Midwestern volunteers among first back in Nepal after Peace Corps restarts program

Tia Sandoval, of Kansas City, Mo., is among the first Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Nepal after an eight-year absence.

After an eight-year absence, Peace Corps has restarted its program in Nepal, and Kansas City, Mo., resident Tia Sandoval is among the first volunteers to be sworn in and assigned to a local community there. When she initially received her invitation to serve, Sandoval says, she didn’t appreciate how the return of Peace Corps made a difference to the people of Nepal.

“Now, having gone through my pre-service training, I have learned a lot about our assignment and how important it is for Peace Corps to return, but also how important it is for Nepal to have a group serving to improve the lives of the people here,” she said.

Sandoval, 23, is among 20 agriculture and nutrition volunteers who arrived in Nepal to begin training in September. As a food security volunteer, she will teach rural and poor families about household nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation, in addition to offering lessons on how food preservation can be used for income generation.

“The hospitality has been amazing,” Sandoval said. “The people are truly some of the nicest and most welcoming I have ever encountered. Everyone is willing to help with anything! During our pre-service training we lived with host families, and I was automatically accepted as part of the family. I was called ‘didi’ by my little siblings, which means ‘older sister.’ The community wanted to learn about me and my culture as much as I wanted to learn about them and theirs.”

Shawn James, 26, of Davenport, Iowa, is having a similar experience.

Peace Corps Volunteer Shawn James with his Nepali host family during training.

“My site, as you’ll hear much of Nepal described, is beautiful,” he said. “It is in a valley at the beginning of a river. Every day, I can see the peaks of Machhapuchhre and the Annapurnas. On most days, I hike to attend meetings and trainings. People are friendly and are quick to offer milk, tea and food.”

James, an agriculture volunteer, had long considered Peace Corps service. He first earned his bachelor’s degree in geography from Augustana College in 2009 and his master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2011. His experiences at both schools have left him well-prepared for international service.

“My education prepared me to think about problems in new ways and to effectively share and demonstrate alternative solutions,” James said.

Sandoval, who earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science and international agriculture from Iowa State University in 2012, says Peace Corps will help her launch a global career and, eventually, make a difference back in the U.S.

“Peace Corps allows me the opportunity to continue to see the world, use my education on a hands-on, practical level, and grow as a individual, while giving me valuable skills I will need after my service is completed,” she said.

For now, however, both Sandoval and James are focused on their work in Nepal, making a difference with sustainable, community-driven projects and helping the agency build a new legacy in the country.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the first volunteer group returning to Nepal,” James said. “It’s rewarding when I meet people who remember Peace Corps from its previous 40 years of service and to know that I’m helping promote that image for future volunteers.”

About Peace Corps/Nepal:  Nearly 3,650 Peace Corps volunteers served in Nepal from 1962 until 2004. There are currently 20 volunteers working in Nepal. The first group of Peace Corps volunteers since 2004 arrived in Nepal in September to work as agriculture-nutrition extensionists. They are working with rural communities in the hill regions of western Nepal to build local capacity in improving food security. Volunteers are trained and work in the Nepali language.

About the Peace Corps: Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961, more than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 8,073 volunteers are working with local communities in 76 host countries in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth in development. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment and the agency’s mission is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries. Visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information, and read about the work and experiences of currently serving Midwestern volunteers at http://midwestpcvs.wordpress.com/.

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