Blog

  • Anne Park served as a Secondary Education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Philippines from 2006 - 2008. Upon her return to the states, Anne pursued a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs (CIPA). Now she is the Director of Strategy and Development for Small Enterprise Assistance Funds. 

     

    Thanks for your Peace Corps service!  Where and when did you serve and what did you do?

    I was a Secondary Education Volunteer on the Island of Bohol in the Philippines from 2006-2008.  As a teacher at Baclayon High School I worked closely with the English Department and ran the English Club.  I also facilitated workshops on health and wellness and environmental education.  Most of my students’ parents were fisherman so I also did a lot of coastal resource management work and helped them tap into the burgeoning local ecotourism industry on the island.  Working at the school was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  The students were absolutely wonderful to work with and the community was warm and welcoming.

     

    Anne with her English Club at their high school graduation.


    What motivated you to go back to school after your service?  Did your PCV experience give you any unique advantages over your classmates?

    While in the Peace Corps I developed an interest in working with small businesses in emerging markets and felt a masters degree would help me get better insights into the market forces which impacted them.  The Cornell Institute of Public Affairs (CIPA) has an interdisciplinary approach which attracted me to the school because I was able to take classes across campus.  As an RPCV I had on the ground experience living and working in a developing country which helped me contextualize a lot of the lessons, research and theories I was exposed to at Cornell.

     

    Anne with the Women in Public Policy group of which she was President during her second year at Cornell.


    How how your post-PCV schooling helped in your career?  Would you recommend other RPCVs to consider going back to school?

    After I graduated from Cornell, I took a role as a Presidential Management Fellow at the State Department working on a new team supporting entrepreneurs in emerging markets.  I believe it was the combination of field experience and masters degree from CIPA which helped me get this role.  After a few years at the State Department I transitioned to a role at an impact investing firm which invests in entrepreneurs in emerging markets where I am the Director of Strategy and Development.  Again, I was able to leverage my Peace Corps experience and education to create this role at the organization.  For those interested in returning to school, I would suggest they think through where they want to be in 5 years from now and what passion they want to pursue and select a program which best aligns with these goals.  A masters program will not directly help you uncover your passion or future profession, but it will help you gain the tools needed realize your goals. So taking the initial step of reflecting and thinking through ones short and long term vision for themselves is helpful to getting the most out of a masters program.

     

  • 05 Oct 2016 by Elizabeth (Ella) Dowell

    Michael Abkin, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria from 1966 to 1968, shared his experiences with the National Peace Corps Association.

     

    (Left) RPCV Michael Abkin with an Ondo medicine man in 1967. (Right) Mike with former student, Victor Ogunmakin, on a return trip to Nigeria in 2010.

     

    What is your favorite memory from your time in the Peace Corps?

    From 1966 to 1968, I taught French at Ondo Boys' High School, in the town of Ondo, in what was then Nigeria's Western Region. There were many expatriates in Ondo at the time, mainly Brits and Israelis building the new roads from Ile‐Ife to Ondo and from Ondo to Ilorin, as well as Peace Corps and Voluntary Service Overseas (British) volunteers and a smattering of business people.

    When the Eastern Region of Nigeria seceded in 1967 and the civil war broke out, many of the Ibos in Ondo fled in fear of reprisals. One of them had tended the town's cold store, a general store with refrigerated and frozen items. He just locked it up and disappeared. This left the town, mainly its expatriates, without a ready source of the canned and other imported food items they liked that were not otherwise available in the local markets.

    Kadejo Bademosi, a math teacher at OBHS and my best friend there, enlisted me in his idea to open a new cold store to serve that expatriate market. With other OBHS teachers, we formed a partnership, everyone putting up some money as start‐up capital. We scouted sites for the store and found one at the intersection of two major roads in town, deciding to call the store (of course!) Junction Stores. Some of my favorite memories are of Kadejo and I getting up in the wee hours on non-school days to catch a bus for the 100-mile trip to Ibadan to find wholesale suppliers and purchase inventory for the store. We'd then haul the loads back to Ondo in and on top of buses, vans and lorries.

    On one trip, we even bought and brought back to Ondo a freezer and began selling ice cream. We wanted to do it the right way, so we registered the partnership and Junction Stores with the Nigerian authorities, hired staff and opened for business. I, of course, was listed as one of the partners. A few weeks later, I got a message from the Western Region Peace Corps office in Ibadan asking me, a U.S. volunteer, if I had gone into business!

    Embarrassed at my diplomatic naiveté, I sold my shares to the other partners and technically got out of business. I still, however, continued those shopping trips to Ibadan with Kadejo, now, properly, as a volunteer. In 1970, two years after leaving Peace Corps, I returned to Nigeria on a research trip and found Junction Stores still in operation. A year after that, on a subsequent trip, it was no longer there.

     

    How has the Peace Corps impacted your life?

    In October 2010, I returned to Nigeria to attend and present a paper at the Second Regional Summit of the African Alliance for Peace, hosted by the Nigeria Alliance for Peace in Nigeria's capital, Abuja. In the last 30 years, what had been the village of Abuja had disappeared into the burgeoning, sprawling megalopolis that is now home to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the five million people that have come with it. A multi-lane, divided highway rings the city. Well, it used to ring it, anyway. The highway is still there, but the city has overrun it, leaving it in the dust of the constant construction of roads, bridges, pastel apartment blocks, gated housing communities, and satellite villages.

    And the food! I enjoyed Nigerian food on this trip as never before. For fried plantain, of course, my mouth has always watered, ever since that first succulent bite way back in 1966, but the rest of it: fish pepper soup, pepper chicken, boiled yam, jolof rice, even jolof spaghetti, and washing it all down with Guinness Stout and Star Beer. I felt indeed "brighter by far."

