440 Angelinas

UnknownTo have a friend, you have to be a friend.

I think that’s what President John F. Kennedy was thinking — on a macro level, of course — when he stroked the executive order that created the United States Peace Corps back in 1961. Friendship, whether on a personal or global scale, is a powerful thing. He must have hoped that by sending young, eager and energetic Americans out into the world, he might change it for the better. Today — 52 years and 210,000 Americans later — Peace Corps volunteers are still making friends and helping in 139 countries. That’s a lot of friendships

Last week a press release crossed my desk telling me about Angelina Loverde (’11) who left last month to begin a 27-month stint in China. Along with 146 other Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in China, Angelina will be learning Mandarin Chinese and getting acclimated to the culture during the next few months while living with a host family. Then she’ll begin teaching English to university students. The 2011 graduate in International Relations with a minor in Asian studies was a member of the International Learning Community while she was a student at JMU. She spent her childhood in Thailand where her father — a Peace Corps volunteer himself then — met her mother. Angelina graduated from the American School in Switzerland.

In addition to her international experience, Angelina has also interned or worked in the office of Senator Dick Durbin, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy and the White House.

The press release about Angelina also noted: “More than 440 JMU graduates have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.”

I wondered about those other “Angelinas” who decided to take two years out of their lives to live far away from home — often in less than comfortable conditions to make friends for the U.S.

Back in 1967, Angelina’s counterpart would have been Louise Schullery Cox (’67). In a story in Montpelier, the precursor to Madison magazine, I learned that Louise grew so close to a friend in Sierra Leone, her host country, that the woman named her infant after her. Obviously, Louise, the elementary education graduate of Madison College, became a friend to the mother of Louise of Sierra Leone.

More recently, “Angelina” was Michael Waidmann (’10). In September 2010, Michael traveled as a business volunteer to Ethiopia. The College of Business graduate with a degree in marketing helped rebuild nine classrooms in a local school. According to a story on the Peace Corps website about Michael, more than 1,500 elementary-age students share only 11 classrooms “made primarily of mud and eucalyptus branches.”

Quoted in the story, Michael said: “In a country where education is the only means to a better life, the reality of the primary school is heartbreaking….By adding cement flooring, a brick exterior, and one extra classroom, the spread of disease will be drastically reduced, rats will be kept outside, flooding will be prevented, and the classroom held under a tree can move to a proper school environment.”

Another JMU “Angelina” is James Rodriguez. Born to parents who immigrated from El Salvador, James graduated from JMU with a degree in International Affairs and Spanish. He spent his two years in Drohobych, Ukraine where he “taught English to tenth and eleventh grade students,” according to the Peace Corps website.

There are many more. Hundreds more, in fact. Like Meme McKee (’99) who served in Nicaragua and Erica Bleeg (’96), a JMU faculty member, who served in Benin.

All giving two years to form lasting friendships and change lives. In our JMU vernacular, that’s “being the change,” living a meaningful life and putting it on the line with time and talents to make a difference. Making friends by being friends — like Angelina, Louise, Michael, James, Meme and Erica.

What is perhaps most encouraging, though, is that since 1961 — when the Peace Corps had few counterparts — humanitarian NGOs and international help-giving organizations have proliferated, and hundreds more JMU graduates have served there as well, which means that along with the 44o Peace Corps “Angelinas,” there are hundreds more eager JMU friends all trying to change the world.

One friend at a time.

We’d love to hear from more JMU Peace Corps “Angelinas.” If you were one or know one, let us know in a comment or an email to Bethechange@jmu.edu

Developing Senegal

Lyzz Ogunwo ('08)(center) and some of her Sengalese friends

Lyzz Ogunwo (’08) (center) and some of her Sengalese friends

The American Peace Corps is an amazing network of people who give their time and talents to change the world in many ways. After publishing a story about a new volunteer Angelique Loverde (’11), we heard from April Muniz (’90) about her Peace Corps experience. It was April’s email that led to more and more JMU Peace Corps people. Over the next few months, we’ll be telling their stories — and populating the map you’ll find at the end of today’s post . Can you find the gold JMU star? (We’ll be adding more!)

Today’s post by April includes an interview with Lyzz Ogunwo (’08).

Finding a deeper understanding

by April Muniz (’90)

Sharing your Peace Corps service with other volunteers is the ultimate bonding experience.  Although we each were assigned to our own posts, often a great distance from one another, we made an effort to meet up periodically to help with group projects and to catch up and socialize. I was happy to find three other JMU graduates among the 200+ Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Senegal with me, Elizabeth “Lyzz” Ogunwo, Kourtney Rusow, and Amanda Cassiday. They had attended JMU much more recently than me (all are from the class of 2008) but we shared a love of the ‘Burg and a common path. We are all now Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) living back in the states. I spent the 2012-13 academic year working as the Peace Corps Campus Recruiter at the University of Virginia and am now working full-time as a Community Liaison/Event Coordinator for Harvest Moon Catering in Charlottesville and am heading up the company’s green initiative and sustainability efforts. I also serve on the advisory board of Better World Better, Charlottesville’s favorite resource for green living.

