June 5, 2003 - Iowa Falls Times-Citizen: Dena Lewerke serves in Armenia as a business advisor

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Armenia: Peace Corps Armenia : The Peace Corps in Armenia: June 5, 2003 - Iowa Falls Times-Citizen: Dena Lewerke serves in Armenia as a business advisor

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Dena Lewerke serves in Armenia as a business advisor

Dena Lewerke serves in Armenia as a business advisor

A new type of Peace Corps volunteer

By:LaDona Roelfs , News Reporter 06/05/2003

IOWA FALLS - Armenia. A somewhat familiar sounding name, but few people can tell you where it is located, what countries share its borders.

Fewer still could tell you that Armenia's claim to fame is Mt. Ararat, the peak where Noah's Ark dry-docked after the flood.

The small country, about the size of Maryland, will be home to Dena Lewerke for the next two years as she lives and works and teaches throughout the area as a member of the Peace Corps.

Ten years ago Lewerke graduated from Iowa Falls High School with no intention of ever going to Armenia, or any other third world country for that matter. She had her eye on law. After attending DMAAC, she worked in a civil rights law firm, got another year's education as a legal assistant, received an associate of science and legal assistant certificate from Kirkwood and went to work in a title agency.

From there the young woman moved to Arizona and worked in a law firm with eminent domain law until she returned to get a bachelor of business administration from the University of Phoenix.

"I had always known about the Peace Corps, but I thought there was a lot of hard physical labor involved É planting the rice fields and stuff," Lewerke laughed. "After I had my business degree, I thought about starting my own business and had been doing a lot of volunteering with various nonprofit organizations. Then a friend of a friend had been a teacher (for the Peace Corps) in Nepal and really enjoyed it. When I saw online that they had a business program, I thought this maybe was something I might want to do. I had always wanted to live in another country, another culture."

Lewerke filled out the application and in January 2002 was accepted. But even though she had listed her "first preference" South American countries, she was not sent to any of them. ("You have to be very flexible in the Peace Corps.") Instead she is being sent to Armenia, formerly a former Soviet Union republic, with a population for just over 3 million, that borders Iran, Turkey and Georgia; a country where Americans are respected, but somewhat stereotyped (blond, blue-eyed movie stars) and where as a woman, she will have to "prove" herself an equal; a country that grows grapes, has four seasons and offers skiing in their mountain range; a country with Internet cafes, computers and a growing technology.

Pre-assignment training (June 9-Aug. 21) will include familiarizing the 35 recruits to businesses opportunities they can become involved with, but mainly will concentrate on learning the Arabic-like language, new alphabet and all. "We will be living with Armenian families who don't speak English," she said. "So we don't have much choice but to learn pretty quickly!" Their assignments will be made after the training and at that time they will know to what part of the country they will be sent.

"Once we get to our location, we are assigned an apartment and they help us set things up," she said. "I get a monthly payment, but by U.S. standards, very little, enough to live on and buy groceries, but not a lot."

While Armenia was a part of the former Soviet Union, it was economically stable, but after the Soviet Union collapsed, the smaller country was very poor. "They lost their infrastructure, they had some very damaging earthquakes and have needed lots of aid," Lewerke said. "Other things, too, weakened their economy. The entrepreneurial spirit is starting to build back up but needs help. And that's where I come in. I'll probably be working with government and government organizations getting grants and money for businesses that people want to start. I will also be giving them help and ideas on getting started, business education and technology application."

Basically Lewerke will be helping an Armenian person get their business started. "They will already have the idea and my job will be as a business advisor, maybe a teacher of business education. I can help them getting grants and money to get started," she explained.

The Peace Corps also expects their people to be involved in a community development project as part of their assignment. Lewerke has chosen to continue a program started by a former worker. "This is an environmental awareness campaign, Hike for the Environmental Awareness," she said. "The purpose is to encourage more people to go hiking and get involved with improving and preserving the land. Because the Soviet Union had a nuclear plant in Armenia years ago, the environment isn't real great. We want to show them the beauty of the land and how to save what they have."

When she returns to the United States, Lewerke plans to continue her education working toward a masters, with her eye on a career in community legal services. One of the benefits of serving in the Peace Corps is that several colleges will give a full or partial scholarship because of the time she has spent overseas.

©Iowa Falls Times-Citizen 2003

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Story Source: Iowa Falls Times-Citizen

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Armenia; Business Advisors



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