Gaining a new lens
January 23, 2014 5 Comments
One of the perks of joining the Peace Corps is the camaraderie that each volunteer finds. April Muniz (’90) calls it “the ultimate bonding experience.” As a former Peace Corps volunteer herself, April has helped us get to know several other PCs, including Lyzz Ogunwo(’08), Kourtney Rusow (’08) — and today Amanda Cassiday(’08).
Amanda graduated from James Madison University in 2008 with a double major in political science and philosophy and religion. She volunteered with community health development in Burkina Faso in Western Africa and with small and medium enterprise development in Senegal.
From an interview that April did last year with Amanda — now a RPCV, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer — we learn about Amanda’s PC experience and how it has helped her to change her perspective on life and the world…..
What motivated you to join the Peace Corps after graduation? “As a double major in Political Science and Philosophy I spent a great deal of time thinking about global issues, development, and the meaning of life — of reason, truth and ethics. The classes I took were incredibly helpful to my intellectual development, but I felt that there was a void in my development. I needed experience! I had read so much about the struggle of developing nations, and I had yet to really understand it. I wanted live it and I wanted to help in whatever way I could. I remember going to a Peace Corps info session my freshman year and being terrified at the thought of living in a village for two years. By my senior year, it was all I wanted to do.”
Where have you served and at kind of work have you been involved with in the Peace Corps? “From 2008 to 2010, I started as a health volunteer in rural Burkina Faso [in Western Africa] where I conducted educational activities and projects predominately with women and children with a focus on malnutrition, malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention. By collaborating with community members, health agents and village leaders, I saw an increase in the frequency and effectiveness of health promotion and disease prevention activities, including community health education in hygiene, malaria, sexually transmitted diseases and malnutrition. Additionally, I helped organize a group of women in a savings and credit group. This inspired me to extend my Peace Corps service for a third year in Dakar, Senegal, with the West Africa Trade Hub, a USAID-funded project that serves to help West African entrepreneurs export abroad. I worked primarily in the handicraft sector, helping local artisans develop their businesses and exposing them to international buyers.”
What do you consider your most important accomplishment during your service? “I think my major accomplishment was the friendships I formed in the village (Takaledougou, Burkina Faso). I learned French, Dioula, and a little Toussian (both native languages to the region where I lived). Being from dramatically different parts of the world with starkly different languages and cultures, we managed to overcome those differences and be true supports to one another. Those relationships are now important influences on my life, particularly an 18-year-old girl who I now consider a best friend, as we supported each other through hardships and successes. I learned about my community, and they learned about me.”
What are you doing now? “After my stint with entrepreneurs in Senegal, I developed a fascination and passion for business and the value it brings to individuals, families, communities and the globe. I have completed my first year at the George Washington University’s School of Business to pursue an MBA in International Business, which has so far been a phenomenal learning experience. I have helped coordinate a group of grad students to go to Ghana to collaborate with entrepreneurs on their businesses. I have been a part of a consulting group that helped a supplier diversity NGO expand its network. I have travelled to India to partner with a leading automotive manufacturer in the country to improve the efficiency of their supply chain. This summer, I am working at Johnson & Johnson, developing strategies to engage global stakeholders to expand access to medicine for rare and neglected diseases (many of which I witnessed in Burkina Faso and Senegal). While these opportunities have most certainly broadened my perspectives and competencies, I have always carried my Peace Corps experiences with me, and use the lessons I’ve gained — lessons of humility, patience and resourcefulness — as a lens for approaching new situations and challenges.”