August 1, 2014

Salut, Balti: How One Peace Corps Volunteer is Helping Her Community Rethink Volunteering

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Leah Kieff ’11 is participating in an initiative in Balti, Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer. Photo courtesy of Peace Corps.

Peace Corps volunteer Leah Kieff, 25, of Fairfax, Va., has been serving as a Community Development volunteer in Moldova since June 2013. Kieff is working with her community to encourage youth volunteerism through the Salut, Balti! initiative. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington in 2011 with her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Philosophy. We did a Q&A with her to learn all about Salut, Balti! and its impact on the community. Bottom line: Peace Corps volunteers do really awesome things!

Q: Where is your Peace Corps site?

A: I live in Balti, Moldova. There are about 150,000 people who live in Balti. For the U.S., it would be a pretty small city. In Moldova however, Balti is the second largest city and it’s sometimes referred to as the northern capital.

Q: Can you describe it?

A: I love my site! When I was first placed here, it wasn’t what I expected for Peace Corps because I was in a city. Now I think of Balti as the absolute BEST city in Moldova. Balti offers me all the advantages of being in the capital – restaurants, grocery stores, gyms, English speakers – without the over-crowded hustle. I also love being in a city with so many active NGOs. I feel like I have an unmatched ability to make a difference on a large scale!

Q: What sorts of volunteer activities are you doing?

A: I love all of my work in Moldova from planting trees, to writing business plans for social enterprise applications with my NGO, to working at a food booth fundraiser, but my particular favorites are giving trainings in Romanian and marketing for fundraisers.

Q: What is Salut, Balti?

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Leah Kieff ’11 presents her initiative in the city of Balti. Photo courtesy of Peace Corps.

A: The project is called Salut, Balti!, which translates to Hello, Balti. In June 2013, Moldova’s national government passed an extensive piece of legislation on volunteering. Among other things, the law stipulates that each of the major cities in Moldova implement a municipal wide volunteer initiative. In August, two other Peace Corps Volunteers in Balti and I began working with the mayor’s office on implementing their volunteer program.

Q: What is the goal?

A: The goal of Salut, Balti! is to promote volunteering in Balti. While this may sound like a simple or perhaps unnecessary task to someone from Northern Virginia, it’s far from simple here. Salut, Balti! offers anyone in Balti a chance to gain skills and to make their community a better place.

Salut, Balti! works as a medium to bridge civil society and local government and assist them in meeting their common goals. The program also offers a chance for youth to gain skills, empowerment, and engagement in their community.

Q: What progress is Salut, Balti! making?

A: The first concrete work of this project was youth trainings implemented over three weekends in November. These youth trainings invited two students from every high school in Balti to be trained on leadership, volunteering, and project management. Over the course of three weekends, we trained over 50 youth. After the trainings, the youth formed project teams, got assigned a mentor, and completed a community project of their choice and design.

These youth work diligently with their mentors and we saw all except one team complete a project within three months. At the end of the three months, we held an event to celebrate the work of the youth and to offer them a chance to continue to stay involved in Salut, Balti’s work.

Q: How is the community involved in the project?

A: To ensure that there would be organizations that were equipped to handle and effectively use the volunteers, we also held a training for NGOs. During the workshop, we offered sessions on how to recruit, train, retain, and reward volunteers. The training was attended by more than 20 representatives from local NGOs and was also covered in the local media.

Salut, Balti now has an office at the municipal government building with resources for local volunteers. The project has successfully placed many youth with organizations in need and currently we are working on a website that will offer a volunteer matching service.

Q: Why should people consider Peace Corps?

A: I would recommend the Peace Corps to anyone who wants the chance to help change the world in a small way. It’s for anyone who wants a job where every day, every week brings new challenges, new funny stories, and more lost in translation moments than most people accrue in a lifetime.

To learn more about the project, check out Salut, Balti! on Facebook: facebook.com/SalutBalti

Article and photos courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of  the Peace Corps. 

Peace Corps Ranks UMW Among Top-Producing Small Colleges

For the 10th year, the Peace Corps has ranked the University of Mary Washington among the nation’s top-producing colleges for alumni now serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

Taylor Parker '11 (left) is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana.

Taylor Parker ’11 (left) is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana.

UMW ranks 10th on the Peace Corps’ list of small schools or institutions with less than 5,000 undergraduates. Currently, UMW has 13 alumni serving around the world, the Peace Corps announced on Feb. 11.

Mary Washington has been included in the top 10 of the Peace Corps’ list of top-producing small schools since 2005.

In all, more than 230 Mary Washington alumni have served the 27-month commitment around the world since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961.

Taylor Parker ’11, a biology major with a pre-med concentration, is in her second year of service as a health, water and sanitation volunteer in Ghana. She works with the Ghana Education Service at the community level to incorporate health education into the curriculum, and is president of the Peace Corps Ghana HIV Committee.

Parker is in her second year as a health, water and sanitation volunteer.

