Lara: What was special about your experiences at Peace Corps and AmeriCorps?
Rachel: My time as both a Peace Corps Volunteer and an AmeriCorps VISTA has been phenomenal. I have really lucked out with my roles as an English as a Second Language teacher and my time at Youth Venture, both as part of the AmeriCorps program. I think the important thing to remember is that everyone's Peace Corps and AmeriCorps experiences are extremely different. You might be at the same site as another volunteer, but your time, relationships and experiences will vary greatly.
For Peace Corps I was stationed in the Federated States of Micronesia, on a very small remote island in the state of Chuuk (about an eight hour plane ride from Hawaii). My island was about one-square-mile with a population of 400-500 people. It was very small. It was the perfect assignment for me. Living in such a small community forced me to learn the language. I was the only non-local on the island, so I was forced to integrate into the culture and community. It was amazing! And who doesn't love living on the beach?
With AmeriCorps VISTA, I got my dream job, working with Ashoka's Youth Venture, working with amazing high-schoolers in DC and promoting social entrepreneurship. It combined everything I wanted to do. Youth Venture has given me the opportunity to define my service and put my stamp on the position, to make it my own. I have been given a great deal of independence and support to take on projects. And most importantly, I have so much fun. I love what I do.
Lara: Do you think volunteerism risks discouraging initiative and self-help among those at the receiving end and making them dependent on hand-outs?
Rachel: One of the first things to remember is that both AmeriCorps sites and Peace Corps communities must invite a volunteer into their community. The application process to receive a volunteer requires the host site to consider sustainability and initiative. By inviting a Volunteer into their community they are using their initiative. It is then your job as a volunteer in the community to work on using community members and creating sustainable projects that can live on long past your tenure there.
A perfect example of this was the health clinic on my island. It was started in 1971 by the first volunteer to serve there. That was almost 40 years ago, and the clinic is still up and running, serving as a model for other island communities. Pancho, the former Volunteer, not only helped build the actual building and train health-aids, but he put the leaders of the island in touch with valuable agencies and people that could help them continue to expand and improve their small island clinic. He created a system that could keep expanding and growing without him.
Lara: How do you ensure that your work at Peace Corps and AmeriCorps is continuing to bring benefits in the long term?
Rachel: That is a common question, especially when people ask me about my Peace Corps experience. Our goals, as both Peace Corps Volunteers and AmeriCorps Volunteers, are to
encourage sustainable projects.
We are assigned to projects to
build capacity. While we might be
the ones initiating a project, no
project is successful if it is not
long-lasting. Our goal is to train
locals to run each project. A lot of
times it is just making connections
to organizations and systems that
host-country nationals would not
necessarily have access to. For
example, during my time in
Micronesia I started a small
library on my island. It was the
connections Peace Corps helped
me form and my educational
background that allowed me to
find donated books and set up a
functional library. The library is
still running, and the community
just hired their first paid librarian.
Lara: What lessons have you learned at Ashoka that would benefit budding social entrepreneurs?
Rachel: Working at Ashoka's Youth Venture has been an amazing experience. I have met some remarkable agents of change. I think the single greatest thing I have learned is to never stop dreaming.
I remember when I was applying to work with Youth Venture and Romina was interviewing me. A question she asked stood out in my mind for weeks after. I think it was that question alone that made me want to work at Youth Venture. She asked, 'If you had unlimited resources to design and implement any project you wanted, what would it be?" What an amazing question! Think about it, if you could do anything in the world, what would it be? I realized right then that I wanted to work for an organization that had a mindset like that. And I realized I wanted to work in a place that fostered people to think big. So, my advice would be to think big!
Lara: How can Ashoka's Youth Venture Program benefit high school students like me? What are the eligibility requirements?
Rachel: A favorite quote
of mine is, "If you think
that young people are
the leaders of tomorrow,
you are procrastinating".
I think that epitomizes
Youth Venture. Youth
Venture aims to inspire
and support young
people around the world
to be changemakers
today, thus joining our
global community of
We encourage young
people to match their
passions with problems
they see in their
they decide to define
community--to create a club or organization that has a benefit to society.
Each idea, club, group, (or Venture as we call it) MUST:
If you have an idea for a club or organization in your community, feel free to contact me at email@example.com and we can continue working towards making it a reality! I can explain the process in greater detail and help you work towards joining our network of young changemakers.