During her service, Peace Corps Volunteer Rachael Saler taught Filipino women to crochet discarded plastic bags into colorful handbags and change purses as a way to engage local communities in business ventures, and teach environmental awareness and recycling. Since the Bag-O Plastic project launched in August 2010, more than 100 women from Bago City in the Philippines have sold 200 bags, earning 63,000 pesos (about $1,500).
For each bag that is sold, the woman who crocheted it receives 80 percent of the earnings. The other 20 percent goes toward the purchasing of zipper, runners, tags, etc. Each woman collects, segregates and washes plastic bags to be crocheted and sold. Women have also begun exchanging plastic bags for rice with other merchants and started plastic-bag collection bins in local commercial areas.
Rachael, who holds a master’s degree from Columbia University and a bachelor’s from Syracuse University, credits her mother for the Bag-O Plastic idea. When her parents visited in 2009, Saler’s mother told her to consider crocheting recycled plastic bags into handbags. Rachael was so inspired by the project she extended her Peace Corps service for a third year to continue it. She completed her Peace Corps service in December 2011.
"Being in the Peace Corps was one of the best things I could have done to prepare for becoming an entrepreneur, especially a social entrepreneur. Successful Volunteers are, in many ways, entrepreneurs: You learn how to do a lot with few resources, how to jump into a vague situation and create change, how to recognize opportunities, and how to build something out of nothing. I learned firsthand how powerful business can be in creating social change for women."
- Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Siiri Morley, executive director of Prosperity Catalyst, who launched a program in Haiti that provides direct support, mentorship, and training to women as they start candle-making businesses
As a Small business development Volunteer in a rural village in Morocco, I worked with the local weaving association. One of my projects was creating a carpet catalog for the weavers. This took me into all the houses of the weavers where I photographed their carpets and family members. Here I photographed one of the weavers, Sadia, with a carpet made entirely of recycled sweater thread from her family. She had just finished it and her nephew, Mohamed, was excited about his modeling opportunity.
- Peace Corps Small Business Volunteer Terra Fuller