By Nick Erickson
Two George Washington University alumni were among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to in-person, overseas service when they set off for their missions earlier this month. The agency issued a global evacuation in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and went two full years before sending volunteers back to the international field.
Calvin DeWitt, B.S. ’21, and Liam Paup, B.A’ 20, will both be volunteers in the education sector. DeWitt, who graduated from GW with a major in economics and a minor in political science, will be a teacher trainer in the Gambia. Paup, an international affairs graduate who had an Africa concentration, will be co-teaching English in Benin. Both left for their sites in early June and are undergoing the agency’s mandatory training period.
They become the latest members of the GW community to answer the Peace Corps’ calling, which the university has a long history of doing. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, GW was named the No. 1 producer of Peace Corps volunteers among medium-sized colleges and universities with a student population between 5,000 and 15,000 undergraduates.
Both DeWitt and Paup applied for the Peace Corps prior to the pandemic. While they were looking into other career opportunities after graduation, volunteering with the Peace Corps was too good to pass up when the agency opened back up to in-person service.
“The Peace Corps seemed like a great way to help other people out while also learning about new cultures,” DeWitt said.
Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn, M.A. ’00, said in a press release that the world is in a critical juncture with the largest global vaccination effort in history underway, while other widespread health, social, political and environmental issues continue to “erode at the foundation of our global society.” Therefore, service-motivated volunteers such as DeWitt and Paup fulfilling peace-minded missions are vital in the fight against these pressing issues.
“Actions taken in the next few years have the potential to fundamentally impact development trajectories for decades to come,” Spahn said in the release. “Peace Corps volunteers returning to Benin and the Gambia will work alongside community members to support urgent development efforts and build critical connections.”
Both GW alumni credit their time at the university for giving them the gift of curiosity, exposing them to other cultures and providing access to some of the nation’s most influential policymakers and facilities.
Paup specifically mentioned Matthew Kirwin, professorial lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger previously, as a great resource and inspiration for joining the agency.
“My time at GW inspired and affirmed my decision to join the Peace Corps,” Paup said. “At GW, my access to internships and professors in industry made me realize that Peace Corps was an experience I couldn't pass up on.”
Since President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps via Executive Order in 1961, more than 1,330 GW alumni have served as volunteers. Washington, D.C., is ranked first among states and other U.S. jurisdictions with the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita. More than 2,500 D.C. residents have served since the program’s founding.