January 24, 2003 - Minnesota This Week Newspapers: PCV Phoenix Thompson brings Junior Achievement program to Guatemala

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: 01 January 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: January 24, 2003 - Minnesota This Week Newspapers: PCV Phoenix Thompson brings Junior Achievement program to Guatemala

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PCV Phoenix Thompson brings Junior Achievement program to Guatemala

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Peace Corps volunteer teaches free enterprise to Guatemalans*

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Peace Corps volunteer teaches free enterprise to Guatemalans

Posted: 1/24/03

by John Gessner

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, Ra Phoenix Thompson sometimes wonders whether his work makes a difference.

Thompson’s job is bringing the Junior Achievement program to young kids in hopes that some will become entrepreneurs and lift their nation’s economy.

Meanwhile, many of his 220 Peace Corps colleagues in the Central American country are helping villagers with their farms or teaching them to make basic housewares.

“They have a little more job satisfaction,” admitted Thompson, who must settle for faith in the power of education.

“It’s a developing country, and whether or not they’re going to advance depends on the young people,” he said.

Thompson, of Burnsville, will finish his two-year Peace Corps stint in July. The 26-year-old graduate of Southern Illinois University put on hold a budding aviation career to serve in the Peace Corps.

Thompson, whose mother, Linda Thompson, lives in Burnsville, graduated in 1994 from Apple Valley High School. He attended the University of North Dakota for two years before transferring to Southern Illinois and earning a degree in aviation management.

His parents have both worked in aviation, and family vacations in distant countries nourished Thompson’s interest in the world outside his doorstep.

“I always wanted to live in another culture, to experience another culture, learn another language, and kind of give back,” Thompson said while home on a holiday break from Peace Corps duty. “I’ve been fortunate. We’ve been fortunate.”

After learning about Peace Corps through a college friend, Thompson applied in March 2000. He left for Guatemala in May 2001, leaving behind a job with Thunderbird Aviation of Eden Prairie.

With a living allowance of 2,400 Guatemalan quetzales (about $220) per month, Thompson lives in the northeastern town of Morales. It’s a Ladino part of the country, he said, where most of the people are of mixed Spanish and indigenous blood.

More than half of Guatemala is Mayan; in 1996 the country emerged from a 32-year civil war between Mayan rebels and the Ladino government.

“One thing I’ve learned — everywhere in the world, every country, we find a way to divide ourselves,” Thompson said.

Guatemala’s strife has roots in discrimination against the Mayans and economic inequity, according to Thompson.

“Guatemala is a developing country but it’s not a poor country,” he said. “There’s just a lot of greedy people. There are like 12 families who pretty much run the country and possess most of the wealth.”

He’s one of nine Peace Corps volunteers bringing the international Junior Achievement program to Guatemalan children.

Thompson circulates among 12 schools, working in rural areas outside Morales. Families who own cattle or other means of production are better off than those who don’t, Thompson said.

“I earn basically $220 a month. There are people making what I make as a Peace Corps volunteer there who support an entire family of four or five on that,” he said. “It’s all relative.”

Most of his Junior Achievement students are 11 to 13 years old.

“A lot of them aren’t going to finish high school,” Thompson said. “That’s why we work with them in like fourth or fifth grade. Although that wouldn’t be considered middle-school age (in the United States), there, it is.”

He drills the students on business and workplace basics, such as job interviews and market studies. They learn about fixed costs, variable costs and profit. Asked what business they’re interested in, many of his students invariably say they’d like to open a tortilla shop.

“I challenge them: ‘What makes your tortilla shop better than the one on the corner?’ ” Thompson said.

Time will tell whether the lessons took hold.

“I still think I’m making a difference,” Thompson said. “It’s not as noticeable and it’s not as immediate, but it’s there.”

Peace Corps volunteer teaches
free enterprise to Guatemalans
More about Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Guatemala

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guatemala; Special Intersts - Junior Achievement



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