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Virtual Service Pilot program

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Acting Director Carol Spahn on the state of the Peace Corps in 2021. see more

    No Volunteers in the field. Battling COVID-19 — and the global rollout of virtual volunteering. Remarks and Q&A with Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.

     

    Pictured: In Morocco, partners and volunteer participants team up as part of the Virtual Service Pilot — which has fostered collaboration on projects around the world since October 2020. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Morocco.

     

    Carol Spahn has served as acting director of the Peace Corps since January 2021. She previously served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 and later as country director for Malawi and chief of operations for the Africa region. She spoke on September 23, 2021, as part of the opening evening of Peace Corps Connect 2021. The Q&A was moderated by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Below is an edited version of their conversation. Watch the entire conversation here.  


    Carol Spahn: I can think of nothing more important than being here today with the Peace Corps family. It is such a gift to be part of this community that continues to show up years and decades later, to be with each other and to work together to make the world a better place, to make the agency the best that it can be. We value you. We are listening, we are here with you. And we really thank you for your support. I know that most of you have a burning question on your minds, which is: When will Volunteers get back out into service? I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the enormity of the pandemic’s impacts on health, safety, and well-being around the world, as well as the disproportionate impact that it has had on many of the countries where Volunteers served. We are all anxious to get out there and be a part of the solution. Finding the balance between the health and safety of our Volunteers in our communities has been one of the biggest challenges of my time as acting director.

    When we first evacuated Volunteers in March 2020 — in itself an amazing feat; we evacuated almost 7,000 Volunteers in just eight days — we thought we would turn around and get Volunteers back into service three or four months later, after COVID passed. We got to work putting procedures in place, setting up expedited applications, and working hard to make sure that we were ready. As we were gearing up to get Volunteers back into service, we hit the second wave of the pandemic. So we pulled back.

    When I took this position in January 2021, we thought, We will get Volunteers vaccinated, and we will be able to get them right back out into service. Then the delta variant hit. At this time, we recognize that COVID will be with us for some time. None of us expected to be having this conversation still, 18 months after the evacuation of Volunteers.

    We are evaluating every country individually. We have seen how they’ve handled the pandemic — and multiple waves — in their own communities. We are assessing their health systems as well as other factors, like medical evacuation hubs, and the availability and stability of those hubs. We have several countries that are making it through our very rigorous process. We are hopeful that we will be able to get some Volunteers out toward the beginning of 2022. But we know that the pandemic does continue to throw us curveballs. We will get Volunteers out as soon as it is safe to do so.

    When I think about this time, I think about what cultural anthropologists call a liminal experience. This is a disorienting period when things are neither here nor there, when things have been so disrupted that we are forced to think about things differently. And this is not just Peace Corps. This is happening around the world.

     

    We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.

     

    But when I think about Peace Corps’ role in the world and our rich history, there are so many examples of how Peace Corps has helped to rebuild countries following civil war, disasters; how we came in after apartheid, after the end of the Cold War, and much more. We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.

    Peace Corps Volunteers know how to listen first, to see what’s possible, to inspire collaboration, to challenge the status quo, and to handle uncertainty. We withstand adversity, we learn through hardship, we adapt to changing circumstances, we innovate, we partner, we fail, and we come back again, until the problem has been solved. In fact, we demand to be challenged, to have our beliefs questioned, to ask hard questions, and to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And we make lifelong friends around the world along the way.

    I’ve been so inspired during this time to see how the broad Peace Corps community has stepped up, surrounded by so many of you — and so many staff members — whose very nature it is to raise your hand, to jump off the sidelines, to approach obstacles, and to get in there and solve problems. I am grateful to the 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers who closed their service in August after contributing to the domestic whole-of-government efforts to reach underserved communities with critical health information and access. The stories from this partnership with FEMA, only the second time that Peace Corps has deployed domestically in our history, have been amazing.  

