Kimberly Abuelhaj, left, holds a Peace Corps flag in Burkina Faso.
SIS Alum Promotes Human Rights in Burkina FasoAs a Peace Corps Education Volunteer, Kimberly Abuelhaj SIS ’09 overcame personal and cultural challenges to make a difference for the youth of this West African Country
School of International Studies Alumna Kimberly Abuelhaj joined the Peace Corps as an Education Volunteer after graduating from SIS in 2009. She was assigned to work in the country of Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, a poor landlocked country in West Africa.
As an Education Volunteer, Kim spent her first two years teaching sex education to girls in middle school, and tutored elementary school children from the village in math and reading. Her goal was to help girls succeed in middle school so they could go on to high school and graduate, but it wasn't easy. Understanding the culture was difficult and took time. By the end of her second year, she felt comfortable enough to tackle culturally sensitive issues and applied to stay on for a third year.
"My Peace Corps experience has been dedicated to promoting human rights and gender equality, something that I never realized that I was passionate about until now," Kim says.
In her third year, she has trained 700 teachers about gender-based violence - how to avoid it and how to aid victims - and she taught non-violent discipline techniques so that children would have the opportunity learn in a safe and encouraging environment.
"When I think back about my Peace Corps experience and how it has been a success in my life, I realize that being a student in the School of International Studies at University of the Pacific has played a huge role," says Kim. "I cannot imagine any other program that could have prepared me better for this job. There are many difficulties and obstacles Peace Corps volunteers conquer on a daily basis, something that I was already aware of because of my college education. I was able to make all of the hardship into something positive, something that made me the strong-willed person that I am today."