Parkland grad returns home from Peace Corps service
Justin Bleiler is back home after participating in his first volunteer program with the Peace Corps.
Bleiler, the son of Dean and Kathleen Bleiler, of South Whitehall, is a 2006 graduate of Parkland High School.
He recently spent two years and three months teaching in Nicaragua.
"I lived in a small agricultural community in the department of León in Nicaragua," Bleiler said.
As an environmental education volunteer, he trained teachers in lesson planning and taught natural science, gardening, reforestation, recycling and other environmental themes in local elementary schools.
"I also established environmental youth groups, broadcasted a weekly radio show, and organized environmental events such as lectures and parades," he said.
His great accomplishment in the Peace Corps was when he taught Cinthia, 13, who is deaf, sign language and to read and write.
"When I met Cinthia, she essentially had no way of communicating as she didn't know how to read, write or do sign language aside from a few signs only she and her sister understood," he said. "Deafness is especially limiting in rural communities such as the one I lived in because teachers don't have the training or materials to teach students like Cinthia.
"Fortunately, by the end of my service, I was able to enroll her in a special education school in a nearby city where she attends class with other deaf children in a great learning environment," he said.
His most memorable moment with the Peace Corps was when he bought a horse so he could ride with his Nicaraguan friends.
"An especially memorable moment was when I was herding a bunch of horses, galloping bareback through weeds that reached the horse's belly, while the sun was setting on the chain of volcanoes behind me," he said.
Bleiler explained why he decided to join the Peace Corps.
"I decided to apply to the Peace Corps because I wanted a change of pace after four years of living a fast-paced, stressful life in college," he explained.
Bleiler, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science and a minor in Spanish, is a 2010 graduate of the University of Delaware.
He saw the Peace Corps as a great opportunity to travel, become fluent in another language, and see the world from a different point of view, while getting experience in his field and helping others.
"Joining the Peace Corps was one of the best decisions of my life and I recommend it to anyone who wants to expand their horizons and learn about themself and the world," Bleiler said. "Initially, I found the two-year commitment intimidating, but I now see its importance as it allowed me to make friends and lasting impacts in my community not possible if I had gone for just a few months.
"Overall, I enjoyed my Peace Corps service very much. My host family is like a second family to me and I made many lasting friendships. As with anything, there were challenges and things I had to adjust to, but with every challenge I learned something new and matured as a person."
Bleiler is looking for employment in the fields of ecology, environmental control or environmental education.
"Returned Peace Corps volunteers have access to many benefits and resources, especially when applying to federal jobs," he said. "Additionally, returning Peace Corps volunteers have many skills other job seekers may not have, such as fluency in a second language and the ability to face and overcome adversity."