“Smile, wave, and greet as many people as you can,” is one of the many mantras that Teddy Dondanville lives by in Peru, where he is serving as a youth development volunteer with the Peace Corps.
Since the age of 16, Dondanville has volunteered with many different organizations. He started by volunteering with his local YMCA summer camp in Pasadena, California. Although he is from Pasadena, Dondanville thinks of Boulder, Colorado, as his home. Dondanville moved to Boulder to study at the University of Colorado and major in sociology.
In Boulder, Dondanville found his identity and became the person he is today. There, he worked for the YMCA, eventually becoming an assistant camp director. He then came to Illinois State to pursue a master’s degree in sociology with the Stevenson Center. Serving with the YMCA over the years sharpened Dondanville’s desire to work with kids and give back to communities, which lead him to the Peace Corps.
When he arrived in Peru, Dondanville completed three months of pre-service training. Training included language and cultural education, safety and security briefings, medical information, sustainable development lectures, and much more. Dondanville then moved to his site in the Ancash region of Peru, where he lives with a host family.
Dondanville has experienced many cultural differences between the U.S. and Peru. The home that Dondanville shares with his host family is actually two buildings, one up the road from the other. In the first house, the family cooks, eats, lives, and may sleep. The other house is where Dondanville and the rest of the family resides.
The biggest culture shock for Dondanville has been the treatment of animals in Peru. Whereas people in the U.S. may treat animals like members of the family, that is not so in Peru, where Dondanville has observed residents keeping animals outside and even treating them with what would be considered abuse or neglect in the U.S.
The proudest moments from Dondanville’s Peace Corps service stem from his interaction with local schoolchildren. He enjoys participating in physical education classes and playing soccer or volleyball with students. Dondanville has found this to be the most rewarding way to meet community members, learn names, and build trust among students in the schools. For many Peace Corps Volunteers like Dondanville, developing strong relationships is critical for effective service.
Dondanville has engaged in a number of projects during his service. His first major task was a community diagnostic report. He created a new system for long-term evaluation related to youth development in his community. Dondanville trained his school colleagues in project design and management and worked with health professionals to raise awareness about issues like tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, and contraception. Most recently, he started rock-climbing workshops for youth.
Dondaville’s time in the Peace Corps has made a few things he wants to accomplish in his future obvious.
“It has shown me that I am capable of a career in sustainable community development work, specifically in Spanish-speaking parts of the globe,” he said. “Being able to use my Spanish and experience other cultures, whether that be in another country or part of the U.S., is very rewarding for me.”
Dondanville also said the interdisciplinary education he received as part of the Stevenson Center set him up for success in his Peace Corps service.
“I felt well prepared to take the skills and knowledge I acquired at Illinois State and apply them to my service,” he said. “The education I received on topics such as community development, project design and management, and strategic planning all helped me to become a more effective volunteer.”
Dondanville has many plans and ambitions for his future and is excited to see where life takes him. However, he is also quick to emphasize the importance of living in the moment.
“Be patient,” he said. “Sit down and listen, walk slowly, look around.”
Want to learn more about the Peace Corps? Contact campus recruiter Drea Luce. If you are interested in the Peace Corps Prep program contact the Stevenson Center at 309-438-8685 or PCPrep@illinoisstate.edu.
Megan Birk is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.