Tag Archive | "peace corps programs"

Joining the Corps

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As any frat boy will tell you, there are a number of ways to do penance for a debauched life. Catholic frat boys can go talk it out in a confessional. Pagan frat boys can sacrifice their firstborn on a cairn. Other frat denominations do community service, and lots of it. However, the odd stint in the local soup kitchen bears little comparison with what we’re talking about here. Soup kitchen work will only purge the soul of whatever happened last Saturday night. Full-fledged career volunteers purify the souls of their families for up to three generations of decadent sloth, lust and usury.

However, not every graduate is a frat boy. Those who have always followed the straight and narrow might consider volunteering even without the overriding need to repair the damage they wrought on the world. And if you fear for the resilience of your straight and narrow in a world of vile indecency, a volunteer career keeps you in touch with your karma for a few more ascetic years.

For Americans, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are the two main venues for long-term public service opportunities, although smaller-time opportunities exist. Some of the more interesting ones are for archaeological digs and summers fire watching at a state or national park. Many others, however, are dull-sounding jobs in out-of-the-way places. And keep in mind that not all of them necessarily provide adequate food and housing.

Peace Corps

Traditionally, the Peace Corps volunteer efforts focus on increasing food production and sanitary water supply in developing communities, as well as teaching English, math, science, and health practices. There are also opportunities in forestry and the creation of national parks, as well as wildlife management and sanitation engineering; a relatively new environmental workforce operates in 47 countries. Also new are the volunteers in business education, who travel to areas with budding market economies and assist in the creation of private businesses. You can visit the Peace Corps Web page to learn more about specific opportunities and to get an online application.

For those interested in teaching English, the Peace Corps TEFL (Teaching English As a Foreign Language) program is the largest organization of American English teachers to operate overseas. Choosing the Peace Corps TEFL program over others will require that you serve a longer term of service in a less-developed region, but all Peace Corps members benefit from the U.S. government’s in-country support network (that Corps veterans say is excellent).

It’s well known that volunteering for the Peace Corps is no walk in the park – aside from being the “toughest job you’ll ever love” it might just be one of the toughest you’ll ever apply for. The Peace Corps looks for people who are strong and healthy and who possess the ability to be alone, both in terms of living conditions and decision-making skills. You must be able to cope with great responsibility and potentially great boredom with equal aptitude. Apply at least nine months before you want to start your tour of duty. During service the program will take care of all your basic needs, including housing and health care. Upon completion of your two years of service, you’ll receive a $5,400 “readjustment” stipend.

AmeriCorps

Last year AmeriCorps volunteers distributed 15 million pounds of food and clothing, built and renovated 5,000 houses and housing units, and taught more than half a million children. Volunteers serve for 10 to 12 months; they receive a “modest living allowance” while serving, and at the completion of their term of service, they are awarded an Education Award in the amount of $4,725 for current educational expenses or the repayment of existing loans. The organization is divided into three main venues for service: the Volunteers in Service to America program, the National Civilian Community Corps program, and the State and National Direct programs.

  • VISTA members live and work for one year in a low-income community in one of four disciplines: education, human needs, public safety, or environmental concerns.
  • NCCC is a 10-month service program that focuses on environmental concerns. The program is limited to volunteers aged 18 to 24 and resembles a college environment in its living arrangements.
  • The State and National Direct program is AmeriCorps’ claim to decentralization – existing national and local nonprofits (many of them founded by VISTA members) are awarded grants directly from the AmeriCorps National Office, which are used, in turn, to subsidize the addition of one or more AmeriCorps volunteers to the organization’s staff. Volunteers in this program apply directly to an AmeriCorps-sponsored organization and are accepted at their organization’s discretion. The AmeriCorps office will provide you with a list of sponsored programs in your area of choice.

To get more information about AmeriCorps, call (800) 942-2677 or visit their Web site.

Insider’s Guide to Americorps

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When I graduated from college, I followed the same path as many of my classmates. I went to interviews with campus recruiters and found a pretty good match with a management consulting company. It was a great learning experience, and it gave me some real-life business experience with which to round out my degrees in economics and geography. But throughout my two years there, I felt that I was lacking something. I had always hoped for a job that would complement my life and vice versa. Something I could integrate into my life without sacrificing happiness or meaning. Of this I was certain: I didn’t want to put in my hours at work and then go home to actually start living my life.

