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Cicely Wolters: An unabashed advocate for the Peace Corps

The Partnership for Public Service
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 6:40 AM

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua and now desk officer for Morocco and Jordan at headquarters in Washington, D.C., Cicely Wolters has watched as the Internet and cellphones have transformed the experiences of volunteers worldwide.

"Technology has been a blessing in that volunteers can communicate with family and friends back home, but it is also a curse because one of our most important measures of success is interacting with the community," she said.

As a response to current political tension in the region, Wolters said that some parents of volunteers have become concerned after reading postings on their children's social media sites. This has prompted worried calls to staff in Washington and resulted in to follow up inquiries with country directors, something that used to occur far less frequently.

Serving as both a liaison and advocate for two high-visibility posts abroad, Wolters is responsible for staying in constant communication with the U.S. embassies and country directors to ensure the safety of volunteers on assignment.

Wolters also is the "voice" in Washington for more than 350 volunteers currently serving in Morocco and Jordan, and in some ways a guide.

"For a lot of folks in Morocco and Jordan, a Peace Corps volunteer may be the very first American they might meet face-to-face,' said Wolters. "I always love telling volunteers the largest syndication show worldwide is Baywatch. For so many communities, a Peace Corps volunteer is their first time being exposed to an actual American."

Wolters focuses primarily on the training of new volunteers, ensuring that Peace Corps programs are running smoothly and promoting new initiatives, including a plan to start up a Special Olympics program in Morocco and Jordan.

Volunteers in Morocco are working with cooperatives and teaching basic marketing and business management to those running small businesses. There also are health and environmental programs, as well as youth programs that provide English language tutoring and computer skills training.

The Jordan program is focused on water conservation and sanitation within the country - efforts that Wolters said promote "sustainable development and result in a better educated population."

"What is unique about Cicely is that she brings a cool head to managing two high-visibility posts that are also very busy operationally," said Lenny Bankester, a Peace Corps colleague. "I'm impressed that she can work in such a high-profile position involving many meetings with dignitaries and senior Peace Corps staff without letting it go to her head.

"She just does a good job in her work from the big, important meetings down to administrative details," he said.

Wolters was exposed to Peace Corps at an early age, living abroad with her family for much of her childhood and hosting volunteers for holidays. In 2005, Wolters moved to Nicaragua as a community health volunteer where she planned community gardens and helped build a "Casa Materna," a rural facility for pregnant women to promote institutional birth.

"With somewhat limited language ability at the outset of her service, Cicely was able to hit the ground running on her projects by developing close relationships with her host family and co-workers," said Ben Nathanson, a fellow volunteer in Nicaragua. "She spearheaded initiatives at the local 'Casa Materna' and touched hundreds of lives throughout her community."

She also helped develop a health, hygiene and reproductive education curriculum in rural elementary schools. "You know the seventh grade sex education teacher? That was me on a mountaintop in Spanish," Wolters recalled.

When she returned from Nicaragua in 2007, Wolters got a job in the Peace Corps' director's office, and later worked on several regional desks before assuming her current position.

While Wolters said she feels she has "got the best job in the world," her professional career with the Peace Corps is limited by a rule that only allows employees five years of service. Wolters, however, does not intend to leave the world of international relations.

"I really enjoy development work. It's something I've grown up in and knew it was something I want to pursue since a very young age," she said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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