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MARCH 2008

Carol Bellamy,
Director, World Learning

What changes has the Peace Corps undergone since you were a volunteer in 1963?
I can’t speak to all the changes and in some ways there has been little change…Peace Corps volunteers focus their work on helping people to help themselves whether there is a community health focus or an education focus or an hiv/aids focus. On the change side, early Peace Corps has a stronger focus on agriculture than it has today and there were more men than women. The other major impact (as also happens with our World Learning programmes) is on the volunteer her/him self. As it did mine, it often transforms their lives.

Challenges: Early challenges had much to do with straight out discrimination though one should never be deterred by that. Today the gender discrimination is more circumspect. Expectations of how women will perform also often differ from the expectation as to how men will perform. Again, do not be deterred. Important to listen, learn but act.

Accomplishments: I have been lucky to experience opportunities in both the public and private sectors and hopefully to contribute to both. How did your work both as a volunteer and the director of the Peace Corps shape you both personally and professionally? Being a Peace Corps volunteer is the most important thing I ever did as it changed the trajectory of my life…opened my eyes to the world…taught me how to fail and yet move ahead and how to succeed yet to learn from success.

Why did you decide to leave your public position as the director of UNICEF to become the director of World Learning? Has the transition been a difficult one?
I left UNICEF at the conclusion of my allowed time—10 years, having completed two full terms. I was lucky, once again, to land at World Learning which allows me to continue my engagement with young people on an international stage.

Most rewarding aspects of your job
Most rewarding aspects of my work is to see the changes in the students who participate—their greater comprehension and attention to the world around them as well as a deeper appreciation of their own capacities. I am just concluding a two week visit to our programmes in Dakar, Durban, Cape Town and Gabarone in Africa and I found myself reminded of these ourcomes over and over again as I had the opportunity to meet and chat with the students in these programmes.

What are the most important values you hope the experience of living and working abroad will instill in your program participants?
We send people to places where they’ll have life-changing experiences. We wake them up and get them out of their comfort zones. Then, they come home and have a ripple effect on their communities. And that’s exactly our philosophy as an organization. When you think about the big issues of our time—sectarian conflict, climate change, the ravages of infectious diseases and poverty in much of the world—they seem huge and unsolvable. But it’s hard for Muslims to hate Christians when they share a meal together at the same table. It’s hard for people to ignore poverty when they have witnessed firsthand the way families and communities respond when they have the tools to do so. It’s these kind of first-hand experiences that will instill the values of being a global citizen in young people today.

Does World Learning collaborate or have any follow up programs with the high school students who participate in your programs?
High school students who go on the Experiment often go on to become students on our college semester abroad programs, and many lead Experiment trips in the summer while they are in college. Also, many become mentors for new groups of high school students who go on the Experiment each summer, especially providing guidance to those students who have never traveled abroad.

How do students find out about your programs?
After running them for 75 years, our programs have a very strong reputation, so many people come to us because they hear about them from family and friends, high school guidance counselors and teachers and college study abroad offices. In the case of The Experiment in International Living, our high school summer abroad program, we often see multiple generations. In addition to word of mouth, we have many people who visit our Web site.

What are your goals for the future of the organization?
There has never been a more critical time for an organization like ours. With America’s reputation abroad in decline, it’s more important than ever for more young people to get out of their comfort zones and experience the world, where they’ll develop the skills necessary to be the leaders of tomorrow. Our goals are to continue to provide more opportunities for more young people from a variety of backgrounds to gain a greater understanding of the world and learn to connect across differences. We want to better connect our “learning” programs with our “doing” programs so that students can learn from the community-based international development work that we do in thousands of communities around the world.

Mentors: My mom, some close friends, and some of the fantastic women who were leaders in the “women’s movement”.



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