Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ category

Peace Corps Volunteer Launches Osh Women’s Leadership Club

May 18, 2009

Becky, a Peace Corps volunteer and Master’s International Student in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, has set up an Osh Women’s Leadership Club Blog. It looks like she plans to have the members of her club take turns posting on the site, which we eagerly look forward to reading!

For those unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan, the city of Osh is the country’s second-largest city and it is located in the southern part of the country. You can learn more about Osh here.

(Unfortunately, I never made it down to the city during my time in Kyrgyzstan. Yes, I am very much aware of all I missed out on.)

Since we’re designating Becky’s two sites as “Editor’s Picks,” we have included her links on our sidebar.

Korea Launches Own Version of “Peace Corps”

May 8, 2009

It wasn’t so long ago that Korea was a host country to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. In fact, during my time living in Korea, I ran into several individuals who remember their encounters with Peace Corps volunteers including the volunteer’s name, age at the time they were in Korea and hometown. It was really quite touching to hear former students (some of them now government officials) recalling their Peace Corps teachers back when the program was in operation from 1966 to 1981.

But times have changed now.

Over the past few decades, Korea has gone from being a country with a GDP per capita comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia to “a member of the trillion dollar club of world economies.” [CIA World Factbook]

It is now a high-tech, developed nation with a democratically elected government. It is also a country with it’s own version of the U.S. Peace Corps.

The government launched a group of volunteers Thursday to strengthen its goodwill activities in underdeveloped or developing countries around the world in an effort to become a more responsible member of the international community.The group, named World Friends Korea, is the country’s version of the Peace Corps in the United States, launched in 1961 to promote peace and friendship worldwide, officials here said.

About 2,000 volunteers belong to the Korean body, but the membership will grow to over 3,000 by the end of the year, according to a spokesman from the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. Currently, the U.S. is the only country that sends more than 3,000 volunteers abroad annually. [Korea Times]

While I am a little wary of the “branding” efforts the government hopes will result from this program (Korea Times: “Chairman Euh Yoon-dae of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding hoped such efforts will help Korea become a respected and beloved nation”), I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for Koreans to give and assist people in need througout the world and to exchange cultural understanding. This is incredibly significant considering where Korea was just decades ago.

So my contragulations goes out to Korea for developing the country’s own version of Peace Corps. And the best of luck to the nation’s new World Friends Korea volunteers.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and a Plea for HR 1066

April 22, 2009

Yesterday President Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that, among many things, will establish the Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP) program in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and expand the number of AmeriCorps slots from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017, in addition to increasing volunteer opportunities at home and abroad.

The Serve America Act will provide incentives for students and senior citizens to participate in volunteer community service and includes the Nonprofit Capacity Building Initiative, designed to expand organizational development assistance to small and midsize nonprofits. [OMB Watch]

Next on the books: The passing of HR 1066, otherwise known as the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of making this a reality. HR 1066 would essentially “pave the way for an expanded and improved Peace Corps by authorizing Congress to provide $450 million, $600 million and $750 million in 2010, 2011 and 2012” respectively.

According to an email I received last week, 101 members of Congress have co-sponsored Congressman Sam Farr’s Colombia 64-66 bill to more than double the Peace Corps’ budget, but that is not enough to make it a reality and more support is therefore needed. Those campaigning for the cause have a goal of obtaining 150 co-sponsors for the bill by June 1, 2009.

As there are 334 congressmen/women who still have not co-sponsored HR 1066, citizens are encouraged to write their congress person urging them to support the bill.

A sample letter can be accessed here.

For a list of co-sponsors who, as of the writing of this post have not yet come on board in support of HR 1066, please feel to contact me at: blog [at] colonymagazine.com – I would be happy to forward the list to interested parties.

If you believe Peace Corps deserves extra assistance for expansion purposes, please write to your Congress person urging them to get behind the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009 if they have not done so already. Washington has already recognized that service is valued and expanding the Peace Corps is another way of following through on that belief.

Peace Corps Days: Reminiscing

April 17, 2009

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan volunteers - 2001.

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan memories.

Ah, life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sure, it’s romantic – going out to save the the world by living and volunteering in a developing country, learning a new language, immersing oneself in a different culture and seeing parts of the globe one never thought they’d see.

