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  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more

    News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.

     

    By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)

     

    Jamie Hopkins, who served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1996–98, leads the Eagan Community Foundation in Minnesota and spearheaded a three-day film festival in support of Ukraine in April and May. Krista Kinnard (Ecuador 2010–21) has been named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Rob Schmitz (China 1996–98) had a stint as guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show. Tommy Vinh Bui (Kazakhstan 2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his Los Angeles community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share news about more awards, medals, and director roles.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.

     

    CHINA

    Rob Schmitz (1996–98) became a guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show in late April. As NPR’s Central Europe Correspondent, Schmitz covers the human stories of a vast region, such as Germany’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic. Before reporting on Europe, Schmitz worked as a foreign correspondent covering China and its economic rise and increasing global influence for a decade. He also authored the award-winning book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road which profiles the lives of individuals residing along a single street in the heart of Shanghai. During his first week as guest host, Schmitz talked with a Shanghai resident who discussed her experience with Shanghai’s zero-COVID strategy and the recent pandemic restrictions. Listen here.

     

     

    COSTA RICA

    Lane Bunkers (1989–91) took on responsibilities as of Peace Corps Country Director of Costa Rica in March. Bunkers steps into this new position a year before Peace Corps Costa Rica’s 60th anniversary and amidst the first wave of Volunteers returning to service overseas. In his director’s welcome, Bunkers wrote, “In Costa Rica, the pandemic impacted the social, economic, and political environment, as it did throughout the world. The country’s recovery will take time, and Peace Corps is well-positioned to support the communities where our Volunteers serve.” He brings an extensive career in leadership and international development, including three years serving as Peace Corps program and training officer in Romania and in the Eastern Caribbean. Prior to his new role, Bunkers worked for Catholic Relief Services for more than two decades. While there he oversaw a $25 million annual budget invested in initiatives ranging from water and food aid for drought-stricken regions to improving educational outcomes for malnourished children.

     

      

    ECUADOR

    Krista Kinnard (2010–2012) was named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since starting her role as DOL’s chief of emerging technologies in 2021, Kinnard has focused on ways to use artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning to reduce the time employees spend on repetitive tasks. She also collaborated with the department to establish a technology incubator, inviting DOL staff to propose ideas that could benefit agencies and the public. Before working at DOL, Kinnard was the director of the U.S. General Service Administration’s Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence. Her data-driven expertise sharpened during her Peace Corps service where she was able to apply her quantitative skills to real-world problems. Afterward, she pursued a master’s in data analytics and public policy before building AI and machine learning tools for federal clients as a data scientist at IBM.

       

     

    GUYANA

    Nadine RogersDr. Nadine Rogers, who serves as country director for Peace Corps Guyana, is a 2022 recipient of the Global Achievement Award from the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association. “This well-deserved and extraordinary accomplishment highlights her incredible contributions in the international arena," says Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn. Dr. Rogers has almost 30 years of experience in management, health policy implementation, science administration, and education and communications across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously served as a foreign service officer at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator under the U.S. State Department, and for 10 years she worked at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, handling scientific review of multi-million dollar research grant applications focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and services in populations at risk-for or addicted to drugs, both domestically and internationally. She has served the U.S. government across the globe, including in Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, and in the Caribbean.

       

     

    KAZAKHSTAN

    Tommy Vinh Bui (2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week in April for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bui was working as a Los Angeles Teen and Adult Services Librarian when the pandemic shut down libraries. With a love for his community and a penchant for service, he sprang into action seeking ways to help such as donating blood to the Red Cross to help with the blood shortage; delivering convalescent plasma to hospitals around and outside of Los Angeles; assisting Project Roomkey — an initiative started by the California Department of Social Services, providing shelter for unhoused people recovering from or exposed to COVID-19 — in its efforts to help vulnerable people get off the streets and find resources. As part of the last cohort to serve in Kazakhstan, Bui’s Peace Corps service began in March 2011. He served as a community development and education Volunteer until he was evacuated in November of that same year and credits his experience as a major contributor to his personal and professional growth.
     

     

    KENYA

    Josh Josa (2010–12) is a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.

