Danielle Givens’ is 8,500 miles from Connecticut, settling into the Philippines, the place she will call home for the next 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Givens `10 has wanted to be part of the organization ever since James Monahan, her UNH professor in criminal justice research, spoke about the Peace Corps in class one day. “I started researching it that night,” she said. “His constant encouragement to do something "outside myself" helped me to feel I was making the right decision, even years later.”
Monahan, who screened applicants to the Peace Corps as a graduate student, said Givens was “a joy to have in class” and he knows the Peace Corps experience will stretch her in innumerable positive ways, as it did others. “I 'm very happy she has joined the Peace Corps. The Philippines is a marvelous country,” he said. “She will return a renaissance woman.”
For the first three months, Givens is living with a host family in Manila. She spends four hours each day learning Tagalog, the official language. Givens took courses in Russian at UNH, Latin and Spanish in high school and taught herself Korean, so she isn’t worried. “I like to think my brain is a sponge, which may make Tagalog easier to practice and use in real life,” said Givens, who majored in criminal justice at UNH and received her master’s degree in social work this spring from Southern Connecticut State University.
After three months getting culturally acclimated, Givens will be sworn in as a member of the Peace Corps. As a “Youth & Community Development” volunteer, she has many options. She may work with at-risk youth or with victims of human trafficking. Or she may volunteer at an orphanage, a mental health facility or a community center.
“I am most looking forward to learning about my community, what they are struggling with and how they've risen above their circumstances,” she said. “I hope to collaborate on camps, projects and ideas with volunteers from all sectors of the Peace Corps.”
Elizabeth Chamberlain, public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps Northeast Regional Office in New York, said volunteers are assigned to one program and often develop a secondary project once they see the community’s needs. “Our volunteers live in the community; they speak the language and become a local person,” she said. “They gain insight into what the community really needs and they begin to work on that.”
Givens said she would like to do staff training around mental health sensitivity, stigma and trauma. She is one of 136 Connecticut residents serving in the Peace Corps.
The challenge, Givens said, will be to remain patient and flexible. “American culture ingrains the idea of `now, now, now- work, work, work’ into your very bones,” she said. “It's often hard to remember to take a break, breathe and go with the flow. Things don't always work out as planned and being able to adapt is an essential characteristic of a Peace Corps volunteer. Learning to be patient and accept things for what they are will be a big but life changing experience for me.”
In early July as she was preparing to leave, Givens said she was wistful about the thousands of miles and many months that will separate her from good friends and family. But she plans to use social media to keep in touch.
She hopes to write a book when she returns. “I have been planning my Peace Corps adventure for quite a while now,” she said. “And it’s finally coming true.”