Yamil Hernández Sánchez always knew he wanted to join the Peace Corps after forming lasting relationships with volunteers while living in Benin in high school.
“I’ve always been passionate about advocacy,” said Sánchez, a senior at UNC Pembroke. “I met the (Peace Corps) director of Benin and volunteers, and they all described their experiences and how much being in Peace Corps helped them set up the next few years of their lives.”
Sánchez and two other UNCP seniors have been invited to join the government agency that has deployed 240,000 volunteers to 143 countries since 1961.
“I’m not sure what my next step is, but I feel like the Peace Corps is going to be a transformative experience and set me up in the right direction,” said Sanchez, who will join a community in the Dominican Republic later this year.
The three invitees joined Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn at a ceremony on campus this week, celebrating the five-year renewal of the Peace Corps Prep program partnership with UNCP. Spahn signed the memorandum of agreement alongside Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings, interim Provost Cherry Beasley and Jeff Howard, vice chancellor for Student Affairs.
“This university was founded on service, and 136 years later, service remains at the heart of our institution,” Cummings said. “Partnerships like these opens new doors for our students, and I’m proud of these students for making that commitment and answering the call to serve others.”
During the ceremony, Spahn and Chancellor Cummings reflected on the partnership between the Peace Corps and the university. Spahn acknowledged UNCP’s history as a Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institution (NASANTI), paid tribute to the Lumbee Tribe, and emphasized that Peace Corps seeks to connect with the many Southeastern American Indian tribes.
“It was an honor to meet with students and faculty at UNCP and celebrate the university’s partnership with the Peace Corps and our shared commitment to service,” Spahn said. “It was also energizing to collaborate with an institution aligned so closely with the values and mission of the Peace Corps, and whose student body will lead and represent the next generation of leaders in community and civic engagement.”
Sanchez and the other seniors — Adonis Johnson and Anais Hernandez Castilla — will join the ranks of 15 other UNCP alumni to serve in the Peace Corps. Johnson has accepted an invitation to Morocco and Castilla, Guatemala.
“I love being in service to others,” said Castilla. “Being a first-generation immigrant from Venezuela, I want to give back to the community that helped my family and me and allowed me to attend school.”
Spahn said this new journey would not be easy, adding the invitees would be stretched in more ways than they can imagine.
“But I always say life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” Spahn said. “It truly will change your world, and you will change the world in time.”