The Peace Corps announced Monday that Montana is tied at No. 3 in the nation for states with the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita, a jump of four places from last year.
There are 4.5 volunteers here per 100,000 residents, a high number for a state that ranks 44th in the country with a population just over 1 million. Montana is tied with Washington state, and only the District of Columbia (6.5 volunteers per 100,000 people) and Vermont (8.3) rank higher.
There are 46 volunteers from Montana currently serving worldwide, and 1,415 residents of Montana have served in the Peace Corps since it was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.
Missoula made the list of top metropolitan areas per capita for Peace Corps volunteers, holding the No. 2 spot for the second year in a row, with 8.87 volunteers per 100,000 residents. In the last decade, the Missoula area has consistently ranked among the top 10 metro areas per capita. Ithaca, New York, has the highest number of volunteers per capita at 10.51.
Megan Barnhart, a graduate student studying international conservation and development in the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation, is one of the many Missoulians who have served abroad in the Peace Corps.
She served as a community-based environmental management volunteer in Peru from August 2012 until last February. She primarily helped rural farmers create associations or cooperatives in order to gain access to state aid from the government.
“Because they had an organized group, they were able to gain technical assistance from the state and gain better access to markets and improve production,” Barnhart explained.
She also helped families get access to fuel-efficient cook stoves.
“Women there cook on the floor with wood in enclosed rooms,” she said. “So the stove has an enclosed chamber for the wood and a chimney. They are efficient, so that means they don’t have to gather as much fuel wood from the woods. And there is less smoke, so it’s better for health and lung disease.”
Barnhart also taught lessons on the environment, public health, family health, nutrition, water treatment, home gardening and organic fertilizers.
She said she picked the Peace Corps after studying abroad in Costa Rica as an undergrad.
“I had a desire to go back abroad and I knew that the Peace Corps was a good option because I wanted to do international work, and the Peace Corps is the best way to gain experience abroad with a well-known organization,” she said. “I always wanted to do it, and it seemed like the right time.”
She said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life, and she gained a year of noncompetitive eligibility for applying for U.S. government jobs, so she is moving to Washington, D.C., soon to take a job with the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I learned and grew a lot from it,” she said. “I would recommend the Peace Corps to everyone. It was a really good experience. There were moments that were hard, but overall, in reflecting on it, I have a very positive view of the Peace Corps.”
220,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps since its founding as volunteers in dozens of countries around the world in the fields of agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth-in-development volunteers.
“We’re thrilled to see our eight-state region contribute so many of its best and brightest to represent our nation abroad,” said Erin Carlson, regional manager of the Peace Corps West Coast Region. “Promoting a better understanding of people and cultures around the world is at the heart and soul of our organization’s rich tradition of service."
The Peace Corps is a federal agency within the U.S. State Department that sends Americans to more than 140 countries – many of them in the developing world – to develop sustainable solutions to challenges on the grassroots level.
For more information visit peacecorps.gov.