By Keevon Baten, former Rotary Youth Exchange student and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, founding member of Rotaract Asheville Club (United States)
Guided by the values of purpose, service, personal growth, and global interconnectedness, my life has unfolded as a fascinating journey. This voyage began with my Rotary Youth Exchange experience, a program for students ages 15-19 sponsored by Rotary clubs in more than 100 countries. It progressed through my transformative service as a Peace Corps Volunteer and culminated in my current role as the founder of the nonprofit organization Elevated Up & Out.
In 2011, immediately after my high school graduation, I embarked on a life-changing journey. It started with boarding an airplane for the first time and traveling alone to southern Brazil. This marked the beginning of my yearlong adventure as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. This immersion into Brazilian culture was a profound experience.
I lived with a local family, and through perseverance and practice, I mastered Portuguese. I enjoyed traditional celebrations, adapted to cultural norms, and even tried to learn how to dance the rhythmic samba. I was more than just a visitor; I became a part of the community, living and breathing the Brazilian way of life.
The experience I had as a Rotary Youth Exchange student inspired me to apply for the Peace Corps after finishing my undergraduate university studies. In 2017, I served with the Peace Corps as an Education Volunteer in the island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific with the Stonehill village community, immersing myself as much as possible. My primary responsibility was teaching English to more than 200 children at a primary school, but my service extended beyond the classroom.
In collaboration with other volunteers and community members, I helped deliver books to underserved rural schools to supplement their literacy programs. I can still remember the sight of eager, joyful faces of children as they flipped through the books, their eyes widening at the colorful illustrations.
The crowning achievement of my service was a collective effort to secure a USAID grant to bring solar-powered lighting to our school community. The realization of this project was a testament to our community’s cooperative spirit, exemplifying how fostering sustainability can significantly improve the learning conditions for both students and teachers.
My life in the village wasn’t just about undertaking projects or collaborating on work; it was about cultivating profound, enduring relationships built through shared experiences. My time in Vanuatu was more than a two-year service – it was a life-changing experience that helped shape who I am today. It was an experience of a lifetime and one that I hope inspires others to embark on their unique service journey.
My service led me to found Elevated Up & Out. Having grown up in a disadvantaged background, beyond simply feeling grateful for these experiences, I felt a burning desire to share the joys of international travel and service with others, particularly those who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to have those experiences.
Elevated Up & Out was established to empower underserved youth. Our vision is to nurture compassionate global citizens who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to make a lasting impact in their communities and the world. We provide financial support to obtain passports and coordinate international travel and service opportunities. Through collaboration with Rotarians, Rotaract clubs, and Peace Corps Volunteers, the organization offers life-changing community service trips abroad to foster personal growth and cultural understanding. By breaking down barriers and offering carefully guided experiences, we enable young individuals to become global citizens, advocates for positive change, and ambassadors of cultural exchange.
By establishing Elevated Up & Out, I hope to spread the opportunities and inspiration I received as a Rotary Youth Exchange student and a Peace Corps Volunteer. My aim is to kindle a similar spark of purpose through global service in other youth, inspiring them to perhaps become future Rotaract and Rotary members or Peace Corps Volunteers.
Rotary International and the Peace Corps have a formal partnership to promote global peace, cultural understanding, and community development through service. Learn about the Rotary International-Peace Corps partnership and Peace Corps’ opportunities to serve. To connect your club with the Peace Corps or to invite a current or returned volunteer to a meeting, contact email@example.com.