     

     

     

    LESOTHO

    Travis Wohlrab (2013–15) received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for developing a livestream production capability and supporting agency communications programs. This medal recognizes those who significantly improve NASA’s day-to-day operations. Wohlrab is the engagement officer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he has worked since the end of his Peace Corps service. During the onset of COVID-19, Wohlrab used his video production expertise to produce livestream events — such as Town Halls and public outreach events — which were crucial to helping the center continue to disseminate information and operate as it had before the pandemic.

     

     

     

    NEPAL

    Lowell Hurst (1976–78) received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, along with his wife Wendy, from the Pajaro Valley Chamber Of Commerce and Agriculture. Hurst has dedicated his life to education, public service, and volunteerism starting with his Peace Corps service — followed by the more than three decades he spent teaching science and horticulture at Watsonville High School. In 1989, he was elected to the Watsonville City Council, served on the body for three stints over three decades, and served three mayoral terms, retiring from the political arena after his final term.

     

     

     

     

    NICARAGUA

    Heather Laird was appointed the new medical director of Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades (VIM) in April. She first got involved with VIM by serving as a volunteer nurse practitioner in 2013, while working at her full-time job in telemedicine. Laird shifted away from telemedicine to work with patients in person at Mosaic Medical — a community-founded health center focused on making high-quality healthcare available to Central Oregonians, regardless of life circumstances. Inspired by her Peace Corps experience, which allowed her to learn technical skills that would help her community, Laird pursued a master’s in environmental and occupational health sciences at University of Washington before attending University of California, San Francisco, and obtaining a degree to become an adult nurse practitioner. “I am looking forward to harnessing my experience and education to help the underserved in Central Oregon through my role at Volunteers in Medicine,” Laird said.

     

     

    UKRAINE

    Jamie HopkinsIn April and May, Jamie Hopkins (1996–98), who serves as executive director of the Eagan Community Foundation, spearheaded the Twin Cities Ukrainian Film Series. “It’s important for me to tell people about Ukraine,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been trying to do that for 25 years, and for the first time people are really anxious to learn.” Together with the Emagine Theaters, the foundation put on a three-day film fundraiser to benefit a variety of needs in Ukraine, including funding for filmmakers documenting the current war and community foundations in the areas hardest hit. “I want to make sure that opportunity exists today to do that (make Ukrainian films) in the future,” Hopkins said. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Hopkins served as a teacher trainer in the town of Ukrainka in the Kyiv Region — something she describes as “most rewarding experience of my life.” Hopkins has served as the Eagan Community Foundation’s executive director since 2016. She originally joined the foundation as a board member in 2013. 

  • Tiffany James posted an article
    Recognition for two members of the Peace Corps community see more

    Awards for two members of the Peace Corps Community

     

    Photo: Maurice Lee, recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    Maurice Lee | Ecuador 1996–99

    Maurice Lee was recognized with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity for his work with St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical and Dental Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. Lee is chief medical officer and medical director there; he also founded the Arizona Safety Net, a collaboration among more than 40 Phoenix-area free and low-cost clinics aimed at improving health equity for Arizona’s uninsured. The award has been presented by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics since 2016.

     

     

    Bennett VanOudenallen | Guatemala 1999–2000

    Bennett VanOudenallen received the GRAMMY Museum’s 2021 Jane Ortner Education Award, a prestigious honor recognizing K–12 teachers who use music as an academic tool in the classroom. Over the past 13 years, VanOudenallen has taught social studies at Mount Notre Dame High School in Cincinnati.

    What moves him? “I love guiding students through the deconstruction of music’s — specifically my personal passion, the banjo’s — current stereotypes in order to build a deeper understanding of all the complex and blended elements that lead us to the depth of variety that music offers today.”

     

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Invitations have been sent for Volunteers to return to five countries see more

    Eight posts have met criteria for Volunteers to return. Invitations are out for five: Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Zambia. And the agency is recruiting returned Volunteers for the Virtual Service Pilot.

    Colombia mural: one of the countries to for which Peace Corps has sent out invitations for Volunteers to return in 2022. Photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    It’s the news that thousands of us have been waiting to hear since March 2020: The Peace Corps has begun issuing invitations for Volunteers to return to service overseas. Eight posts have met the agency’s criteria when it comes to “robust health, safety, and security standards that must be met prior to Volunteers returning to countries of service.” And invitations have begun going out for Volunteers, both new and returning, to serve in Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Zambia. More invitations are forthcoming.