     

    Evacuated from Ukraine in March 2020, Kevin Lawson served as a Response Volunteer in 2021 in the U.S. to battle COVID-19. Photo by Meghan White / Peace Corps

     

    We have Volunteers who reached out to a homeless community in Oregon. The people there did not want to go to the vaccination site. So what does a Volunteer do? They went back to the vaccination site and brought the doctors and nurses to the people. We have Volunteers who used Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages to reach people — to build trust and connections in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S.

    Likewise, I’m profoundly grateful to our 240 Virtual Service Pilot participants. Through this engagement, you’ve challenged the status quo and demonstrated that, through technology, we can realize impact and that partnerships can be sustained. Participants serving virtually in Nepal are supporting government health and agricultural workers to combat growing food insecurity and economic hardship attributable to COVID-19. Virtual service participants in the Eastern Caribbean have developed a blended learning program, and they’re training teachers across four countries to use digital and online learning to help students return to learning and recover from educational disruptions. This virtual service program can tear down barriers to service, both for volunteers who can’t serve overseas and for communities that, for health safety or other logistical reasons, can’t host volunteers in person.

    For the latest round of this pilot, we have returned Volunteers from every decade — the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and beyond — returning to their country of service virtually, to support them during this time. It is such an amazing tribute to the legacy of Peace Corps, and the real commitment that is not just those two years when a Volunteer serves, but that really extends a lifetime.

     

    In the community of Mantasoa in Madagascar, Peace Corps staff helped launch a vaccination campaign. Photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

    I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the tremendous work being done by our staff around the world. Since the global evacuation, our staff have been working tirelessly to keep advancing Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship. The working partnerships that have emerged organically during this time are remarkable.

    In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16. In Timor Leste, staff have been partners to the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and have translated COVID-19 information and guidelines into Tetum and nine other local languages, promoting equitable access to health information throughout the country.

     

    In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16.

     

    Almost every single post around the world is directly contributing at this time to the objectives of the United States’ COVID-19 global response and recovery framework. Technology has been key during this time, not only for the virtual service, but also for our staff. In North Macedonia, after completing our eight-week course developer certificate practicum, our staff partnered with the Ministry of Education and delivered workshops to all 25,000 educators from 1,000 public schools in the country so that they could educate their students virtually. Meanwhile, our global agency has poured time and attention into strengthening our systems.  

    This time without Volunteers in the field has given us a unique opportunity to make strategic improvements. And I would encourage all to sign up for “Inside Peace Corps,” a newsletter we’re putting out that pulls back the curtain so that you can see improvements that we are making. There are too many to list at this time, but I do want to raise a couple.

    First, keeping equity at the heart of our work, we continue to ramp up our intercultural competence, diversity, equity and inclusion practice. We have gained invaluable insights from our RPCV community through the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report through our barrier analysis in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have implemented unconscious bias training for all staff around the world. We will be requiring this training for Volunteers before they go out into service. We are approving a new position that will focus on retention, looking at Volunteers in the pipeline to ensure that we understand what the barriers are for our Volunteers of color, our applicants of color who are applying to the Peace Corps, and that we are at a place to remove those barriers.

    We also have a new programming, training, and evaluation system that looks at core competencies — and among those are ICDE&I competencies, through which we are intentionally building accountability to our host countries. These will be used globally, and Volunteers will all be evaluated on a standardized set of ICDE&I competencies, which set clear levels of how Volunteers are expected to master technical skills and demonstrate the agency’s values through their assignments.

    There is so much that is going on in this space. You will see a lot of it in our strategic plan when that is released. [It was released December 3. —Ed.] One of the big ideas we were asked to consider in the 2020 “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was around ethical storytelling. We’ve taken this recommendation seriously and are developing an ethical storytelling toolkit for staff, Volunteers, and RPCVs. That will equip us all with the awareness and communication tools necessary to keep our host communities at the heart of our storytelling. Through this work, we aspire to achieve a more ethical and equitable storytelling standard that extends across all of the Peace Corps network, and ensures that Peace Corps members have a sense of belonging and that we are honoring identity throughout.