But as I was looking through various Peace Corps Volunteer blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was reminded of the other side of the adventure: The challenges of learning a new language, surviving the intense pre-service training, competition among other volunteers in terms of who accomplished what and feelings of frustration as a result, being a woman in a culture where gender equality is still developing, battling (sometimes constant) illness and other struggles – enough to write a book on depending on your mood. As a volunteer, these are things you are prepared for in the back of your enthusiastic little mind before you venture off into the field, but they are nevertheless the very same things you are unprepared for when they become a reality.

Still, it’s all part of the journey, right? And at least you get bragging rights. How many people can say, “I had giardia, intestinal worms and a bacterial infection all at the same time?” [See last link.] No kidding, such conversations were normal among those in my group during our time in Kyrgyzstan, so much that it became a joke despite the potential severity of the situation.

But despite the challenges and moments of frustration, I can recall some pretty awesome times as well. Like the moment you realize your language skills are starting to come together, or when you realize you are actually accomplishing a lot at your site. Also, all the Kyrgyz friends I made, the foods I ate (yes, I ate a sheep’s eyeball!), the traditional weddings, birthday parties, festivals and outings I attended and workshops I participated in or led.

I’m especially reminded of all this as I read about Rwanda’s first group of Peace Corps volunteers since 1994, and I know they are going to come back from their service completely different people – most likely for the better. (Also, I’m a bit jealous – I would have loved to have served in Rwanda as it’s a place I’ve read a lot about.) Anyway, as I read about this newly sworn-in group, I am reminded of my swearing-in day in Kyrgyzstan, the day that recognized the completion of our group’s pre-service training with the next step of being dispatched to our permanent sites. Some, like myself, were going to be the only Peace Corps volunteer/American for miles around. I remember the excitement, anxiety, camaraderie and sudden loneliness I felt all at the same time. And as I looked through various blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was also reminded of the friends I made, the crazy times we shared, the adventures we experienced and just a lot of laughter.

Although my Peace Corps experience did not end on a happy note (we were evacuated from the area in light of the 9/11 events which brought our neighbor Afghanistan into the picture), the experience was an unforgetful one for me. I started off thinking that I was going to give myself to the world, but in the end, it was the the world that actually gave itself to me. And it’s still giving.

Traveling the World to Help Children in Need

April 6, 2009

Cleft Lip Before (Chongqing), originally uploaded by interplast.

Cleft lip and palate is a birth defect caused when the tissues of the mouth or lips fail to form properly during fetal development. While doctors don’t know what causes this defect, they suspect it “may be a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors (such as certain drugs, illnesses, and the use of alcohol or tobacco while a woman is pregnant).”

According to KidsHealth.org:

Kids with a cleft lip or palate tend to be more susceptible to middle ear fluid collections, hearing loss, and speech defects. Dental problems — such as missing, extra, malformed, or displaced teeth, and cavities — also are common in kids born with cleft palate.

For unknown reasons, the condition is most often seen in children of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent.

Luckily, this is a curable disease, and thanks to medical exchanges involving teams of volunteer physicians who travel the world donating their skills to children in need of treatment, kids from around the globe are receiving the care they need.

One such medical exchange group is detailing their work on the Love Without Boundaries Blog where they are now in China preparing to carryout numerous surgeries for the patients at Fudan University.

You can read about their first day in country here.

H/T to SharonGilor (Twitter ID: expatguide) of the Expats Moving and Relocation Guide.

How to Help Street Children when Traveling Abroad

March 30, 2009

Street kid, originally uploaded by mysaliva.

I remember my first experience dealing with street kids. Although I acted with the kindest of intentions, I made a huge mistake and perhaps a common one among people traveling abroad who encounter children begging for food or money.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. It was a bone-chilling late winter night, and I was being followed by a street child begging for a loaf of bread. Since she wasn’t begging for money (and since I had little money myself as a PCV), I caved in and went to a road side kiosk to purchase a loaf. I gave the packaged bread to the tiny, freezing little girl who actually thanked me before running off into the night.

Not 10 seconds after she vanished into the darkness, I heard yelling, scuffling and then a high-pitched scream of agony. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the poor soul I had given a loaf of bread to was getting beat up by other street kids who were just as cold and just as hungry as she was and wanting her food.

