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PCI Staff Celebrate Peace Corps’ 55 Years of Service

Published 03/02/2016 by Global Communities

Did you know that Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) currently serve in 63 countries around the world?

In Tanzania and Botswana, PCVs have volunteered on several PCI projects. There’s been an effective synergy in this collaboration and the partnership has lead to more meaningful results and greater impact.

This week, PCI joins the Peace Corps community in honoring all the many ways that volunteers make a significant difference at home and abroad. With a combination of creativity, determination and compassion, PCVs have helped families and communities around the globe build better lives for themselves.

Hear from PCI staff, who are also Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), on how volunteering with the Peace Corps has impacted their lives:

Tija Danzig
Associate Technical Advisor, Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Risk Reduction, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Botswana

President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush visit with the children who are enrolled into the Pre-School Program at the Gabane Community Home in Gabane, Botswana, on Thursday, July 5, 2012. The mission of the school is to provide quality care and support to the sick, orphaned and vulnerable children. Currently the program supports 41 children from the age ranging between 2 – 6 years old, teaching them fundamental education and social skills. In addition to receiving two meals a day, the children receive health care monitoring and assistance for a variety of issues including HIV/AIDS. Photo by Shealah Craighead/The Bush Center

“My Peace Corps service is a story about overcoming adversity, rising to challenges, being grateful for small victories and good fortune, welcoming change, and accepting love. It was transformative in both the way I approach work and approach life. My experience inspired me to continue living to help others and has showed me that I can make a difference through laughter, patience, grit and determination. While my parents always told me that I could do anything, I finally believe it myself. And I do it with an overwhelming sense of love.”

Stephanie Gaffney
Program Officer, Tanzania, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Tanzania

Stephanie Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Tanzania

“In Tanzania, joy can be seen daily in the smiling eyes and laughter of Tanzanians. And this is what became the most important thing to me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. No matter where you come from, what you do, how poor or rich you are, how old or young you are, how high your education level is, what language you speak, or anything else, people everywhere can connect over laughter and joy. Nothing beats the relationships you form with people when serving as a volunteer and it is something that I will never forget. I still consider those I lived with in my village as friends and family and will forever be thankful to have worked and lived with them.”

Kelley Matney
DC Office Coordinator, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Paraguay

Kelley Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Paraguay

“Life is all about perspective. There are many times in Peace Corps (and in life!) where you feel like a failure, but, perspective is everything. No failure is a real failure unless it keeps you from learning. If you never fail, that means you aren’t pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Like I said, life is all about perspective because when you choose to look at life with a positive lens then even failure isn’t a negative thing.”

Dennis Mello
Program Officer, WE Initiative, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Vanuatu

Dennis Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Vanuatu

“Peace Corps helped me to have a better understanding of how the majority of the world’s population lives and put into perspective so much of what we value in the U.S. One of the most important things that I learned is that people are so much more similar across the world. So much more similar than different. People are all trying to do the same things: provide for their families and help their children grow up healthy and educated. Peace Corps is important to me because it gave me a chance to live and experience another culture for more than two years. It really gave me an opportunity to see what are the realities, challenges, and benefits of living in a very rural, isolated village. And also to understand where my misconceptions about what would ‘help’ or what would be ‘beneficial’ for them. It really changed my perspective on how communities can be helped on their path towards their own development.”

Jolene Mullins
Former Country Director, Liberia, PCI; Current Special Technical Advisor, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Liberia

Jolene Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Liberia

“As a young Peace Corps Volunteer, I learned from Liberian women that we could be independent, resourceful, beautiful and resilient. As a teacher I watched young women explore and investigate the world around them. Late night discussions on the history, science and the fate of politics in Africa and the rest of the world broadened their horizons and my own. My work in international development has taken me around the world. I have no business skills, I am not blessed with the ability to make money and grow economies. My passion, my heart, is at the community level, making a difference one person at a time, one day at a time. I learned many years ago that the only thing I really had to give was me. If I have made one life better, helped one person on their life’s journey, then I think it has been an amazing life. If I have had an impact on more than one, then I am the one truly blessed.”

Mark O’Donnell
Chief Operating Officer, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Honduras

Mark Returned Peace Corps, Honduras

“Peace Corps has given me everything – a family, a career and a sense of purpose. I met my future wife on day two as a Peace Corps trainee in Honduras; both our children were born there. I spent 10 years with the Peace Corps as a volunteer (Honduras); Fellow (Washington, DC); Associate Peace Corps Director (Honduras) and Programming and Training Officer (Dominican Republic). This incredible experience led me to PCI, where I’ve been for 18 years as a Major Gifts Officer, Director of Development, VP of Operations, COO and even a short stint as Acting CEO. My work with PCI is very much a part of who I am and how people see me (friends, family and acquaintances). I’ve been afforded incredible opportunities to travel the world and to meet incredible people doing incredible things.”

Amy Ostrander
Associate Technical Advisor, Food and Nutrition Security, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Guatemala

Amy Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Guatemala

“My Peace Corps Volunteer heart, as I call it, always pushes me to do better for our communities. It reminds me every day to strive to look at things from the perspective of program participants, to recognize and draw on their skills and strengths, and, as much as possible, to simply ask them what they need and include them in the process.”

Jennie Vader
Associate Technical Advisor, WE Initiative, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Kazakhstan

Jennie Returned Peace Corps, Kazakhstan

“The quote, ‘If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together,’ inspired me as I went into the Peace Corps. I came to try to embody that philosophy throughout the experience and now in my career in the social and economic empowerment of women through PCI’s Women Empowered Initiative. The struggles and triumphs of my Peace Corps service in Kazakhstan taught me to stay tough in face of hardships, to walk with the people as they experienced their hardships and to think creatively together about how to make the world around us a better place. These are actual skills: mental toughness, empathy, creative problem solving and accompaniment – which I use every day in my work at PCI.”

Kara West
Operations Officer, Latin America, PCI; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Nicaragua

Kara Returned Peace Corps, Nicaragua

“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was introduced to bottom-up development and learned firsthand how important it is for a community to provide input, planning, and their own resources (time and effort) into planning a community development project. I came to understand that these components are vital to the success and sustainability of any project. This picture shows the opening ceremony of the school computer lab, which the community identified as a need during my service.  School teachers, parents, and students all worked together to establish the school’s first computer lab which served over 1,000 children in the area helping a rural town to come closer to bridging the vast technology gap between them and the students living in cities. I was drawn to PCI because our programming designs and core methodology center on those same components which make the Peace Corps such an impactful organization, empowering communities themselves to overcome any challenges they may face.”