RIT graduate among first to resume in-person Peace Corps work around the world

Rochester Institute of Technology graduate Alana Smith is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to serve overseas following an unprecedented two-year Peace Corps evacuation from more than 60 countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith, from Riverside, California, left for Ghana on June 19, where she will live with a host family for three months and receive training ahead of a two-year stint teaching deaf children there.

“This kind of experience will broaden my perspective as an educator of deaf youth,” Smith said. “I’ve never been to Africa, so I’m excited for that. It will be a life changing experience and I look forward to learning about their values ​​and way of life.

Smith first wanted to join the Peace Corps when she was a senior in high school and learned that there were opportunities for deaf people like her to go to other communities and serve. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Education of the Deaf at RIT’s School of Individualized Studies and, while at RIT, spent six weeks studying abroad in Denmark.

“I went with SOIS because I was exploring engineering majors, but I learned those majors weren’t for me,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I asked SOIS if it was possible, and they were able to let me customize my own major at RIT.”

After RIT, Smith earned her master’s degree in Deaf Education from Boston University. She then revisited the possibility of volunteering and found there was an opening to teach deaf children through the Peace Corps in Kenya or Ghana.

“The more I studied Deaf education in college, the more I was motivated to teach Deaf students everywhere,” she said.

Last year, RIT received the Peace Corps Prep designation to better help students prepare for service in the Peace Corps after graduation if they choose to join and be selected to serve.

Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn said volunteers like Smith are essential. Volunteers work in priority local projects in one of the six Peace Corps sectors: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, or youth development.

“Peace Corps volunteers returning to Ghana will work alongside community members to support urgent development efforts and build critical connections,” Spahn said. “The world is at a critical moment. The largest global vaccination effort in history is underway as other widespread health, social, political and environmental issues continue to erode the foundations of our global society. Actions taken over the next few years have the potential to fundamentally impact development trajectories for decades to come.

Smith said she did not know which Ghana program to serve deaf children she would work in. It will be placed where it can help the most.

“My preference would be to teach college students or younger. I would love to teach elementary kids,” she said.

But Smith is certain she made the right choice by joining the Peace Corps, now that she’s out of college and before embarking on a career and starting a family.

“The Peace Corps is a great service opportunity,” she said. “It’s really a good time for me to be able to do this. I can resist life in the United States, I’m young. It’s a window of opportunity for me to experience something that I may not have another opportunity to do when I settle down with my partner and hang my hat somewhere.

About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is an international network of volunteers, community members, host country partners, and employees driven by the agency’s global peace and friendship mission. At the invitation of governments around the world, Peace Corps Volunteers work alongside community members on local priority projects in education, health, environment, agriculture, community economic development and youth development. Through service, members of the Peace Corps network develop transferable skills and hone cross-cultural skills that position them to be the next generation of global leaders. Since President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 countries around the world. For more information, visit peacecorps.gov and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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