Working for peace abroad
Tyler Breedlove | reporter
The Peace Corps was established more than 50 years ago, in 1961, and since then has been sending Americans to travel and help others around the world.
Mackenzie Garst and Erin Sims, former PSU students, gave presentations on their experiences with the Peace Corps on Friday, April 26.
The presentations followed a meeting of representatives of the Peace Corps who announced a partnership with Pittsburg State University. Lynette Olson, vice president for academic affairs, was present to sign the agreement.
This agreement allows more opportunities for PSU students who are interested in joining the Peace Corps.
About 15 people attended the presentations, mostly students. Coffee and snacks were served, and brochures with more information about the Peace Corps were handed out.
Garst began with her presentation on her visit to Grenada, an island state in the Caribbean. She said that the process took several months, especially the medical aspects.
“I wasn’t injured after graduating,” Garst said. “I wasn’t expecting it would take that long.”
A local school was the main focus of Garst’s time in Grenada. There, she started a program called “Little Readers, Big Dreams,” that helped teach younger children how to read. Garst said that her second-grade class did not even know the alphabet.
“They have British schools and learn British literature,” Garst said, “but they don’t speak British English.”
Garst also joined the Grena
da National Organization of Women, in order to help combat the high sex-crime rate.
Garst said that she has one simple piece of advice for people who want to help a community.
“When all else fails, find a school,” Garst said. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
Sims then gave her presentation over her visit to Ukraine. She said that this visit was difficult at first, because there was a low level of optimism there due to the civil unrest in the country.
“They didn’t understand why we would come to Ukraine and work for no money,” Sims said. “They were almost offended by it sometimes.”
Sims said that the process was difficult, and that she spent up to five or six hours a day practicing her foreign language for the trip. She said that like Garst, she focused on teaching while in the country.
“Our focus was teaching leadership and empowerment,” Sims said. “Critical thinking was something I focused on the most.”
She focused on raising HIV/AIDS awareness in the country, and promoted several creative writing programs. She made a documentary in honor of the Ukraine’s 20th anniversary.
Sims said that volunteers have a large impact on the communities that they visit.
“All you have to really do is be there, and be yourself,” she said.
Garst said that the Peace Corps is important not just because of the impact it makes, but because it allowed her to pursue her passions.
“My greatest passion in the Peace Corps was working with these kids,” Garst said.