Local Peace Corps volunteer deployed to assist with vaccine education
When Noah Congdon was evacuated from North Macedonia in March 2020, the UCSB graduate could have chosen a path other than volunteering.
After all, he and his 7,000 fellow Peace Corps volunteers were only able to serve three months of their originally planned two-year assignment.
However, Mr. Congdon didn’t let the pandemic stop him from volunteering. In fact, he is currently in training to serve again as a Peace Corps Response volunteer, joining the agency’s special domestic deployment to a FEMA-supported Community Vaccination Center in Illinois.
“For the first time in Peace Corps history, we all felt like the rug was pulled out from under us,” the 2019 UCSB grad told the News-Press of the agency’s evacuation.
He said that the pandemic’s impacts resulted in many changes of plans, and he and the other volunteers remained in limbo for several months.
“But it’s been over a year and two months now, and we’re all talking about going back,” he said.
Mr. Congdon graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics, with his sights set on economic development, potentially on a global level. He said his major is “a very vague sector,” where he felt freedom to go any direction.
In North Macedonia — a country in the Balkans in southeastern Europe — Mr. Congdon’s direction was helping a specialty nonprofit in Skopje, North Macedonia called KRIK. The nonprofit assists special needs students, particularly students with physical needs, such as being blind or deaf, or intellectual disabilities.
“When I was in service abroad, I felt like our job was self-diplomacy, being a friend to locals and being kind of a partnership on a small scale level,” the Peace Corps volunteer said. He added that he enjoyed the idea of “helping on behalf of the U.S. in another country,” and that’s something he wants to do later on in life, perhaps in foreign service.
Now, he will be headed to Peoria, Ill., to work with a small team in community outreach for vaccine information around the county.
Mr. Congdon told the News-Press he’s not sure exactly what it will look like yet, but it could involve working with community organizations to vaccinate the homeless and undocumented populations.
“Helping out with the COVID vaccine is an easy way to give back to the community, and it’s a very time-sensitive issue to get people vaccines actually as fast as possible,” he said, adding in a press release, “Now is the time to mobilize and provide access to and information about the coronavirus vaccine to those who have yet to be reached.”
Mr. Congdon and his volunteer group began training this week. In addition, this marks the second time in the agency’s history that Peace Corps Response volunteers will serve a domestic deployment at FEMA’s request. The only other time was after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The deployment lasts three months, and it reflects the mission of the Biden administration to combat the pandemic with a whole-of-government effort and mobilize all resources, with emphasis on assisting communities with the greatest need and those who are traditionally underserved.
Mr. Congdon said he could see global vaccination efforts ramping up as the U.S. achieves its own milestones in vaccine rollout.
“We’re trying to help get the global population vaccinated as fast as possible and evenly distribute it to stop the spread of the virus, and make sure the variants keep evolving and passing through them — keeping the spread down by keeping herd immunity up and saving lives,” he said. “On top of that, it would be a good global ‘coming together’ moment. After all, ending the global divisiveness by sharing vaccines seems like it would be a good way to combat all the global tensions that are happening right now too.”
The Peace Corps began recruiting volunteers for this special domestic deployment after it was announced by the agency and FEMA on March 31. Peace Corps volunteers and Peace Corps Response volunteers who were given “completion of service” status in 2020 as part of the global evacuation due to COVID-19 are eligible to serve, including Mr. Congdon.
Volunteers will be assigned to language support, administrative, logistical and other work that supports the operation of FEMA-funded Community Vaccination Centers, but will not be administering the vaccine, nor will they engage in any other clinical work during their assignment.
“The Peace Corps works hand-in-hand with communities on their most pressing challenges, and right now the U.S. faces some of the biggest challenges in our country’s history,” Carol Spahn, Peace Corps acting director, said in a press release. “The volunteers who contribute to this effort will bring valuable cross-cultural experience, language skills and adaptability fostered during their time overseas as they contribute to an equitable vaccination campaign here at home.”
While Mr. Congdon is on assignment now, he said he doesn’t quite think his time in North Macedonia is done.
“I already vested so much time into being a volunteer, but I didn’t really feel that ‘closure’ moment. I liked what I was doing there, and I did feel like it was cut a little short. I still want to go back,” he said. “But right now, this is a way to get back to help fight against this virus.”