Story by Stacee Sledge
Before the Peace Corps took Kelly Vosilus (’06) to Azerbaijan, it brought her to Western.
Vosilus, of Lansing, Kansas, was researching colleges in her mother’s home state of Washington when she learned Western Washington University had a Peace Corps recruiter right on campus.
If the Peace Corps was that interested in Western, Vosilus decided, she was too. Maybe the Peace Corps knew where to find the kind of people Vosilus wanted to go to school with: those who “cared about their communities and the world,” Vosilus says, “as well as those who gave their time to others and volunteered.”
That was where Vosilus wanted to be, too. Since age 12 she had nurtured a dream of joining the Peace Corps and serving alongside people of another country on the other side of the world.
Her first encounter with the Peace Corps was during an information fair the beginning of her freshman year.
“I stumbled upon the Peace Corps recruiter,” Vosilus says, “and every fall after that I sought her out at the fair and asked her what I needed to do at Western to become a Peace Corps volunteer.”
Meanwhile, she spent time making a difference closer to home.
“I tried to volunteer as much as I could,” she says, “including at the Lighthouse Mission and serving meals to the homeless downtown with the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry.”
Soon after graduating in August 2006 with a degree in English Literature, Vosilus was accepted into the Peace Corps and assigned to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, located west of the Caspian Sea and sharing borders with Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran.
She arrived in late June 2007 for 11 weeks of language, medical and safety training. She also got a lesson in how small the world can be for Western graduates when she met fellow Peace Corps volunteers Nick Morton (’03) and his wife, Dana Carr (’04).
“We had attended Western together but didn’t know each other,” Vosilus says.
Vosilus is now living in a village in the northeastern part of Azerbaijan creating youth programs for 15- to 24-year-olds, preparing them with life skills to help them continue with schooling or work.
She stays busy running camps, meetings and classes. She often helps villagers with their English and computer skills and has created programs examining environmental and health issues.
One small experience can snowball into a much larger impact.
“I trained a village member to read a diabetic monitor,” Vosilus says of donated equipment that included English-only directions. “He was then able to help his mother-in-law and then also trained other villagers to help with the growing problem of diabetes in our area.”
Living and working in Azerbaijan, where she’ll stay until September 2009, has been one of the best and biggest surprises of her life, she says.
“I’ve been welcomed warmly by the people of this wonderful country and do what I can to help them,” she says.