Peace Corps begins national recruitment effort after 2 years of pandemic pause
The coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the Peace Corps' efforts across the world, but after two years, countries are ready to welcome volunteers back. Julee Muro de Gerome, senior recruiter for the Peace Corps, will host an information session about the Peace Corps in Fargo on Aug. 25.
FARGO — When asked for a riveting story about her experience in the Peace Corps, Twila Singh didn't hesitate. It was her unforgettable account of a black mamba that crawled under her bed one night.
With no electricity while living in an African village in Nkhotakota, she scrambled out of her mosquito-netting bed onto a desk to escape the 6-foot-long deadly serpent, one of the most venomous snakes in the world.
Although the black mamba did kill a few kittens that were living in her hut, Singh survived to tell the tale and laughed the frightening encounter away, saying the two-year Peace Corps experience brought her insight not only into infectious disease management, but also about herself.
“I had no idea what my purpose was before joining the Peace Corps, and when I walked out, I knew very clearly that the purpose of my life was to be of service. I knew I could do small things to have a big impact, and that is where I chose to focus,” said Singh, a field epidemiologist for the North Dakota Department of Health based in Fargo.
Singh’s Peace Corps experience was in the early 2010s, years before the coronavirus pandemic. And although the health crisis that has claimed more than 6 million lives worldwide is still not over, the 61-year-old Peace Corps decided to begin recruitment again, with enough host countries ready to begin accepting volunteers.
Julee Muro de Gerome, senior recruiter for the Peace Corps, will host an information session about the Peace Corps from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Fargo Main Library’s Community Room, 102 Third St., Fargo.
“It is the opportunity to test yourself outside of your bubble. Having this experience leads to a better understanding of others, and it helps us have a better understanding of ourselves,” Muro de Gerome said.
Right now, the Peace Corps is looking for thousands of volunteers like Singh, who must first go through a “grueling” interview and acceptance process, which can take longer than nine months. Those who are accepted in the upcoming weeks won't be ready until 2023, Muro de Gerome said.
Since the evacuation of roughly 7,000 volunteers in March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, the Peace Corps has made the initial interview process slightly easier, and it can be done online in about an hour’s time, Muro de Gerome said.
All of the evacuees from two years ago were also given the option to return to their designated volunteer service work, and the Peace Corps is now ready to send volunteers to 48 countries. Muro de Gerome added that there are still 22 countries where COVID-19 is still too large of a problem.
“We certainly do have a lot more questions on safety measures over the last two years, and (we're) amping up what needs to be done to continue to collaborate with host communities on their key issues,” Muro de Gerome said.
The recruitment drive is a national effort, with hundreds of North Dakotans signing up for the Peace Corps in the past. When the pandemic began, five North Dakota volunteers from the Fargo area were evacuated from their host countries.
Historically, 596 North Dakotans have been accepted into Peace Corps programs, Muro de Gerome said.
Typically, the Peace Corps likes to have between 10,000-20,000 applicants every year, and for the first time, applicants will get an opportunity to serve in Vietnam, Muro de Gerome said.
Other viable countries for volunteering include Kosovo and Mongolia. Ethiopia is not accepting volunteers at this time, and the ongoing war in Ukraine means the Peace Corps cannot accept the risks involved with sending volunteers there.