Skip to Main Content


  • What would you like us to know about Ukraine...the Ukraine where you lived and were welcomed by your community.   What was your assignment...tell us about your daily life...your work, family, house, etc.

    Ukraine will always hold a very special place in my heart, both due to the relationships I established during my Peace Corps service, and the historical moments I witnessed during that time. 

    Though I had some international experience under my belt, Ukraine was a whole new world to me when I arrived in the fall of 2013 as a Secondary Education Volunteer. After undergoing an orientation with my fellow Education PCVs in Chernihiv (near the border with Belarus), I was placed in a four-person Pre-Service Training (PST) group in a nearby village. In that village, I was welcomed into the home of a warm Ukrainian family (parents and a daughter in her early 20s, plus another daughter with her family nearby) who were patient beyond all belief with my non-existent Ukrainian language skills. Like most of the villagers, they had a cozy home with bountiful gardens and a seemingly infinite supply of pickles. I was never a fan of pickles in the US, but they certainly made me a convert!

    During PST, I had breakfast with my host mom every morning, then headed to language class with my PST mates. There, we had work, work, and then more work with our wonderful Language and Cultural Facilitator (LCF). After language training, we also worked with our LCF on teaching and other cultural training. We also began observing classes in the local village school, soon progressing to co-teaching English classes with a very eager audience of Ukrainian elementary school kids. On the weekends, we spent time in the nearby city of Chernihiv. There, we attended class with other PST groups, enjoyed exploring the city and its cafes, and even taught English club lessons at the local library. 

    At the end of my PST, I was assigned to serve as an English teacher at a gymnazia (type of high school) in a town on the other side of the country, not too far away from Romania. My counterpart met me in Kyiv, where we participated in my swearing-in ceremony together, then we took a 12-hour train ride to my new home. I immediately fell in love with the town, as it’s nestled against a river and surrounded by beautiful cliffs and rolling hills. More importantly, I was warmly welcomed by the school and local community. 

    Over the next two months, I settled into my new home, celebrated Christmas and the Ukrainian winter holidays, enjoyed teaching and getting to know my students and colleagues, and established a warm friendship with my counterpart and her family. 

    However, this was unfortunately not to last. Back in PST, political turmoil had struck Ukraine when then-President Yanukovych of Ukraine suddenly rejected the Ukrainian-European Association Agreement, which then sparked what was to become the Revolution of Dignity. Over the next several months, I watched as Ukraine rallied around demands for a new future, a rejection of its past indignities. Tragically, I also witnessed senseless murders in Maidan on livestream as innocent civilians were taken out by security forces. Eventually, as the situation escalated, Peace Corps made the decision to evacuate all PCVs from the country. On February 24, 2014, eight years to the day of Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine, I left Ukraine, effectively ending my time there as a PCV.  


    What were some of the highlights...and some challenges?  

    To me, the highlights of my service were the quiet times spent enjoying the company of my host family and later my counterpart’s family. Whether it be learning about effective potato-peeling techniques (Americans can’t hold a candle to Ukrainians’ peeling skills) or swapping stories over delicious food, it was the simple moments of connection that I remember most fondly. The most memorable day of my PST was certainly when my host family had slaughtered their pig and had first tried to hide it from me because they were afraid that I would be traumatized as a young American, not understanding that I had grown up in rural Kentucky and had been exposed to such things before. We all had a big laugh over that realization and feasted on the labors of their work that day, including some of the local dishes like salo, or fatback (essentially the hard fat on a pig). 

    Another major highlight was my time with my students and the school environment that I was lucky enough to work in. My students were endlessly impressive to me, all involved in a million activities and not afraid to dream big. They were also very active in the political moment at that time and clearly wanted to chart a new path forward for their generation. It was pretty awe-inspiring, to say the least. 

    My service wasn’t without its challenges, though, as I arrived at my site in mid-December and was suddenly living on my own in a new town. As an introvert, it was really hard some days to put myself out there and bumble around with limited language skills. However, that challenge paled in comparison to the experience of living through the revolution and eventually being evacuated. Myself and other PCVs felt helpless as we watched the situation unfold, then we eventually had to evacuate without being able to say goodbye due to security reasons. That is still one of the most emotionally challenging days I can remember. 


    What have you taken away from these have you been changed?  Do you see the world differently?  

    It’s hard to encapsulate all that I learned from my experience in Ukraine and how much I changed. In short, it made me realize the impact that small moments of simple human interaction can have. 