    Finally, I know that many of you have deep concerns about our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program. We are committed to strengthening this program and have been taking a long, hard look at where it can be improved. We’ve taken several actions already that are aimed to reinforce this system, and that also respect the rights, the privacy, and the needs of any Volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault. I am very proud of the advances that the agency has made in this space. And I’m very personally committed and accountable for this work.

    I want to end by quoting from a speech that President Biden gave at the U.N. General Assembly. He said, “There is a clear and urgent choice we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures. And whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come.”

     

    This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change.

     

     

    This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change. But we can create a Peace Corps that transcends the experience we all know and love to create a new and improved Peace Corps, one that encompasses the diverse, equitable, and inclusive vision we have — a vision of an agency that is able to respond quickly to shifting realities, and utilize a variety of creative tools and modalities to combat some of the greatest threats of our lifetime.

    We are all inextricably linked to that legacy.

     

    Questions from the community: diversity, virtual service, reducing the risk of sexual assault, and more

    Glenn Blumhorst: You mentioned the Peace Corps Connect to the Future summit and report and specific things the agency is implementing, such as ethical storytelling. Are there other recommendations that stand out and that you have been working to implement?

     

    Spahn: It is a report I go back to frequently. As we went through our strategic planning process, it was one of many inputs we factored in. Giving priority to hiring people of color: We will have specific goals and objectives around that, and implementing systems for how to do outreach more intentionally into different communities, both for staff and for Volunteers. We would love to engage the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in helping us do that. There are recommendations about providing financial assistance. We are looking to pilot programming this year to see how we can support Volunteers who might not be able to pay upfront costs of medical clearance. Is there a way we can provide vouchers or other financial support so they do not need to carry costs until they can be reimbursed? We have been partnering with AARP for how to recruit all kinds of diversity into Peace Corps.

     

    Blumhorst: The report was shared with of Congress. Some reforms and improvements and provisions that emanated from that report are in H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, introduced by Congressman Garamendi.

     

    The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place.

     

    Spahn: The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place. The bill really does have a lot of provisions that are very supportive of our Volunteers and our community.

     

    Blumhorst: You touched on a topic that’s one that we really want to lean in on, and listen in on — sexual assault risk reduction and response. What is the status of the congressionally-mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council that is charged with assessing Peace Corps’ efforts to address sexual assault and offer best practices?

     

    Spahn: The council has been meeting since May, several times a month. We’ve asked them to look back over the last five years at recommendations of the council, assess where we are, and see what is relevant from those prior recommendations: where we still have work to do, what are the most important things going forward. They will be preparing a report for us before the end of the year, and we will make that report public. [The report was released in November. — Ed.] I want to thank those advisory council members. Those are unpaid positions — people who care deeply about Peace Corps — and we put a big task in front of them this year. We have also put out a call for proposals and will be having a review of the overall structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program to make sure it is structured in the best way, that we are a continuously learning organization. There is no entity that can say, We have the best way to really meet sexual assault survivors where they are. We are all learning, we’re all growing, and we are committed to listening, improving, and putting systems in place so we can be the best that we can be.  

     

    Blumhorst: We recognize the role of staff in the field, preparing the way for Volunteers to return. Meanwhile, tell us about virtual volunteering. What have you learned from current programs?

     

    Spahn: It has shown tremendous promise for how Volunteers can stay engaged long after service, supporting communities in a variety of ways. The beauty of virtual service is that there might be people who can’t clear medically who would still have an option to serve. We might have people with very specific skills a country is looking for, who might not be able to leave home for two years — but could contribute in other ways. We have regions that can’t be reached due to safety and security issues. We saw this with Paraguay — an ecotourism organization and national park site Volunteers were not able to reach for a variety of reasons. There is now a virtual Volunteer helping through radio programming and other ways to support environmental programs.

    Will it ever replace the two-year Volunteers and that on-the-ground connection? No. That is where the magic of Peace Corps happens, in living and working together side by side for an extended period of time. But will it be a terrific supplement, using all of the tools that we have at our disposal? Absolutely.

