Meridian celebrates its Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

Danielle Nicolai teaching a two-day Income Generating Activity course to a women’s group


Its national Peace Corps Week, and everyone from former volunteers to President Obama have celebrated the occasion.

Here at Meridian, we think there’s no better way to celebrate than by recognizing the members of our team who have served as volunteers across a diverse range of sectors and regions. While it may have been many years since they served as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV), there is no doubt that the experience impacted their lives and has allowed them to relate to the more than 4,000 international visitors who have walked through the Meridian House doors in 2015 alone.

Yesterday, Peace Corps celebrated its 55th Anniversary. Then-Senator John F. Kennedy gave a speech on October 14, 1960 where he challenged students at the University of Michigan to give two years of their lives to assist others in developing countries around the world. Since then, more than 220,000 Americans have answered President Kennedy’s call in over 140 countries.

Here at Meridian, our Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) are constantly reminded of their service. Below they reflect on their Peace Corps service and how it shapes their work at Meridian:

As a Community Economic Development Volunteer in rural Cameroon, Danielle Nicolai implemented training programs to promote income generating activities, such as making and selling soy milk, tofu, and soap, as well as teaching basic savings and economic practices through the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) model to young girls and women. Recently, while working as a Program Associate at Meridian, Danielle had a group from Senegal visit the United States where they covered the history of the U.S. Environmental Movement. When they arrived to Meridian’s campus, she started speaking in French with them. Then one of the visitors asked if Danielle had learned any local languages during her time in Cameroon. She responded that she had learned Fulfulde. As it turns out, the participant was Fulani and they were able to speak together in their shared language!

Sarah Gentry, RPCV Ecuador 2006-2008
Sarah Gentry working with local women entrepreneurs to improve their communities.

As a member of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Pilot (YLAI) team, Sarah Gentry’s work with young tech entrepreneurs whose innovations support parents of children with Autism or Down Syndrome,  develop and manufacture low cost prosthetics, and encourage youth to engage peacefully in human rights issues, draws on many of her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. As a PCV nearly ten years ago, Sarah supported small business development and community bank programs with women’s groups and Colombian refuges in Ecuador.

Lee Norrgard’s Peace Corps experience in Ecuador was his first immersion in international development. His experience in Ecuador set the foundation for establishing a career in this field. In 1965, the Government of Ecuador abolished the feudalism practiced for centuries in the highlands of the country and broke up the state owned haciendas Communal land was disbursed to the Indigenous peasants, when they formed land cooperatives for forestry and grasslands. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Lee was part of a network promoting local leadership in the formation of these entities along with developing marketing co-ops. Together with meeting the requirements of the state cooperative law, he assisted in securing small loans to hold back grain from the time of harvest until the price per kilo rose. In addition, he introduced pure-bred animals to improve the quality of the native livestock. During his time at Meridian, Lee has primarily worked with international visitors in the Middle East with the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP).