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Sharing Life Through the Peace Corps…Where the Journey Leads Featuring Josh Donegan

February 2, 2018

“Where the Journey Leads” features individuals who once lived in Coffee County, Tennessee but whose journey in life has led them to new adventures in new places; it’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends.”

As the Greek Proverb states, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Taking this to heart, Josh Donegan is living a life of service to those around him and is also sowing seeds into the future lives of those he will never know, yet will someday reap the harvest of his efforts.

The Coffee County Central High School Class of 2007 graduate is using his talents, skills and experiences to invest in the lives of others through his work in the Peace Corps and other environmental efforts. Building on the foundation he received as a youth in Manchester, Josh attended Tennessee Tech University and received his Civil and Environmental Engineering degree. Afterward, he continued his studies at the University of South Florida working toward a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering specializing in Water, Health and Sustainability. While there, he also completed his Peace Corps Masters International program and was named a National Science Foundation Scholar.

With hands-on experiences, Josh has acquired a vast amount of knowledge and skill sets throughout his educational career that have aided him on his journey. Among his many accomplishments, he served as the American Society of Civil Engineers Southeast Conference Team Leader in Environmental, Hydrology, and Hydraulic Rocket competitions, was an Honors University 1010 Peer Mentor student teacher for the Environmental Village at TTU, served as the Tennessee Facilitator at Powershift 2011 (sustainability conference) in Washington, D.C. as well as chairing the TTU Sustainable Campus Fee Committee, TTU Honors College Green Committee and President of Students for Environmental Action Coalition. Through his efforts, Josh was the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Campus Sustainability Award and was named the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Campus Fellow representative.Josh Donegan la jornada pic

All of his studies and accomplishments laid a firm foundation for further studies in specializing for the Peace Corps. Changing the world for the better is no small task, especially with limited financial resources. In these situations, the wise man himself becomes one of his best resources and assets.

In pursuit to best accomplish his efforts abroad, Josh completed 106+ hours of formal instruction in Spanish as well as 10+ hours of formal instruction in Ngabere, a local indigenous dialect. Furthermore, he completed 143+ hours technical training in rural water and sanitation systems, 30 hours of cultural diversity training, 40 hours of medical, safety and administrative issue training and 190 hours of program event training, all to take on the task before him to the best of his ability.

In an interview with CCN, Josh shared some of his experiences and views on his amazing journey thus far.

CCN: Did you have a favorite teacher at CHS and if so, who and why?

Josh: I guess I’d say Mrs. Rita Young, she was always so focused and motivating. She isn’t afraid to give you a project that will truly challenge you, but provides support during the process. She and Mrs. Michelle Henley were always tirelessly working on BPA organization/competitions (Business and Professionals Association now referred to as Future Business Leaders of America) etc., while promoting a true learning environment. Also, although she and I clashed at times, Ms. Joyce McCullough was an intellectual role model for me. She valued intelligence and concision very highly, was incredibly articulate, and pushed her students to always be better versions of themselves through education and literature.

CCN: What inspired you to go into the Peace Corps?

Josh: I joined the Peace Corps (PC) for several reasons: primarily, I wanted to use my engineering skills on a local level and work on a project which I could truly see an important change/outcome of the work I’d done. Additionally, I’ve always been a wanderlust kind of guy. I love to travel, experience new culture/food/people/ways of life. PC was a way for me to get out of the cubicle lifestyle which I felt I was too young to commit myself to fully, and explore more about myself, the world around me, be challenged, but also highly rewarded in life experience and skills as opposed to just money.Josh Donegan working with Peace Corp

CCN:  What have you learned during the time you have spent with the Peace Corps that you have found to be life changing?

Josh: There are several. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned is a personal one. We, as humans, are incredibly resilient, adaptable, and clever. The challenges of PC life showed me day to day, just how strong and capable of an individual myself, and essentially all the other volunteers who accepted the same challenge, are/can be. There is literally nothing in this world that you can’t do. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but if you dedicate yourself to self-improvement, focus, and education on the subject, there is literally nothing I feel a human being can’t do (given reasonable observation to physical and biological laws). Additionally, I carry an incredible joy in my heart to know that no matter how different I am from the indigenous people of Panama (language, diet, lifestyle, priorities, education, appearance, etc.) when it comes down to it, we are truly no different at all. We all value family, friends, shelter, food, water, and fun. Also, the power of language and understanding. The community I lived in was an indigenous group. They spoke their native pre-Columbian language as well as the secondary Spanish. It was always interesting to me to think about the fact that we were living harmoniously and working productively in both of our secondary languages. Learning new grammatical structure, phrases, spelling, and vocabulary has truly expanded my cognitive ability and perspective on how language shapes our lives and experiences.

CCN: After investing your life into the lives of others, what have you learned that you wish others knew as well?

