Making a difference, one village at a time

Making a difference, one village at a time

From Egypt to Thailand, Brazil to Moldova, Cal State L.A. alumni and faculty have left their mark around the world as volunteers and program leaders. Click the picture to travel the world with our alumni in an interactive map.

Camped out in a lush, wet forest in the northwest corner of
Botswana, with nothing more than a tent to shield Jillian Sadler ’06 from
foot-long stinging millipedes, giant scorpions, and sand-colored spiders—among
other creepy crawlers—sleep was a relative term.

After a 17-hour trip to the remote Shakawe village, Sadler,
a Peace Corps volunteer, joined two other colleagues and a group of at-risk
Botswana girls for a retreat aimed at improving communication and confidence.
The bugs—no matter the number—were not going to deter the volunteers from their goal of
educating the girls, who were largely poor, and prone to early pregnancies and
dropping out of school.

“I didn’t love the wilderness, but I did love
working with the girls,” Sadler wrote in a
“Camp Wilderness” blog
entry for
friends and family.

“It was wonderful to see the awe and appreciation in their
eyes; not so much at or for us, but for themselves,” Sadler added in an
interview later, recounting the girls’ response to a self-esteem exercise. “It
was emotional for all of us.”

Experiences like these—the opportunities to travel, impart
goodwill, share resources and build relationships through personal interactions
in the remote corners of the world—have attracted more than 200,000 Peace Corps
volunteers throughout the last 50 years.

College students, retirees, engineers, nurses, economists,
scientists, and educators, alike, have joined the ranks of the organization
since it was launched in 1961. Counted among them are more than 100 Cal State
. alumni—such as Sadler—and a dozen or so faculty who helped to shape the
organization and its approach to international peace and development through
training in the early, formative years.

Volunteers with Cal State L.A. ties have served in 65
countries and across five continents.  Nine Cal State L.A. alumni and former
students have traveled overseas through the organization in just the past year.
Their interests vary from biology and psychology, to criminal justice and public
administration, and have taken them to the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El
Salvador, Guyana, Honduras, Moldova, Namibia, Ukraine and Zambia.  (Explore
the interactive map to learn more about alumni and faculty involvement in the
Peace Corps around the globe.)

“It was an invaluable experience,” Sadler said. During her
two-year stint in Kenya and Botswana she taught preschool and high school, led
sewing and jewelry making exercises, developed marketing strategies and provided
health counseling.  This fall, she enrolled in the Northeastern University
School of Law in Boston and was awarded a Peace Corps scholarship to help cover
the expense.

“It was life-changing, and after all the frustrations, I
think I was able to do some things and touch some people in a way that might
change their lives.”

‘Part of history’

Nearly five decades after Professor Emerita of Nursing
Barbara Peterson Sinclair found herself swept up in the Peace Corps, she can still
visibly recount experiences with volunteers in the states and abroad, as well as
the faces and names of the myriad people she met in her travels—among them
were Carmen Miranda’s sister and a singing sensation who was “Brazil’s equivalent to
Frank Sinatra.”

Like Sadler, Sinclair says the Peace Corps leaves a lasting
impression. “It was a very important part of my history,” she said. “I think it
did a lot for the University; we were a young school, and it provided a positive
push allowing people in other parts of the country to know us. Mostly, I think it did a lot for the USA at the time.”

Sinclair, along with other emeriti colleagues—including
Political Science’s Robert H. Simmons (who taught from 1962-1985), History’s
Louis C. DeArmond (1950-1979) and Eugene Fingerhut (1962-1997), Nursing’s
Marlene Farrell (1963-1998), and Physical Education’s William E. Wilgus (1963-1992)—had the unique opportunity to take part in the Peace Corps’

founding years. CSULA professors were called upon throughout the 1960s to train
volunteers before they reported to their countries. Sinclair started by leading
the health care component of training, and eventually directed all training on
campus while taking a leave from her regular teaching schedule.

Cal State L.A. faculty and former volunteers say that
scores were prepared on campus for posts in Central America (Guatemala,
Honduras, El Salvador), Colombia, Uruguay,
Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela, among other
locations.  As one
1965 Colombia volunteer, Jim Zellers, described: “Cal State
L.A. proved to be an outstanding setting—we were provided with everything we
needed and more. Plus, the locations seemed a little remote in those days, so we
found the time was best spent interacting among ourselves.”

Farrell added:  “It was a fun time. The Peace Corps was
new, still feeling its way—and I think, because of that, we were able to take
part in shaping it.

Peace corp slideshow.

Images from Peace Corps training on campus in the 1960s.

“We used the community for experiences for our trainees,
took them to Mexico…and Puerto Rico,” she continued. “You had to be somewhat
flexible and somewhat able to accept a nontraditional environment.”

That’s still very true today, more recent alumni volunteers
note, saying that a lot of emphasis is placed on being able to adjust to varying
circumstances and “going with the flow.“

One alumna, Linda Erskian ’69 waited until retirement to
chase down her “foreign adventure” and to give thanks for life’s fortunes by
volunteering with her husband in the South American country of Guyana.  Just a
few months into their stay, Erskian said she couldn’t be more pleased or feel
more fulfilled by the opportunity.

“We continue to meet new friends and have yet to meet
anyone who has not been genuinely friendly and grateful for our presence here as
volunteers,” she said.