For Sarah Ouellette ’17, life will come full circle this year. Ouellette, a biology major with a double minor in health professions and child advocacy, will travel to her home country of the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Ouellette’s early life in the Philippines was marked by adversity. “Until I was six years old, I lived on the streets and with foster parents,” she says. “I know what it is like to feel worthless and be vulnerable.” By the age of five, she was putting in long hours working on a family farm, toiling for foster parents who were abusive.
Her luck changed when she was adopted by an American couple and came to the United States where she learned English and embraced the opportunities that were available to her. As she grew older, however, thoughts of the life she left behind gnawed at her. “I started to feel guilty that my adoption granted me an opportunity to restart my life somewhere better, while other kids were not able to escape the poverty.”
Fast forward to 2016, where Ouellette, now an HWS junior, was thinking about the future. She was drawn to experiences that allowed her to help others and had served as a first year and disabilities mentor, a student mental health supporter, an HWS Leads member, and in other advocacy positions on campus. “These experiences and many others reinforced how lucky I was to have been adopted and to have grown up in America,” she says.
She then explored options to translate her desire to serve others into a post-graduation career. The answer came when she was assigned as a member of the HWS Leads certificate program to write a paper on a person she considers a leader. She chose Katie Flowers, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.
“Katie shared some wise words with me during my interview with her,” says Ouellette. “She said ‘a leader is someone who is driven by the greater good, who is aware of the plight of others and willing to do something about it.’ I took Katie’s words to heart and applied to the Peace Corps.”
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Ouellette will work with children at risk as a community/youth development facilitator, focusing on prevention and intervention activities for clients and communities.
“While I hesitate to share details about my childhood, I honor my experiences by helping others and giving them the support they need to develop into thriving members of our community,” she says. “I believe the Peace Corps is the most rewarding place to both show the solidarity I feel with impoverished youth and to gain insight from the people I’ll encounter along the way.”