Retired Houston teacher shares Peace Corps story

By Tommy R. Chambers
May 2, 2016

In today’s world, it is imperative that we educate youth about Peace Corps’ mission to instill a sense of global citizenship to promote world peace and friendship.

If we broaden their perspectives, and increase cultural awareness within the context of community service, we are preparing leaders of the future to provide a safer and more stable world.

To reach across the oceans for a greater understanding of other peoples and their cultures is at the heart of Peace Corps’ Third Goal. This can be translated in the classroom to encourage students to reach across the aisle to their fellow classmates for the same. After all, today’s classroom is comprised of students of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as newly arrived immigrants, so a broader global perspective is important.

I am currently visiting area middle and high schools in Houston, Texas, as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Zimbabwe, 1993-95), but also a retired middle school teacher to share the Peace Corps experience. I find an assembly format reaches as many students as possible per school system.

During the presentation, it is important to relate overseas experiences, but also to motivate the teachers as well as the students so there is a curiosity for Peace Corps. This can be accomplished in a myriad number of ways: exotic destinations, cultural traditions, interesting activities, and challenges. I also choose to focus on the potential of those 27 months of Peace Corps service to go beyond the requirements of the position, and to do more based on individual interests. Peace Corps provides its Volunteers flexibility to pursue secondary projects. These projects, activities, programs, and events also have a direct impact on the community, and provide self-growth and self-worth at the same time.

I developed secondary projects, and mention it during school presentations to demonstrate how Peace Corps service impacted me. Not only did I do my Volunteer assignment: training staff and implementing computer database for collections information, but I also initiated a vocational arts program for dropouts, and initiated a vocational arts program for street children. This can be translated in the classroom to encourage students and even teachers to get involved in their communities and look for where their interests align with a community need.

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools Program

 is an integral part of the Third Goal’s impetus to share the Peace Corps experience, and it assists teachers to increase 21st century global learning through stories, activities, and classroom resources - all of which are based on Peace Corps Volunteer experience. The key is follow-up by the teacher in the classroom to build on an RPCV’s presentation for a lasting effect. The lesson plans section is very effective and engages the students in real-world situations, which, in turn, create a consciousness of concern and a desire to get involved, and offer solutions.

As I have mentioned numerous times to various individuals, the three years that I spent as a Peace Corps Volunteer were the best and most fulfilling in my career. At that time, recruiters would say, “It's the toughest job you'll ever love.” My job wasn't the toughest, but it was certainly something I loved doing, and I will always remember it as a self-satisfying experience. I was satisfied not only with helping others, but also with the freedom I had to project my individual characteristics and talents. The latter proved to be an opportunity that I had never had before at the workplace. As long as I didn't step on any toes, I was able to use my abilities to generate as much activity as possible.

I mention all of this at school presentations to get the students’ and teachers’ attention, and drive home the point that the Peace Corps experience is a unique one that will reverberate through your lifetime as well as those individuals from your community overseas.

Tommy R. Chambers was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zimbabwe