    When I first arrived in Ukraine, everything was so new. While I was certainly enjoying the experience of engaging in a new culture and all that comes with it, it was still exhausting and overwhelming at times. It felt more so when I tried losing myself in my studies, trying to absorb all the language technical knowledge that I could to be successful as a PCV in that environment. 

    Yet, it was in those quieter moments of simple connection with my host family or colleagues that I saw new understandings emerge, both for myself and for the other party. For me, it reinforced the notion that these types of interactions are where effective change and progress of all kinds comes from. Though larger structural work is also necessary, whether it be in Ukraine, the U.S., or elsewhere, actively listening to and engaging with all voices is where the most understanding and progress come from. 


    Let's talk for a few minutes about the horrific war.  How has this impacted you personally and others you served with and been in touch and in Ukraine?

    The war in Ukraine has been devastating and surreal. On a personal level, I continue to feel shock, outrage, and deep sorrow on a daily basis. From the Ukraine RPCVs that I am in touch with, I am certainly not alone in that feeling. I feel helpless as I watch the news unfold and see the atrocities committed in places I once called home. Chernihiv, for example, has been on the frontlines and is now a shell of the city I once knew. Human Rights Watch is now saying that war crimes have been committed there and the nightmare is just seemingly endless. Myself and other Ukraine RPCVs are doing all we can through our networks to connect resources and information to aid Ukrainians and keep the momentum of support alive from the U.S.


    What do you know about your village, your neighbors and friends...?  

    For my PST village outside of Chernihiv, I lost touch with my host family several weeks ago after the initial invasion and have not been able to confirm their safety. I hope with all of my heart that they were able to escape the area but honestly do not know. For my counterpart, she was able to flee the country but her husband remains behind to fight. For other friends and colleagues, it’s a hodgepodge of those that have stayed in western Ukraine and those that have fled. Something I often think about, though, is how all the boys I once taught are now men fighting for the freedom of Ukraine. 


    As our conversation draws to a close, please tell us how can help the Ukrainians, the country and people you hold so dear?  Tell us about the work of Alliance for Ukraine, the RPCV group.  

    On the most basic level, keep the attention on Ukraine. We know that the attention span of many is tied to the news cycle— don’t let the conversation and resources die out. Keep standing with Ukraine. If you have resources you can commit to aid Ukrainians, I urge you to turn to the Alliance for Ukraine and their fundraising effort that is bringing crucial first aid kits to the frontlines in Ukraine. The individuals behind this effort are working tirelessly to get these supplies into the hands of those that need it most and your donation can go a long way. Additionally, outside of the efforts of the Alliance for Ukraine, I recommend that you support The Voices of Children Foundation  (, a Ukrainian non-profit established in 2015 that provides psychological and psychosocial support to children affected by armed conflict, in addition to other emergency assistance. 


    Anything else you'd like to comment on?  

    During this horrible situation, let us remember that our outrage and sorrow should not be reserved for Ukraine alone. There are other atrocities and refugees that also deserve our sustained attention and resources. As I’ve seen the RPCV community rally in solidarity during the war, I’ve been reminded of the tremendous network and resources at our disposal. We should certainly continue to use them for the countries where we served, but within this unique community, we can also broaden our work as well. 


  • Carolyn Roberston Payton: First Black Woman Psychologist to Become Director  of the U.S. Peace Corps | Black Then

    To celebrate #Blackhistorymonth  and highlight this year's theme of “Black Health and Wellness”- Women of Peace Corps Legacy (WPCL) is delighted to honor Carolyn R. Payton, a psychologist who was the first black and the first woman to head the Peace Corps as today's #wcw.

    In 1966, although women were usually not given overseas staff positions, Dr. Payton became the Peace Corps Director for the Eastern Caribbean region stationed in Barbados. As one of only two female country directors, her success was critical in demonstrating that women could effectively do the job. This success resulted in gender being dropped as a qualifier for overseas staff positions.

    After a seven-year absence, Payton was again called to the Peace Corps in 1977, this time by then US President Jimmy Carter who appointed Payton Peace Corps Director. As Peace Corps Director, one major goal for Dr. Payton was to attract more blacks and Hispanics to the volunteer overseas service organization.

    Although best known for her work as Peace Corps director, Payton’s major career contribution was made as Director of the Howard University Counseling Service (HUCS) from 1970 to 1977, and later as Dean of Counseling and Career Development from 1979 until her retirement in 1995.

    Furthermore, in 1997, Payton received the American Physiological Association Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology for her “dedication to using psychology to promote better cross-cultural understanding and to end social injustice for people of color by influencing political processes.

