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Nov. 22, 2011
By Brittany Keithley, media relations assistant
One year after earning their undergraduate degrees, students may be accustomed to a new lifestyle that includes working a full-time job or returning to school for a graduate program. At Northwest Missouri State University, 93 percent of graduates report finding employment or continuing their education within six months.
Devon Brown, a 2010 Northwest graduate, took a different route and swore in as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Ghana, Africa.
Yearning to live abroad and serve his country, Brown initially applied to the Peace Corps as a sophomore at Northwest. After two trimesters abroad including an internship during which he helped distribute laptops to rural schools in Peru, Brown believed the Peace Corps was his calling.
“I knew that the Peace Corps was the perfect organization where I could integrate into a community, know them on a personal level, find out what I could do to help, and try to make a difference in any way that I could,” Brown said.
After three months of Peace Corps volunteer training, Brown is teaching at Nusrat Jahan Ahmadiyya Muslim College of Education, which offers a three-year diploma program for future teachers. Though he is a recent graduate, adjusting to college life in Ghana was no simple task.
“Life here is very slow in comparison to the states,” Brown said. “It takes a very strong will to deal with the cultural differences and have the patience to stick with it.”
To help volunteers adjust to the new culture, the Peace Corps pairs each volunteer with a counterpart in the same field. Brown’s counterpart, who is also an information technology teacher, is working with him to develop an educational movie about HIV and AIDS awareness.
Taking his project on HIV and AIDS awareness to the next level is only the beginning of the impact Brown hopes to leave with the locals in Ghana. With patience, durability, character and an open mind, Brown hopes to continue working with locals to help them in areas like career development, health and water sanitation, natural resource management and social development.
“You can’t be afraid to push the envelope,” Brown said. “Volunteers need to have the ability to freely implement new methodologies into communities while also being culturally sensitive to local customs.”
Brown credits his time at Northwest for helping him develop the skills to thrive in the Peace Corps. He said Northwest not only encourages students to develop academically, but also provides opportunities to apply their knowledge by offering extracurricular activities like becoming an English as a Second Language tutor, studying abroad, working at internships, or work study programs.
“My education at Northwest prepared me very well for my volunteer experience here in Ghana,” Brown said. “Northwest expanded my horizon by exposing me to the outside world, while also keeping that personal feeling that you have with a tightknit community.”
Brown encourages students to take advantage of opportunities so when they do volunteer they are better equipped to learn and grow. In Ghana, Brown adapted to the different way of living. Cooking can take up a whole day, most volunteers have to fetch water from the nearest borehole, buying groceries could be a two-day excursion to the closest market, and starting a fire to boil water could turn into an hour-long project.
“Most of these things sound very unattractive, but the process to get through these situations builds problem-solving skills that are invaluable,” Brown said.
Seeing the disparities and experiencing those situations helped change Brown’s perspective. Brown believes taking time to open his mind and learn from his experience will lead him to greater lessons and a better understanding of the human condition.
“The good thing about the Peace Corps, in general, is that volunteers have time,” Brown said. “You have time to think, time to try new things, time to make mistakes, time to learn, and time to grow. If you have the patience to deal with all the obstacles that you are faced with, I have no doubt in my mind that anyone who completes the full Peace Corps experience will at least come out a more understanding and patient person.”
For the next two years Brown will teach in Ghana, but his journey doesn’t end there.
“Peace Corps service doesn’t end after your two years,” Brown said. “It is an experience that will change you in whatever way you want it, for the rest of your life. Also it is the job of a Peace Corps volunteer to bring that attitude and experience back to the states to share.”
Since the Peace Corps founding in 1960, more than 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.
Mark Hornickel, Media Relations Specialist
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