     

    The hardest part is that balancing act — knowing the need at this pivotal time in history… knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and how to do that safely.

     

    The hardest part is really that balancing act — knowing what the need is that’s out there at this pivotal time in history, part of a global pandemic, the likes of which we will hopefully never see again in our lifetime; and knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and struggling through the details to make sure that we can do that safely. That has been the biggest challenge. One of the biggest barriers has been stable access to medical evacuation hubs. We’re setting up backup options and agreements. We’re all here for the mission of Peace Corps, to be out in communities and supporting world peace and friendship. The highs have been seeing innovation and how people have stepped up in many ways: what staff in the field are doing in the absence of Volunteers, and staff at headquarters buckling down to get systems in place so that when we’re ready, we really are the best that we can be.

     

    Blumhorst: How does the agency play a role in helping RPCVs have a lifetime of service and impact?

     

    Spahn: I love the theme of this conference, and have seen in so many ways how RPCVs have stepped up. I want to give a special shout-out to Friends of Tonga, who are a 2021 Library of Congress honoree for best practices for their virtual read-aloud program. As Peace Corps, we are looking to engage with RPCVs and through National Peace Corps Association, to really expand and understand the impact. I encourage everyone to complete the survey that NPCA put out, so that we can really understand that and help support it longer term. Our ethical storytelling kit will be a great tool. And we will be looking to work with RPCVs getting out into underrepresented communities around the United States to really elevate awareness of the Peace Corps.

     

    Watch this entire conversation here.  

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    This summer Peace Corps kicked off the third round of the Virtual Service Pilot. see more

    Peace Corps expands the program, launched in 2020, to scores of countries around the world — and opens it to returned Volunteers who have served across the decades.

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    This summer Peace Corps kicked off the third round of the Virtual Service Pilot. Round one launched in October 2020, with a handful of countries participating, matching up Volunteers who had been evacuated in 2020 with projects in the countries where they had served. Round two expanded the number of countries and ran through April 2021. We shared the stories of a couple of participants in Senegal and Ukraine in the Spring 2021 edition of WorldView

    Round three expands to include all returned Volunteers from participating posts — not just those evacuated in 2020. Projects last from three to six months and will run through December 2021. U.S. participants invest five to 15 hours per week, working with partners around the world via video platforms, WhatsApp, email, and more. The projects encompass work in all the program areas Peace Corps operates: education, health, youth development, agriculture, environment, and community economic development.

    COVID-19 led to the evacuation of all Volunteers in 2020. So necessity was what gave birth to this innovation. But the project does show the viability of expanding opportunities for service — something central to the national report on service published in March 2020. And Peace Corps is not alone in its virtual endeavors. NPR recently reported on virtual collaborations fostered by the U.K.-based organization Voluntary Service Overseas, highlighting education work in Rwanda. And some longtime participants in Habitat for Humanity undertook “virtual builds” for projects.

    As that same NPR story noted, the suspension of in-person volunteering by many international organizations amid the pandemic has also offered some valuable insights into the dynamics of short-term international volunteering. As one representative from VSO noted, supporting “local volunteers had already been a shift in our program thinking, but COVID-19 has only helped us move faster in that direction.”

     

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Having to be evacuated in March hasn’t put an end to Annie Eng’s work with Georgia. see more

    Annie Eng

    Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia (2020) | Peace Corps Virtual Service Pilot Program (2020–21)

     

    As told to Sarah Steindl

     

    Illustration courtesy Work by For Better Future, a Georgian NGO, whose projects include supporting women entrepreneurs.

     

    I had a friend in Ukraine who was a two-year Volunteer, and seeing all he was doing there inspired me. One day, I was browsing and saw Peace Corps Response Service. I took a one-year leave of absence from my job in New York, and I arrived in Georgia in February 2020. I went through orientation, then headed to work with the Khashuri Municipality, about 80 miles west of Tbilisi. I fell in love with the country — so much to explore and learn.

