Peace Corps Voices: Ray Rizzo '15, Geneseo's Newest Volunteer

Ray Rizzo '15 with teachers he works with in Nicaragua.

Ray Rizzo '15 with teachers he works with in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer. He started his position in March.

Ray Rizzo '15

  • Major: International relations and economics
  • Peace Corps volunteer: March 2017 to present
  •  Location: San Sebastián de Yalí, Jinotega, Nicaragua
  • Expertise: Entrepreneurship education volunteer
  • The most valuable lesson or perspective I learned during my Peace Corps experience: 

Hi, my name is Ray Rizzo and I am a Peace Corps volunteer. This is the first time I have actually said (or typed) that in English! I have the privilege of serving my two-year Peace Corps service in San Sebastián de Yalí, Jinotega, Nicaragua, a town of approximately 27,000 people who reside in rural communities. In addition to being a volunteer, I am a son, older brother, avid traveler, mango lover and graduate of SUNY Geneseo, class of 2015.

During my time in Geneseo, where I studied international relations, I focused on development. It was at Geneseo that I first learned the significance of grassroots development and the importance of increasing capabilities of local populations to better their lives. During the summer of my junior year, I participated in a three-month internship in Jinja, Uganda, through the Foundation for Sustainable Development, with which Geneseo has a partnership. It was in Uganda that I was first able to work within a nation that has a developing economy. Through my internship, I was able to learn some of the intricacies involved in working on sustainable projects.

The Peace Corps method of development aligns with what Geneseo teaches to be the most important aspects of development. Specifically, here in Peace Corps Nicaragua there is a focus on community integration and immersion as a key part to a successful and meaningful service. In Nicaragua, it is important to establish “confianza,” or trust with your counterparts and foster relationships. The key to building this confianza involves learning local customs, spending time with the locals, and speaking Español, of course!

My town, San Sebastian de Yali, Jinotega.
My town. 

The majority of my service involves working with 11th-grade entrepreneurship teachers in a class called “Aprender, Emprender, Prosperer,” which translates to “Learn, Innovate and Thrive.” A normal week consists of holding coaching sessions with each of my five counterparts —teachers. My role involves going over the materials for the following class, making sure they are comfortable with the topics, and co-teaching the class with them. Throughout the year, students learn all of the components of a business plan. They also learn how to develop a product they believe their community needs, as well as how to conduct a market study, calculate their break-even point, and how to present their finished business plan in a series of competitions.

In conjunction with my counterparts, I will be coordinating a school wide competition in October, as well as competitions for the municipality. The winners of the municipality-wide competition move on to the department-wide (or state-wide) competition. Winners will qualify for the nationwide competition, which will be facilitated by the Peace Corps and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. Additionally, I hold monthly teacher trainings, otherwise known as “capacitaciones,” on various topics of the curriculum that the teachers express interest in exploring. The hope is that after volunteers leave, these teachers will be able to effectively, enthusiastically, and clearly teach the class.

There is incredible fervor in Nicaragua for starting businesses, which is usually driven by necessity and leads to the evasion of formal business planning. The goal of the Entrepreneurship Education project in Nicaragua is to instill an equal enthusiasm for innovation and calculated preparation that will improve the quality of new businesses and assure their formation and formalization. By advancing this mentality in youth through the Aprender, Emprender and Prosperer class, we hope that students, after graduation, and maybe after university, will open innovative, well-planned and successful businesses.

Rizzo with students.
Me and some of my students.

In today’s world, where there is so much turmoil and uncertainty, there is the immeasurable importance of fostering sympathetic relationships between nations. I am fortunate to be able to share customs, values and my American culture in a country that has had a historically tumultuous relationship with the United States. Peace Corps Nicaragua prefers volunteers to live with host families for the duration of their service, which makes community integration a bit easier because I have a family to help me. I am so thankful for my family here — host grandma Daisy, host mom Daisy Veronica, and host brothers Carlos Ramón and Marcos — for welcoming me into their home and letting me share these two of my life with them. I am also very thankful for their patience and willingness to help me when I stumble with my Spanish.

Nicaragua is everything you can hope and dream for in a country that is roughly the size of New York state. There is a plethora of lakes, volcanoes, mountains, islands, beautiful beaches and so much more. The adventurer in me is so excited to explore and get to know my new home for the next year and 10 months while I also work to facilitate a better understanding of Americans on the part of Nicaraguans and Nicaraguans on the part of Americans.