The Peace Corps will be coming to Eastern Michigan University this Wednesday to host an information session for students.
At the information session, the Peace Corps regional recruiter, Pravin Mallavaram, will be discussing the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps, benefits of Peace Corps service, the application process, how students can become competitive applicants and what life is really like on the ground as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in 139 host countries. In their 50th year, over 8,600 Americans, ranging in age from 21 to 86 and from all 50 states, are serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in 77 countries.
Currently, there are more Americans serving as Peace Corps Volunteers than any point in the last 40 years.
“Our Volunteers are grassroots ambassadors for the United States, and they represent America’s values, generosity and hope,” Mallavaram said.
Mallavaram will also be promoting the new Masters International program at EMU, where students take 3 semesters of coursework at Eastern and serve 27 months abroad with the Peace Corps.
The Master’s International program out of the Department of World Languages was established in July 2010.
Mallavaram said although the organization has had success recruiting out of EMU in the past, he hopes the numbers will increase.
“To date, there have been 32 EMU grads who have served in the Peace Corps,” he said. “This is a great number and we hope to increase that number with the new MI program. EMU is an especially great university for Education, and that corresponds very well with the needs of Peace Corps host communities.”
According to Mallavaram, approximately 37 percent of volunteers are assigned to Peace Corps Education programs, such as teacher training, English teaching, math and science education, and special education training.
Mallavaram said education has always been a cornerstone for Peace Corps projects around the world.
“And this is not just in English teaching, but also science education, math education and primary education,” he said. “Peace Corps works with filling the requests of what type of volunteers countries ask for, and time and again, those requests focus on education. Even beyond the assigned education programs, volunteers are engaging in health and environmental education programs.”
Mallavaram said volunteers have made significant achievements improving education in developing countries.
“Volunteers provide training and support to teachers, co-teach or offer direct instructions to students,” he said. “They introduce innovative teaching methodologies, encourage critical thinking in the classroom, and integrate content such as health education and environmental awareness into English, math, science and other subjects. Volunteers also work in curriculum or materials development and train teachers informally in conversational English, academic subjects or methodology.
For 50 years, communities around the globe have been impacted by the work of Peace Corps volunteers long after they have departed, Mallavaram said.
“It is a grassroots, people-to-people form of public service that provides host countries with sustainable solutions,” he said. “The work of volunteers have a lasting impact and presidents and cabinet ministers in dozens of countries credit their start to Peace Corps volunteers who touched their lives at an early age.”
Mallavaram was exposed to a number of opportunities while in the Peace Corps, including doing work in Fiji. While in Fiji, Pravin was a business volunteer and assisted with a few environmental projects, as well.
“As a Business Volunteer, I worked with my community to establish two income generating projects,” Mallavaram said. “One was a fish farming project where we had two fish ponds where we were breeding fresh-water tilapia and fresh-water prawns. We would take our harvests to the local market and sell them to the local community. The money would go back into the local school for basic infrastructure investments; desks, chairs, classroom supplies.”
Mallavaram also trained ten displaced farmers on how to run an apiary business and provided them with the necessary equipment to be successful.
Mallavaram said the best part of the experience were the relationships he built.
“My host family, my neighbors, the relationships I built with my community and being able to share with them my experience of being born and raised in America,” he said. “It was a special experience because in Fiji, there is a 40 percent East Indian population. Being of East Indian heritage myself, it was an amazing way to learn more about my own culture and to share aspects that were different because I grew up in America and the Indians in Fiji grew up somewhere completely different.”
Mallavaram said when it comes to assessing where volunteers will be placed they look at a few factors.
“Peace Corps does a thorough job of assessing community needs and fulfilling requests from the countries where volunteers serve,” he said. “Africa, Central and South America and Eastern Europe are our largest regions and the sheer size of populations in these regions coupled with the requests for service we receive from them, are big reasons why.”
“Currently, there are 138 volunteers in China,” he said. “In addition, Peace Corps only works in countries where the agency has been invited to provide volunteer assistance. We are present at the country government’s invitation. There are many other countries requesting Peace Corps assistance, and the agency is continuously assessing these requests.”
“As a volunteer, you’ll need to apply targeted knowledge and skills, but you will also need an open mind, flexibility, a high emotional maturity and the desire to serve others,” he said.
The Peace Corps are broken down into six main areas: education, business, health, agriculture, environment and youth and community development. Mallavaram said there is a reason why they’re broken into categories.
“These are the main project areas where volunteers have been requested to serve by the host countries where volunteers live and work,” he said. “Under these main sector umbrellas, volunteers work on a range of projects, addressing the specific needs of their community. This model provides both structure and focus for the agency while also allowing for a good amount of flexibility for the volunteer to work with the community on their needs.”
Mallavaram said right now, volunteers are tackling a wide range of issues.
“Volunteers today are tackling global issues such as education reconstruction, HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, food security, technology access and environmental conservation,” he said.
EMU junior Gina Brooks said she commends the Peace Corps for their efforts.
“I don’t know anyone personally involved in it, but I think it’s admirable to participate in it,” she said. “I might check it out. It’s nice to be able to help out others.”
Mallavaram said over the next 50 years, the Peace Corps will continue to implement the same three main goals.
“Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans,” he said.
The informational session will be held at 6:30 p.m. in room 320 of Halle Library. For more information, please visit peacecorps.gov.