Major: Nutrition-Dietetics (Didactic Program)
Year of Graduation: May 2016
Current Position/Location: Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Volunteer, US Peace Corps—South Africa
Please give a brief description of your current position.
Overall, my position as a Community Outreach Volunteer helps to support long and healthy lives and decrease the burden of HIV amongst all South Africans. Community HIV Outreach Project (CHOP) Volunteers work with organizations and communities in grassroots efforts to address prevention and care. The goals of the CHOP project are to reduce HIV infection, stigma and discrimination, and to mitigate the impacts of the epidemic among youth, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Working as health extension, community development, and youth development advisors, we teach about HIV Prevention, treatment adherence, gender-based violence, mitigation of stigma and discrimination, promotion of human rights, and basic nutrition. As health volunteers, the goal is to help organizations become more effective and sustainable while increasing the provision of HIV/AIDS services to communities in need. We provide advice to non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations on how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their programs and services, mentor staff, and introduce or strengthen creative approaches to resource identification and mobilization.
Volunteers also do projects outside their primary focus, called secondary projects.
A few of my secondary project highlights have been: working with young girls and encouraging their participation in soccer, sharing knowledge about proper nutrition (utilizing my degree from CSB), and working with a local teacher at the primary school to improve her English and self-confidence for interviews in efforts to obtain a higher position within the school (she obtained the Head of Department (HOD) position for the 2019 school year).
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
I started my Peace Corps adventure about 8 months after I graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2016. The application process is extensive, so I applied in January of 2016, interviewed in March and was invited in May to commit to the two years of service with the Peace Corps. After the initial acceptance of the invitation, the next months consisted of medical appointments, filling out several forms, communicating back and forth with different Peace Corps staff. I worked a few part time jobs between graduation and when I left in January 2017 for Peace Corps in South Africa.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
The best piece of advice I can suggest is… Do it.
The Peace Corps is an adventure of a lifetime and a one-of-a-kind unique experience unlike any other. Every Peace Corps volunteer’s experience is unique to their own, but the skills, lessons, growth, etc. that are all gained through this journey are qualities you can take and apply to any future career, path, adventure, etc. It is best to do some research, look at the website to see what kinds of positions interest you and where you might want to serve in the world. Talking to RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) is a great way to get a glimpse as to what Peace Corps is all about.
What skills are important in your field?
There are a number of important skills within the Peace Corps that will help you have an incredible experience. The top 5 skills/qualities I feel are most important for the Peace Corps are: flexibility, grit, openness, vulnerability and patience.
· Flexibility, defined to me as I entered South Africa, “the ability to completely give up control” couldn’t have been described any better. To be truly flexible, one must be able to adapt.
· Grit, is an essential quality because when things don’t work out as planned (which happens all the time) you have to have the ability to push forward and continue trying.
· Openness, whether it is experiencing a different culture, a different language, or a different way of life, one must be open to learning, growing and trying new things. By being open, you can get the most out of the experience.
· Vulnerability… being able to open your heart and let others learn about you, while at the same time, learning about others will create amazing relationships/friendships. This will make your Peace Corps adventure one you will never forget.
· Patience. You need a lot of this in the Peace Corps, but, in reality you will grow leaps and bounds throughout your Peace Corps experience when it comes to patience. Time is different here. Through constantly working on patience, I found myself being a lot more mindful and a lot more present in the “now.”
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
The most rewarding part of Peace Corps is the connections you form with people throughout the two years. By living and working within the same community for the entire two years, you form bonds with people and relationships/friendships grow over time. The “successful” events or the effective programs one implements in the community are a lot more sustainable and impactful when you have formed relationships with community members prior to conducting the projects and programs. The second most rewarding part of Peace Corps is the small successes. The achievements others may overlook, but the ones where you poured your heart and soul into something and it worked out, are the best.
Peace Corp volunteers have a number of challenges one will face throughout the two years of service. They say it is the hardest job you will ever love. That is true. However, I have learned and grown more through the challenging experiences compared to the “successful” experiences. The biggest challenge has been the lifestyle around “time.” The amount of time it takes to get something up and running is a lot more than what we are used to in the states. Nothing really starts “on time”; people may or may not show up, you may wait hours for something that lasts 5 minutes, but through all of this, things still do happen. It just takes time. And patience.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
One of the biggest and most influential experiences I had at CSBSJU was my semester abroad in South Africa. The study abroad experience brought me to a new part of the world I had never seen before. It exposed me to different cultures, languages, and people. I really don’t think I would have been here in the Peace Corps without this amazing introduction to the world outside of the United States. I also knew there was so much more to South Africa after studying abroad that I didn’t get to experience or see, which made it intriguing to go back and explore more of the country. Although my experience as a study abroad student and now a Peace Corps volunteer are very different from each other, they do have similar components and remind me how amazing of a country South Africa really is.
Playing varsity soccer at St. Ben’s helped prepare me for the Peace Corps by showing me the importance of teamwork, perseverance and hard work. These are three key elements that a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) needs during their experience and I am very grateful to have strengthened these qualities through four years of College of Saint Benedict soccer.