    I worked as an organizational development and capacity building specialist, creating and executing training sessions. I focused on business acumen, public speaking, credit proposal writing, public relations, and some technologies that could help drive efficiency. I spent that first month mostly scoping out a baseline; a big part of capacity building is understanding where everyone is, their skill sets, and what we need to bring forward. After one month we were evacuated.

    My Georgian family tried to do so much to help me get plugged in to the community. On International Women’s Day, my host mom took me to a supra, a traditional Georgian dinner filled with food, wine, and dancing. Almost every woman from the community was there. That was a week before we had to leave.

    When Peace Corps launched the Virtual Service Pilot last fall, I saw it as an innovative way to continue doing what I hope to do: creating a bridge between communities. I worked with For Better Future, a Georgian NGO focused on supporting internally displaced person settlements. We worked on content and public relations strategies across different platforms. This kind of work is especially important now, because the world is rapidly evolving into something more global and intertwined; having a level of understanding across different cultures is crucial. I’m volunteering in the VSP program again, working with the Tkibuli District Development Fund on community engagement strategy and initiatives. We’re all continuing to learn. And, as the pandemic and evacuation reminds us, you can never be fully prepared for things that come your way.

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 03, 2021
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Introducing the Virtual Service Pilot program — reconnecting communities and Volunteers see more

    The evacuation of Volunteers from around the globe interrupted service everywhere. And while Volunteers have yet to return to the field, last year Peace Corps launched a program for communities and Volunteers to work together — virtually.

     

    Six months after Peace Corps evacuated all Volunteers from around the world, 45 returned to service under the aegis of the agency: the inaugural cohort of an 10- to 12-week endeavor christened the Virtual Service Pilot program. They were Volunteers and Response Volunteers and trainees. They partnered with communities in nine countries and areas: Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Eastern Caribbean, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Ukraine. And they embarked on projects that included education and health, conservation and youth development.

    An idea whose time has come? In March 2020 — even before COVID-19 brought the Zoomification of so many workplaces—the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a report that explicitly called for exploring virtual volunteering to open up service opportunities to more people in the States. 

    Round one of the Virtual Service Pilot wrapped up in December. The editorial team at WorldView magazine spoke to two Volunteers about their service — first on the ground, and now virtually. And as we go to press, round two of the virtual program, which expanded to 20 countries, just finished.
     


    Luca Mariotti

    SENEGAL

    Home: Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts

    Beginning in 2019, in a town called Karang, on the border with The Gambia, I was a Community Economic Development Volunteer, working with local entrepreneurs and women’s groups, helping them turn local resources like peanuts and mangoes into income-generating products. In an entrepreneurial class I was teaching, five students came forward and were interested in leading a waste management project: writing the business plan, meeting with chiefs and community members, holding cleanup days. In a town of 20,000, there’s no garbage pickup; people burn their trash. A decade ago, a Volunteer set up a waste management project with the mayor’s office — but unfortunately it was disassembled after six months. 

    We talked to local leaders, conducted community surveys, asked if people would be willing to pay — and how much. We realized that a project would have to be private — and ideally would lead to employment in the community. The mayor’s office was allocating a landfill, and I was in the process of of writing a grant.

    Along with that, in a nearby town, Keur Sièt, my counterpart and I were working with a women’s group to add value to peanuts and, through a contact in Dakar, sell to clients in Germany. Then: evacuation.

    One morning at 4 a.m. I got a call from a friend asking if I had checked my phone. “Of course I haven’t,” I said. “Luca,” she said, “we’re going home.”

    Leaving my host family two days later was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.

     

    Host family and entrepreneurs in Keur Sièt, Senegal. From left, the women are Nday, Nday, Fatou, Luca Mariotti, and Soxna Si. Photo courtesy of Luca Mariotti


     

    What sustains us

    I’m from Dublin, Ireland, originally. My dad, Mark Mariotti, served with the Peace Corps in The Gambia — 30 minutes from where I was posted. Ten years ago we went back to his host community; he hadn’t been there in 25 years. He found the door to his host brother’s house. They cried, they embraced. That connection was really powerful.

