The magazine for Western Washington University

Peace Through Service

Western is one of the nation’s top suppliers of Peace Corps Volunteers

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Byron Yee ('09, Theatre, Business-Management) was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, where he worked with local businesses, cooperatives and microlending groups on economic development projects. "I was blessed to have a wonderful host family, who were like a real family to me," he says. "By the end of my two year service, I became an integral part of their family and was helping to take care of the children, and cook, clean, and farm alongside them. Whenever visitors came to our house they would ask my host father, 'Who is this Chinese person living here?' and my host father would simply reply, 'He is my son.'" | Photo by courtesy of Byron Yee

If your next job offer came from a health center in a small village at the end of a long dirt road in Rwanda, would you take it?

To Kayla Britt, it sounded like a dream job. The 2009 Communication major is one of 73 Western Washington University alumni who are Peace Corps Volunteers in 38 countries around the globe.

This year, Western was the medium-sized university with the most alumni serving in the Peace Corps in 2012 – more than schools such as Georgetown, Cornell or Notre Dame.

Read about a typical day in the Peace Corps, as told by Western alumni

Read about Vikings abroad, reflections from alumni in the Peace Corps

Western has so many alumni in the Peace Corps that the university would rank 11th on the list of the country’s largest schools, with more Peace Corps Volunteers than Boston University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Penn State.

All three top Peace Corps schools are in Washington: University of Washington has the most alumni in the Peace Corps among large universities, 107, in a tie with University of Florida. The small-school title goes to Gonzaga, with 24.

Volunteers commit to serving abroad for about 27 months in one of 76 host countries, working closely with local communities on projects related to agriculture, economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development.

Britt, for example, works at a public health center in Rwanda, helping with vaccinations, distributing medication to those living with HIV and AIDS, sharing information about birth control and helping maintain medical records. She lives on the clinic’s compound with other staff members – they’ve converted a storage room for her to sleep in, she says.

Among her many side projects is distributing mosquito nets to combat malaria. She and a nurse from the health center are delivering nets to every child in their area under age 5.

“I actually saw a child die in an ambulance from malaria six months ago,” she says. “After that, I wanted to find a way to get involved in malaria prevention.”

Jill MacIntyre Witt, Western’s Peace Corps recruiter, says Western’s alums in the Peace Corps – 885 serving around the world since 1961 – are part of the university’s legacy. She thinks volunteers’ desire to serve overseas is rooted in their experience at Western.

“The core values of the school reflect service,” says Witt, who served in the Peace Corps in Morocco in 1990 and 1991. “And a lot of our majors have service learning built into their requirements.”

Meanwhile, she says, many Western students get a taste of life abroad through international exchanges or other global experiences.

“They come back and they just want more,” she says.