First of all, this site is very dated (as I write this in 2007), but will still provide some information to those considering joining Peace Corps.
I am from Maryland, but spent 1999-2001 working in the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating from Smith College and before joining Peace Corps Cape Verde as a business advisor. My interests before Peace Corps were: mentoring at-risk youth, road biking/swimming/skiing, ethnic cuisine, fostering animals, international travel, gardening, learning languages, collecting antiques, supporting the arts, nature, social enterprise, philanthropy, live jazz, and meeting new people. Now that I am almost 30, my life aspiration continues to be to eventually own and manage a successful apparel design company that is non-exploitative at every level, yet profitable and unique.
Four years ago, when I turned 26, my best friend, who completed an MFA in creative writing with a focus on poetry, wrote the following for me, which accurately describes my connection with art/travel/humanitarian causes:
I begged her not to turn twenty six in a foreign country,
please, please, not another birthday away from me,
But the palette she is burdened with carrying
weighs several pounds--
she still has much of the world to paint.
She painted Spain in reds and golds, Chile in earthy
browns, Brazil in bright blue, yellow, and purple.
Bolivia a sheen of white, San Francisco in its pastels.
Then Cape Verde, oh the navies, the oranges,
the deep, majestic greens.
She would rather carry oils than shimmering dresses,
gold, or Napolean wine, and explains to the guard
at customs who turns over and over the many tubes,
"no, no, these are my paints."
And he recognizes her, the woman who is painting
the world, and kindly asks her for his portrait.
Japan now, darker than I'd expected, then Thailand.
And here I sit, ill-prepared as always, no can of waiting
brushes, no sturdy paper, no peach, blue or bronze
for her face. Her laugh fades, and lashes like small brushes
thin like hair to gray, her face
is a pencil sketch in my book of lines.
I am left like the conditional to wait. Would she say,
every artist begins with outline and shadow. Keep trying.
Would she say, you were the first one I painted.
Patience, the colors will come back around.
From October 2001 - February 2002, I merely adjusted to living at a rural Peace Corps site. This included figuring out how to properly filter my water, use my gas stove, keep my dry latrine clean, communicate with the villagers, and sleep with all of the bizzare animal noises at night. These first 6 months were a time of uncertainty, depression, and reflection. It's only once I planned and implemented my first successful project (read below) that I became convinced I would stay and learn to love my life as a volunteer.
In October 2001, my first pet project became convincing the villagers that they could benefit from a drip irrigation school garden, given that the World Food Programme only provides them with minimal carbohydrates and proteins, but no fruits or veggies. I later acquired funding for this purpose from ACDI/VOCA in December 2001, and the drip irrigation tubing was installed in the spring of 2002.
In March and April, I led a Girls Exchange of 8 teenage girls from the capital city with 8 girls from my river valley, which was a series of three weekends of events, culminating in an hour long theatre skit on April 14th. The USAID funded project was a huge success with all participants learning life skills and family planning techniques -- many new long term friendships were made.
In April, I fractured my left foot on a staircase, and was in a cast for 3 weeks while `cast´away in the capital city for recovery. I utilized my time by writing funding proposals for summer projects and forging new contacts. This is when I discovered the Rotary World Peace Scholarship online, which you will read about later. At the end of the month, I organized Earth Day trash clean-ups in various villages with drinks and popcorn to follow. In my own group of six houses, my neighbors and I worked for 3 hours to clean up and burn over 40 bags of trash. Coca-Cola donated 800 glass bottles of soda and the UNDP pledged $600. US, although they never gave me the money as promised.
In May, I painted the community center in my village with Disney designs to liven up the patio where the children play. I also touched up the paint on many walls, in addition to submitting a large proposal for the US Embassy to fund the painting of 3 rural primary schools in my valley.
In June, my best friend Anne came for 3 weeks, and we visited other islands in the archipelago. I realized that I live on the poorest, dirtiest, and most African of all of the islands. Although I cherish my rural Peace Corps experience, I realized that it was a very challenging one that would have been much easier on any other island. I saw the most beautiful beaches and mountains in my life. Jagged cliffs falling thousands of feet to the aqua ocean. Mountain villages painted in primary colors with flowering vines of many colors. Surreal blue oceans with white sand beaches and dunes for miles and miles. I definitely feel proud to be serving in such a great country.
