toward a MBA and will receive financial aid of at least 50 percent tuition per year. This could range from $15,449 to $20,667 per year depending upon whether a student has in-state or out-of-state status.

“With the skills learned during their volunteer experiences combined with our superb educational program, we are confident that our future Coverdell Fellows will not only make meaningful contributions to the lives of underserved members of our community during their time in our MBA program, but they will make even larger contributions to society after graduation,” said Amanda Barth, Director of MBA Admissions for the Mason School of Business.

Internships in underserved communities are an integral part of each fellow’s degree. By sharing their Peace Corps experience and global perspective with the communities they serve here in the United States, returned volunteers are supporting the Peace Corps’ Third Goal commitment to strengthen Americans’ understanding of the world and its people. Professional placements at nonprofits and government organizations also help students further develop their skills. Coverdell Fellows MBA candidates would intern for organizations such as Williamsburg Housing Partnerships, Inc., Williamsburg Health Foundation and Literacy for Life.

As the second-oldest college in the United States and educational home to many American leaders, the College of William & Mary is revered as the “alma mater of a nation.” Its Mason School of Business embraces the entrepreneurial spirit that built the country atop a foundation of business, trade, and economics. Its revolutionary approach to business education with its personalized, experiential model invites energetic thinkers with a will to lead in creating a strong sustainable economy and thriving society.

The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program began in 1985 at Teachers College, Columbia University and now includes more than 80 university partners in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The program is specifically reserved for students who have already completed their Peace Corps service abroad. For more information, visit www.peacecorps.gov/fellows.

To learn more about the Coverdell Fellows Program at The College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business contact: Dr. Scott McCoy, Scott.McCoy@Mason.wm.edu.

Q&A with a HIV-Prevention Volunteer in Ecuador

April 14, 2014 - Chelsea Rienks, 25, of Damascus, Md., has been working as a HIV-prevention volunteer in Ecuador since May 2012. She works at a large hospital in Guayaquil, where she counsels HIV-positive patients who are pregnant about the dangers of mother-to-child transmission. Rienks also is working to teach HIV-positive patients about nutrition, their rights, and treatment adherence. She has organized various workshops and runs frequently. Rienks graduated with a degree in international studies from The Ohio State University in 2011. Read more about her service below:

Q: How would you describe your Peace Corps post?

Chelsea Rienks in Ecuador.

Chelsea Rienks in Ecuador.

A: Guayaquil, Ecuador is a large coastal city of about 3 million people. Similar to many large Latin American cities, Guayaquil is a lively and bustling city attracting people from all over Ecuador and as well as other parts of Latin America. I work with Fundación VIHDA, a group of citizens, students, business leaders, family members and doctors who are working to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDS. The office is located in a large hospital, which has one of the highest birth rates in South America-averaging more than 100 births per day. My service is alongside a team of eight people all dedicated to HIV prevention and testing both here in Guayaquil and all parts of Ecuador.

Q: How would you describe your Peace Corps projects?

A: My primary project consists mostly of vertical transmission prevention of HIV. I assist with the counseling of patients living with HIV during and after their pregnancy in an attempt to eliminate cases of vertical transmission (the transmission of HIV from mothers to newborns). The program also serves patients, who prior to the birth of their children, were unaware of their HIV diagnosis. After birth, all newborns are treated to ensure they have not contracted HIV from their mothers.

Chelsea4Aside from prevention, I host workshops at Fundación VIHDA for people living with HIV pertaining to nutrition, human rights, adherence to treatment, and overall knowledge about HIV. Outside of the office, I have collaborated with other Peace Corps Volunteers, leading The HIV Tour Project – a series of open houses designed to bring information about HIV and HIV testing to rural parts of Ecuador. The project successfully reached an extensive segment of the population that otherwise may have been excluded from this information and these services.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

A: The largest challenge I have faced during my service has been dealing with the level of unwanted attention foreigners, particularly women, receive here in Guayaquil. Upon arriving in Guayaquil, the inability to walk down the street without being verbally attacked was an issue and proceeded to become a continual point for frustration for me. But, from this I have learned that there are many situations that exist that are completely out of one’s control. With the support of staff and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, I have learned to accept this as a part of the culture and ignore these actions as best as possible.

Q: How have you incorporated your areas of interest and hobbies into your Peace Corps service?

Chelsea1A: I have been able to incorporate my interest in yoga into my service by organizing and hosting yoga workshops at Fundación VIHDA.  I have also been fortunate in being able to bring my interest in running here by participating in monthly races both here in the city and around Ecuador. Not only is it fun and stress relieving, it has also helped me integrate into my community by forming friendships with fellow runners here in Peace Corps and Ecuador.

