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Returned Volunteer Profile

Sedem A.

“The readjustment allowance helped with my transition into graduate school, and noncompetitive eligibility led to my current position at USDA. A major benefit was accessing network of RPCVs which helped tremendously in my transition from service.”

A headshot of a woman in front of a computer

1. What were your primary responsibilities during service?

My primary responsibilities during my Peace Corps service in Zambia included facilitating community health and development projects in the areas of nutrition, maternal and child health, malaria, and HIV de-stigmatization and testing. Working with various community counterparts, our activities mirrored the ebb and flow of life in an agricultural society. For instance, during the harvest season, we took advantage of fresh crops and used local ingredients to conduct cooking demonstrations with families, aimed at promoting healthful diets and preventing nutritional deficiencies among children under 5 years old. We also worked with local nongovernmental organizations to diversify local farmers’ crops to provide income-generating opportunities as well as to mitigate “hunger season”—the period between planting and harvesting where food is difficult to find.

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

One of our most memorable projects was organizing a community event to commemorate World Aids Day. It was a big event! We challenged our community-based workers (community members who serve as point persons for their respective villages) to showcase their leadership in the various areas we collaborated on. While we made tremendous efforts around destigmatization of HIV and sexual reproductive health, there remained myths and harmful beliefs surrounding these topics. Each of the community health workers showcased an issue during the community field day. Youth danced to a local song about HIV awareness, there were condom demonstration contests, community members performed malaria skits, and the sub-chief got involved by publicly testing his blood pressure to promote awareness around hypertension, another common health challenge in the community.

A crowd of people
A World AIDS Day event brings awareness to diseases like HIV in Zambia.

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

As a Community Health Volunteer in rural Zambia, I had the privilege to learn how education, cultural and social beliefs, as well as economic decisions affect the health of entire communities. This led me to study social determinants of health at Rollins School of Public Health Emory University. I had practical experience related to the social influences of health, but I did not have the technical language to communicate to organizations working on policies that affected such communities. While attaining my master in global health, we all found ourselves in a global health crisis—COVID19 — that transformed the way we think about health and community.

4. How do you use some of the skills you honed during service in your current job?

Today, I work for the Food Nutrition Service at USDA, where I help maintain the integrity of the nation's largest nutritional assistance program. I like to say I went from cooking demonstrations in my Peace Corps service to working on nutrition policy.

Peace Corps Volunteers are often asked to give impromptu speeches during gatherings, which helped me combat my fear of public speaking. Also, imagine doing it in another language! Service helped me get comfortable being in uncomfortable situations quickly. Today, when I have to deliver presentations to leadership at USDA or during conferences, I remember to be myself, just like I did in the Peace Corps.

Finally, the skills I gained through the grassroots projects we facilitated, and my formal training, allowed me to connect with people through our shared experiences.

A woman on a bike on a rural road.
RPCV Sedem A. riding a bike in Zambia.

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

I have shared my Peace Corps experiences in classrooms to help students visualize what a community health development project might look like, in discussions around systemic equity to demonstrate how meaningful partnerships between private and public organizations can transform communities, and with friends and families who have an interest in what it means to be a global citizen.

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

The readjustment allowance helped with my transition into graduate school, and noncompetitive eligibility led to my current position at USDA. A major benefit was accessing the network of recently Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, which helped tremendously in my transition from service to graduate school in Atlanta. After graduation, I was struggling to find a job, like many others, in the midst of a pandemic and job insecurity. Our Peace Corps career network helped me pass through the hiring maze by using the Peace Corps hiring route afforded to RPCVS.

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

I have remained connected to the Peace Corps community in various ways. A few include co-leading diversity equity inclusion and accessibility efforts at the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience, maintaining close relationships with RPCVS from my cohort, keeping in touch with friends and colleagues from my service in Zambia, and participating in RPCV-organized outings.

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

  1. Leverage your transferable skills gained from Peace Corps into your desired professional endeavors.
  2. Definitely use your RPCV resources such as mentorship, networking, job search, moving to a new city, and general life transitions.
  3. Take enough time to deeply reflect on your service; it's a unique experience that we hold onto for the rest of our lives.