In July, I received a scholarship to attend the International AIDS Conference
in Barcelona, Spain to mobilize my villages for HIV prevention. The Conference was amazing with new information to be gathered, contacts to be made, and adventures to be experienced. I was in awe at the immense international community in attendance and the wealth of the information presented. I was also chosen to be on MTV's "Staying Alive"
show with 6 well-known panelists to discuss HIV/AIDS, and was able to ask Clinton a question (Given the limitations of your presidency, what recommendations would you make to current and future administrations regarding the HIV epidemic, given your influence?) Ask me the story of what happened when he approached me afterwards, and you'll be shocked! At the month's end, I was back in the USA for almost 2 weeks to visit my ailing grandfather with Alzheimers and apply for fellowships.
In August, I had an extremely busy month organizing two GLOW Camps (Girls Leading Our World) funded by USAID, one in my valley and one on Boavista, the island best known for its surreal beaches and sand dunes. The camp on Boavista involved 17 girls aged 12-20. Along with another PCV named Amy, we facilitated and orchestrated the first Camp with life skills activities and guest speakers. Topics addressed include the environment, health, career options, family planning, self-esteem, team work, and project management.
In September, for the second GLOW Camp, Amy was unable to attend, so I organized all of it myself. I expected only 15 girls to show up, but, low and behold, on the first day 45 girls arrived. I had to cut the group down to 35, with only funding for 20. The Camp was thoroughly exhausting for me because many facilitators canceled at the last moment, and I had to lead, faciliate, and organize current and future activities all at once. Although both Camps were a success, I have learned that you should never organize an event with less than 1 leader per 10 people in attendance, especially with youth. I also organized a Family Health and First-Aid Workshop for villagers, with over 45 people in attendance, and a HIV/AIDS prevention workshop for 50 boy and girl scouts.
In October, I tried working with the state run water agencies to locate and establish a safe water source for my village. Currently, 5 other towns are piping out our fresh ground water and not leaving us any (i.e. illegal, of course). Safe water is key for a community that is accustomed to fevers and diarrhea during the rainy months when they most often drink dirty river water. I learned that Saudia Arabia financed the pipes that have left my village dry, and that the project's second phase will supposedly benefit my village early next year (2003). My main passion was gearing up my women's group to create, market, and sell miniature paintings to tourists in our valley and nearby beach towns with scenes of rural life. I gave two art classes, and things seem to be going well.
In November, I continued to focus on my weekly painting classes, along with gearing up for December 1st, International AIDS Day. For AIDS Day, I used a generator at the village community center to show the one hour film titled 'Histories of Africa,' which is comprised of many short videos (less than 10 min. each) made in 2001 by youth in the African Sahel Region to address HIV/AIDS.About 60 villagers showed up because any activity involving a television and VCR means field work comes to a halt for the day. I also organized a live Cape Verdean jam session at the community center for 10 musicians from a town near the capital city (six were guitarrists). They played typical 'morna' (like what Cesaria Evora sings) in exchange for my villagers dancing 'batuque' for them. Meanwhile, I am still waiting to hear if the U.S. Embassy will fund my proposals for the paiting of 2 rural schools in my valley valued at over $20,000. US. Midway through the month, I was attacked in the capital city by a young, tall guy trying to steal my shoulder bag (with money). After an extensive struggle on the ground, he fled without my bag, and I was left with many bruises and scrapes, as well as a battered psyche. Many PCVs and my villagers have been shocked by my 'war scars.'
On Thanksgiving Day, I found out that I was awarded one of 70 Rotary World Peace Scholarships
in 2002 to complete my M.A. in Public Administration in Tokyo, Japan. I am honored to represent Rotary District 7620 (most of Central Maryland and Washington, D.C.) at the International Chrisitan University in Tokyo where I will reside from July 2003 - August 2005.
In December, my village geared up for several weekends of HIV prevention workshops with money from the World Bank. I located videos from Portugal that address the stigmas attached to HIV/AIDS, which were popular because nobody owns televisions. We also held a very successful march from our village to another one 5 miles away with over 100 participants and free t-shirts that I designed. At the end of the month, I will head back to the USA for 2-3 weeks to see family and friends from the East Coast to New Mexico.
In January, I settled back into rural life in my village, and continued classes with my women's painting group. Two members were six months pregnant, and another 3 had babies under 12 months old, so there was always a lot of action during class with the young mothers. I also began studying heavily for the GMAT, so that I could take it in June in preparation for any future desires to attend b-school after Japan.
In February, Peace Corps held its first 'All Volunteer Conference,' which I thought was much more interesting and successful than any past conferences. Second-year volunteers were able to impart wisdom to the first-years who are still in transition to their new sites -- dazed and confused! I submitted a SPA grant (USAID funding) to get materials financed for my women's painting group to start their microenterprise, and also for a girls' group to paint educational murals at local kindergardens in the coming 3 months.
