From Mali to Guinea: Alumna’s Life of Responsible Volunteerism With buildOn, Peace Corps

This week we are spotlighting buildOn alumni who are changing their lives, their communities and the world as part of our Breaking the Cycle campaign. buildOn asked Sean Cochrane, a former buildOn member and founder of buildOn’s Lewis and Clark College chapter, to write an essay about how buildOn influenced Sean’s decision to join the Peace Corps. Read an earlier blog profiling Sean here.

By Sean Cochrane

When I was a high school student enthusiastically volunteering with buildOn, the Peace Corps sounded like the pinnacle of volunteering experience – living and working with community members in a rural village for two years. Building a school in Mali with buildOn confirmed my desire to work abroad as these volunteers do and, six years later, I find myself a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Guinea.

People ask me, “Why are you doing something so difficult?” I always smile at this question because the answer is as clear to me as it was when people asked me the same question when I was volunteering with buildOn. It’s a feeling. It’s the feeling that what you are doing is the right thing to do, the feeling of joy when your actions put a smile on the face of another person, the feeling of satisfaction when you contribute to someone’s long-term well-being instead of giving them a temporary solution. buildOn stirred within me the desire to do good for others, nurtured that desire and showed me how to turn that motivation into action through service. Countless hours of volunteering in the San Francisco Bay Area showed me that all people in situations of difficulty deserve the same assistance; both the homeless person suffering in Berkeley and the hungry child in Mali.

There are many differences between volunteering in California and in Guinea, where I am currently a Malaria Program Coordinator for the 74 volunteers here. Poverty is deeper and more pervasive. There is no government safety net to fall through, and often there is barely a government at all. Malnutrition and easily preventable diseases, such as malaria, cause tremendous loss in resources, productivity and life. These and other obstacles result in a cycle of poverty and low expectations because the array of challenges seems insurmountable.

Like Peace Corps, buildOn works in communities which are motivated to meet these challenges. Through education, I show volunteers and their communities how small changes in behavior (like sleeping under a bed net) can result in huge health benefits. As volunteers initiate innovative projects encouraging early diagnosis and treatment of malaria, I see the same enthusiasm in their eyes. The spirit of responsible volunteerism and service is alive and well in these two organizations, and I am thankful to have spent so much time working with buildOn and Peace Corps!

Be the catalyst for change in people’s lives and their world. Help change the world by empowering children, parents and grandparents. Make a donation to our Breaking the Cycle campaign today! #itstartshere