“You’ll get malaria if you eat that.” I looked at the young woman in the village health clinic who’d spoken and then down at the mango that I held in my hands. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard mangoes cause malaria, nor would it be the last.
In Guinea, where I served as a public health Peace Corps volunteer from 2007-2009, the mango season coincides with the rainy reason. What proliferates during the rainy season? You guessed it! Mosquitoes. As a result, the idea that mangoes were connected to malaria was fairly common. But the young woman’s offhand remark gave me just the opening I needed to start a conversation that could, with no exaggeration, save her or her children’s lives. Approximately 10,000 Guineans die from malaria each year in a country with a population just over 13 million.
So, I set my mango down on the table and launched into a short speech I’d perfected on mosquitoes, malaria, and the importance of sleeping under a mosquito net. I finished my impromptu lecture with a lesson on eating mangoes to improve eyesight. (Fun fact: Mangoes are full of vitamin A!) What I did in the Peace Corps mattered, even the small conversations.
Similarly, my career with the Wage and Hour Division has allowed me to interact with workers, employers and even attorneys who hold common misconceptions about federal labor laws. You consider your entire work staff independent contractors? Your boss fired you when you were on FMLA leave because you live in an “at-will” employment state? Your client doesn’t pay overtime on production bonuses?
As a wage and hour investigator, I was a spontaneous educator, ready at a moment’s notice to provide lessons on the law in plain language. The education I provided often meant the difference in a worker being able to pay their rent, buy groceries, or come back to their job after taking leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. What we do in the Wage and Hour Division really matters. We educate. We enforce. We promote fair competition by holding employers nationwide to the same standards. And we advance equity by strengthening our outreach efforts in underserved communities.
The connection between my Peace Corps service and the skills I used regularly as an investigator are not unique to me. From coast to coast, there are many other returned Peace Corps volunteers who’ve continued their public service in the Wage and Hour Division. No matter their role in the agency, they find that the skills they gained in the Peace Corps, such as teaching, adapting and communicating effectively with people from different backgrounds and cultures, allow them to effectively protect workers by ensuring employers comply with the laws we enforce.
If you’re a returned Peace Corps volunteer and you have a passion for public service, I’d encourage you to consider a career with the Wage and Hour Division. It might just be the next toughest job you’ll ever love.
Jessica Kyle is a regional enforcement coordinator in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division office in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow the division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/showcase/dolwhd.