rom Guatemala to Senegal to Nepal, Peace Corps Volunteers are on the ground in over 60 countries addressing the most pressing development issues of our time. I have served in many capacities with the Peace Corps over the years — Volunteer, Country Director, Regional Director, Chief of Staff, Deputy Director — and now as the newest Director of the Peace Corps, I am proud to return to an agency that is helping to inspire the next generation of leaders in food security.
The Peace Corps has been engaged in food security work for decades. In fact, we are proud to have served as one of 11 interagency partners in the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, since 2011. Feed the Future’s progress to date shows that, with the right approach, we can empower families and communities to find a path from poverty to prosperity and build a more food-secure world.
Peace Corps Volunteers play a very unique role in this whole-of-government effort. As grassroots mobilizers who are deeply integrated into the communities they serve, Volunteers work directly with smallholder farming families and communities to make lasting impact. Some of the activities promoted by Peace Corps Volunteers include: climate-smart agriculture, school gardens, nutrition counseling, agribusiness and marketing skills, and food security youth clubs and camps.
So who are these Volunteers?
They are Americans like Andrew Kaiser. Food insecurity was at the heart of Andrew’s decision to apply to serve with Peace Corps Response in Guatemala, where more than half of children under five suffer from chronic hunger. After connecting with a local NGO, Andrew and his counterparts helped train and supply over 150 families with the skills and materials they needed to build raised bed gardens that require little water. With each garden comes a new source of nutrient rich vegetables to help families bridge the gap during the dry season. With each new garden comes the vitamins and nutrients children in Guatemala need to “grow, learn, play and be happy.”
And Garland Mason. During her service in Nepal, she worked with goat farmers to improve food availability. Through training on improved breeding management strategies and the introduction of new breeds, Garland was able to help her community grow stronger herds that are better adapted to the local conditions.
Garland and Andrew are just two of the more than 4,000 Volunteers from all six of the Peace Corps’ sectors who have helped over 170,000 people and 16,000 households in 53 countries become more food-secure since 2011.
The Peace Corps recently developed its own Global Food Security Implementation Plan for 2017 and beyond. We’re excited about the path forward and what we as an agency can contribute towards our collective goal — to sustainably reduce global hunger and poverty by tackling the root causes, employing proven strategies to achieve large-scale and sustainable impact.
By taking important food security messaging and practices to the grassroots level, Peace Corps Volunteers are facilitating sustainable change in how local people cultivate their food, address water shortages, and feed their families. With their help, communities around the world are feeding the future.
Dr. Olsen began her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving in Tunisia from 1966–1968. She has since served the agency in multiple leadership positions — as Acting Director in 2009; Deputy Director from 2002–2009; Chief of Staff from 1989–1992; Regional Director, North Africa, Near East, Asia, Pacific from 1981- 1984; and Country Director in Togo from 1979–1981.
Prior to returning to the Peace Corps in 2018, Dr. Olsen served as Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland- Baltimore School of Social Work and Director of the University’s Center for Global Education Initiatives. She also oversaw health research projects in Malawi while teaching courses on international social work, global social policy, and global women and children’s health.
Throughout her career, Dr. Olsen has championed the expansion of service, learning and international opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds.