Teenage boys can be a handful, no matter which country or culture they come from.
Amal Hajjami learned that fact within her first few weeks of Peace Corps training in Morocco, when the 2019 alumna encountered a young man who refused to participate or follow the rules – when he even bothered to show up – but she wouldn’t give up on him.
“During training, we’re taught that we shouldn’t push these individuals away,” she said, “but instead, give them leadership responsibilities.” Soon the teen was stepping up and helping out. “He showed me that once you start encouraging people, the outcome will change.”
Hajjami is among a dozen Mary Washington graduates serving worldwide in the Peace Corps, to which the University of Mary Washington has once again been named a top contributor. UMW jumped to number seven – up from 15th last year – among small schools on the 2020 Top Volunteer-Producing Schools list, released this morning.
Securing this prestigious ranking is a longstanding tradition for the University, which has earned a spot on the list since 2005. For 12 consecutive years, UMW has been included among the top 25 colleges and universities with fewer than 5,000 students. A total of 270 alumni have joined the Peace Corps since its 1961 inception.
“Mary Washington’s culture of service keeps fueling students’ interest in continuing their commitment to populations served by the Peace Corps,” said José A. Sainz, director of UMW’s Center for International Education (CIE). “It pushes their boundaries and offers many opportunities for them to become better global citizens.”
A desire to leave her comfort zone is exactly why Sarah Repko decided on her Peace Corps locale. Majoring in Spanish meant South, Central and Latin American countries were the obvious choices, said Repko, who also graduated in 2019, but she was drawn to Mozambique, where Portuguese is spoken. Its similarities to Spanish made her confident that she could spend the next two years teaching high school English and promoting literacy and HIV awareness alongside local schoolteachers.
“My hope is that we’ll improve each other’s English teaching abilities while fostering community involvement in education,” said Repko, who hopes her Peace Corps experience will qualify her for fellowships when she applies to graduate school.
Hajjami, who says she’s the Peace Corps’ first Moroccan-American volunteer in the country, is eager to learn about her own cultural heritage while continuing the spirit of service she found at Mary Washington. A biology major and Middle Eastern studies minor, she served as a resident assistant and was actively involved in the Honor Council, Student Council Review Board, Arab Cultural Club, Muslim Student Association and UMW Red Cross.
She was also among the first students to complete UMW’s Peace Corps Prep program, which combines targeted coursework, service-oriented field work and professional development to help undergrads prepare for future volunteer positions abroad.
Only a few months into her service, Hajjami said the program and her Mary Washington education have given her the confidence she’ll need to succeed in Morocco and beyond. She hopes the next two years she’ll spend teaching English literacy and life skills to women and youth overseas will lead to a future foreign service career.
“I’ve already learned a lot as a Peace Corps volunteer,” Hajjami said. “And I’m looking forward to getting the most out of this experience.”