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Peace Corps Volunteer
2 years, 3 months
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Up to 12 months
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Virtual Service Pilot
3-6 months
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Joy A.

“The highlight of my service so far has been seeing the students not only learn a marketable occupation in an emerging field, but to see them employed and able to support themselves and their families.”

Joy A Headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

I have always been interested in the Peace Corps. I heard my parents discussing the Peace Corps when I was a child and was intrigued with the idea ever since. I joined the Marine Corps after high school and started a family so I put the idea of Peace Corps service on the back burner. As my children were getting ready to move away to college, the idea of joining the Peace Corps began to resurface. I continued to work until I could save enough to be able to support myself without a job, and at the same time kept a loose watch on the Peace Corps website. In 2019 I saw a Peace Corps Response (PCR) position as an Occupational Safety and Health Educator. I had never seen a position in my field of expertise before (and haven’t since!) so I knew I needed to apply.

At the time, I was primarily interested in the more common two-year Peace Corps service, but the PCR opening in my field pushed me to move. I really enjoy the work of occupational health, safety, and environmental science and to marry that to the Peace Corps, for me, was a match made in heaven.

I became interested in the Virtual Service Pilot (VSP) after evacuating from eSwatini due to the Covid pandemic. I wanted to continue my relationship with my partner organization in hopes that I could return in person. I also had begun to form relationships with my colleagues and students and wanted to continue the work we had started together.

2. What projects are you working on?

In VSP role I work with a college of health sciences in the Lubombo region, the same partner I had as a PCR Volunteer. In 2018 the college enrolled the first cohort of students in their three-year diploma program in occupational safety and health (OSH). In 2020, they completed the building of an OSH laboratory.

Our primary goal is establishing laboratory procedures and practicals for OSH activities such as control of hazardous energy, confined space entry, air monitoring, and fall prevention. In both roles I spent my time lecturing, helping to find student internships, and mentoring graduates who are working in Eswatini industries.

Because these are among the first students trained and working in occupational safety and health, I am hopeful that I can also help interested graduates form an association so that they can begin to network and provide training and assistance to each other.

During my first two VSP engagements I continued to work on curriculum development, lecturing, and mentoring students. In my most recent engagement I am finishing up the development of laboratory procedures and practicals for occupational safety and health activities.

Joy A. and a OHS student in Eswatini.
Joy Ausman works with a college student studying occupational safety and health in Eswatini.

3. What is a highlight of your VSP experience so far?

The highlight is having been able to maintain my relationship with my counterpart and my students. We have been able to continue our projects almost uninterrupted.

4. What strategies have you used to meet the challenges of a short-term, remote experience?

The biggest challenge was being able to connect with my classroom in Eswatini remotely. At times the internet would be down, and I couldn’t connect; other times rain pounding on the tin roof of the school meant the students couldn’t hear the lectures. The college helped with the connection problem by ensuring that a co-lecturer was available in the classroom to set up the projector and connect to the internet. If unable to connect, we discussed alternate class schedules via WhatsApp.

Smaller challenges included the time zone difference—my classes began at 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. in my time zone. The inflexibility of the schedule was also a challenge. I couldn’t just leave for a week or be absent, as my students were counting on me. I had to accept this as conditions of the work. Being left out of the on-the-ground communication flow could also be difficult. Sometimes there were calendar and date changes that would have been communicated better if I were present in person. I also think that had I not been onsite first, it would have been very difficult to establish a sense of trust and connection with my students. I’m grateful for even the short period of time I had to get to know them before teaching virtually.

5. What benefits are you gaining from your participation?

I have gained a very meaningful relationship with my colleagues and many students. We worked alongside each other through the pandemic and during the coming together afterwards. The highlight of my service so far has been seeing the students not only learn a marketable occupation in an emerging field, but to see them employed and able to support themselves and their families. In an overall, general sense, another benefit is the EmaSwati, the people of Eswatini. The students I have been privileged to work with, and my colleagues and their families, have been wonderful. I have felt so welcome and at home.

Joy A. with her OHS students in Eswatini
As a VSP Participant Joy continues to support college students, an extension of work she began as a Response Volunteer in Eswatini.

6. How has your previous Peace Corps and/or professional experience influenced your VSP experience?

In addition to the things mentioned above, I feel like the flexibility that was necessary during my PCR service proved to be essential during my VSP participation. Classes may have been canceled at the last minute, schedules changed, and due dates popped up unexpectedly.

6. What will you bring away from your experience as a VSP Participant?

I don’t view my VSP participation much differently than I do my on-the-ground service. It's the continuation of the same project. It has been a way for me to stay connected, be involved, and keep the project moving forward.