Our Stories

Dedicated to Philanthropy: Alumni Rank Tenth in Nation for Peace Corps Service

When Ana Moreno '05 started her Peace Corps assignment as a volunteer in Paraguay, she expected challenges as she taught local residents the importance of nutrition and sanitation. What she didn't expect was that before she could accomplish anything, she had to gain people's trust.

She worked in a town five hours away from Paraguay's capital and about 20 miles from the closest paved road, where the 500 residents had never seen a Peace Corps volunteer and were wary of American outsiders.

"I was the only person in town who owned a camera, so I started bringing people prints of the photos I'd snapped around town," says Moreno, who majored in biochemistry and Spanish at Willamette. "For most, these pictures were a cherished possession. I also made a point to recognize people's birthdays with homemade cakes -- a treat most people can't afford. Camera and birthday cake foreign relations worked wonders, and I can't count how many of my friendships started out with those two things."

Moreno is one of many Willamette alumni whose desires to travel and help others led them to join Peace Corps. The organization recently ranked Willamette tenth in the nation on its list of small undergraduate schools producing volunteers. With 18 alumni volunteers in 15 countries, Willamette is the only small Oregon school in the top ten.

"Willamette's motto, 'Not unto ourselves alone are we born,' draws students who are interested in public service, and the excellent liberal arts education prepares us to be successful in cultural exchange and development programs," says Mara Hansen '06, currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. "In many ways the little Willamette campus opened my eyes to the world. I was surrounded by students, staff and faculty who were seeking to better themselves as scholars and global citizens."

Elizabeth Doerr '03, who served in Malawi, agrees that her Willamette experience greatly influenced her decision to join. As a community health educator, she helped develop a project proposal to train primary school teachers in how to teach their students HIV/AIDS awareness.

"Willamette really encourages philanthropy and cross-cultural understanding through study abroad and campus activities in which students can get involved," Doerr says. "Willamette students also seem to have a heightened sense of awareness of what is going on in the world."

Audrey Squires '07, currently a volunteer in Guatemala, says the experience of living and working in another country has been invaluable. "Sometimes when I'm walking down the muddy streets of Chahal, I step out of myself for a moment and envision me standing on a globe in this random little town in rural Guatemala, then spin the globe to Oregon and am baffled as to how I managed to come to this place, of all places in the world," she says. "However it happened, it doesn't really matter. I'm just glad it did."

Once Moreno gained the trust and friendship of her Paraguayan neighbors, they taught her more about her place in the global community. "It was very humbling to realize that the fact I grew up in a nice house, always had enough food to eat, and got a good education doesn't have anything to do with Americans being somehow more intellectually advanced than the rest of the world," she says. "In the farthest corner of rural Paraguay, in dirt-floor kitchens, I met some of the wisest and most generous people I have ever encountered."



03-01-2009