I recently had the pleasure of interviewing returning Peace Corps volunteer Kirk Longstein. After a while, I was able to speak with him over the phone about what he did as a volunteer in Malawi, Africa.
Kirk Longstein grew up in the northwestern Suburbs of Chicago. He went to college at North Illinois University. He earned his Bachelors in Geography and currently works as a regional Peace Corp Operative and recruits new volunteers. He is 27 years old.
Kirk joined the Peace Corps to become part of a larger service and because of the element of adventure presented. He could go explore a rural part of the world and learn new languages while seeing different cultures firsthand. He speaks Chichewa, in case you were wondering, the national language of Malawi.
For 27 months Kirk lived by himself in the community. All the people and friends he met were Malawians. He became friends with high school students and was able to fish and bike in the forest. He was able to interact with families. He also coached a soccer team.
Kirk was committed to those 27 months of service as every volunteer is. He would do it all over again and in fact would like another tour. Kirk says time flies “even though it feels like 27 months is a long time.”
He says that the experience in Malawi was amazing; he was able to connect with people, become more confident, and it was a “turning point in my life.” He had become inspired to look at life in a new way.
The Peace Corps works by placing volunteers into different areas based on their skills and professional background. Kirk was assigned two projects:
His Primary Project was working with the community to generate finances. To do so, he and the community sold juice and jam and made soap and honey, actually keeping and tending to bees to make it. They were in development in Small Scale Enterprise through Non-tempered Forest Products.
The community had expressed an interest in their water and high infant mortality. Bad water was causing children to get sick quickly. So in the second project, they built shallow, protected wells for drinking and personal use. Kirk was able to secure a grant and worked with health extension workers to teach sanitation to primary school students.
Kirk family lives in the west suburbs of Chicago and is in the insurance industry. They have been 100% supportive of his mission and became very involved in CAPCA, Chicago Area Peace Corps Association. CAPCA works to get family involved in the Peace Corps as well.
As advice to those interested in or thinking about the Peace Corps, Kirk says to “talk to as many return volunteers as you can. Every one has a unique story; ask as many questions.” Volunteers often travel to schools explaining Peace Corps. It’s the best thing that can happen, a unique experience, and will lead you to bigger and better things.
Kirk plans to work in international development for USAID, United States Industry for International Development, which provides economic and humanitarian assistance through out the world
As a last note, Kirk says to not be shy if interested and that no question is too big or too small. Don’t feel shy.
A little more info on the Peace Corps: About 16 Parkside Alumni are Peace Corps Volunteers and one is currently serving overseas. About 68 Milwaukee residents are serving in the Peace Corps and more than 1,870 residents having served since 1961. Around 207 Wisconsinites are currently serving with more than 5,550 having served since 1961. President John F Kennedy formed the agency in 1961. The Peace Corps also works in very broad areas.
Article by Reshad Burchfield