In March, I painted a kindergarden myself in a nearby village, which took 3 Sundays. I had to paint when school was not in session to avoid the children inhaling toxic fumes. I also attempted to do interior/exterior painting of a one-room school house in a remote village called GonGon -- the school was built and painted in 1985. However, only the two teachers and a few students showed up to help. Many of the students were so young that their lack of experience or technique caused me much stress. Trust me, you should never mix water-based paint with oil-based. After three days of painting it mostly alone, I decided to leave the rest up to them. I lectured the association president on animating and mobilizing her community to do volunteer work, which nobody is willing to do right now -- everyone expects to be paid. Following the painting of the school, GonGon was supposed to host a Family Health Workshop for 50 village participants, using a Peace Corps nurse who has been very effective as a facilitator/educator in the past. However, I decided to move the workshop to Principal, an adjacent community that I also work with who has more community support for projects. Unfortunately, my women's painting group fell apart two weeks before the $1,000. US arrived for them to buy some quality materials. The day I canceled the classes, only 4 seven-year-old girls showed up -- no women. I decided to focus my efforts on other projects. The problem is that women saw immediate income at their moonshine liquor distilleries, while my classes required more patience and persistence that they just didn't have.
In April, I worked diligently with 6 teenage girls to paint the aforementioned kindergardens. Although the project was slated to finance the painting of ten, we did only a handful,and did them well (instead of sloppy). I also had a whole list of things to do before I left, including: painting designs on the new village water well, finishing painting at the community center, teaching a single mother to open her own tuna fish empanada stand for income generation, packing up/giving away my stuff, and finishing the MANY required Peace Corps reports. The Family Health Workshop in Principal village was a success with 30 people attending the morning session on hygiene and nutrition, and 15 youth attending the afternoon session on STDs,HIV/AIDS,and birth control. I also located a Rotary Youth Exchange opportunity for a 16 year old girl from an impoverished area to spend a year of high school in Nova Scotia, Canada (Prince Edward Island), starting in January 2004. We are currently in the process of filling out her extensive application. She will be representing District 9100, which includes most of West Africa. She's really looking forward to beginning her path towards becoming a television journalist and seeing snow for the first time! (SIDE NOTE: As of February 2004, Maxima has finally reached Prince Edward Island, Canada with the support of many, many people who believed in her dream !)
The first week in May, my village threw a farewell party, and over 50 people attended (99% women and children), as well as 4 fellow volunteers. It was the most moving farewell party I have ever had because so much planning and personal thought went into it. The Women's Culinary Class that I mentioned earlier cooked my favorite dishes (the best meal the villagers ever made), followed by speeches on behalf of the farming association and the children, then presents, and finally a few hours of traditional African call-and-response dance/drumming. I was very emotional with the speech 'on behalf of the river valley's children', and also when they put my name into two of the traditional songs -- especially the one about the 'history of our ribeira (river valley)'. When I stood up to give my last words of thanks, I ended up crying, and subsequently so did most of my closest neighbors and women friends.
The day I left was also a very moving experience because most of my neighbors disappeared when it came time to haul my luggage to the street because they didn't want to cry in front of me. The two matriarchs in my cluster of houses gave me repetitive blessings for my life and journey home. "Tell your mom," they said, "you are full of beauty, she has raised you well. You are an amazing person that we will never forget." After we loaded the Peace Corps vehicle that drove me back to the capital city, my dog, Bruce, ran after the car for 1/4 mile (the longest distance ever). It was heart-wrenching to know I was leaving a dog that would surely remember me when I visit in 3-5 years (Note: Although this posting was written in May 2003, Bruce was later hit and killed by a car in December 2003). Everything that happened my final week was the perfect ending for a Peace Corps experience -- better than I could have ever imagined.
As of May 10th, I am now back in the USA to see family and friends before heading to Japan the first week in July. I look forward to spending quality time at home, creating a summer garden, working out regularly, catching up on movies, cooking all my favorite dishes/eating out,seeing old friends, and going to California to visit with friends.
In September 2003, 280 wheelchairs sponsored by Rotarians in Massachusetts arrived in Cape Verde via a cargo container from China. The Brockton Rotary Club acquired individual sponsorships for 220 wheelchairs, and another Club sponsored an additional 60. The distribution process in Cape Verde will be through the Red Cross and Handicap Foundation with many equally deserving recipients vying for the few that this island will see for years to come.