I was curious about my fellow-Dukes’ Peace Corps experiences and wondered what they are doing now, so I asked them:

First up, Lyzz Ogynwo, (’08) who served the Peace Corps in Senegal from 2010-12 working with community economic development.

What were some of the reasons you decided to join the Peace Corps?

LO: Having majored in International Affairs, with an Africa Concentration at JMU, I aspired to have a deeper understanding of international development on the ground. Ultimately, I wanted to use my talents and strengths to help catalyze progressive change in the community I would be placed in, while helping that community leverage its own strengths. My hope was, and is still, to be a part of sustainable development that will benefit Senegal for years to come.

Lyzz Ogunwo 1Where did you serve and what was the main focus of your work?

 LO: My Peace Corps community was located in Guéoul in the northwestern region of the country. As a business volunteer from August 2010 to August 2012, I developed a waste management system that had a compost profitability component. I also helped the village infomatique (computer learning center) to become profitable through business trainings in marketing and computer classes. Additionally, I helped develop an IT Training University in my town, mentored 75 girls from the lowest income homes through a weekly girl’s empowerment club, and taught English.

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, what type of work were you involved in? 

LO: Prior to Peace Corps, I was a Virginia Field Organizer for the Barack Obama Campaign in 2008 as well as an associate working with senior staff in the White House Executive Office of the President in 2009 where I helped select political appointees to the administration. After that, from 2009 to 2010, I was appointed Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Energy at the Department of Energy.

What are you doing now?

LO:  After working on the president’s re-election campaign and for the inaugural committee, I moved to New York to work at Living Cities Inc. on poverty-reduction initiatives in our major U.S. cities. Living Cities harnesses the collective power of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions that scales new approaches for creating opportunities for low income people and improving the cities where they live. As a member of the staff, we work to prepare people for 21st century employment opportunities; to ensure cities enable and connect people to those opportunities; and to find sufficient opportunities that exist to grow income and reduce income inequality in cities.

Within the next year, I plan to return to my Peace Corps site to help establish a non-profit bakery managed and run by the women leaders I worked with during my time abroad.

World Map Purple

Where in the world?

Where in the world is JMU Peace Corps change?

Where in the world is JMU Peace Corps change?

I’ve learned a few things about James Madison University people who are involved in the American Peace Corps. They meet needs — and they are as enthusiastic and as connected as any group I’ve ever seen. After posting one story about Peace Corps volunteer Angelina Loverde (’11), I heard from April Muniz (’90) about her experience in Senegal. Then April told us about several other JMU volunteers — and followed up by sending information on what they were doing. That led to even more discoveries, including Kelly McCormack (’05) who is a public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Office.  As I dug deeper into the JMU’s many Peace Corps connections, I found more and more stories.

As a result, I’ve been in touch with more JMU Peace Corps alumni and with current and future volunteers. What began as one story quickly snowballed into an avalanche of life changing stories about experiences involving the Peace Corps.

And the stories come from all over the world. Literally.

Curious, I decided to grab a world map and plot all the places that JMU people have served with the Peace Corps. It was a “wow” moment.  The variety of locations is pretty amazing.

Over the next few months, I’ll periodically feature one of our JMU Peace Corps people. And as we do, we’ll populate the map you see here. Follow along to see just where in the world JMU and the Peace Corps is “Being the Change.”

And if those of you located near campus are intrigued and would like to learn more, several upcoming opportunities will let you check out the Peace Corps. Kelly McCormack (’05) will be on campus Mon., Sept. 30, along with recruiter Molly Douglas. They will return several more times throughout the next two months. Below is the fall schedule for the Peace Corps visits to campus and links to the specific event where you can get further information, ask questions, or set up individual appointments.

Mon., Sept. 30, 2013, 12-4 p.m., http://www.peacecorps.gov/meet/events/6325/
Career Conference, Festival Conference and Student Center

Tues., Oct. 1, 2013, 4-5 p.m., Festival Conference and Student Center, Room 3
http://www.peacecorps.gov/meet/events/5911/

Tues., Nov. 5, 2013, 12-1 p.m., Festival Conference and Student Center, Allegheny Room
http://www.peacecorps.gov/meet/events/6324/

Tues., Nov. 5, 2013, 1-4 p.m., Office hours, Festival Conference and Student Center, Allegheny Room
http://www.peacecorps.gov/meet/events/6323/

Thanks to JMU graphic designer Lynda Ramsey for her help in creating this JMU Peace Corps map.

Changing course

April Muniz with one of her work partners, Mamadou Dioum, at an Artisan Fair in Dakar

April Muniz with one of her work partners, Mamadou Dioum, at an Artisan Fair in Dakar

Joining the Peace Corps in midlife is not easy to do, but April Muniz (’90) has no regrets. After a recent post here on Dukes in the Peace Corps, April sent us her story — a look at her experience as a volunteer in community economic development in Senegal — and it’s well worth reading. April, who studied psychology and dance at JMU, writes of her service: “It pulled me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to become someone that I had aspired to be. I had traveled quite a bit in my past, but the Peace Corps provided me with an opportunity like no other to live in and truly become part another culture.”

