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Travel the world at UA's 2017 Peace Corps Fair

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Brandi Walker | The Daily Wildcat

Cathy Della Penta, a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Niger and Senegal, points out the region where she served on a map during the ninth annual Peace Corps Fair in 2015. The Peace Corps Fair included booths for more than 50 countries where the Peace Corps is active.

The Peace Corps is bringing the world to the Student Union Memorial Center North Ballroom this Tuesday, Feb. 28 from 2 to 6 p.m. for the 2017 Peace Corps Fair. According to their mission statement, the Peace Corps endeavor to accomplish three goals in order to promote world peace and friendship and with this fair, they are working towards the third: “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.”

This year, more than 140 past volunteers will be participating in the fair and sharing their experiences with interested students and members of the community. Each country represented will have a group of service members who have each spent two years in their respective country. The Peace Corps have service program opportunities in over 60 countries, so there will be cultures represented from across the globe.

The theme of the fair this year is, “Make the World your Home.” All the tables will have some element of this theme to show visitors what “home” means to the culture they are representing. Those who attend can track their travels with passports and see how many different places they are able to learn about during the fair.

“It’s an opportunity for anyone who is interested in the Peace Corps to learn about what real life experiences are from people who have served all over the globe,” said Corinna Brower, a public health graduate student.

Brower spent three years with the Peace Corps in Morocco in the early 2000s where she lived and volunteered in a small farming community in the mountainous area of the country. She spent her time helping improve public healthcare and did everything from helping educate women on home birth safety to participating in a community water source mapping endeavor.

Brandi Walker | The Daily Wildcat

Benjamin Kowalski, a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Ecuador, explains the public health work that he did while abroad from 2012 to 2014 at the ninth annual Peace Corps Fair in 2015. 

Teaching women and girls to read Arabic was another program Brower participated in during her time away. While Arabic and French are the main languages spoken in the country, Brower’s community mainly spoke an indigenous language to the region. 

The community has a healthcare center, but it is only equipped with bare necessities. Running water is accessible for only a few hours each day, so people have to travel to Arabic-speaking areas to obtain any advanced healthcare. Brower taught women and girls to read the Arabic alphabet so they could understand the basic language if they had to seek out medical treatment.

While serving, Brower developed strong friendships with members of the community and even met her husband who was also a part of the Peace Corps.

“I was a little, single, white Christian female in the middle of an Arabic Islamic farming community and I don’t think I ever felt safer,” Brower said. “I was surrounded by people that were incredibly generous and welcoming.”

Across the globe, Peace Corps fellow Anna Carolina Ortiz also taught language to the people of Las Margaritas, Panama. Ortiz lived and volunteered in the country from 2011 to 2013 and began co-teaching English to students from kindergarten to ninth grade. Towards the end of her first year, however, Ortiz believed she could find a way to broaden her impact.

“I partnered up with some of my other fellow volunteers in the area and we decided instead of targeting the students, we were going to target the teachers directly,” Ortiz said, also a public health graduate student. “We developed a series of professional development seminar and therefore, we had a wider audience, because instead of just focusing on the teachers in our school, we invited all the teachers in the region.”

Ortiz said one of her favorite things about being a Peace Corps fellow is the relationships she has built with other fellows.

The map for this year's Peace Corps Fair. Current Fellows contributed pictures from their host countries to make the map as a part of the theme "Make the World Your Home."

“It doesn’t matter if I served in Central America, I can go over to someone that served in Central Asia and we have a lot of very similar experiences,” Ortiz said. “We understand what it’s like to come back to the United States and have culture shock and there’s an underlying basis of understanding and camaraderie that comes with it.”

Ortiz particularly enjoys sharing her experiences with those who volunteered abroad in the 1960s or '70s to see how the world and the Peace Corps has changed over the years.

Brower, Ortiz and many other Peace Corps fellows will be recounting their experiences at the fair and encouraging others to have similar experiences of their own.

“It was an amazing experience,” Brower said. “It really shaped the way I look at the world for the rest of my life.”


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