Maaranen wants to make a difference for children

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Community > LA resident started with Peace Corps earlier this month

By Gina Velasquez

Helping youth has always been on Sara Maaranen’s radar.
The Los Alamos native recently was accepted into the Peace Corps and departed to Ecuador May 13 for a 23-month excursion.
She will spend three months training as an urban youth development volunteer at the community level by creating programs to assist at-risk young people.
In Ecuador, Maaranen will mainly be working with kids that are 5-17 years old.
“It’s an opportunity to experience a culture as a local while serving the
community,” Maaranen said. “I want to gain understanding of the levels and circles of the culture.”
During the first three months of her service, she will live with a host family in Quito to learn the local language and integrate into the culture.
After acquiring the language and cultural skills that will help her make a lasting difference, Maaranen will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Ecuador where she will serve the next two years.
Maaranen is the daughter of Steve and Denise Maaranen and a graduate of Los Alamos High School.
Following high school, she then attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and journalism in 2010. She has also worked as a caseworker at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah.
“There was an emphasis on culture through anthropology courses, cross-cultural journalism and multi-cultural certificate,” Maaranen said.
In Ecuador, Maaranen will be part of a team of staff that will work with kids in different areas, such as job training, health, safety, culture and language. She will work in cooperation with the local people and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Ecuador and help develop leadership, technical and cross-cultural skills that will give her a competitive edge when she returns home.
Peace Corps volunteers return from service as global citizens well positioned for professional opportunities in today’s global job market.
“I want to experience the world in a new way, [and] further youth and community development skills,” Maaranen said. “This kind of program development is what is needed to help young people with self-esteem issues.”
Maaranen is no stranger to volunteering and helping youth. Her interest in volunteering began in high school and blossomed throughout her college years and her work in Utah.
She also spent a year in Spain and said she enjoys going into a different lifestyle, not knowing what to expect.
Maaranen does admit, though, that she could brush up on her Spanish skills.
There are currently 116 volunteers in Ecuador working in the areas of community economic development, education and health.
During their service in Ecuador, volunteers learn to speak the local languages, including Spanish and Kichwa.
More than 6,135 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ecuador since the program was established in 1962.
For more information about the Peace Corps, visit peacecorps.gov.