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Joseph M.

“Seeing the potential and passion among community members, especially youth, inspires me; I know that whatever positive changes we make, they are the ones who will carry them forward.”

Joseph M headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

Throughout my life I’ve had many mentors who either worked internationally for various NGOs or joined the Peace Corps. The most influential person was my grandmother. Throughout her career in development, she worked across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as a nurse, most notably during the peak of the HIV epidemic. When I was in university, I went with her to Southeast Asia to see some of her former colleagues and beneficiaries. I was able to see the connections she built and how her work had continued to impact communities. I wanted to experience that myself, and the Peace Corps has been a great start.

2. What projects are you working on?

I collaborate with a Uganda NGO on various projects focused on incoming-generating activities, maternal-child health, water sanitation and hygiene, prevention of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and more. Importantly, all our interventions are community driven and led and have had impacts in more than one area.

For example, we trained 120 women in making skin and hair products that are in high demand in local markets. These groups also became a vehicle to promote health initiatives in the community.

Currently, our largest ongoing project is creating a youth friendly center in northern Uganda that will serve as a safe space for youth to express themselves, live a healthy and AIDS-free life, and pursue their goals.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

I try to model my daily routine as closely as I can on my community’s. That means doing garden work in the morning, working until the early evening, then socializing for a bit until it’s time for supper. As long as you’re making the effort, it’s easy to build relationships. On days when I need time to myself, I try to do at least one integrative activity. Even if it’s something small like having a conversation with someone at the market, it keeps me active in the community. Overall, keeping an open mind, being authentic, and making an effort will get you far.

Joseph works with his community to repair communal hand pumps in Uganda.
Joseph works with his community to repair communal hand pumps in Uganda.

4. What is the highlight of your time in service so far?

The highlight of my service so far is working closely with community health workers and community leaders to repair water infrastructure and strengthen the capacity of community members to maintain them sustainably, without outside funding or support.

Communal hand pumps that siphon water from underground reservoirs are the most common way to access water in Uganda, and in my community many of these were inoperable. I worked with my community to repair them and we then organized a committee to collect small monthly fees and deal with ongoing repairs. We coupled this with hygiene and sanitation training for mothers.

Seeing the potential and passion among community members, especially youth, inspires me; I know that whatever positive changes we make, they are the ones who will carry them forward.

Joseph enjoys working with youth in Uganda.
Joseph is inspired by his work with youth in Uganda.

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

The strong sense of community here. The African proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child” is very evident. It’s common to see families supporting many children alongside their own. Living in such a collectivist culture has enriched my perspective on the human spirit.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

My community has taught me many things. The most impactful has been how to sustainably farm crops. Farmers in my community have small-scale farms for household consumption; everyone has land they cultivate. In the U.S. we are not accustomed to growing the vast majority of the food we eat. It has been powerful to experience that and gain local knowledge about agriculture. Everything from timing the rains, opening and preparing the land, intercropping, what to plant and when to plant it, and harvesting have been new for me. It has changed my connection with food and what it means to sustain myself.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

When I’m not working, I like to focus on my garden. I’ve successfully planted maize, beans, hibiscus, and pumpkin while unsuccessfully planting tomatoes and carrots. I still have a lot to learn, and thankfully everyone has tips to share! Given that agriculture is a pillar of my community, getting my hands dirty, sharing food I’ve grown, and being a part of the entire process has aided my integration as well.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

As my Peace Corps service nears its end, I want to focus on ensuring the youth center is functioning well and tailored to the needs of the community so it will continue to thrive after I leave. Beneficiaries have been able to access mental health, HIV prevention, career, and literacy services. One particular girl started her own small business selling street snacks. It has been profitable and is helping her pay school fees. Overall, I want to make sure everything we have achieved so far is sustainable.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

When I return to the U.S., my concept of family and community will be different. Both have been expanded, and I will incorporate some of what I’ve enjoyed in a collectivist society to my life in America. I will also be more mindful and aware of where my food comes from. After seeing the process of planting to harvesting, I will be far more appreciative.