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Returned Volunteer Profile

Josh J.

“My position focuses on trying to make sure that people who are marginalized or left out are brought in. It's something I've been passionate about and carried with me throughout life.”

Josh J Headshot

1. What were your primary responsibilities during service?

Primarily, I was a teacher and educator. At my site, I taught English, science, and social studies to 5th and 6th grade students. Outside of school hours, I focused on sexual health and HIV/AIDS education.

Another primary responsibility I had was to go out into the community and locate families with deaf kids, and then persuade them to send their children to school. Many people thought deaf kids shouldn’t go to school, or that they couldn't learn. This belief was common regarding all children with disabilities. Often people told me they had a deaf child, but when I arrived at their house I discovered that the child was not deaf but had another type of disability. It was my responsibility to persuade these families to send their kids to school, regardless of the disability.

Josh showing a baby chameleon as part of Science instruction with Class 6 and 7 students at the Kaaga School for the Deaf in Meru, Kenya.
Josh shows a baby chameleon to students studying science at a school for the deaf in Kenya.

2. What projects did you collaborate on with your community?

I worked to try to improve the Educational Assessment and Resource Centre (EARC) in Kenya, a government system for early referrals for students with disabilities. The system wasn’t connected at the community level and yet the expectation was that people would go to them. I worked on developing outreach and networking with the community. I'm still in touch with one person from my site who told me that the EARC now has an outreach program. I'm really happy to see that my work had a lasting impact.

3. How did Peace Corps service influence your professional path and development?

Before Peace Corps I was studying deaf studies and deaf education. I envisioned that I would become a teacher at a deaf school or a teacher for kids in the mainstream community. The Peace Corps definitely enhanced my teaching and presentation skills but I realized through my experience that I actually did not want to teach. When I got back to the U.S. I studied for the LSAT and volunteered at a legal disability rights center and determined that I wanted to have an impact on deaf children all over the world who were experiencing challenges around access to education and language learning.

Policy and legal aspects of international development seemed like a good place to start. I attended Gallaudet University and I had an internship with USAID. Once at USAID I discovered what I liked and didn’t like and scoped out other parts of USAID. When I landed in the education office they made a position for me and really took me in. I joined as a contractor for the first year, and then the direct-hire position opened up, and I've been in that position ever since.

4. How do you use the skills you honed during service in your job today?

I work in the USAID Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) office. My position focuses on trying to make sure that people who are marginalized or left out are brought in. It's something I've been passionate about and carried with me throughout life. My job is higher level, trying to set system frameworks for those people who are interacting with communities.

There are a lot of skills from the Peace Corps that have stayed with me. Creating partnerships to help people and utilizing persuasion when getting people to come to an agreement or consensus. Presenting ideas succinctly and in an easy-to-understand way. I also use a lot of cross-cultural communication skills, especially when trying to explain to people in other countries why DEI is important, or how that translates to their cultural context. DEI has a very specific meaning here in the U.S. but it has different meanings in other places, so it’s important to help people move towards a common goal without inserting myself as someone who is not part of the community.

5. How have you shared your experience to help those at home understand the value of Peace Corps service and communities abroad?

Many times I have given presentations about my experience to deaf universities in the U.S. I have spoken to deaf students at California State University, Gallaudet, and Rochester Institute of Technology.

At the education office in USAID I refer people to the Peace Corps. I pull in the Peace Corps in a lot of the work that we do and try to connect Peace Corps Volunteers to USAID projects as well.

6. What Peace Corps benefits have been useful to you?

The readjustment allowance definitely helped to kickstart my life back in the United States. Thankfully it was enough money to start grad school.

Peace Corps networking is out of this world. At USAID people have reached out to me after seeing Peace Corps in my bio. Peace Corps is a big part of my identity that feels similar to being deaf. If I go to another country and meet a deaf person, for example, even though we don't use the same sign language, or don't have any language in common, we'll both acknowledge that we're deaf and connect and communicate. Peace Corps is a similar connection. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) don't have to make an extra effort to connect because we already have an important experience in common. The RPCV network is a real benefit that I have carried with me throughout my career.

Josh is about to board a small bus headed for Machakos, Kenya for Peace Corps' pre-service training.
Josh boards a bus headed for Peace Corps training.

7. How have your remained involved with the Peace Corps community following service?

One interesting way I stay connected to Kenya is my relationship with the Kenya desk officer here at USAID, who is also a Kenya RPCV.

I keep in contact with the deaf RPCV group pretty regularly. We published a book and exhibit that featured deaf RPCVs and their experiences during service.

I donate my time to projects that involve Kenya and have returned to Kenya several times to stay connected to community projects.

8. What advice do you have for Volunteers just returning from their service?

Give yourself time to readjust. In Kenya I barely had a cell and barely had cell service so returning to cell service and being connected felt very overwhelming. There are a lot more options to stay connected now but regardless, culture-wise or other, give yourself time to readjust. Think about how you can use the momentum from your Peace Corps experience to propel you to the next thing. You will always be learning as you go so if something seems interesting to you, I say go for it rather than trying to find the perfect thing.