Skillman Resident Sets Out for Guatemala, Fulfills Childhood Dream to Join Peace Corps
GUATEMALA BOUND: Anna Zauner, recent College of New Jersey graduate from Skillman, will embark on a new chapter of her life next month as she joins the Peace Corps for a 27-month stint in Guatemala as a youth in development volunteer. (Photo courtesy of the Peace Corps)
By Donald Gilpin
Bucket lists are usually for people looking towards the last stages of their lives. Anna Zauner, 24, of Skillman made hers when she was an elementary school student, and she’s getting ready to check a major item off the list.
“From a young age I had always wanted to help people from other countries,” she wrote in an email. “I recently found a bucket list that I made in grade school where I wrote, ‘join the Peace Corps’ in magic marker.”
The 2019 College of New Jersey (TCNJ) graduate has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will be leaving next month for Guatemala, where she will begin training to serve as a youth in development volunteer over the next two years.
“Deciding that I wanted to go into the health care field recently heightened my interest in joining the Peace Corps,” she explained, “as I knew I would be able to use my knowledge to truly help people, my biggest motivation.”
A graduate of Montgomery High School, Zauner earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from TCNJ and has worked as a certified home health aide, a lacrosse coach, and a research assistant. She studied the Spanish language in high school and college and has also worked on many different week-long service projects through her church youth group, always “feeling there was so much more I could have done.”
“The Peace Corps is an opportunity I saw to start my career in helping others and gaining professional experience that I can carry with me in my future endeavors,” she added.
As a youth in development volunteer, Zauner will work with young people, ages 13 to 18, focusing on health issues ranging from personal hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases to self-esteem and mental health.
“I expect to form strong relationships with members of the community to help establish programs to sustain the work I will be starting there,” she said. “These personal relationships are vital to gaining trust in the community and creating lasting programs.”
Anticipating a role of leadership in her Guatemala community, Zauner noted, “I hope to develop programs and get involved in projects ranging from educating the Guatemalan youth to instilling guidelines for adults to start conversations with their children about topics that are usually overlooked.”
Integrating into her Guatemalan community is what Zauner most looks forward to, and also what she anticipates will be her greatest test. She emphasized the importance of the relationships she establishes and her understanding of the day-to-day challenges of the people as “the foundation of the work I will be doing.”
“It will be difficult to see the day-to-day challenges that these communities struggle with, while many people in the USA have never dealt with these challenges and will never truly understand the state of these communities,” she added. “I believe that integrating into a community is the best way to make lasting and sustainable changes.”
Zauner’s family and friends have been very supportive of her upcoming venture. “My friends were all extremely excited for me as they knew that joining the Peace Corps has been a lifelong dream of mine,” she said. “My family, although they are apprehensive about the time and distance of the travel, knows that it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they are excited for me to share my knowledge and help others across the world.”
There are 165 New Jersey residents currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers. More than 5,400 volunteers from N.J. have served since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961. The Peace Corps is seeking additional applicants to fill requests for volunteers in programs in more than 60 countries beginning in spring 2020. Open positions with an October 1 application deadline are available in the fields of education, health, agriculture, community economic development, youth in development, and the environment. For more information, visit www.peacecorps.gov and follow Peace Corps on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Zauner reflected on the journey ahead. “I am looking forward to developing my ability to adapt,” she said. “Not only will I be adapting to a new community, but a new culture and new language as well. I enjoy challenging myself. I know it will be extremely rewarding. I have always thought that being exposed to other cultures opens one’s mind and understanding.”