Staff Spotlight - Kendra Phillips

Implementation Support Division Chief, USAID Office of HIV/AIDS

Staff Spotlight is a series created by the USAID Global Health Communications Team that features personal interviews with USAID global health staff. By sharing the stories of various staff members’ backgrounds and experiences, we hope this series will help bring USAID’s global community closer together. This week we’d like to introduce Kendra Phillips, Implementation Support Division Chief, USAID Office of HIV/AIDS.

Kendra Phillips on a beach in Liberia 1985
Kendra in Liberia in 1985 with the Peace Corps.

Q: How did you get involved in development work?

A: The story began when I was 5 or 6 years old. I have memories of spending endless hours at my grandparents’ house reading National Geographic magazines. I had dreams of being an adventurer, visiting other cultures, and even perhaps, the person who finds a lost civilization in the Amazon jungle! This love of other cultures guided me to an Anthropology degree in my undergrad. I had fun with that and still wanted to go further. I joined the Peace Corps 1 month after I graduated. I remember the PC recruiter asking me if I would be willing to become a fisheries volunteer and to leave in a month. Why not?! So off I went. While living in Liberia, I found myself stomping through swamps looking for places to build fish ponds, and I volunteered at the clinic in my town. The Peace Corps was the pinnacle moment in my life that brought me to development work. Although my career path twisted and turned a bit between the Peace Corps and USAID (1987–2001), somehow I always knew that my life would be about development – even if I did not know what development was.

Q: If you weren’t working in development or public health, what would you be doing? Why?

A: Wow. That's a fun question. I actually have thought about that as a question that is soon to be relevant after I retire. Not so far away. I know that wherever I end up I will have a CBO/NGO community daycare for HIV-positive children and youth. I already have my team assembled – people who I have met professionally and personally who will make up my dream team for staffing and running the center. Why? I love being around children, and I think I have the skills to create a loving atmosphere for HIV-positive kids. I would also likely need some sort of profitable business to help subsidize the day care center. The profit side would be a swanky B&B, wine bar and scuba center. Something that caters to backpacker types and middle-of-the-road travelers who want a fun place to stay while scuba diving, wine drinking and hiking. Why? I love meeting travelers. I love scuba diving. I love wine. Why not put all three together?

Kendra Phillips with her father
Kendra with her father.


Q: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?

A: People seem surprised when I tell them I am a die-hard introvert. That could be one answer. The answer I want to share is that I love being with elderly people. In fact, I spent 8 years taking care of my grandparents in their final years of life. I learned so much from the experience. I learned that life is about love. Plain and simple. Oh . . . and to appreciate each moment, rather than spending time trying to make moments happen. Now I have my 80-year-old father living with me (and my wife). He has Parkinson's disease, and we work together to deal with the challenges that disease brings. I know that life is about the journey and not the destination, so I try to remind my father that he is still on his journey and should not let the disease defeat him. In fact, he is an artist, and we are currently planning a show of his artwork at a community cafe in Silver Spring. His journey continues.

Q: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

A: Oh, my. Saying goodbye to dear friends – whether dying or whether knowing you will not see them again. That is, and will continue to be, the hardest thing for me.

Mountains with Kendra and partner Julie
Kendra and her wife, Julie Chitty.

Q: If you could witness any event – past, present or future – what would it be, and why?

A: I wish I had been in the streets of South Africa when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. I get goose bumps every time I think of this. The singing . . . the joy of knowing that oppression is going away . . . the belief that your country has a true leader, one who has seen hardship and still comes out with a smile. That must have been an amazing thing to see and to be a part of.

Last updated: March 10, 2016

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