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From Williamsburg to the World

  • Katie Leach-Lemon as a Peace Corps Volunteer
    Katie Leach-Lemon as a Peace Corps Volunteer
    Katie Leach-Kemon '04 (center) stands with the people she serves in Niger.
    Photo courtesy of the W&M Alumni Association
  • Opportunity for Cultural Exchange
    Opportunity for Cultural Exchange
    College alumni are a natural fit for the Peace Corps.
    Courtesy Photo

There are moments in life when words fail you. For Lydia Dambekalns ’81, one of those moments was in rural Kenya, a few months into her service as a Peace Corps volunteer, talking to the leader of a local women’s group in broken Swahili about her sick chickens.

“We were trying to discuss what was wrong with her chickens and we didn’t have the vocabulary to express it,” explains Dambekalns, now a professor of curriculum studies and art education at the University of Wyoming. “So she started acting out what the sick chickens looked like, and then I would act out what I thought a certain disease—like Newcastle—would look like. And before long we were all running around acting like sick chickens.”

With their liberal arts background and commitment to service, William & Mary graduates are prime recruits for the Peace Corps, whose mission is to promote greater understanding between Americans and foreign citizens through acts of service, education and professional training. In fact, W&M boasts the highest number of per capita Peace Corps volunteers of any research university.

Jaya Chimnani ’94 thrived in William & Mary’s service culture, which encourages students to commit their hearts, minds and talents to noble causes.

“It all sort of began at William & Mary,” explains Chimnani. “The emphasis they put on education, but also involvement in community service, working with people from backgrounds different than yours.”

After graduation, Chimnani spent a year volunteering with AmeriCorps before earning a masters degree in international development. Then came two years in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer with a focus on HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

Like thousands of Peace Corps volunteers before her, Chimnani arrived in the Dominican Republic ready to conquer the world. “You go in with the mentality that you’re young, you’re smart, and you’re there to change the world, to make a difference,” explains Chimnani. “You get there and you realize you have so much more to learn from others.”

Chimnani emerged from the Peace Corps experience both incredibly humbled and profoundly inspired to continue the fight against preventable diseases in developing nations. Now Chimnani splits her time between Northern Virginia and Africa, where she manages the complicated logistics of delivering malaria commodities—mosquito nets, insecticides, diagnostic tests—to high-risk communities in Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Visit William & Mary’s Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship to learn how you can start your own lifelong journey of adventure, self-discovery and service.