    Then, there's the story of how Victor Ogunmakin and I met. In August that year, Victor attended the Peacebuilding Peacelearning Intensive, a program of the National Peace Academy (with whom I work now) at Wilmington College in Ohio. Victor was an engineer and deputy director of strategic services in Nigeria's federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. He was determined to return home to work for nonviolent conflict resolution and corporate social responsibility in the troubled, oil‐rich Niger Delta region. It turned out that this was not our first meeting!

    Over lunch one day, Victor and I got to talking about Nigeria, and I told him I'd served there in the Peace Corps. The conversation proceeded from there:

    Victor: "Oh, where did you serve?"
    Me: "In Ondo, in what was then the Western Region."
    Victor: "That's my town. I'm from there!"
    Me: "Really? Well, I taught at Ondo Boys High School."
    Victor: "That's my school; I graduated from there!"
    Me: "Wow! Well, I left there in 1968."
    Victor: "That's the year I graduated! We were there at the same time!"
    Me: "Well, how about that. I was the French teacher."
    Victor: "The French teacher? I was in your class!"

    That's how we discovered each other again, 42 years later in a small town in Ohio.

  • 17 Sep 2016 by Lie NorCalPCA

    Clinton Etheridge served in Gambia from 1970-72. A July 2011 trip back to West Africa with his family inspired him to write a reflection piece, “What is Africa to Me?” for the Swarthmore College Bulletin. Read an interview with Clinton below and his article here.

     

    Tell us a little about your background and where you served

    I was a secondary school math teacher in Peace Corps Gambia from 1970-1972. I grew up in Harlem, came of age during the civil rights movement, and was a black student leader at Swarthmore College in the late 60s. Like many young blacks of that generation, I wore an afro and dashiki and was “black and proud” and fascinated with Africa. I joined Peace Corps Gambia seeking the answer to the question “What is Africa to me?” posed by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen in his 1925 Heritage.

     

    Clinton in Bajul, the Gambian capital, with his friend Ousman Njie (1971)

     

    What was it like to be a person of color in Gambia?

    I was the first black PCV in country and was liked and respected by both the Gambians and the Peace Corps community.  I was the “Senior Maths Master” (math department chairman) at Latrikunda School and the Treasurer of the Gambia Mathematical Association and the Peace Corps Math Curriculum Development Coordinator, acting as liaison to the Gambian Education Department for the hosting of math curriculum workshops throughout the country.  I was also a member of the Peace Corps basketball team.

    As a black PCV in Gambia, I was something of a minor celebrity. Any time African-Americans came to the country, the Gambians would tell them, “You have to meet that black Peace Corps chap Clinton Etheridge.” That’s how I met Alex Haley. 

     

    What was meeting Alex Haley like?

    I met Alex Haley in Gambia in March 1972, a few months before my two year Peace Corps stint would end and four years before his international best-seller Roots would be published—the story of how he traced his African ancestor, Kuntah Kinteh, to Juffureh Village in Gambia.

    I knew of Alex Haley because he’d helped Malcolm X write The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was a sacred text for us black college students in the 60s. When I met Alex Haley, I knew Gambia intimately, having visited every major town to help conduct math workshops as the Peace Corps Math Curriculum Development Coordinator. Given that background, I was dumbstruck when Alex Haley told me that he was in Gambia to go up river “in search of my ancestor.” As a grizzled Peace Corps vet, I couldn’t tell Alex Haley the truth as I saw it:  there was nothing there to find up river.

    But oh boy was I wrong. In January 1977, when Roots was exploding on American TV, the full meaning sunk in of what Alex Haley was trying to tell me back in Gambia.

     

    What inspired you to write "What is Africa to Me?"

    I wrote “What is Africa to Me?” because I believe I had something important to say about being an African-American going to Africa twice: first as a PCV in Gambia and decades later as a father on a pilgrimage back to Gambia with his children and granddaughter. There are so many stereotypes about Africa. When I was growing up it was Tarzan. Nowadays, the stereotypes are about a continent gripped by poverty, disease, and civil war. To be sure, these stark realities are part of Africa today. But there is a more complex reality that is eclipsed by the stereotypes. That is why I believe every African-American should go to Africa at least once—if only for a little while—to get a reality check on “The Motherland.”

     

    Clinton (second from the left) at a board meeting in Kumasi, Ghana for one of his customers as a Stanford business coach

     

    How has being an RPCV helped you in your work since you've returned?

    While teaching math for two years in Gambia, I became interested in African economic development. Consequently, after Peace Corps I got an MBA from Stanford Business School to help me apply my math background in a wider arena through the financial analysis of business and economic development situations, including those in Africa.

    Since the Etheridge family pilgrimage to Gambia, I was a Stanford business coach based in Ghana, mentoring six high potential West African small and medium enterprises (SMEs)—four from Ghana, one from Nigeria, and one from Sierra Leone. As a Stanford business coach, I was seeking to reduce poverty in Africa by helping transform high potential SMEs into market leaders and world-class companies through a process that creates jobs and promotes economic development. 

    As a Stanford business coach, I was able to witness up close and personal “the new emerging Africa.” The IMF estimates that seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies from 2011-2015 were in Sub-Saharan Africa—Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia, and Nigeria. Further, the UN projects that within the next 100 years, Africa will overtake Asia as the world’s more populous continent. As a black American, I started out asking the question, “What is Africa to me?”  But going forward, I believe the more important question will be, “What is Africa to the world?”

     

    Read about Clinton's experience bringing his family back to Gambia here.

     

    Clinton welcomes all questions, discussion, and feedback! You can comment below or email him at clintonetheridge@sbcglobal.net