It began very simply. I wanted to save the animals. Since I can remember, I always had several pets, from frogs to birds to cats, and stray animals always seemed to find their way to my house. By fifth grade, I was volunteering at the Baltimore Zoo. I read "Into the Mists," the biography of Dian Fossey, for a middle school book report, and contemplated the real reasons gorillas were being poached. The Rwandan people were poor and needed money; poaching fed their families. Having reached an intersection of animal versus human rights, my life has steadily progressed to wanting to save impoverished people worldwide from the despairs of poverty, which simultaneously benefits wildlife. The key element that has led me from animal-lover status to my current humanitarian and philanthropist desires is the creativity instilled in me as a child.
Creativity is an often overlooked element in working with people; someone who is creative minded is open to new ideas and searches for understanding. I firmly believe its what will eventually help world leaders to negotiate peace in the Middle East, governments to enforce human rights, scientists to find an AIDS vaccine, and impoverished families to break the cycle of poverty. My mother, a fine arts painter, always encouraged me to take risks, learn new things, and especially to develop my creativity and independent thinking: I attended art classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art, participated in the Gifted and Talented Art Program in high school, and won numerous national creative writing competitions. This creative growth has improved my ability to make successful choices in life. In fact, the knowledge I gained in college and abroad would be useless if it werent for the artistic and creative talents that have helped me to achieve goals, solve problems, and think outside the box. I take that creativity to every project I pursue. In Cape Verde, I use theatre to promote HIV/AIDS prevention, interactive games to teach English, and convincing prose and discourse to gain funding and circumvent bureaucracy.
Always eager for new ideas, my creative stimulation fueled in me an intense fascination with other cultures and languages. My desire to travel abroad began in third grade when my father, an arts educator, gave a slide show at my elementary school on his sabbatical in the Andes. Shortly thereafter, I located an international pen-friend organization; by eighth grade, I was writing thirty children in different countries on a regular basis. I longed to visit the places I read about in rice paper letters filled with stories of farming in Hamburg, Chinese New Year in Manila, riverboats in Bangkok, the gorillas in Kigali, and the rainy season in Quito. In high school, I obtained full community and private funding to spend my junior year in Catalonia, Spain with American Field Service (AFS) for academic credit. Living and studying in Catalonia was initially difficult as almost everyone speaks primarily Catalan and not Spanish. However, my growing attraction to the country helped me to quickly accustom myself to the culture, as did living with a family and attending classes as a regular student. I returned from this experience a self-confident, culturally sensitive, mature, and bilingual teenager.
Living in Spain apprised me of the fact that there was more to the language and culture than what I had experienced. My fascination spread to Latin America. This need to have a broader understanding of the Spanish-speaking world shaped my choices in college. I majored in economics and minored in cultural anthropology with a focus on Latin American economic development. This combination of studies Eone focusing on numbers and demographics, the other in history and heritage Ehelped cultivate both the practical and the creative in me. I excelled in both subjects. Because of my academic merit, during my sophomore year I was awarded the only
National Security Education Program (NSEP) David Boren Undergraduate Scholarship
in the U.S.A. to study economic development in Santiago, Chile during 1997-98. In Chile, I experienced the Southern Cones political, social, and economic systems first-hand. This gave me a frame of reference for comprehending the development of other Latin American countries. It also made me appreciate my immense privilege as an American to access continual opportunities for personal development, opportunities lacking for others in so many developingEcountries. Suddenly, I realized where my creativity, drive, and unrelenting fascinations with world cultures were leading me: I vowed to use my skills and talents to empower vulnerable populations to take action in the most effective way possible to meet their needs.
To begin this new path towards helping the underprivileged populations of the world, I secured an internship in Washington, D.C. at the Esquel Group Foundation (EGF) before leaving for Chile. EGF is the US-based member and coordinator for regional programs of the Grupo Esquel, a network of non-profit, non-governmental organizations dedicated to promoting sustainable and equitable development throughout South America. I represented EGF at DC-based meetings; assisted in the coordination of the EGF Civil Society Task Force; researched fundraising opportunities and topics related to the development of civil society in the region; drafted grant proposals; translated both Spanish and English documents; and managed the computer database. The Smith College Career Development Office (CDO) awarded me $2,000 towards internship-related expenses through their Summer Internship Funding Program (SIFP) as an especially promising internship proposal.
