The Hatters' Herald

Bilbao shares Peace Corps’ experience with students

Answering JFK's call, ESL teacher served in South Pacific

ESL+teacher+Soraya+Bilbao+stands+before+the+bulletin+board+that+she+produced+to+commemorate+Peace+Corps+Week.+Bilbao+presented+to+several+classes+about+her+own+Peace+Corps+experience+in+the+Kingdom+of+Tonga+in+the+South+Pacific.
ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao stands before the bulletin board that she produced to commemorate Peace Corps Week. Bilbao presented to several classes about her own Peace Corps experience in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.

ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao stands before the bulletin board that she produced to commemorate Peace Corps Week. Bilbao presented to several classes about her own Peace Corps experience in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.

Contributed Photo

Contributed Photo

ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao stands before the bulletin board that she produced to commemorate Peace Corps Week. Bilbao presented to several classes about her own Peace Corps experience in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.

Leslie Mendez, Staff Writer

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President John F. Kennedy in 1961 established the Peace Corps, a volunteer program that promotes world peace and friendship. Since then, thousands of Americans have volunteered to immerse themselves in other countries to help tackle pressing challenges.

In celebration of Peace Corps week in February, current and returned Peace Corps volunteers  commemorated Kennedy’s establishment of the organization. During this annual event, the Peace Corps community celebrates all the ways that its volunteers make a difference at home and abroad, and renews its commitment to service, according to the National Peace Corps Association website.

Here at DHS that week, ESL teacher and returned Peace Corps volunteer Soraya Bilbao shared her experience with social studies classes and decorated a D3 bulletin board showcasing her Peace Corps experience in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.

I hoped that at least one student was touched and inspired by this presentation to challenge themself with new adventures.”

— Kathy Boucher, civics teacher

“Ive always enjoyed learning about different cultures and helping other people,” Bilbao said in an interview. “I heard about the Peace Corps when I was in college and it was something that was always in the back of my mind. It was something I wanted to do so I decided to apply and go overseas.”

Social studies teacher Joe Vas was one of the instructors who took up Bilbao’s offer to make a class presentation.

“I found it very interesting when Ms.Bilbao told me about the Peace Corps and I thought it would be something new and fun for you to learn about,” Vas said to his class in way of  introducing Bilbao.

In presentations over the past few weeks, Bilbao shared her experiences during her three-year service with the Peace Corps. She focused on her experience as a teacher — she taught English at a government primary school on the outer island of ‘Atata during her first two years and at a high school on the main island of Nuku’alofa during her third year.

In addition, she talked about some of the other projects she helped coordinate, such as obtaining donated children’s books and arranging for dental care for the primary school children.

Bilbao said adjusting to a different culture, language, foods, and ways of doing things was difficult during the first few months living on the outer island of ‘Atata. Luckily, she said, Peace Corps provides volunteers with intensive in-country pre-service training that prepares them for their assignments and helps them cope with culture shock.

She told Vas’ students that as part of the training, volunteers spent six hours a day learning the Tongan language until they acquired the basic language skills necessary to pass an oral proficiency interview, a requirement for Peace Corps service.

She also learned about traditional Tongan attire. Men wear a wrap-around skirt called a tupenu and women wear shirts and blouses that cover their shoulders and skirts that fall below the knees.

destinationworld.com
Here is a map of the Kingdom of Tonga. ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao served in the village of ‘Atata during her stint with the Peace Corps.

Bilbao learned other aspects of the Tongan culture, such as removing one’s shoes before entering a home and the do’s and don’ts for interacting with members of the opposite sex in a conservative culture.

Ater Bilbao completed her pre-service training and was sworn-in as a Peace Corps volunteer, she was assigned to a village on the outer island of ‘Atata. She lived in a small one-room house where there was no electricity or running water.

Bilbao learned how to bathe using only a bucket of water and how to properly wash her clothes by hand. At times, she struggled with homesickness, missing her family and friends back in the United States. However, as time went by she became familiar with her new community and the Tongan culture and was happy she was there to help.

During her presentation, Bilbao showed many pictures of her Peace Corps experience and of the people who she befriended while in Tonga. Many questions were asked after the presentation as students wanted to learn more about the program.

Adamaris Loja, senior, said afterward: “Her experience in Tonga was different and interesting and I loved hearing about it. It was nice to learn that there is actually a program to help others outside from our country

Erick Mendez, senior, commented on the presentation saying: “I liked her presentation a lot and the new things that I learned from it. It definitely got me thinking in joining the Peace Corps and do good for others.”

Vas said after the presentation: “I hope it sparked something in students who are predisposed to serve others to think about how they might do it. Also, I hope they realize that they are surrounded by people who have given of themselves (and still do) and that they would be inspired by that.”

Civics teacher Kathy Boucher also accepted Bilbao’s offer to present to her class. Boucher described the presentation as “awesome.”

Ms. Bilbao talked about the Peace Corps program from the heart,” Boucher said. “It is important for my Civics students to hear about volunteer programs that are available for young adults.  It is an excellent character-building opportunity for any hard-working American citizen. I hoped that at least one student was touched and inspired by this presentation to challenge themself with new adventures.”

One of Boucher’s students, senior Luis Maisincho is planning on joining the Marines and is now considering the Peace Corps after he is discharged.

“Her presentation made me start thinking about joining after my Marine service,” he said. “I really appreciate her coming to my class in her free time to tell us about it.”

Social studies teacher Angelo Marrero said he appreciated Bilbao’s presentation to his class because it might have humbled some students and made them “grateful for what they have, while appreciating another culture.”

He continued: “It’s important to learn about other cultures to understand people and understand that their ways may be different, but they are unique to them and we shouldn’t judge anyone based on that.  Also, I hope my students learned of the opportunities that the Peace Corps provides for people who are willing to travel and help others in need.”

Bilbao concluded her presentations by sharing that joining the Peace Corps was one of “the best decisions and most rewarding experiences of her life.”

Her advice to students, “Don’t let fear of the unknown or doubt in your abilities deter you from pursuing your dreams. I think you’ll find that you have more inner strength than you know.”

Contributed photos

Soraya Bilbao at her Peace Corps swearing-in ceremony.

 

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Bilbao shares Peace Corps’ experience with students