Changing course

By April Muniz (’90)

I graduated from JMU in 1990 and had every intention of attending my 20-year reunion in the fall of 2010.  Instead, I found myself over 4,000 miles away living with a host family in a West African village training to become a Peace Corps volunteer.

My godmother and her husband joined the Peace Corps in the early 70’s and were sent to Kenya as Health and Water/Sanitation volunteers. At the time, the Peace Corps allowed couples to bring their children with them, so my Godmother and her daughters become our international pen pals. They regularly corresponded with my family through letters, opening my eyes to the world around me. Their experience planted a desire in me to learn about other cultures, speak other languages, and share my knowledge and experience with people who could benefit from them. After a 20-year career, it’s natural to pause to reflect on life, and when I did, the little voice in my head said: “It’s never too late to change your course….do what you’ve always wanted to do…be who you’ve always wanted to be.” I listened to that voice, completed my Peace Corps application, and a year later I was stepping off a plane in Dakar, Senegal, about to embark on an exciting new chapter in my life.

After the 8-hour direct flight from Dulles International in Virginia and a 2-hour drive to our training facility in Thiès, Senegal, my 62 fellow trainees and I arrived at an old French army post that had been bequeathed to the Peace Corps by the Senegalese government soon after their independence from France in 1960. There we attended our pre-service training, a 10-week long, intense program that required we live with Senegalese host families while learning local languages and culture. I was grouped with three other trainees and sent to live in Tivaouane, a Muslim pilgrimage site about a half hour north of our training facility. As a business volunteer, it was necessary to speak French, the country’s official language, at an intermediate level so my group spent a month getting our language skills up to speed before moving on to the more prevalently spoken Wolof. Peace Corps also provided technical training related to our sectors (Community Economic Development, Agriculture, and Forestry) as well as training that would help us survive in this new foreign land: safety and security, medical and first aid, traditional customs, religious beliefs, food, and emotional health.  There was a lot packed into these first two-and-a-half months to prepare us for living on our own out in the communities where we would ultimately be assigned.

April Muniz with a local Senegalese volunteer, Lamine Ba, ripping paper for theie Paper Briquette project in Diourbel

April Muniz with a local Senegalese volunteer, Lamine Ba, ripping paper for theie Paper Briquette project in Diourbel

Five weeks into our training, I learned where I would be living for the next two years – Diourbel – an “urban” post which is centrally located in the dry, arid western interior of the country. I worked with an association called Baol Environnement that promoted environmental education and safeguarded biodiversity in the region.  My host country partners and I educated women’s groups and communities about the importance of the environment and introduced appropriate technologies, such as solar ovens, seed-oil presses, and hand-crank peanut-shellers. We also worked with the community on a paper briquette press project, turning recycled paper into “eco bricks” that can be used as an alternative fuel source, thus reducing the need to chop down trees for firewood in an area that already struggles with deforestation.

During the course of two years, I taught English and Entrepreneurial Skills classes at a local vocational high school and built curriculum for an Environmental Education program for elementary school students. In my role as a Community Economic Development Agent, I worked with women’s groups on business and marketing concepts and collaborated with local artisans to expose their products to a larger market.

I also served on the Peace Corps’ Gender and Development group, empowering Senegalese men, women, and youth to appreciate and incorporate equality in their lives.  We implemented programs that motivated, educated, and inspired individuals to reach their full potential and encouraged sustainable change in gender perspectives within our communities. This included conducting much-needed and quite controversial LGBT Safe Zone training for our host country national staff and Diversity training for our new volunteers.

The most rewarding part of my service was learning that I have the ability to do what it takes to get a job done even in challenging circumstances. Had anyone told me five years ago that I would be teaching Senegalese teenagers the ins and outs of corporate management, in French no less, I would not have believed them.  It’s amazing to discover what you are capable of when you throw yourself out into the world.

Crafting with the Keur Cheikh Girls Club in Diourbel

Crafting with the Keur Cheikh Girls Club in Diourbel

It’s also great to develop friendships along the way. Sharing your Peace Corps service with other volunteers is the ultimate bonding experience. Although we each were assigned to our own posts often a great distance from one another, we made an effort to meet up periodically to help with group projects and to catch up and socialize.  I was happy to find three other JMU graduates among the more than 200 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Senegal with me, Elizabeth “Lyzz” Ogunwo (’08), Kourtney Rusow (’08), and Amanda Cassiday (’08). They had attended JMU more recently than me,  but we shared a love of the ‘Burg and a common path. We are all now Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) living back in the states. I spent the 2012-13 academic year working as the Peace Corps Campus Recruiter at the University of Virginia and am now working full-time as a Community Liaison/Event Coordinator for Harvest Moon Catering in Charlottesville and am heading up the company’s Green Initiative and sustainability efforts. I also serve on the advisory board of Better World Better, Charlottesville’s favorite resource for green living.

In future posts, we’ll share some of the experiences of Lyzz, Kourtney and Amanda…and other Dukes who have a great story about how they are Being the Change. Let us hear from you.

And April — many thanks for sharing your story of change.

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