So I began looking for an alternative that would fit these criteria. Setting out, I knew that I enjoyed helping people, wanted to be a part of a strong community and craved a challenge, so I began looking into various national service programs. The job that caught my eye was an Americorps*VISTA position in Burlington, Vermont. The VISTA program (Volunteers in Service to America) was started by Lyndon Johnson in the 60′s as a domestic equivalent to the Peace Corps. Volunteers commit to one year of service and are matched with a community somewhere in the United States. They are often assigned to existing non-profit organizations to work at “capacity-building” activities. This means that volunteers work to help the non-profits serve more people more efficiently and effectively. Often the work involves assessing community needs, providing education, and reaching out to groups that may have been overlooked. Since non-profits are often short-staffed, VISTA becomes a catalyst for new initiatives and improvements.

I arrived in Burlington to meet about 50 other VISTA volunteers who had come here for reasons similar to my own. We went through several days of training at a retreat center on Lake Champlain, listening to community presenters who covered a wide range of topics, from working with the media, to managing volunteers, to community organizing, to time management and so forth. We would be working at programs all over the city, teaching art classes for low-income kids or teaching computer classes for lower-income community groups. There was a great enthusiasm among this group, a galvanizing notion that we were freely giving of ourselves for the benefit of the disadvantaged.

I worked at a program that provided training and counseling for people starting their own businesses — people who needed to hone their business-management skills to better their chances at success. I helped these entrepreneurs set priorities and gauge their needs; I gave presentations around the community on the topics of self-employment, the local economy and available resources; and I worked with other non-profits to improve referrals and communication between organizations. I was absolutely thrilled to find a position that reflected my values — a job that I never wanted to leave at the end of the day.

Throughout my VISTA service I learned a lot about my community. As cliched as it may seem, I came away knowing that I gave something back. Unlike occasional volunteer work, committing to a year of service allows you to use your skills to do something valuable and permanent. And on top of all that, I made wonderful friends, many of them, like myself, opting to remain in Burlington’s non-profit sector.

Soon after I finished my service, I took a position at an organization that provides training for women in the midst of starting small businesses. I attribute my newfound direction and mental focus to my time spent in the VISTA program. I’ve always figured that it’s important that your work be a reflection of who you are. A year of service is an investment in yourself and your community, and a way to find some direction in what may be a confusing time. You may give up a year of a good salary, but the rewards are immeasurable.

To get more information about AmeriCorps, call (800) 942-2677 or visit their Web site.

Insider’s Guide to The Peace Corps

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I decided to join the Peace Corps after graduating from college in 1996. After a tedious application process and many, many visits to the doctor’s office, I was accepted as a Community Agriculture Volunteer in South America. During my first two years of Peace Corps service, I lived in the rural town of Melga, Bolivia, an agricultural community located in the Andes and populated by native Quechuan Indians.

My first assignment was to teach organic farming techniques to local farmers. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was not going to single-handedly convince the Quechans to abandon the potato as the staple of their diet. After much frustration, I created a new assignment for myself, working with the women of the tribe to discuss health and gender issues.

This was more rewarding, but, being stubborn by nature, I still didn’t feel that I had had a “typical” Peace Corps experience. Although the average Peace Corps stint lasts two years, I signed on for an additional tour of duty, spending a total of four years in various parts of Bolivia.

During my service, I learned a few important things about development work and helping people. Here are just a few things to be aware of before joining the Peace Corps:

  • The American concept of work is very different from the rest of the world. Here in the United States, we seem to believe that the busier we are, the more important, popular, and successful we are. If you are not willing to completely change your entire view on work, do not join the Peace Corps. No matter what your project, your primary responsibility is to remain open to the culture and develop friendships with people in your community. This will impact everyone far more than any latrine you build.
  • Conditions will be harsh, and even dangerous. Be assured: you will be sick at one time or another. Physical characteristics of your bodily waste will become topics of dinner conversation. Rabies, malaria and typhoid are all usually prevalent in most countries where volunteers serve. Did I mention the political unrest? The list goes on and on.
  • The local traditional diet can be great. It can also be extremely questionable. And you will probably eat and drink that extremely questionable stuff. I, for example, used to be a vegetarian. I now crave this thing called “anticucho,” otherwise known as “cow heart on a stick”. But the thing is, it’s not always cow heart. Sometimes it’s cow liver, sometimes it’s chicken heart, and sometimes I really didn’t want to know. But God was it good! It was served on a skewer, hot off the coals, with a boiled potato and peanut sauce. Bolivia also has a local drink called chicha. Some describe it as corn beer. I describe it as some thick yellow fluid that tastes like bile. It’s awful. And I love it.
  • As U.S. citizens, we can do very little to help people. The most important thing Peace Corps volunteers can do is to offer respect to those we meet. We can inform people in other cultures of their options in life, but they are the ones that will ultimately help themselves.
If you’re interested in applying for the Peace Corps, here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Visit their website
  • You’ll need to be a U.S. citizen to qualify.
  • Once you’ve filled out an application for Peace Corps, your recruiter will call you for an interview. If accepted, your recruiter will match you with an assignment and a country, which you can accept or decline.

