A shared dream: sister follows brother into Peace Corps service

Siblings share many things throughout childhood, from hand-me-downs, to toys, to rooms and last names. But Helen and Joseph Amiri of Marquette, Mich., had something bigger in common: the dream to grow up and depart for the Peace Corps.

On Jan. 21, both siblings can check that dream off their bucket list as Helen will follow in her younger brother’s footsteps as she departs for Peace Corps in Vanuatu.  Helen, 27, will serve as a hygiene education and water sanitation volunteer and assess her community’s health needs and use local resources to implement healthy water and sanitation practices. She will also work with community health committees and health centers to improve and strengthen Vanuatu’s current healthcare system.

“Serving in Peace Corps was a childhood dream, but my younger brother beat me to it,” Helen said. Helen’s brother, Joseph, 25, began serving in Peace Corps Ukraine as a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) volunteer in 2013. Joseph was relocated to Ecuador when Ukraine’s program was temporarily suspended due to security issues. He is currently serving as a youth and family development volunteer in Ecuador.

“The more I learned about Peace Corps service through my brother´s accounts, the more certain I was that serving would be a valuable experience for me,” Helen said.

Helen received her master’s degree in film studies and international relations from the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 2010. After receiving her degree, she served in AmeriCorps, working as a field crew leader in Helena, Mont.

Currently, she is pursuing her master’s degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Technological University, where she is enrolled in the Peace Corps Master’s International program. The program allows students to earn their master’s degree while simultaneously serving in the Peace Corps. Helen will receive her degree when she completes her Peace Corps service in Vanuatu.

“There are courses at the university that prepare students for potential technical, social and cultural issues that may arise in Peace Corps service,” Helen said. “My academic advisor, Dr. Brian Barkdoll, served in Peace Corps Nepal doing similar work as an engineer, so I feel that my university has uniquely prepared me for my upcoming service.”

During the first three months of her service, Helen will live with a host family in Vanuatu to learn the local language and integrate into the culture. After acquiring the language and cultural skills that will help her make a lasting difference, Helen will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Vanuatu where she will serve for two years.

Helen will work in cooperation with the local people and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Vanuatu and help Helen develop leadership, technical and cross-cultural skills that will give her a competitive edge when she returns home. Peace Corps volunteers return from service as global citizens well-positioned for professional opportunities in today’s global job market.

“I hope that I can use my skills as an environmental engineer in my service to benefit my community,” Helen said. “I hope that my skills and the needs of my community find a healthy intersection.”

Helen joins the joins the 222 Michigan residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 7,228 Michigan residents have served as volunteers since the agency was created in 1961.

About Peace Corps/Vanuatu: There are 52 Volunteers in Vanuatu working with their communities on projects in education and health. During their service in Vanuatu, Volunteers learn to speak local languages, including Bislama and French. More than 705 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Vanuatu since the program was established in 1990.

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