Spreading the 'Peace'
UGA alumni heed Peace Corps call to do their part and give back.
After UGA students graduate, many of them end up working abroad. UGA currently ranks 17th on the Peace Corps’ 2014 rankings of the top volunteer-producing colleges and universities in the U.S. As of spring semester, UGA had 44 alumni volunteering worldwide through the program, and 570 UGA alumni have traveled abroad to serve as volunteers since the Peace Corps began in 1961.
John Elliott, a 2004 UGA graduate, went to Madagascar with the Peace Corps in 2005. He joined after his sister was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and he decided that he wanted to give back.
As a community health volunteer, he worked in triage at the local clinic in the mornings, seeing patients before they went to see the doctor. He taught classes on various health topics including HIV/AIDS, family planning, nutrition and respiratory tract infection prevention.
“What didn’t I learn?” Elliott said of his service. “I became completely immersed in Malagasy language and culture. Madagascar has a rich culture that is a blend of southern African and Polynesian cultures. I learned that despite the dissimilarities between the U.S. and Madagascar, there are many things, humor especially, that cross cultural and linguistic boundaries.”
The experience sparked Elliott’s interest in health disparities. After attending medical school at Emory University, he’s now an internal medical resident in internal medicine also at Emory University.
Emily Crawford Misztal, a 2006 UGA graduate, quit her job as a photojournalist to join the Peace Corp in 2008. She’d learned about Peace Corps’ mission while at UGA and knew she wanted to try and make the world just a little bit better.
At a preventive health program in rural Guatemala, she worked with students, health workers, midwives and other groups to help educate them about diseases. She discussed healthy childbirth practices, HIV/AIDS prevention, domestic violence and other topics with local midwives and worked to get better equipment donated for the women.
“My Peace Corps experience changed my perspective on poverty in a big way,” she said. “When I showed pictures of my experience to my friends and family, a common reaction was ‘Look how poor they are!’ which was not how I saw many Guatemalans at all. One family I knew had a dirt floor and an outhouse, which many people see as markers of poverty. But they also had a library, a computer, an artisan loom and were educating all of their nine children, which is very middle class. Indicators of wealth and poverty can be very different in other places.
“I still think about my Peace Corps experience almost every day,” said Crawford. “Whether it’s missing the earthy taste of fresh, handmade maize tortillas or trying to treat foreigners with dignity as I remember how it felt as a stranger in a new country. I would recommend Peace Corps to alumni who are looking for a life-changing volunteer opportunity. Guatemala was then and is now a country facing many challenges. But the young people I met there made me optimistic about their future. And I believe Peace Corps has a role to play in that development.”
— Sara Freeland