Local Peace Corps Volunteer Turned Recruiter Shares His Transformative Experience
A ceremony in the nation’s capital Wednesday morning marked the exact time 60 years ago that President Kennedy signed the law creating the U.S. Peace Corps.
Hilo native Kamaka Dias just got hired as a Peace Corps recruiter at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Dias, fresh off a stint volunteering in Madagascar, shared how the program has affected his life and how he's been giving back to the community.
"You don't realize how small this place is until you leave and you see what else is out there," he told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "I like to encourage people living here to go and explore, and come back and share what you've learned with your friends, your ʻohana, your community — because a lot of times they just don't know what's out there."
He recently worked with Central Pacific Bank on a financial literacy campaign after he completed his goal of paying off thousands in student debt — in a little less than one year.
But Dias credits lessons learned from raising money for a student computer lab in a village in Madagascar.
"We ended up raising $3,000 and getting 11 computers for my community — and then I got back at the end of 2019 and I had this crazy idea to pay off $50,000 of student loans in one year, just by doing a bunch of odd jobs, asking people what could I do to help them," Dias said. "And not charging anything, it was all donation-based."
He started working on that financial goal in January 2020. Then the pandemic started in March and slowed things down.
"But I was still able to persevere and get the community support and finish in early December — so about 11 months," he said. "I think I get hyper-focused on some things if I really believe in it."
As for being a new recruiter, he said he loves talking about the Peace Corps because it was the most transformative experience of his life.
"I learned a lot of things about myself and saw it in a new perspective where it's like, I'm trying to speak their language, I'm trying to dress like them, I'm trying to eat their food, but I wasn't doing it to be disrespectful — because a lot of times us locals, we're like, 'Why are they doing that, like saying aloha or mahalo in very bad pronunciation?'" Dias said. "Then I realized I'm doing the exact same thing in Madagascar, you know. So something like that, just like flipping your perspective a lot. It only happens when you go into new territory."
"I wouldn't be where I am today without the Peace Corps," he said. "I always think, like, Peace Corps is like the most selfless selfish thing you can do. Because I feel no matter what you do — I could buy 500 computers for everyone in Madagascar and I still wouldn't feel like I gave them more than they gave me, you know, because what you receive as a Peace Corps volunteer is much more than you could ever give back."