    Last fall I began a master’s program at Cornell in global development. And I took part in the Virtual Service Pilot program with Peace Corps, working with the chamber of commerce in Sédhiou, Senegal, promoting the value chain for cassava and a superfood called fonio. It has more amino acids than quinoa. It is gluten-free, high in protein and iron, easy to cook, and drought resistant — which is important as climate change increasingly causes food insecurity in sub-Saharan countries.

     

    Fonio is a superfood with more amino acids than quinoa. It is drought resistant and is drawing increasing global interest. But that wasn’t being reflected in Senegal. Now it is.

     

    I contacted most international players in the fonio world. There is growing interest — but that wasn’t being reflected within Senegal. I was led to Malick, a contact with Terra Ingredients, which has been working on the Fonio Project, trying to find producers and, by paying fair prices and reinvesting profits in the community, build a sustainable system. They are constructing a processing plant in Dakar — the first in Senegal. My counterpart, Ndeye Maguette, and I had a number of meetings with Malick, who is sending people to meet with the chamber of commerce and producers. They hope that by the next harvest they will export fonio from these farmers.

    I’m excited to see what happens. I’m also interested in finding ways for us to continue to support projects I started when I was in Senegal. My experience in the Peace Corps really furthered my cultural humility and cultural intelligence. I saw firsthand how similar we all are, and the immense potential that lies in developing countries. I think further investments and confidence in the education systems are going to show incredible results.
     

     


    MiKayla Wolf

    UKRAINE

    Home: Chickasha, Oklahoma 

    I actually wanted to serve with Peace Corps in Swaziland, Africa, where I was originally given an invitation — but I was moved to Ukraine right before the departure date for medical reasons. I did not know anything about Ukraine. But I loved my work with the kids and parents of my organization. I had a wonderful counterpart, and the Peace Corps Ukraine staff were so supportive. I went from doubting if I would stay in Ukraine to deciding to extend one more year.

    I was a Youth Development Volunteer with the All-Ukraine Association of People with Disabilities in Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine. I led clubs and classes for children with disabilities, assisted with games for Special Olympics Ukraine, attended conferences about inclusion, and learned and taught Ukrainian Sign Language.

    When we were evacuated, my counterpart and I were talking about a grant for a project that would benefit parents in our organization. It was close to the beginning of Special Olympic events in Vinnytsia. And the day I was supposed to work with my counterpart on the paperwork for my extension was the day that evacuation was called. 

    The last time I saw my kids and parents from the organization was at a painting class right before evacuation. There is still a lot of work to do in Ukraine regarding inclusion. Given the opportunity to assist online, I wanted to do it. With the Virtual Service Pilot program, I was assigned to my original NGO and worked with the same counterpart. I know my kids well and what they are capable of. 

     

    Ukrainian parents were able to learn strategies and ask questions. I had a young adult female share her story, so the parents could hear about growing up with autism from a child’s perspective.

     

    I led online sessions for children with disabilities to help them develop life skills, communication skills, and socialization skills. I started a monthly discussion between parents in the United States and Ukraine. This provided an opportunity for the American parent of a child with autism to share their story — and what worked and did not work in the USA. Ukrainian parents were able to learn strategies and ask questions. I had a young adult female share her story, so the parents could hear about growing up with autism from a child’s perspective. A Peace Corps Ukraine staff member translates for the parent discussions. 

    In the virtual program, Ukraine had a Volunteer in every sector, including PEPFAR. It was a good experience; I chose to participate in the second phase. I still talk to my host mom, kids and parents from the organization, my counterpart, Peace Corps Ukraine staff, and others from Special Olympics. My counterpart started a project for adults with autism. Through one of the parent talks, she found out about a program in Oklahoma that supports adults with disabilities, and she wants to come visit and see how it is run. 

    What’s ahead? I’m working at the university in my hometown of Chickasha until September 2021. I am also a graduate student at Arizona State University online, where I am studying special education: applied behavior analysis.