Not Your Grandfather’s Peace Corps

Photo with Students. Peace Corps
Angelena Castro with her Peace Corps students. Angelena Castro photos.

What Comes to Mind When you Say Peace Corps?

By Megan Mentuck

PC Shirt. Peace Corps
Angelena Castro in her Peace Corp shirt.

This March, the Peace Corps will be celebrating 60 years of sending people abroad for volunteering opportunities.

To celebrate this milestone, they have a variety of different virtual activities planned for this event, which you can sign up for or read more about on their website.

GoNOMAD spoke with Angelena Castro who volunteered with the Peace Corps in 2019 and now works as the Peace Corps Recruiter for Seattle, Washington.

Angelena worked as a youth and development facilitator in a rural, Eastern region of the Dominican Republic during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer. Although her program was supposed to be 27 months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Angelena was sent home after about a year of volunteering there.

Happiest Part

Despite the program getting cut short, Angelena still had a positive experience while she was volunteering, saying “I was the happiest I had ever been during that experience. I felt like what I was doing was important. I can’t think of any other unique opportunity where people are so intimately invited into other people’s lives.”

She shared with us that during her time volunteering she worked primarily with middle school students as an educator.

Prior to volunteering with the Peace Corps, Angelena had worked in radio and podcasting for about four years and her students were really interested in these fields as well.

This allowed Angelena to apply her prior experience to the position that she was in and really nourish and encourage these similar interests amongst her students.

PC Site Photo. Peace Corps
Photo of the community in the Dominican Republic that Angelena Castro served in.

She told me that “With the Peace Corps, you can customize it. It’s about presenting your passion to the community and asking: is there something we can do with this?”

What’s Your Passion?

Depending on what your passion is, you may want to volunteer in a different sector of the Peace Corps. For Angelena, she was really interested in working with students in different countries and seeing how they learned—so she was involved in the youth and development sector.

There are six different sectors of the Peace Corps: agriculture; education; health; youth and development; community and economic development; and environment.

Each sector focuses on a distinct and unique—but also equally important—aspect of a community.

Your job within a community may be different depending on which sector you choose to pursue.

How is the Peace Corps Different from other Volunteer Programs?

Part of what’s made the Peace Corps successful enough to run for sixty years is that it’s different from other volunteer programs.

Because the Peace Corps is government-run, the job of volunteers is not to spread any individual ideas or ideologies. Rather, there are three distinct goals of the Peace Corps.

Making Traditional Empanadas. Peace Corps
Making traditional empanadas. Angelena Castro Photos.

The first goal according to the official Peace Corps website is “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.”

The second goal is “to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.”

The last goal is “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.”

The Peace Corps is also dedicated to supporting its volunteers while they’re abroad. Some of the ways that the Peace Corps supports their volunteers is by providing a stipend, health insurance, and access to a safety and security manager twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Beyond providing support to volunteers during the duration of their programs, the Peace Corps also works to help provide support to volunteers after they’ve completed their programs.

For example, after the completion of their two-year program, volunteers are provided with 10,000 dollars to help ease the transition back to home life.

The Peace Corps also works with volunteers to provide career and graduate school support. With regard to graduate school support, according to the Peace Corps website, “The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program partners offer returned Peace Corps Volunteers reduced tuition, assistantships, and stipends at more than 90 participating universities and colleges.”

ACastro House PEeace Corps
“Housing was really limited in the community where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The local Housing Association kindly allowed me to fix up the building they used for monthly meetings. I painted the house pink and orange.”

Career Programs

Angelena told me about her own experience getting a job after volunteering for the Peace Corps.

“It’s been interesting. I’m the recruiter for Seattle, Wa. I host office hours, info sessions, application workshops, and resume reviews. It’s really unique because being a virtual recruiter for Seattle, I can collaborate with other virtual recruiters.”

Angelena has had a very positive experience working as a recruiter for the Seattle, Washington area.

Recently, Angelena partnered with previous Peace Corps volunteers to hold a zoom webinar with HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) alumni. The goal of the webinar was to encourage HBCU students to look into joining the Peace Corps.

The virtual event was a webinar where participants were able to hear about the experience of these HBCU alums who were also participants of the Peace Corps.

Canitas Farm. Peace Corps
“The director of the elementary school where I worked invited me to visit her family’s farm where they grow plantain, pineapple, and coconuts.”

The “From HBCU to Peace Corps” webinar was very successful with over 200 people registering and attending the event.

How the Peace Corps Has Changed

In many ways, the core principles and values of the Peace Corp have remained consistent over the sixty years of which it has been active.

However, there are also many ways that the Peace Corps has changed. Due to the influence of social media and the Covid-19 pandemic, there are many more virtual opportunities than there used to be.

They have also worked to encourage more diversity among Peace Corps volunteers. The “From HBCU to Peace Corps” webinar is a great example of the kinds of initiatives and programs that the Peace Corps has worked to encourage in more recent years.

One thing that has remained fairly consistent over the sixty years of the Peace Corps’s existence is their effort to seek out qualified candidates for Peace Corps Services.

Peace Corps
Photo of a local business owner drying cacao to make chocolate.

They have also been consistent in their effort to make meaningful and long-lasting changes in the communities that they serve.

For example, Angelena explained to me that the sustainability aspect of their projects has remained a top priority. She even told me that some schools that were built in communities thirty years ago are still standing and operational today.

Over the years, the Peace Corps has also been able to strengthen the program’s relationships with other countries—which goes to show that the impact these programs have really has been positive.

A Peace Corps Baby

Thirty years ago, Angelena’s mom volunteered for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic where she met Angelena’s dad who was a local living there at the time.

Angelena tells me this only to emphasize the importance of relationships built during Peace Corps volunteer programs.

The relationships built with members of the community are an extremely important part of the Peace Corps programs.

ACastro Photo with Family Peace Corps
Angelena Castro posing with her “host family.”

The relationships and friendships built with community members were one of Angelena’s favorite parts of her experience.

When asked about what stands out as memorable moments from her volunteer experience, Angelena shared that connecting with students over this mutual interest in radio and getting together with other women in her community for coffees and regular conversation were moments she knows that she’ll never forget.

Interested?

If you’re interested in applying, you can read more about the Peace Corps at their official website. You can also connect with the recruiter in your local area by going to visiting this page and entering your zip code or college.

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