“In many cases a Peace Corps volunteer is the only American the communities will ever see or have the experience to talk to,” said Aaron Williams, the director of Peace Corps during a reception Wednesday to celebrate UNC-CH’s involvement in the Peace Corps.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is ranked sixth in the top 25 of large schools that produce volunteers for the Peace Corps. Williams said, UNC-CH currently has 78 alumni volunteers and has placed 1, 092 volunteers in other countries for service.
The auditorium was packed at the FedEx Global Education Center with students and people of all ages waiting to hear Williams speak about the Peace Corps and what it has to offer possible volunteers.
“The Peace Corps is a life-defining experience and nothing compares to the experience you will gain during that time,” said Williams.
This is an exciting time for volunteering in other countries and participating in the Peace Corps due to President Barack Obama’s call to service. The program was given $400 million this year in allocation funds, the most it has ever been given. The Peace Corps is looking forward to using that money to put volunteers to work, said Williams.
Volunteers represent all 50 states and while most are college graduates, 14 percent are over the age of 30, 15 percent have a minority background and 6 percent are serving with their spouses. They serve in over 76 countries and speak over 250 languages.
The program is only growing in popularity with 15,000 applicants in 2009. More than 60 university campuses have adopted the Peace Corps Masters program which incorporates graduate study while students are volunteering.
“We are growing because the program is relevant right now. Volunteers are working at the grass roots level and are change makers addressing issues like fighting malaria, educating about AIDS and teaching English,” said Williams.
Williams’ also touched on his own personal story of volunteering for the Peace Corps from 1967-1970 in the Dominican Republic. At the age of 21 he took his first airplane ride into a country he had not even known existed and his life was forever changed.
The audience included more than students and interested candidates, a large number of past volunteers also attended.
“You saw that there were a lot of volunteers in the audience and we do sort of feel like we are family, if we meet somebody or go to a party and find out they served in the Peace Corps then it’s really great. We have a lot to talk about,” said Sam Brooks, a recent volunteer in the Philippines.
But as the speech came to an end and refreshments and finger foods were laid out for the attendees, possible candidates asked questions of those who had served
“I am really into it because I love to volunteer and it is top-notch volunteering. Plus, you get to travel and be immersed into another culture and do something new and impactful. I am really excited to get involved,” said Blair Budd, a sophomore at UNC-CH.
Jeff West, special assistant to Williams, said volunteers could look forward to a modest monthly stipend while serving, transportation to and from the country of service, and readjustment allowances to aid their getting back on their feet after they return.
Interested candidates are encouraged to attend monthly information sessions on campus as well as to begin the process online. The local Peace Corps recruiting officer, Chinyere Alu resides in Hanes Hall on main campus. She is available for questions and responsible for interviewing candidates as well as placing them in the countries they will serve. Alu can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The event was sponsored by UNC-CH’s University Career Service, Division of Student Affairs, Center for Global Initiates, Africa Studies Center, The North Carolina Peace Corps Association and the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.