Q: How has your service changed you?

A: My service has changed me in many ways. First and foremost, I believe I am a much calmer person than I was prior to Peace Corps. I now have a better ability of putting things into perspective than I did prior to my services, which I would say is a benefit for moving forward with my life. I will forever be indebted to the kindness that the local people have shown me for the last two years and would consider that to be the most memorable part of my service.

Q: What have you learned from living and working in another culture?

A: Living here in Guayaquil has taught me many things. Mostly, I have learned the value to true, not forced patience. The ability to be patient by choice and not out of necessity is truly a valuable skill, not just here in Ecuador, but in any country or situation.

Q: What advice would you give to a potential Peace Corps applicant?

Chelsea2A: To potential Peace Corps applicants I would suggest being prepared for anything and coming into your service without expectations – but with the knowledge of what you ultimately want to gain from this experience: The ability to be flexible, but to be true to yourself.

Arlington, Va. Resident Applies to Serve

Ben Giobbi, 24, of Arlington, Va. applied to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. He recently came to a Peace Corps event at Penn Social and was thrilled to meet with other applicants, returned volunteers and soon-to-be volunteers. Here’s what he had to say about leaving the country for service: “My dad always wanted to go into Peace Corps but never got a chance. He inspired me to apply.”

What will Giobbi miss about the United StatesHang out with PC at Penn Social on March 28, 2014 - Ben Giobbi?

“I’m going to miss having a ‘normal’ bathroom and those basic amenities,” Giobbi said. “I don’t have a car so I won’t miss that.”

 

Delaware Resident, 72-Years-Young, Applies to Serve

Bill Shewbrooks, 72, of Dover, Del., recently came to a Peace Corps event at Penn Social in Washington, D.C. He applied and is waiting to see where he might be assigned! Here’s what he had to say about his decision to apply and serve later in life:

Hang out with PC at Penn Social on March 28, 2014 - Bill Shewbrooks

Bill Shewbrooks

“This is my time!” Shewbrooks said. “I’m too hyper to sit at home and watch TV – so, I thought I should start volunteering.”

Frederick, Md. Couple Prepares for Ecuador

Hang out with PC at Penn Social on March 28, 2014 - Jeff and Marguerite WilsonMarguerite and Jeff Wilson of Frederick, Md., recently came to a Peace Corps event at Penn Social in Washington, D.C. They will be departing for Peace Corps/Ecuador in May! Wish them luck as youth and community development volunteers. Here’s what they had to say about their decision to serve as Peace Corps volunteers:

“I always wanted to join Peace Corps since Kennedy started it!” said Marguerite Wilson, who will leave for Peace Corps in Ecuador with her husband Jeff. “Today was my last day of work after 41 years.”

“She [Marguerite] infected me to join,” Jeff Wilson. “I don’t use the word ‘retire’ because we’re going to be working for the next two years. Marguerite keeps saying we’re retiring but I have to keep reminding her that we’re not really!”

Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua Create SMS-Based Health Hotline

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014To empower Nicaraguans to lead healthier, safer lives, returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Spigel of Baltimore, Md., and current Peace Corps volunteer Nishant Kishore of Glen Allen, Va., together with fellow volunteers and community members, created a text-message based health hotline called ChatSalud to anonymously share accurate health information and connect Nicaraguans to local health resources.

Nicaraguan youth group ready for ChatSalud 2“In the small community where I was living and working, youth often faced barriers when accessing sexual and reproductive health information,” said Spigel. “In doing our work as Peace Corps volunteers, we found that people want information about sexual and reproductive health, but they want a way to get it anonymously.”

An unwillingness to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaragua has led to a widespread lack of reliable information for young people and high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The topic is considered taboo, and as a result, about one in every four adolescent girls in Nicaragua will become pregnant before they turn 18, and only about 60 percent of the rural population engages in family planning.

Testing out ChatSaluds SMS content with a focus group in NicaraguaSpigel and her colleagues found that while less than 10 percent of households in Nicaragua had access to the Internet, nearly 90 percent of the population had access to a cell phone. The volunteers’ mobile solution is filling an important gap by making sexual and reproductive health information accessible in a reliable and confidential way that resonates with Nicaraguan youth.

The free text hotline will be the first of its kind in the country and will work to break down the stigma associated with talking about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaraguan culture. The ChatSalud team has brought together significant resources and local organizations, including the Nicaraguan government, to get the program off the ground. With the help of local telecommunications companies, the text message service will be completely free for users.