The work I did for EGF prepared me for what I was to observe in Chile, mainly the distressing legacy of the Pinochet regime: families with children who disappeared, wives with husbands who never came home, continual news reports of mass graves discovered in the desert, a perpetual lack of transparency in investigations, and illegal maneuvers to guarantee Pinochets life long control of the Senate. More personally, when a man assaulted me and I investigated my rights, I learned that, in a country where divorce is not even legal yet, women have very few options to remedy domestic abuse or procure justice. Feeling the sting of this inequality not only reaffirmed my belief that, what doesnt kill you makes you stronger,Ebut helped me focus my goals on helping women and children, often the most vulnerable in a population.
In the midst of my experiences in Chile, I recognized the important role that Brazil played as Latin Americas largest and most influential country in the world market and Mercosur. I decided to familiarize myself with the culture and language by participating in an Intensive Portuguese Language Program at the Universidade de Săo Paulo, Brazil. During the six-week homestay, I took daily Portuguese language classes, a Contemporary Brazil Course, and short trips around the country. I would further my pursuit of Brazils language and culture my senior year at Smith through upper level Portuguese courses.
PARTICIPA brought me to an interest in womens issues in the political and economical sphere. PARTICIPAs mission is the enrichment of democracy, sustainable development, and the education of the public. I contributed to the Global Women in Politics Program (GWIP), funded by USAID. With two supervisors, I organized a second workshop in Colombia for women in or entering the political sphere, and began to lay the foundation for a national Women in Politics Network. We even initiated its expansion to other Latin American countries. I also coordinated other international projects, such as the Summit of the Americas, which foster social coexistence, tolerance, and the capacity for dialogue. I learned that with proper training and support networks, women can overcome poverty and discrimination, which can exponentially make a positive impact on their families, communities, and countries. Because I recognize this direct relationship between empowering women and improving the well being of families, I am committed to the idea of addressing womens needs.
Upon graduating from
, I had a solid background in economics, cultural anthropology, international development, and Spanish / Portuguese studies. I hoped to pursue all of this in greater depth in Brazil while enrolled in an MA program as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. I was nominated by Maryland as an alternateEfor 2000-2001. In the meantime, I put my economics skills to work. I moved to California to work in a prestigious investment banks Private Equity Group during the infamous dot-com boom. I learned quite a bit about microenterprise development, but the humanitarian in me needed equal attention. I established strong relationships with
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of San Francisco and the Peninsula (BBBS)
and Little Brothers: Friends of the Elderly (LBFE) as both a big sisterEmentor to a Latina girl and a little brotherEcompanion to an elderly Argentinean woman. I was able to use my Spanish, as well as my prior work experiences to contribute to urban community development. For the first time, I realized that I had the ability, maturity, and experience to be a community leader. I figured I could do this in a developing country, too, using the languages I had so diligently cultivated.
Only a year after this realization, I am a
U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer
in Cape Verde, the Portuguese-speaking archipelago off of West Africa. I serve as a Business and Computer Advisor, which has given me a distinct perspective on sustainable economic development, not to mention fluency in Creole and increased use of my Portuguese. I assess, develop, and implement solutions to problems in business, health, education, and the environment in three villages; I am one of the first volunteers to attempt this kind of work. The three villages are located deep in the mountains on Cape Verdes largest island. They lack paved roads, telephone service, and electricity, cutting off residents from much of the world beyond their mountains. Residents manage a modest living through agriculture, but transport to other towns is expensive, complicated, and time-consuming, so residents live without television, books, or newspapers. Many youth are not able to attend school after the sixth grade because of costs associated with high school in a nearby town.
Working as a PCV is a culmination of everything I have so far studied in school, observed at home and abroad, and desired to do with my skills. I have helped community leaders to take action on important issues such as malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, school attendance, income generation, and environmental protection. I have even expanded my hands-on experience with negotiation, conflict resolution, and communication through life skills workshops that I organized and facilitated for at-risk youth. I have taken on each limitation as a challenge, and each challenge as a gift. Every experience has unequivocally taught me something new about myself.
My efforts saving stray animals, learning languages, understanding world cultures, economies, and political systems, serving women and children in need, and tackling the hardships of poor communities leads me to the next step. I want to pursue a career where I can be a senior level manager or diplomatic leader, collaborating with grassroots initiatives and governments alike, devising and implementing innovative strategies for the protection of women and children. I want to plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate child protection programs in areas of violence, exploitation, abuse, conflict, and discrimination. From July 2003 - August 2005, I will serve as a Rotary World Peace Scholar
in Tokyo, Japan at the
International Chrisitan University
. My Masters degree in Public Administration with a focus on peace and conflict studies will increase my ability to work effectively as a leader and liaison on behalf of marginalized populations worldwide.