    Please Join WPCL in honoring a true trailblazer for the Peace Corps, Carolyn R. Payton. Happy Black History Month! 

  • Amy Maglio is one of the recipients of the Deborah Harding Lifetime Achievement award for her work as Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP). Her work from the Peace Corps and beyond has touched thousands of lives and given many girls the gift of education and empowerment. Maglio’s journey to start her organization began as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Senegal. Her host sister, Khady, was her inspiration for starting her organization- Khady, had a desire to learn but was unable to attend school. Amy knew that through education, Khady and other girls in her village could gain valuable skills and avoid a life where the only expectations for the girls were to get married and raise a family. 


    Amy made it her personal mission to help her “bright, exuberant” host sister during her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She took it upon herself to find a private boarding school that would accept a nine-year-old, helped Khady obtain a birth certificate, paid her $250 school tuition fee, and extended her Peace Corps service one year to ensure that Khady had the resources she needed to succeed. Amy recalls her time in the Peace Corps as a “humbling experience” and one where she was pushed outside of her comfort zone. Without her time as a Peace Corps volunteer, Amy believes she would be a totally different leader with a different outlook on life. 


    A picture containing person, outdoor

Description automatically generated

    Amy cooking on a mud stove built during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal.


    Several years after her service ended, Amy visited Khady, and saw how her confidence had soared once she learned how to read and write! This experience led Amy to start WGEP in 2004, working from her dining room table to provide school scholarships to 12 girls in Senegal! She started by “partnering with existing community-based organizations to change beliefs and attitudes surrounding girls’ education and gender equality”. The organization has grown and changed tremendously in the 17 years since.


    Maglio believes that her time as a Peace Corps volunteer was “ instrumental to my understanding of effective international development.” Her service aided her in learning the importance of community mobilization, which is a necessity for WGEP. Amy believes that “ it’s essential to work with grassroots leaders and activists to shift attitudes in favor of gender equality, and to create long-term, systemic change.” WGEP uses a holistic approach when it comes to its education programming, and operates three complementary programs aimed at dismantling the structural barriers that keep girls from attending and succeeding in school: Sisters to School provides scholarships, health education, and mentoring to girls in middle school through university, Our Sisters Read promotes literacy and a lifelong love of learning among primary school students, and Our Sisters Lead trains high school students in key leadership skills, and supports them in designing community development projects. The support of other RPCVs for the past two decades has been tremendous for Amy’s efforts to grow WGEP and advocate for adolescent girls. Through the organization's commitment to working closely in communities and support of past volunteers and mentors, WGEP’s programs have reached over 20,000 women and girls and over 30,000 people in more than 172 villages in Senegal and Kenya. 


    When asked what moments of her career that she is most proud of, Amy remarked that her proudest moments come from seeing the impact that the young women who have graduated from WGEP’s make in their communities. From the education that her organization provides, “girls are empowered to make their own life decisions, and become active participants in community life!” She provided video examples of two scholars from WGEP, Cynthia who uses poetry to share her life experiences, and Gatwiri, who became the first woman from her village to attend university and was the focus of a short documentary by Michelle Obama’s Girls Opportunity 



    A group of people posing for a photo

Description automatically generated

    Amy with WGEP scholars in Sokone, Senegal


    Another career achievement that Amy remembers fondly is when she received the honor of presenting at the United Nations’ Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) conference in Dakar, Senegal in 2010. There at the conference, her work was also acknowledged as WGEP was selected as a “best practice” for girl’s education. Her experience at UNGEI was a momentous and full-circle career experience. Not only was she acknowledged for her organization, but was also invited to be an official drafter of the UN Declaration on Gender Equality, all back in Senegal where her inspiration for WGEP was born. 


    Maglio’s story is one of tenacity, the creation and success of WGEP did not happen overnight. She shared that after 7 years of working full-time and only after receiving a contract from USAID was she able to earn a salary. Through trial and error, ups and downs, WGEP has become the life changing program it is today and she is proud to report that its programs have a 99.3% retention rate. When asked on how she avoids getting discouraged in the overwhelming quest of making a positive impact on global communities, she shares “it’s up to all of us to do all that we can to make a better, more equitable world! Don’t be afraid to start small, and know that you will make mistakes along the way, but if you are open to feedback and correct the course, you can make an impact.”

