RIT grad among the first to return to in-person global Peace Corps work

Alana Smith left this month for Ghana to teach deaf children

Alana Smith, a 2019 graduate in deaf education through RIT’s School of Individualized Study, joined the Peace Corps and plans to teach deaf children in Ghana. She was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers to travel overseas again after a two-year travel hiatus due to the pandemic.

Alana Smith, a Rochester Institute of Technology graduate, is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to serve overseas after an unprecedented two-year Peace Corps evacuation from more than 60 countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith, of Riverside, Calif., left for Ghana on June 19, where she will live with a host family for three months and receive training before a two-year stint to teach deaf children there.

“This kind of experience will broaden my perspective as an educator of deaf youth,” Smith said. “I’ve never been to Africa, so I’m excited for that. It will be a life-changing experience and I look forward to learning their values and their way of life.”

Smith first wanted to join the Peace Corps when she was a senior in high school and learned there were opportunities for deaf people like her to go to other communities and serve. She received her bachelor’s degree in deaf education through RIT’s School of Individualized Study, and while at RIT, spent six weeks studying abroad in Denmark.

“I went with SOIS because I was exploring engineering majors, but I learned those majors didn’t fit me,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to become a teacher, so I asked SOIS if it was possible, and they managed to allow me to customize my own major at RIT.”

After RIT, Smith received her master’s degree in deaf education from Boston University. She then revisited the chance to volunteer, and discovered there was an opening to teach deaf children through the Peace Corps in Kenya or Ghana.

“The more I studied about deaf education in colleges, the more driven I was to teach students who are deaf everywhere,” she said.

Last year, RIT received the Peace Corps Prep designation to better help students prepare for service in the Peace Corps upon graduation should they opt to join and be selected to serve.

Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn said volunteers such as Smith are vital. Volunteers work in locally prioritized projects in one of Peace Corps’ six sectors: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, or youth in development.

“Peace Corps volunteers returning to Ghana will work alongside community members to support urgent development efforts and build critical connections,” Spahn said. “The world is at a critical juncture. The largest global vaccination effort in history is underway while other widespread health, social, political, and environmental issues continue to erode the foundation of our global society. Actions taken in the next few years have the potential to fundamentally impact development trajectories for decades to come.”

Smith said she’s not sure which of the several programs Ghana has to serve deaf children she’ll be working at. She’ll be placed where she can help the most.

“My preference would be to teach middle-school students or younger. I would love to teach elementary school children,” she said.

But Smith is certain she made the right choice in joining the Peace Corps, now that she’s finished college and before she settles down for a career and start a family.

“The Peace Corps is a great service opportunity,” she said. “It’s a really good time for me to be able to do this. I can hold off life in the U.S. I’m young. This is a window of opportunity for me to experience something I may not have another opportunity to do when I settle down with my partner and hang my hat somewhere.”

About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is an international service network of volunteers, community members, host country partners and staff who are driven by the agency’s mission of world peace and friendship. At the invitation of governments around the world, Peace Corps volunteers work alongside community members on locally prioritized projects in the areas of education, health, environment, agriculture, community economic development and youth development. Through service, members of the Peace Corps network develop transferable skills and hone intercultural competencies that position them to be the next generation of global leaders. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 countries worldwide. For more information, visit peacecorps.gov and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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