Since then, throughout my travels, I have never, ever given anything to a begging street child.

Still, it’s such a difficult situation to face. You see these poor children enduring the worst of conditions and you just want to do something. As a traveler, you often don’t know what to do – giving away money or food is the first thing many of us think of, but as I learned the hard way, it’s not the best thing to do.

There are other options though and with the exception of #3, this list of “10 Ways You Can Help Street Children Without Giving Money” is a great guide for travelers faced with the conflict of how to help the needy faces we see in the streets overseas.

Really, what it all boils down to is giving your time, whether it be to local organizations that are in need of short-term volunteers or supplies, or a little one-on-one time with the kids themselves. You can even help long after you leave the country you are visiting. Read “7 Ideas for Helping the Locals You Leave Behind” for inspiring ideas on how to help from your own hometown.

Street children, poverty and overt begging can be just a few of the many culture shocks those of us in developed countries witness during our travels, and of course we want to help – immediately. But as I learned, there is a wrong way and a right way to do this. When you help a street child responsibly, you’re helping them ten times more than you would by simply giving them food or money. And I believe that is the kind of difference we all want to make.

Peace Corps Philippines Volunteers Tout Women’s Rights

March 25, 2009

Ever since I lived in Jinhae, Korea and would stay up late at night listening to my neighbor beat the crap out of his girlfriend (and be told by Korean friends and co-workers not to call the cops or interfere because it could make the woman’s life even worse – a kind of sick reasoning that was fully backed up with common scenarios as to just how worse her life would be if I budded in), women’s rights has been a personal crusade of mine. (And a big part of the current thesis I am writing for my M.A. in East Asian Studies).

Even though March (Women’s History Month) is almost over and despite the fact that International Women’s Day (March 8th) has come and gone, that doesn’t mean that the issue should be put to rest. If anything, such a time should only serve as a reminder to us that the topic needs constant addressing.

For a very inspiring post about what is being done to deal with the issue in the Philippines, read this post from the blog Amanda in the Philippines. Amanda is a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and just recently conducted a women’s rights workshop with fellow Peace Corps volunteers in the country.

The whole experience was really eye opening. On Sunday we met with the women’s group that we were working with to facilitate the workshop. They are called Buklod ng babae (Women bonding together) and are based in the downtown area of the city that we were in. For two days we were to meet with around 25 women and girls (I say girls because some of these girls were “18” and I refuse to call them women) who work in GRO bars or on the street. I have mentioned GRO bars before, but to clarify, GRO stands for Guest Relations Officer here, it is the term that they use, for lack of a better word, for prostitutes. There are GRO’s that work on the street, but mostly there are bars where there are varying levels of entertainment involving the girls there for sale.

The workshop did not criticize the women’s line of work as clearly it was seen as the only available means of supporting themselves and their families. Instead, the seminar dealt with issues of rape, self-respect, HIV/AIDS and served as a source of information about women’s rights.

To get a better idea of what kind of environment the women they were interacting with worked in, Amanda and her colleagues visited some of the bars the women and girls entertained in.

We started in the city where there are ordinances which affect GRO Bars. The first bar we went to, Mangos, had (as expected) a bunch of old nasty white men scamming on the young-looking girls that were working. There were about 10 or 11 girls, many of which were in short shorts and bikini tops. There was a small stage at the front where at least one was dancing at all times. It was not like the dancing that you see in the movies, the girls were swaying slowly and looked uncomfortable, they stared only at their reflections in the mirrors and did not look around at the onlookers as though they were pretending to be somewhere else. We stayed for a little while and spoke with a girl who is a member of Buklod and also a GRO at the bar. She looked like she was about 4 or 5 months pregnant, but we did not bring that up. The next bar was the bar that was owned by the woman that came to the workshop. Here there were a few more old nasty white guys, but there was no stage or dancing, the girls had on little black dresses and tags. They were tags like they wear at my LGU with the girl’s picture, age, etc on it. The owner says that they wear them to show that they have been certified by the government as ok for GRO work.

We have added Amanda’s blog to our sidebar for those wishing to continue following her Peace Corps experience and her updates, and have also put her blog in our “Editor’s Pick” category.