Sixteen Seahawk Alumni Serve as Peace Corps Volunteers

Monday, August 03, 2020

More than a dozen UNCW alumni were among Peace Corps volunteers who contributed to communities across the globe over the past year. Sixteen Seahawks served in various roles, including teachers, health care workers and small business mentors.
Erika Thorsell ’00, an environmental science major, volunteered in the environmental sector in Guyana (South America) from June 2019 until March 2020. Maegan McUmber ’19, an English major, was stationed in the Southern Province of Zambia (Africa) from August 2019 until March 2020. Their two-year service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thorsell taught grades 3-6 science classes at a primary school in North Rupununi. She also helped reinstitute a wildlife club and organized environmental movies and presentations, community clean-ups and a river trip on the Rupununi. Another aspect of the experience was to immerse herself in the culture, which involved living with a Mukushi family, participating in Guyanese sports and holidays, and observing other cultural practices such as bow hunting, spearfishing and basket weaving.
“I learned as much from my community as they did from me,” said Thorsell. “This includes indigenous cultural sustainability practices that have been learned and passed down orally for thousands of years, as well adaptability, strength of mind and body and resilience. I also learned what community really means and how vital it is to work collectively; otherwise, well-intended practices will never sustain themselves.”
Before the volunteers were evacuated from Guyana due to the pandemic, Thorsell was working with the community members on short- and long-term community sustainability ideas such as garbage separation and best practices for disposal, a feasibility report on wind energy to supplement their solar energy, and training on new technologies.
“I’ve applied to be re-instated back to my community in Guyana once the Peace Corps resumes service,” she said. “For me, there is so much more to this story that needs to be written and completed.”
McUmber was part of the Rural Education Development Project, where she taught English as a foreign language to grades 5, 6, and 8 in Zambia. She also assisted with community outreach on issues such as malaria, HIV and gender equality.
“The Peace Corps taught me to value simplicity and the differences in cultures, understanding that just because something is different does not mean it is a lesser way of life,” she said. “I made lifelong friends that live internationally and across the United States, something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
-- Venita Jenkins




Erika Thorsell  

Erika Thorsell ’00 volunteered in the environmental sector in Guyana (South America).

   Maegan McUmber

 Maegan McUmber ’19 was stationed in the Southern Province of Zambia (Africa).