    Volunteers have been invited to serve beginning in late January to March, “so long as conditions allow,” the agency notes. “As part of the Peace Corps’ return to service, all Volunteers will be expected to contribute to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. In addition, Volunteers will be required to accept the additional risks associated with volunteering during a pandemic and comply with agency standards for mitigating these risks, wherever possible.”

     

    “Regardless of sector, every Volunteer will be involved in mobilizing for vaccination response, overcoming vaccine hesitancy, recovering educational gains that were lost … We are very inspired to get out and be part of the solution as we recover from the isolation and the impact of COVID-19.”
       —Carol Spahn, Acting Director of the Peace Corps

     

    In a conversation hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California on December 2 — the same day Peace Corps announced the news on its website — Acting Director Carol Spahn underscored that COVID-19 “has impacted each and every country we serve. So regardless of sector, every Volunteer will be involved in mobilizing for vaccination response, overcoming vaccine hesitancy, recovering educational gains that were lost … We are very inspired to get out and be part of the solution as we recover from the isolation and the impact of COVID-19.”

    As country director for Peace Corps in Malawi, Spahn has seen “the real importance of Volunteers’ contributions at the last mile” when it comes to controlling HIV/AIDS — a scourge that has been with us 40 years now. Likewise, Spahn cited Volunteers’ historic work to help end smallpox in Ethiopia and Afghanistan, part of global efforts that led to the eradication of smallpox more than four decades ago.

     

    Green field: flag of Zambia, one of the posts Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited to return to in 2022. The nation first hoisted this flag in 1964. Since Volunteers first arrived in 1994, more than 2,400 have served. Photo by Mykhailo Polenok/Alamy

     

    Virtual Volunteering Positions Are Open, Too

    The agency is seeking participants for a new and expanded round of the Virtual Service Pilot program as well. Partners from 28 countries and more than 230 returned Volunteers have participated since October 2020. The new round is open to any Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who is prepared to spend 5 to 15 hours per week working with a host country partner.

     

    This story appears in the 60th anniversary edition of WorldView magazine. 

    Story updated December 19, 2021 at 2 PM Eastern.

     

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    I banged on the door. Margarita came running. “Que pasó?” see more

    Ecuador | Becky Wandell

    Home: Portland, Oregon


    By 10:30 Sunday night, March 15, I had settled into bed and checked my phone. I scrolled past messages exploding: Start packing. We’re going home.

    Not me — I’m extending for a third year! Besides, we’re on a “standfast,” schools are closed. I’m safe with my host family here in Ibarra. The Ecuadorian government is already taking precautions!

    My phone rang — my supervisor. Two checked bags. Be ready to leave by midday. 

    Upstairs I heard the TV in Margarita and Jose’s room so I knew they were still awake. I banged on the door. Margarita came running. “Que pasó?” The three of us stood in the doorway, holding each other, crying. 

     

    I banged on the door. Margarita came running. “Que pasó?” The three of us stood in the doorway, holding each other, crying. 

     

    The next morning I texted the principal of the school where I had been teaching and training teachers. I had a packet of maps from the U.S. for the school. She came, said she would share my goodbyes. We stood in the street and cried. All morning long my extended family called or came by: I would always be part of their family, their doors were always open, they would wait for my return. Then little Pablo: “No te vayas, Becky! No te vayas!” Don’t go!

    Margarita made a lovely soup for lunch — our last meal.

     

    Showing for GLOW: Girls Leading Our World

     

    In a hotel conference room in Quito, we learned our service was officially being terminated. Ecuadorian borders were closed. It took three different flights to get us all from Quito to Guayaquil for a connection to the States. Airport staff were fully suited, masked, gloved. They took our temperature from 12 feet away. They squirted disinfectant gel into our hands.

    When we arrived in Miami, we headed to customs. No masks, no gloves, no gel. I stepped up to the customs official, expecting questions about where I had traveled from, where I was going. He only wanted to know if I was carrying any agricultural products. I thought, Their script is a little out of date.

    Then he said, “Welcome home.” A strange concept when your heart is on a different continent.

     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

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    Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.