On a cold, night this past June, Cal State San Bernardino graduate Yesenia Garcia first set foot in Lima, Peru, to begin her 27-month commitment serving in the Peace Corps. She always knew she wanted to join an organization that would allow her to volunteer in developing countries.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice in 2009, Garcia held several jobs in the Inland Empire, but yearned for more rewarding work serving youth in less privileged countries.
Following three months of training in the Peruvian winter (in the southern hemisphere, Peru’s seasons are opposite of California’s seasons), Garcia was placed in the Peace Corps Youth Development program in Nasca, Peru, working with adolescents and teaching them healthy lifestyles, including self-esteem, sex education and preparing them for the work force through leadership training and community service.
Specifically, the 27-year-old from San Bernardino is volunteering in Peru as an advocate for families and children with special needs, helping to create awareness within the community and providing training and education for the professionals who work with these children.
“My volunteer work varies tremendously,” said Garcia, “although the one constant is special ed. For example, two other volunteers and I got to work with some American doctors from Health Bridges International as translators for the many presentations and activities to the community.
“What was really amazing was that while I was translating for one doctor (for parents seeking medical care for their children), the consistency of the behavior-based questions was so common, they ended up giving me my own space as one of the rotating professionals seeing patients,” she said with a grin. “It was a great experience!”
As part of the Peace Corps’ World Wise School program, whose goals are to bring the Peace Corps experience in other countries back to American classrooms, Garcia would like to start a pen-pal correspondence exchange. The program would allow American students to share her experience in Peru.
She said she hopes the people from CSUSB and the San Bernardino community will take part in this program by visiting the Peace Corps’s World Wise Schools website and clicking on the request for a volunteer pen pal link.
Garcia said she would like to share ideas from her Peace Corps experience with American students, including her work with Special Olympics, which focused on multi-sensory, motor and physical therapy that may be of interest to students in the U.S. studying adaptive physical education.
As the first in her family to graduate from college, Garcia reflects fondly on her time at Cal State San Bernardino.
“Throughout our lives, there are people in our paths to guide, support and teach us,” she said. Her role models at CSUSB included Terry Rizzo, professor and chair of the kinesiology department; Jim Vanover, lecturer in the kinesiology department; and Chetan Prakash, professor of mathematics.
“Dr. Rizzo was my swim class professor and my biggest supporter. Professor Vanover, my self-defense instructor and ‘kru’ (Muay Thai for ‘teacher’) is a man of few words. He inspired me with his straightforward, no-nonsense attitude,” said Garcia.
“And Dr. Prakash, whose peaceful philosophy, yet strong nature, was something that both astounded me and that I admired.”
After fulfilling her commitment to the Peace Corps, Garcia’s plan is to pursue graduate school in hopes that her experience in the corps will help qualify her for CSUSB’s clinical psychology program.
“I love Cal State (San Bernardino) and thoroughly enjoyed my experience as an undergrad,” said Garcia. “I love the diversity, the open-mindedness and liberal character of it all. I always felt included and part of the pack.”
Visit the Peace Corps World Wise Schools website for more information about establishing a pen-pal correspondence.
For more information about Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.