This is an important point, one I’d like to illustrate with a story. My Bolivian friend, Janeth, was 20 years old when she had her baby, Kevin. The baby’s father refused to recognize that Kevin was his child, and Janeth came to me for advice on her legal rights. I knew very little about Bolivian laws, but I told her that I would find out. After researching the options available, I suggested she make an appointment with a local office dedicated to promoting women’s legal rights.

For months, we went to meetings together and worked to have Kevin recognized by his father. Eventually, Janeth started to go to meetings by herself and took complete charge of the situation. Finally, the courts, and the father, officially recognized the child, which meant that Kevin would receive economic support and a second last name. (In Latino culture, if a father does not recognize a child as his, the child has only one last name, causing social as well as potential work problems for the child throughout life). The most important success, however, was that Janeth felt empowered — no small feat for a woman with an 8th grade education who grew up in total poverty.

Helping Janeth was the one thing that I did during my four years in Bolivia that was truly worth something. I let Janeth know about her options and went to a few meetings with her. That was all. But that very simple action was worth more than the school garden program I instituted, the latrines I built or the nutrition classes I gave.

I feel great about my time in Peace Corps. I don’t regret a minute. I had some of the worst moments of my life in Bolivia, but also some of the best.

Instructions for Student Loans

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Volunteers who have outstanding debts under one of the federally administered or guaranteed student loan programs qualify for certain relief during their Peace Corps service. The regulations that authorize this relief are complicated, and different rules apply to each type of loan. The summary below will help you to take advantage of the full range of benefits to which you are entitled.

Remember that it is your responsibility to apply for student loan deferment. YOU must contact your lending institution(s) and request appropriate forms.

Student loans may be deferred for the full period of your Volunteer service, up to 27 months. Your lender may grant you a deferment for the full 27 months, or require you to reapply for a deferment every 12 months. YOU must contact your lender to determine the length of your deferment. If you extend your service, deferral of up to three years is available, but you must apply for this separately. Your Country Director will certify deferment forms for the second, and possibly third years of service. Please take extra deferment forms with you if your deferment must be certified annually.

When determining benefits that are available, you must consider each type of loan and the principal and interest components individually. You may defer principal payments on your Perkins Loans, NDSL loans, Federal Direct Loans, Federal Consolidation Loans, and Stafford Loans (Guaranteed Student Loans or GSLs).

Even though your principal payment is deferred, you must make interest payments on the following unsubsidized loans during your Peace Corps Service: Stafford Loans, Consolidation Loans that include unsubsidized loans, and Direct Loans. You may opt to apply to your lender for forbearance on the interest payment for these loans.

The Department of Education pays the interest during the period of deferment for subsidized Stafford Loans and Consolidation Loans that consolidate only subsidized Stafford Loans.

The Department of Education does not charge interest during the period of deferment for Perkins Loans and subsidized Direct Loans. Please read below for additional details about specific types of student loans.

Volunteers may authorize payments of up to $100 per month from their readjustment allowance to cover interest due on their student loans.

We strongly recommend giving Power of Attorney to a family member or friend to handle your loan deferments while you are in Peace Corps. If questions arise about the account, it is advantageous to have a local contact.

Please note that the role of the Peace Corps in the loan deferment process is limited to certification of your dates and country of service and authorization of deductions from your monthly readjustment allowance. The Peace Corps does not grant or deny deferments of loans.

If you have any further questions concerning your loan deferments, please feel free to contact VRS/Legal Office at 1-800-424-8580, ext. 1845, or (202) 692-1845.

