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Peace Corps rising
BY ADRIENNE SANDERS Of The Examiner Staff
Tracey Lake worked for a half dozen charities before Sept. 11, but it took the terrorist tragedies to inspire her to volunteer outside the U.S. -- with the Peace Corps.
"For me, volunteering became finding out what people think of the U.S.," said the 40-year-old Rockridge resident. "We're not going to fix things from the inside out. It has to be from the outside in."
Lake isn't alone. Peace Corps recruiting in the Bay Area is now higher than it has been in at least five years, said Dennis McMahon, spokesman for San Francisco's chapter of the Peace Corps. People around the country are signing up in droves to serve in one of the Peace Corps' 70 host countries -- and not just because jobs are scarce, he said.
"Those events have shown us that the dangers that exist in the world are not necessarily staying outside our borders," McMahon said. "A lot of people are saying 'Now, more than ever.' "
President Bush, in his State of The Union address in January, urged Americans to volunteer two years of their lives to helping others. He promised to double the Peace Corps' size within five years -- it is currently 7,000 strong. Since the address, national Peace Corps recruitment jumped 11 percent, compared to the same period in 2001.
Lake, who holds a master's of business administration degree and founded a popular (but now defunct) antiquing Web site The Serious Collector, is awaiting placement. She will probably head to a Latin American country with 20 or 30 volunteers to help plan water-sanitation systems and city budgets. She is eager to use her business and Spanish skills, but if the corps decides to ship her to, say, Uzbekistan, she won't hesitate to go.
"I'm not afraid of any place I would be sent," she said. "I trust the Peace Corps' 40 years of existence. They're not going to put me in danger."
Indeed, after the 9/11 attacks, the Peace Corps yanked volunteers from Turkmenistan, The Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan -- known as "the Stans." But the host countries and volunteers protested the move so passionately the Peace Corps decided to reinstate all three programs.
As President Bush announced in his January address, the corps is currently assessing the possibility of reopening programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to improve "development, education and opportunity in the Islamic world."
If and when those countries are deemed safe to reenter, only "Crisis Corps" volunteers -- seasoned alumni volunteers with appropriate skills -- will trickle in. Crisis Corps specialists recently went to El Salvador and to South Africa to help with the AIDs crisis.
McMahon, a former volunteer, finds the flood of recent applicants encouraging.
"All bets were off in terms of what we would do for recruitment (after Sept.11)," he said. "We didn't know whether people would sign up in droves or say 'We don't want to go out that world.' It's very refreshing to see it turned out that way."
Voice of the corp
New Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez will visit San Francisco on Tuesday, July 30. He will speak at the Commonwealth Club of California, noon-1 p.m., 595 Market St. Call: 800-847-7730. He will speak at the World Affairs Council, 6-7 p.m., 312 Sutter St. Call: 415-293-4600.
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