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Joey Baietti Spotlight

October Spotlight: Joey Baietti


Please meet our October Monthly spotlight Joey Baietti! Joey is both a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Tonga and a co-founder of Friends of Tonga. Joey served in the village of Holonga, on the main island of the Vava'u island group from 2012 to 2014. 


From a young age Joey knew he wanted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was originally inspired by a family friend who had served decades before and they always shared amazing stories of their time as a volunteer. The seed was planted and was further solidified by one of his good friends choosing to serve. Upon his graduation from the University of California: Berkeley, he applied and was accepted. At the time when he applied to the Peace Corps, there was no ability to choose where you could go. He did have a preference to learn Spanish but was matched with the Kingdom of Tonga instead. When asked if he had reservations about joining the Peace Corps, he said “No, not at all. I was always the volunteer guy, I managed the blood drive, I did Toys for Tots, and continued these types of projects in college and so the Peace Corps seemed like the natural next step upon graduation.” 

Joey has always been interested in education, so he was excited when he was invited to be an English Language Facilitator in Tonga. He found it especially meaningful to be placed in a remote village and live on the school compound, where he taught English to 7-10 year-olds. He reflected on his time teaching: “I have always considered being a teacher and was highly interested in getting in front of a classroom. It was a thousand times harder than I thought it would be and was amazingly challenging for a variety of reasons; however, over the course of my first year I was able to hone my craft. I felt like I actually had some solid footing going into the second year.”


True to his volunteering background, Joey was not one to let the moss grow on the bottom of his flip-flops and he hurled himself into a variety of secondary projects. For example, he noticed that there was a gap in first aid education and realized there wasn't a lot of understanding on how to keep wounds clean. Many of his students would come to class with scrapes and sores on their skin and he was shocked to see the lack of attention given to these wounds. He decided to team up with the local Red Cross and start a training program for teachers to learn basic first-aid education. He found it incredibly fulfilling and rewarding to help address that need. 


Another project that he is incredibly proud of is the sleep-away camp he and another volunteer started to help to educate young men about sexual and general health, women's rights, and being an active citizen: Camp GROW. This was an initiative that was inspired by the Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) initiative. When asked to explain why he felt this was a needed program, he responded passionately, “We felt like there was a missing component for young men. It makes a lot of sense to educate young women about their rights, but it is also important to make young men aware of women's rights as well. Camp GROW really tried to focus on Tongans teaching Tongans, so we structured the camp so that the counselors were older teens who could be mentors and guides. We had the counselors manage the camp and the day was structured around Tongan professionals who would lead sessions. For example, we had a Tongan judge lead a session on women’s rights and we had a nurse come in and speak about health and hygiene. These mini-sessions would then lead to daily debriefs and have guiding discussion questions. There was a lot of team building, leadership, and fun activities. We also coordinated with the volunteers running Camp GLOW, so they would happen simultaneously. That way, we had a bunch of crossover activities. To this day it is one of the most amazing things that I will ever do.”


 Like many Peace Corps Volunteers, his time in Tonga was transformative and further affirmed his desire to work in development and work on the existential crisis of climate change and its effects on society. Upon returning home, he earned his Master’s in Urban Planning from NYU and currently works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a Loan Finance Officer helping local governments get access to the capital markets to get funding for community and economic development projects.