Eight months into her two-year commitment, Peace Corps Volunteer Vivian Hoke is integrating into her local community in Senegal and tackling important, sustainable agriculture projects alongside local farmers and counterparts. But her early success in West Africa can be attributed at least partly to experiences she had on the other side of the world at Marquette University.
Hoke, of Lake Forest, Ill., graduated from Marquette in Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in Environmental Affairs in May 2012. Reflecting on her time there, Hoke can cite several examples of people and experiences that both led her to and prepared her for Peace Corps, starting with studying abroad through the South Africa Service Learning program.
“I think that program is a wonderful primer for anyone who may be considering Peace Corps,” Hoke, 22, said. “In fact, six out of the 20 of us who lived in the house together in Spring 2010 are either serving in Peace Corps Africa now, or went back to Africa to study or work. The conversations I had with Judy Mayotte, the creator of the program, directed my past and present goals. Through that program you get to meet some really amazing people.”
Hoke added that Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking directly prepares a person for service and solidified her decision to do Peace Corps. A few influential professors also taught that service work can make a difference in the life of the volunteer herself as well as in the lives of others.
“The professors at Marquette are certainly equipped to help a student succeed academically, but they serve a much more important role when they make themselves available to conversation,” she said. “Marquette is really special in that way.”
In her community in Senegal, Hoke, an urban agriculture extension agent, is working on a school garden project aided by a grant from Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. She is also the regional coordinator for the Senegal Peace Corps post’s Gender and Diversity program, which promotes gender equality work in volunteers’ primary projects and coordinates girls’ leadership camps, scholarships, and other opportunities.
Another project provides improved seeds to community members in a way that helps ensure future success and sustainability.
“These varieties of rice, corn, millet, sorghum and bean are often drought-resistant or better equipped to the changing environmental conditions of Senegal. I am working with a local NGO, and have a goal of reaching 350 farmers this rainy season,” Hoke said. “Each farmer will return double the amount of seeds that was initially given and keep seeds for next year. This will allow us to help new farmers next year, while farmers from this year continue to utilize the improved seed varieties.”
Hoke, who is considering a career in wastewater management after completing her service next year, sees how her service has affected her personally, equipping her with confidence and leadership skills that will help her in any future job.
“I am constantly learning new things here,” she said. “I think Senegal has made me stand up for myself more than I ever have. Peace Corps puts you in situations in which you have to be able to draw a line, to be decisive and to act on what you want.”
Hoke is one of 14 Marquette alums currently serving as Peace Corps Volunteers around the world. More than 680 Marquette graduates have served as volunteers since the agency was created in 1961.
About Peace Corps/Senegal: More than 3,325 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Senegal since the program was established in 1963. Currently, 272 volunteers serve in Senegal. Volunteers work in the areas of agriculture, environment, health and business. Volunteers are trained and work in the following languages: French, Wolof, Pulaar du Nord, Fulakunda, Pulafuta, Seereer, Malinke, Mandinka and Jaxanke.
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.