Profile: Azikiwe Chandler
I have always had wanderlust. I was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, but I was born in Brooklyn, and that is where I spent most of my summers during my high school years. As an architecture major at the University of Notre Dame, I was able to study in Rome for a year.
I knew I could make a living in architecture. However, on field trips to cathedrals and other historic buildings, I found myself just as interested in the group dynamics of youth tour groups as in the architecture. While in high school, I tutored middle school students and coached youth soccer teams. Throughout college, my summer jobs also involved working with kids. As I thought of how I could best contribute to making the world a better place during my junior year, I realized that working with youth was my calling.
After graduating, I wanted to do meaningful work in a foreign country and learn another language, but I couldn’t justify volunteering overseas without first working to eradicate problems in the United States. So I spent three years with AmeriCorps and then joined the Peace Corps.
I was hoping for a warm site where I could work with black people, learn Spanish, and be near the water. I was assigned to Bluefields, Nicaragua, and could not be happier with the way things worked out. As an urban youth development Volunteer, I teach English to high school students. I also organized a soccer team for 10- to 14-year-old boys. Daily practice and weekend competitions give them a healthy alternative to drugs and other negative influences. Just as important, my job is to try to instill a sense of self-esteem and self-worth, so that the kids are empowered to reach their fullest potential.
Most of the students here are black. They’ve had Peace Corps Volunteers before, but I’m the first African American. The high school director is thrilled to have me working here. She appreciates Peace Corps Volunteers of any kind who come and help, but she realizes how beneficial it is for black children to have black role models. I’ve made a difference in their lives, and I’m really proud of that.
The Peace Corps is something that African Americans should consider for a number of reasons. The Peace Corps gives us the opportunity to travel and do meaningful work in developing countries without going broke. The living allowance is adequate, and you have excellent medical and dental insurance during your service. The Peace Corps is also a stepping stone toward future endeavors.
The readjustment allowance helps us land on our feet when we return to the States, and the fellowship programs significantly reduce the cost of many graduate school programs. Potential employers are looking for problem solvers. They’re looking for leaders. They’re looking for people who can work within different cultures. Having a second language definitely helps. These are all things that I’ve gained as a Peace Corps Volunteer. This is what I consider real-life graduate school.
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