Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Kasey Liehr has spent the last twenty two months in Guyana, South America serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her time there was cut short due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic which sent all Peace Corps Volunteers back to their home country early. Kasey accomplished several community projects including building a public library for her village and organizing summer camps focused on youth leadership and wildlife conservation. Kasey is motivated by accumulating knowledge and sharing that knowledge from her experiences with others. As an Environmental Educator and Community Conservation Promoter with the Peace Corps, Kasey deepened her own understanding as well as her Guyanese community's human connection to nature.
For those that don’t know, the Peace Corps is a government organization established during President Kennedy’s time in office. The goals of the Peace Corps are to 1) help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2) help promote better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and 3) help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. As our fearless Director Jody Olsen says, “Peace Corps asks a lot, but it also has a lot to give”. As an Environmental Educator and Community Conservation Promoter, I was placed in a local Amerindian community to teach at the local primary school about science and outdoor education. I coordinated with the teachers to co-teach science and implement the 5E’s Inquiry Based Learning Method (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) which encourages the ideals of outdoor hands-on teaching instead of lecture-based teaching. These science lessons involved everything from animals and plants to space and forces. Getting to work one on one with the teachers allowed me to accomplish Goal 1 of Peace Corps while also helping me grow personally. My basic background in teaching is general science in an outdoor setting and up to this point in my career I had never taught in a traditional classroom. During training for the Peace Corps, I was taught the 5E Method as well as classroom teaching techniques. Once I arrived at the village, the teachers were very helpful and shared their experiences and knowledge about teaching with me. Not only was teaching students a part of my mission, but educating the teachers on the 5E’s method and advancing their curriculum beyond traditional lecture style classes was also an objective. Although it took some time to adjust, within a few months I became confident at teaching in a traditional classroom setting as well as leading students and teachers successfully through hands-on learning and outdoor activities.
Aside from our primary role in the schools, as a volunteer we were encouraged to do other secondary projects. In my community, I worked with Guyanese Government Ministries, teachers, and other volunteers to organize and facilitate two different summer camps. One camp focused on leadership skills for teenage youth like communication between people, teamwork, goal-setting, and hearing from a panel about the importance of leaders within communities. The second camp focused on wildlife knowledge and conservation through games, recyclable crafts, and educational talks. Both camps were so valuable because they encouraged youth to recognize changes within their communities and world, to challenge their perspectives on new ideas while always making a space for young people to speak up and for voices to be heard. In my community, which is surrounded by forest, a youth voice was crucial as in many cases it fell on them to stand up for conservation crises like deforestation for the use of mining and lumber by industries. I also organized, in coordination with local schools in my hometown in Texas, a book drive for my Guyanese school. This allowed for the accomplishment of Goal 2 and 3 where not only did my Guyanese students get to learn about American schools but the students in Texas schools got to learn about the country of Guyana. We got 972 books donated to us and were in the final stages of reconstructing and decorating a new library for the primary school and local community to use. This library will allow for a place where children and adults alike can continue their reading skills so as to be able to connect more with the whole world on a literacy platform.
I loved my Guyanese community and the service that I was able to provide for them in the 22 months that I was there. Sadly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of the Peace Corps volunteers was at risk and all volunteers worldwide were removed from their countries of service and transported home. The pandemic has resulted in Peace Corps suspending all activities in other countries for the time being resulting in many volunteers ending service before finishing projects or goals in their community (such as my library project). Still, I must commend the Peace Corps for their dedication to effectively work with all the countries and volunteers to evacuate in a timely manner. The Peace Corps has also been assisting in the transition back into society as much as they can within these troubling times. They have been using online services such as social media, Zoom, and special Peace Corps websites to provide the volunteers with paperwork, informational documents, and webinars about jobs in different federal departments. This sudden transition can be hard and confusing for many people. Digital connections have helped many like me successfully transition by connecting us with helpful resources and allowing us to easily communicate with our fellow returned volunteers around the country. They have also helped keep us connected to our sites of service and the friends and family that we made during our time as volunteers.
The service that I gave in Guyana changed me in many ways. Not only did I help a community grow their environmental education and wildlife conservation programs, but I met, trained, educated, and inspired so many people who in return inspired me in ways unimaginable. I hope to take with me all that I learned through my Peace Corps experience and use it in my future endeavors, especially now as I search for jobs in education. I want to continue to spark the excitement of science within youth and people of all ages through programs, camps, and workshops. I view education as the tool that will create the spark in someone who will one day go to make amazing changes to the world. I left Guyana with a greater love for the country and village that I served and I cannot wait to go back and visit when the world has recovered from COVID-19.