Details on Specific Loans

Perkins Loans

  • Volunteers qualify for a 15 percent loan cancellation for each of their first two years of service and a 20 percent loan cancellation for their third and fourth years of service. Up to 70 percent of a Perkins Loan may be canceled.
  • The Department of Education does not charge interest during the deferment period.
  • Volunteers qualify for a deferment of principal payments during their Peace Corps service and for six months immediately after their service ends. For Perkins Loans obtained before July 1, 1993, this relief is limited to three years of Peace Corps service, but for loans obtained on or after that date, it is available for the entire period of a Volunteer’s service.

Direct Loans
(William D. Ford Direct Loans)

  • Volunteers qualify for a deferment of principal payments for up to three years during Peace Corps service.
  • The Department of Education does not charge interest on subsidized Direct Loans during the deferment period.
  • Volunteers with unsubsidized Direct Loans must pay interest during service or apply to the Department of Education for forbearance.

Stafford Loans
(Guaranteed Student Loans or GSLs)

  • Volunteers qualify for a deferment of principal payments for up to three years during Peace Corps service.
  • The Department of Education pays interest on subsidized Stafford Loans during the deferment period.
  • Volunteers with unsubsidized Stafford Loans must pay interest during the deferment period or apply to their lender for forbearance on interest payments. The availability and terms of forbearance are entirely at the lender’s discretion.

Consolidation Loans

  • Volunteers with Consolidation Loans qualify for a deferment of principal payments for up to three years during service.
  • The Department of Education pays interest on Consolidation Loans that consolidate only subsidized Stafford Loans.
  • Volunteers with Consolidation Loans that include unsubsidized loans must pay interest during the deferment period or apply to their lender for forbearance on interest payments. The availability and terms of forbearance are entirely at the lender’s discretion.

Preparing for the Peace Corps

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A Checklist for College Students

It’s never too early to start learning about the Peace Corps! And even though graduation may seem a long way off, there are some things you can do now that could help you qualify for Peace Corps programs when the time comes to apply.

Freshmen and Sophomores

  • Attend a Peace Corps event. Go to a Peace Corps general information meeting when a recruiter visits your college campus. There, you’ll learn the basics about the Peace Corps’ mission and its programs overseas. You might see a video or slide presentation. And you’ll meet Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and hear their firsthand stories about life overseas. Look on our Web site for a list of upcoming general information meetings on your campus or in your local community.
  • Read about the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps Web site is a great place to start, but many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have published books about their experiences. Click here to see a reading list of books by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer authors.
  • Take French or Spanish. The ability to learn a new language is an important ingredient in a successful Peace Corps experience. Many Peace Corps Volunteer assignments require at least one year of college-level (or two years’ high school-level) French or Spanish. Which language should you choose? If you are interested in serving in Africa, take French; if your interest is in Latin America, take Spanish. Keep in mind that in today’s Peace Corps, there is a greater need for French speakers than for Spanish speakers. Also, while language skill will make your application more competitive, it is not the only factor determining where you will go.
  • Get involved! Peace Corps service is a big commitment that requires an ability to work well with others, organize and lead projects, and motivate groups of people. Getting involved in extracurricular activities — clubs, volunteer work, sports, or other campus or community organizations-will help you gain valuable experiences and leadership skills you’ll need as a Peace Corps Volunteer. And they will strengthen your Peace Corps application when the time comes to apply.

Juniors

  • Learn a language. Start (or continue) studying French or Spanish, and keep up those extracurricular activities. Volunteer work and campus and community involvement can help you qualify for Peace Corps service, and now is a great time to start getting involved.
  • Attend a Peace Corps event. If you haven’t already done so, attend a Peace Corps general information meeting. Look on our Web site for a list of upcoming general information meetings on your campus or in your local community.
  • Pick up a Peace Corps application. You can get an application by calling the Peace Corps at (800) 424-8580, or by requesting one through our Web site. Also, many college and university career centers have copies of the Peace Corps application, the recruitment catalog, and our recruitment video, “How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference?”
  • Submit your application this year! Thanks to Peace Corps’ new early admissions policy, if you apply by the end of your junior year, you could receive your Peace Corps invitation — and know your Peace Corps country and job assignment — as early as semester break your senior year.

Seniors

  • Qualifying. Concerned about whether or not you’ll qualify to become a Peace Corps Volunteer? Call your local Recruiting Office to find out. Dial (800)424-8580, press “1,” and ask to speak with a recruiter. Recruiters are happy to answer questions over the phone! They can suggest ways for you to become qualified for certain Peace Corps assignments, and they can refer you to volunteer organizations in your community where you can gain skills and experiences to strengthen your application.