“ChatSalud is showing that Peace Corps volunteers can mobilize coordinated efforts between partners at the grassroots and national levels,” Spigel said. Youth from the program’s pilot community in rural Northern Nicaragua are already proving the impact of the project, and in the months ahead, ChatSalud hopes to expand across the country.

Texting, even in rural Nicaragua.  -ChatSaludIn honor of World Health Day, the Peace Corps celebrates the work of volunteers around the world to improve global health in collaboration with the countries and communities they serve. World Health Day is celebrated annually on April 7 to commemorate the establishment of the World Health Organization in 1948 and bring worldwide attention to public health issues.

“Really, this is what the modern Peace Corps is all about,” Spigel said. “With ChatSalud, we identified a problem at the grassroots level and had the flexibility, perseverance and technological know-how to innovate a solution.”

Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, clinics and non-governmental organizations to expand health education and promote social and behavioral change in public health, hygiene, water sanitation, and HIV/AIDS. Health volunteers work in both formal and informal settings, targeting those most affected by specific health challenges.

About Peace Corps/Nicaragua:  There are currently 172 volunteers in Nicaragua working in the areas of community economic development, environment, health and education. During their service in Nicaragua, volunteers learn to speak the local language of Spanish. More than 2,295 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Nicaragua since the program was established in 1968. 

Advice from the Field: Q&A with Brett Brawerman, a PCV in Moldova

April 4, 2014 - Brett Brawerman, 23, of Annapolis, Md., has been living and working in Moldova as a Health Volunteer since June 2012. Brett started Peace Corps service only two weeks after he graduated from Elon University in North Carolina! Here’s what he has to say about life in Moldova, how Peace Corps has changed him and why you too should become a Peace Corps Volunteer.

How have you incorporated your interests into your Peace Corps service? While I may have arrived in country only 2.5 weeks after my College graduation, I was very active during my days in University. I created and ran an after school mentoring program for boys as well as serving as the Director of Personal Training for Elon University’s Campus Recreation program. Luckily, these passions have translated well to my service as I have been able to form a High School basketball team and often run afternoon fitness classes in addition to including such topics in my Health Education curriculum.

Brett with some of his students in Moldova.

Brett with some of his students in Moldova.

How did you hear about the Peace Corps? Why did you decide to apply?  I had always known about the Peace Corps, but honestly never gave it much thought. The summer before my senior year of college, a friend had mentioned she was applying and that since service and youth development had played such a major role in my life I thought that I too should apply. The rest is history!

How would you describe your Peace Corps village and Moldovans to someone who may have never visited the country? I am enamored with my village, for too many reasons to list here. It is a relatively large village (6,000 pop.) located about an hour from the Capital of Chisinau, toward the Romania border. It is very eclectic, as far as communities in Moldova go, as we are represented by several religions and account for several political figures in the country. The decorated land is saturated with kind, incredibly resourceful people who have been born and raised in the village.

Brett (left) with students.

Brett (left) with students.

How would you describe your Peace Corps projects? I teach Health Education to grades 4-8 at the village school. May this not be understated: I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would be a teacher, especially not one that educates in a foreign language. Yet somehow, it’s been the most amazing position I’ve ever held. Every day I see moments of genius, layers of development, and reach levels of enlightenment. Together with my wonderful students and my equally as incredible Moldovan counterparts, we have built a small park for village recreation, we have run community-wide health campaigns focused on healthy eating and substance abuse, and we have created memories that could produce enough side-splitting laughs to fill a comedy club.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? My biggest challenge was my personal doubts and letting go of cemented ways of thinking. My first year was difficult as the language was coming slowly and I refused to lift myself away from the perception I had about the way the world worked. However, when I was able to accept that my way of living didn’t have to be the way all lived; my eyes were opened to the crazy beautiful prospect of integration. I learned to laugh when scheduled buses never showed up; I learned to cherish the parties that popped up in the middle of work meetings; I learned to smile at what I used to consider an inconvenience. My second year I formed an ‘Emerging Leaders Program’ filled with the erudite students I had grown to love. Together we learned how to manage village wide fundraisers, lead by example, and think outside the box. I would have never had the pleasure had I not persevered through that first year.

What advice would you give to a potential Peace Corps applicant? I have learned more about myself and the way the world works in my 18 months of service, thus far, than the 21 years leading up to it. Peace Corps will no doubt challenge your values and your self-commitment to just about everything, but you will reflect in a way you never thought possible. When you hear ‘this is the toughest job you’ll ever love’ just know that means the beauty of the world will be illuminated in a loquacious light, it just takes a little acclimation to find it. Don’t settle for that sub-conscious thought that says you can’t do it, because if you are thinking about it, you are already in the minority. Getting on the plane is the hardest part, and after that you will enjoy the electric life-changing ride.