By Christina Whiting
Amy Woodruff sees travel as a way to shed fear about the world.
“If you’re in a world you’ve built by yourself, it’s easy to become complacent and self-validating and stay the same,” she said. “When you travel, you have to open yourself up to everything good and bad, and you realize it’s almost always good; even the bad has some good in it.”
Woodruff has explored Africa, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Morocco, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Guatemala, Costa Rico and Mexico. She dreams of visiting Israel, Iceland, Nepal and India, but for the next 27 months, she will live in Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Woodruff first explored Ecuador when she was 10 years old. Now, at 24, she returns to live and work.
When applying to the Peace Corps, volunteers can suggest three regions they would like to be placed. In the end, however, the Corps assigns individuals based on their abilities and experiences, and how those relate to project needs in various countries. It wasn’t until she got her acceptance letter in the mail that Woodruff found out she would be returning to Ecuador.
“I was thrilled to find out I was heading back to a place I visited when I was so young,” she said.
For three months, Woodruff will train in the capital city of Quito. Once her training is complete, she will be assigned to a specific town, city, village or rural area where she will remain for the next two years.
“There’s so much uncertainty about not knowing where I’ll be going; whether it’s the jungle, the coast, or the mountains,” she said. “Each area is so different geographically, culturally and politically.”
However, rather than feeling anxious about not knowing where she’s headed, Woodruff is excited about stepping out into the unknown.
“This is an opportunity to not know what’s going to happen to me and to be OK with that,” she said. “I trust I will be able to handle whatever I get myself into; if not, I trust that people will help me out.”
Woodruff first heard about the Peace Corps when she was in college. She was drawn to the idea of combining two of her loves: travel and volunteering.
She is already fluent in Spanish, having studied in Mexico years ago, and has been preparing herself by reading travel books, as well as books written by former Peace Corps volunteers. She has also been connecting with other volunteers through Facebook, including Peace Corps volunteers who are currently serving in Ecuador.
“I was surprised to receive posts back from volunteers who are in Ecuador right now,” she said. “When I think of Peace Corps volunteers, I think of people in rural villages without running water and electricity — and certainly without access to the internet.”
As she’s been preparing to leave, Woodruff has discovered many similarities between Ecuador and Alaska, including the mountainous terrain, the variety of native populations and traditions, and the government trying to reduce the country’s dependency on oil as an economy.
“Ecuador is today where Alaska was 30 to 40 years ago in terms of oil resource development,” she said.
Woodruff’s Peace Corps assignment will have her working with local youth to build life skills, healthy relationship skills and job skills. She will facilitate participatory community development, provide human rights education and teach positive decision-making.
And this type of work is right up her alley. In Homer, Woodruff works as a substitute teacher in a Russian Old Believer community, where she has learned to be resourceful and to practice cultural sensitivity.
She interns with Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic’s Youth Enrichment Co-op Program, working with teen peer educators.
“I teach students to advocate for themselves,” she said. “I help them figure out what they want and how they can learn to express this to others.”
Woodruff also volunteers with Kachemak Emergency Services Association, where she is gaining experience in teaching public safety and learning about health and the human body.
“I’m also learning how to keep my head in a crisis,” she said.
Woodruff was drawn to Peace Corps for a number of reasons. Every volunteer she has spoken with shared with her that their time in the Peace Corps changed their lives. She also values the philosophy of creating something that will continue to thrive and grow even after her work is done.
Woodruff is eager to help facilitate positive change, both in her own community and out in the world. For the next 27 months, she will share her skills and passions with the people of Ecuador, as she continues to explore her own place in the world.
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