Megan Butler in El Salvador

Alumni Inspire Students, Change Lives Through Peace Corps

February 05, 2014

by Veronica Gockenbach '14

After initiating life-changing projects in Latin America through the Peace Corps, two Knox College alumni returned to campus to share their stories with current students.

Students who attended the discussion, including first-year student Sanna Sepulveda, learned more about Peace Corps service and were inspired to pursue their own goals. "Peace Corps is definitely something that I've had in the back of my mind," Sepulveda said. "It's always seemed like a very cool and personal experience."

Kimberly Anderson '09 and Megan Butler '08 were brought to Knox in January by the College's Peace Corps Preparatory Program. As Knox students, both studied abroad -- Anderson in Argentina and Butler in Costa Rica -- and those experiences gave them a sense of the region they later served as Peace Corps volunteers.

Butler's lecture, "Science Experiments, Sex-Ed, and Shampoo: Life As a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador," recounted her experience living and working in rural Caserio El Tejar, El Salvador, from 2008-2011.

Butler worked with elementary school teachers developing science projects, experiments, and games for students, and she co-created a supplementary textbook. "Community integration is essential for Peace Corps," said Butler, who emphasized the importance of working with other Salvadorans.

At Knox, Butler was an environmental studies major and was one of 15 undergraduate students in the nation to receive a fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency. She also promoted sustainable living through her participation in KARES (Knox Advocates for Recycling and Environmental Support). Students learn to bottle their recently-made shampoo

Butler brought these experiences to El Salvador, where she promoted environmental awareness and worked with the community to plant drought-resistant trees, install eco-stoves, and give trash management and composting lessons. 

Her most successful project stemmed from her "small business shampoo" lesson, where her youth group made aloe shampoo and sold it in plastic bottles for $2 each. The lesson turned into an exchange with many other schools, and it was still in effect when Butler visited Caserio last month. (Photo at right: Students bottle shampoo they made.)

Anderson recounted her own experiences as a youth development volunteer during her talk, "Llamas, Libraries and Life Lessons: My Peruvian Peace Corps Experience." The anthropology-sociology major led after-school programs in Contumaza, Peru, from 2010-2012.

Through the programs, elementary school students learned good health habits. High school students learned about sexual education and how to apply for jobs and colleges. With help from a local psychologist and teachers, Anderson established "parent schools" where families could work through issues of domestic violence and alcoholism.

Anderson hit a roadblock while trying to establish a library, the project she was most excited about. It took two years to secure a location, librarians, and books.

Anderson and students prepare to observe Earth HourShe found success more quickly with a summer-school program that kept children engaged during the rainy season, when travel is difficult. Anderson offered to teach English if the school provided teachers for other subjects.

More than 100 students joined the program. Anderson considers this as her most worthwhile project because "it's what the community wanted and what the community needed." (Photo at left: Anderson and her students prepare to observe Earth Hour, where everyone conserves engergy by turning off all electricity for one hour.)

Butler, who is working toward a master's degree in international development, and Anderson say they have grown a lot through their Peace Corps experience.

"You have experience working at a grassroots level, working to make these projects happen with people who are not part of your culture," explained Anderson, who is now a project manager for high school youth groups at The Leader Shop in Chicago. "You're adaptable, you're flexible."