Josh: Again, two things here. One, too many of us live our lives in fear and hate. Xenophobia is a rampant and highly unproductive worldview which has little to no basis in reality.  My parents were always very concerned about my safety, living in a ‘developing Latino world’ but honestly, I’ve never felt safer, more valued, or more at home than while living in Panama. Despite the fact that we, the United States of America, invaded Panama in 1989. One would think, myself as a ‘gringo’ or white person, would be hated, feared, targeted, etc. But the fact of the matter is it’s just not a productive way to live life, constantly in fear and hate of different races/foreigners. I admire the people of Panama’s ability to live with so many other different walks of life, sharing such a small, intimate and beautiful country.  Additionally, the phrase “Lose yourself in service to others” is an inspiring quote to me. Although I believe in taking care of oneself above all, if you have any more capacity to care, you will learn so much more about life by working with others less fortunate to help better their existence.

CCN: Have you had any major challenges that you have had to overcome to be successful?

Josh: Life is full of challenges. One challenge I never knew I had growing up was access to different ways of life, the reality of existence is difficult to perceive staying in your hometown your entire life. I was fortunate enough to go to college and meet many new people who loved traveling and provided me with more opportunities to travel inside our country and out, in order to gain more worldly perspective. Additionally, most of us are familiar with relative poverty. Because of lack of money, we eat poorly, watch too much TV (cheap entertainment), and are typically under educated and over stressed. I’m not unique in facing the challenge of pulling oneself out of not only money-oriented poverty, but out of a spiritual poverty as well. I believe many of us have begun to see things more clearly; it was incredibly eye-opening to live in true poverty for such an extended period of time. It helped me reclarify what is truly important in life, and how much we have here in the US.

While in PC I lived on about $400 a month, which is still significantly more than the people with whom I lived in my community (I was considered a rich guy in town). To be perfectly honest, I was overall much happier with my life, with less stress, and more appreciation of the small things. It was very common to hear the people in the community say how poor they were, which allowed me the opportunity to explain to them how truly wealthy they were while reminding me that the grass is always greener on the other side. My point being, they have NO debt, no car payments, no rent, free basic health insurance, heavily subsidized education costs, they own their own (productive) land, they rely on natural resources heavily. While in the US, I had more student debt than many of them could ever imagine, I owned no land – much less cultivable land, had no savings, rely completely on government/state infrastructure, have no natural resources at my disposal, and have largely much less control over my daily lifestyle due to the external financial pressures.

CCN: From your pictures on social media, it is evident you love to rock climb. Where are some of your favorite places to climb?

Josh: I’ve climbed in several different places now. Panama, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, Oregon, California, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky. I’d say my favorite places to climb are still the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Although I’ve really enjoyed everywhere I’ve been climbing!

I was developing some routes and climbs in Panama and had a two hour hike to the mountain from where I lived. So that was a super cool experience and teaching the kids about the sport as well. I don’t get to climb as much as I used to because of thesis writing/peace corps projects, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop climbing.Josh Donegan climbing

CCN: What are some of your favorite memories from living in Manchester?

Josh: Obviously growing up with Bonnaroo has been an amazing experience. As a music and arts lover, I feel super blessed to have had the opportunity to see so much amazing live music and sharing of good times out on the farm. Speaking of farms, I truly value growing up in the proximity of farmers and a small town. It instills a value of friendship and hard work which have been fundamental in relationships I’ve developed throughout my life. As a kid in a small town, you learn the true value or work, family, friends, and honesty. Everyone knows you and you know everyone, so being personally accountable is a necessity, which is a characteristic I value highly.

CCN: What are your dreams for your future and what do you plan to do next?

Josh: Now that I’m back state side, I’ve moved back to Tampa, Fla. to finish my Masters of Science in Environmental Engineering with a graduate certificate in Public Health, Water, and Sustainability. Also, a year or so ago, I, with a few close friends, began organizing to start our own business. Because we aren’t established yet, I can’t divulge too many details but essentially, we’re attempting to bring urban agriculture to the cultural forefront of Tennessee, beginning in Chattanooga. Stay tuned for updates.Josh Donegan with shells pic

CCN: What advice would you give young people today to help them reach their goals for the future?

Josh: Read, learn, experience, trust, value honesty, take calculated risks, treat yourself, your friends, and family well. Value the planet and its’ resources, think, think for yourself, stay organized, spend wisely, and never give up.

Note Story Addition: The following are specifics of Josh’s work in the Peace Corp:

Josh surveyed, designed, solicited a grant, budgeted, and trained the community in constructing a 6 kilometer gravity fed aqueduct with capacity to serve approximately 2000 people.

Josh worked with a newly elected diverse water committee to become a more proactive, functional, and responsible group through training of local laws, managing funds, and regular maintenance of the aqueduct.

Josh developed and implemented an improved cook stoves program for the community school and increased interaction between the Panamanian Ministry of Environment and the community to continue working in the area.

Josh increased awareness in the community with regards to personal and sexual health.

January 28, 2017 CCN Article by Rebekah Hurst, Photos provided by Josh Donegan, Reposted with permission


From → Adventure, Features

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