Parker is in her second year as a health, water and sanitation volunteer.

“Everybody says that during your Peace Corps service you will learn a lot about yourself and experience a life-changing event,” she said. “They were right.  Your Peace Corps service is a great time to reflect and decide what you truly want to do for your future endeavors.”

While a student, Parker had conversations with former Peace Corps volunteer and Professor of Biology Alan Griffith about his experiences in Senegal.

“It was one of his stories that sealed the deal,” Parker said. “I began my application the next day.”

For any interested students currently enrolled at UMW, representatives from the Peace Corps will attend the Spring Career Day on Thursday, March 20 and will hold information sessions on campus on Monday, March 24 from 4 to 5 p.m. and from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing schools annually according to the size of the student body. The rankings are calculated based on fiscal year 2013 data as of September 30, 2013, as self-reported by Peace Corps volunteers. A complete list of colleges and universities can be viewed at Peace Corps’ Top Colleges.

Peace Corps Ranks UMW Among Top-Producing Small Colleges

Once again, the Peace Corps has ranked the University of Mary Washington among the nation’s top-producing colleges for alumni now serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

UMW ranks third on the Peace Corps’ list of small schools or institutions with less than 5,000 undergraduates. Currently, UMW has 21 alumni serving around the world, the Peace Corps announced on Feb. 5.

Chad Chadbourn ’06 (right) taught a small business course to high school students as part of his Peace Corps service in Costa Rica

Mary Washington has been named to the Peace Corps’ list of 25 top-producing small schools for the 10th consecutive year. In 2012 and 2011, the university placed No. 1 among schools in the same category, with 30 and 32 alumni serving in the Peace Corps, respectively.

In all, 230 Mary Washington alumni have served the 27-month commitment around the world since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961.

For Chad Chadbourn ’06, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica from 2006 to 2008, UMW fosters values and skills that fit well with the Peace Corps’ mission.

“Mary Washington really encourages students to go about developing a better global mindset,” said Chadbourn, a 2013 MBA candidate at the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business. “The personal initiative, interpersonal skills and communication skills through the writing and speaking intensive courses really enhance one’s ability to be a Peace Corps volunteer.”

Bethany Farrell ’11 currently serves in Morocco as a youth development volunteer.

Bethany Farrell ’11 (first row, third from right) is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco

“I learned so much about myself and about the world during my time at Mary Washington, and I use that education all the time here,” Farrell said. “There are so many tolerant, respectful and open-minded people at Mary Washington, and I try to demonstrate those qualities each and every day of my service.”

For any interested students currently enrolled at UMW, the Peace Corps will hold an information session on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 5 p.m. in Lee Hall, Room 411.

The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing schools annually according to the size of the student body. The rankings are calculated based on fiscal year 2012 data as of September 30, 2012, as self-reported by Peace Corps volunteers. A complete list of colleges and universities can be viewed at Peace Corps’ Top Colleges.

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News release prepared by: Marty Morrison and Brynn Boyer

Overseas Adventures

Bethany Farrell '11 is one of 21 UMW alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps Again Ranks UMW First in Nation Among Top Producing Small Colleges

For the second year in a row, the Peace Corps has ranked the University of Mary Washington No. 1 in the nation among small universities for alumni now serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

Jennifer Davis '08 served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali

Currently, UMW has 30 alumni serving around the world, the Peace Corps announced on January 20.

“I am delighted that our civically minded students and alumni continue to be nationally recognized for their global service,” said UMW President Richard Hurley.

Mary Washington has been named to the Peace Corps list of 25 top producing small schools for the ninth consecutive year. In 2011, the university placed No. 1 among small schools or institutions with less than 5,000 undergraduates, with 32 alumni serving in the Peace Corps. In 2010, UMW ranked No. 2 in the same category, with 23 alumni volunteering for the Peace Corps.

In all, 245 Mary Washington alumni have served the 27-month commitment around the world since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961.

The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing schools annually according to the size of the student body. The rankings are calculated based on fiscal year 2011 data as of September 30, 2011, as self-reported by Peace Corps volunteers.

“The Peace Corps is actively and successfully engaged in 76 countries, and our successes, both this year and during the last five decades, are directly attributable to the outstanding support we have received from the University of Mary Washington,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams in a letter to President Hurley. “These volunteers are applying the skills and knowledge they acquired during their time at the University of Mary Washington to help improve the lives of people across the globe. They are making important contributions to grass-roots projects in agriculture, education, the environment, health and HIV/AIDS education and prevention, small business development, and youth development.”

Ryan Marr ‘11 is following that Peace Corps tradition. He received notice today that he will leave for Benin, Africa.

An English major and French minor, Marr was active in global service at UMW. In 2009, he traveled to Honduras with the Students Helping Honduras.

“The Peace Corps always has been in the back of my brain since I was a freshman,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever had to think about.”

Since its founding, more than 200,000 volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the 139 countries where volunteers have served. Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age.