Our Best Diplomats: Women in the Peace Corps

Fifty years ago, 65 percent of the people volunteering to join the Peace Corps were men and 35 percent were women. Today, those numbers have flipped, with 66 percent of volunteers during the 2000s women and 34 percent men. This change, gradual over the five decades, represents women’s commitment to and confidence in international work […]

Race to Benefit Senegalese Girls' Education

A West Michigan man says the empowerment of women in Senegal helps not only them, but benefits the environment as well.  

Andrew Oberstadt became an ally to women in that West African nation when he helped organize Race for Education, a run that will raise money for girls’ education in Senegal’s Tambacounda region.

He and Geoff Burmiester, both of Holland, organized the event with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

Oberstadt didn’t intend to take up the cause when he first moved to Senegal via the Peace Corps in 2010. He was more focused on issues such as environmental protection.

What Oberstadt didn’t realize was how keeping women in school could positively affect the environment, he said.

If women earn degrees, they begin careers. When they begin careers, many postpone marriage and pregnancy. When they can plan and space their pregnancies, they have fewer children. Overpopulation — a major issue for the African continent — wreaks havoc on the environment, as the demand for resources increases.

“I am now convinced that women’s empowerment and family planning are some of the best causes we can support to make a positive change in the world,” Oberstadt said in an email.

I wasn’t sure how my background in business could be useful in dealing with HIV and AIDS. But by teaching business skills to women impacted by the pandemic, they were empowered to create viable businesses that could sustain them and the people who depended on them.

Peace Corps Volunteer Stephanie Saltzman
Zambia, 2003–2004
Uganda and Kenya, 1998–2000