    Two people holding a certificate

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

    Amy receiving an honorary diploma from the Minister of Education, Senegal


    The piece of resounding advice that Amy gives to girls and young women is to never forget that the world needs you! “ Follow your passions, and when you are successful, make sure you take time to share advice and help other women follow in your footsteps.” With Amy’s recognition as a winner of Women of Peace Corps Legacy's Deborah Harding Lifetime Achievement Award, she is living her own advice and helping women all around the world access their potential through education.

    A picture containing sky, ground, outdoor, person

Description automatically generated

    Amy with her Peace Corps host sister, Khady, who became Women’s Global Education Project’s first scholar in 2004! Photo from 1999.

    You can visit Women’s Global Education Project here to learn more about the organization and donate to the cause. Follow WGEP on their social media accounts below!


    Facebook Account: 

    Instagram Account: @womensglobal

    Twitter Account : @WGEP


  • “Few of us have the opportunity…nor stamina and resilience …to take a dream and vision and see it flourish. She has been the driver behind a program which has enabled literally thousands of women, children and humans to receive improved, dignified and compassionate health care and thousands of health professionals to receive training and mentorship which otherwise would have been near impossible. The impact of her work will live on for many years to come.”

    Nancy Kelly, a 2021 recipient of the Deborah Harding Lifetime Achievement award, has had a phenomenal thirty-five year career at Health Volunteers Overseas. Nancy, who is described as the “embodiment of humility and compassion” has been Executive Director of Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) since 1986. She has been instrumental in creating many of the successful programs, especially those that aid women’s health. Under her leadership, HVO has facilitated over 11,900 volunteer assignments globally. The last five years have resulted in, on average, 3,200 health professionals receiving training and mentorship each year – benefiting innumerable women and children both directly and indirectly. What drives Nancy is her commitment and belief that everyone deserves quality health care.  When asked about a specific project she is most proud of, she said, “after 35 years at HVO, I realize the time and energy that went into the creation and development of HVO has resulted in a  structure that has enabled many health care professionals to meaningfully contribute their knowledge and skills overseas”. 



    Kelly served in the Peace Corps in South Korea from 1979-1981 as a maternal and child health care worker. Patience and the importance of listening were the two biggest lessons that Nancy learned in her time as a Peace Corps volunteer that have helped her in her career with Health Volunteers Overseas. Nancy has continued the work she did in the Peace Corps by making healthy mothers and children a cornerstone of her career at Health Volunteers Overseas. Kelly has invested in expanding HVO’s training beyond physicians to include allied health professionals, such as nurses, midwives, and rehabilitation specialists. These professions are predominantly filled by women globally and critical to ensuring health for all. One of HVO’s initial projects was supporting Bhutan’s first OB GYN residency program.. The scope of this program is immense in terms of the downstream impact on women and children in Bhutan. With the changes that 2020 has brought, there has been a vision to expand HVO into virtual programming to exponentially increase the number of female health providers supported across specialties and countries. 



    Nancy relates her collective work now to her time in the Peace Corps, where there was a “mutual sharing of knowledge that not only contributed to improving health care for thousands of mothers and children in many countries, but also has increased awareness and appreciation of other cultures as our volunteers and partners work and learn together”. Nancy continued her involvement and relationship with the Peace Corps and Korea by leading the Friends of Korea group for many years. 


    When asked how Nancy remains hopeful of a better and brighter world and not discouraged in a world of gloom, she advised to celebrate every achievement, no matter the size. “Change takes time and as long as you are making forward progress, you should feel good about what you are doing.” 



    Nancy strongly believes in the power of mentorship and urges women and girls of all ages to find a mentor at any stage of their life. She advocates so fiercely for mentors because she has had many mentors throughout her life and career and has reaped the benefits of support and encouragement in her personal and professional life through her mentors.  Looking back at her career, Nancy credits her mentors, who were mostly women and recognizes and “appreciates the pivotal role they each had in my growth”.  Her nominator's remarks speak volumes in that, “ It is a compassion, generosity, honesty and authenticity which is hard to find in this fast paced world. She celebrates and elevates the work of others and remains behind the scenes as others are recognized. She has committed to mentoring young female professionals and has opened the HVO doors to myriads of interns who she has taken personal interest in and their career aspirations.”


    She encourages young girls to work with someone whose leadership skills they admire. Nancy shared her powerful philosophy which is “Learning and growing is a constant state of being. Surround yourself with people you admire and respect.” Women of Peace Corps Legacy is honored to have presented the Deborah Harding 2021 Lifetime achievement award to Nancy Kelly, whose innovation and compassion has formed the organization of Health Volunteers Overseas that we all know today.