Woman raising arms while standing with large letters that spell out “Baranoa” (Courtesy of Patricia Etienne)
Peace Corps volunteer Patricia Etienne stands with a sign that reads “Baranoa,” which is a city within Colombia's Atlántico department. (Courtesy of Patricia Etienne)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck a couple years ago, the Peace Corps evacuated its volunteers from their posts to protect public health. Today, those same volunteers, and many new ones, are taking up the corps’ mission of service, and with renewed enthusiasm.

Volunteers have returned to Belize, the Dominican Republic, the eastern Caribbean, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. And that’s just the beginning: The organization is fielding requests from many other places and plans to send out more volunteers in the coming months.

We spoke to two, one a veteran Peace Corps member and another a first-timer, about their projects in the Americas.

English lessons

Patricia Etienne smiling (Courtesy of Patricia Etienne)
Patricia Etienne, a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia (Courtesy of Patricia Etienne)

Patricia Etienne, 26, from Florida, says that her former bosses, who are returned Peace Corps volunteers, have a lot to do with her commitment to the work. They told her that, while serving others, she could learn a new language, gain work experience and learn to adapt to situations. Their enthusiasm pushed her to decide that, for her, volunteering for the Peace Corps is a “dream job.”

Since arriving in Colombia’s Atlántico region recently, she has become fully engrossed in the “observation and integration phase” of her service. Soon she will be working as an English teacher alongside Colombian counterparts, and she hopes that together they can make lessons dynamic and enjoyable for students.

Learning English shouldn’t be done in a lecture hall,” she says. “It should be fun, practical and easy to understand.”

Cultural appreciation

Benjamín Ochoa González, 27, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Indonesia when the pandemic forced him home. He waited for months for another opportunity, and recently the Peace Corps sent him to the Monte Plata province of the Dominican Republic to help schoolchildren improve their literacy.

The son of Mexicans who immigrated to the United States, González grew up in Southern California. He says the Dominican Republic prompts him to reflect on his Latino heritage. His host family, for instance, keeps in touch with relatives both near and far. Their strong family ties remind him of his parents’ stories about their own big families. “I am starting to understand and relate more to my own parents’ experiences of growing up in a Latino country,” he says.

At the school where he volunteers, González sees colleagues join lively discussions at meetings. “Everyone asks each other how they are doing and how their family is doing, and they’ll follow up on previous conversations.” He says he appreciates their warmth, and tries to bring a similar approach into the classroom.

Man kneeling with group of children as they pose for photo (Courtesy of Benjamín Ochoa González)
Benjamín Ochoa González (third from right) is working with students in the Monte Plata province of the Dominican Republic. (Courtesy of Benjamín Ochoa González)

“From my first Peace Corps service, I came out with lifelong friends and a true sense of a home in Indonesia,” he says. “I can’t wait to see what new relationships I build here in the Dominican Republic.”