September 23, 2002 - USCD Guardian: Peace Corps volunteers return with more than work experience

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 09 September 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: September 23, 2002 - USCD Guardian: Peace Corps volunteers return with more than work experience

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Peace Corps volunteers return with more than work experience

Peace Corps volunteers return with more than work experience

Peace Corps volunteers return with more than work experience

By Karla DeVries

Features Editor
After a long day of campaigning for the presidency, John F. Kennedy arrived at the University of Michigan on Oct. 14, 1960 at 2 a.m. hoping to catch some sleep. What he found were over 10,000 students waiting to hear him speak to which he issued the challenge that would begin a bold experiment in public service. How many of them, he asked, would be willing to serve their country and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world? The reaction was enthusiastic and within a year the Peace Corps was born.

Since the program began in the summer of 1961, 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 136 countries, going everywhere from Afghanistan to Zambia to fulfill their mandate to promote ìworld peace and friendshipî through three goals: to help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers, to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Decades of Service

Kennedy made good on his challenge to the students of the University of Michigan when he created the Peace Corps organization by executive order on March 1, 1961. By the time the first assignments had been planned, the Peace Corps received over 5000 applications. In the summer of 1961, the 51 inaugural volunteers left for Ghana and upon landing at the airport, impressed the locals and officials by breaking into a chorus of the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language.

The experiment in international development was surprising and exciting to the participating countries, as well as the American people. John Coyne, one of the early volunteers who served in Ethiopia from 1962-64, described the attitudes of the day on the Peace Corps Web site.

ìWe were the Peace Corps, the shiny new creation that President Kennedy had proposed in the last days of his 1960 campaign, his experiment in international development. Everyone, it seemed, was impressed,î Coyne said. ìThat summer, all across the country, our names were read on our local news stations on the days we departed for training. We were front-page stories in newspapers as diverse as the NEW YORK TIMES and the KALAMAZOO GAZETTE. We were on the evening news with Walter Cronkite, and Huntley and Brinkley."

Since then the Peace Corps has continued to grow and expand its programs. In addition to moving into many more countries, the organization has created campaigns and assignments that address problems specific to certain regions such as the African Food Services Initiative to combat famine and malnutrition. After 40 years, the program continues to carry out Kennedyís original vision of public service.

Assignments in the Field

The basic Peace Corps assignment is a 27-month stay, with three months of intensive training in the local language, technical skills related to the job and cultural customs, so the volunteers can live and work safely in the country. The remaining two years are spent in the field, which can be either a rural or urban community. With the wide range of countries, each with unique cultural traditions and standards of living, every Peace Corps experience is different.

However, volunteers are all involved in at least one of five work projects throughout their service. This is their job in the community and every project serves to help local citizens develop skills and knowledge to empower them to take charge of the future of their community, as well as develop understanding between Americans and people of other countries. The Peace Corps attempts to match the experience and interests of the volunteer with the most appropriate position for them.

The education assignment is carried out by many volunteers ranging from newly graduated college students to seasoned experienced teachers. Both students and teachers are instructed in academic subjects, conversational English and teaching methodologies.

Health volunteers work with local government agencies, clinics and communities in general to raise awareness of health issues, especially HIV/AIDS education. Emphasis is put on outreach, awareness and prevention programs for public health, hygiene and sanitation.

UCSD graduate student Kris Kohler, who recently returned from his Peace Corps assignment in Zambia, served as a health volunteer. Along with another volunteer, Kohler helped train 100 community health workers by holding a 10-week training course on basic diagnoses and health education. This training would enable the communities who were far from a state clinic to give preventative care and be able to diagnose whether an illness could be cared for locally or if it were serious enough to merit a hospital visit.

ìI essentially replaced myself with six others in my community,î Kohler said. ìThat is the ultimate goal of the Peace Corps is to leave knowledge with the local people so they can continue with what weíve started.î

Local farmers are assisted by agriculture volunteers who help develop farming techniques and encourage the planting of crops that will provide the community with essential nutrients. Kohler also assisted with nutritional development during his assignment to help families withstand what the Zambians refer to as ìThe Hungry Season,î which lasts from about January to February. Farmers were encouraged to plant more legumes to provide protein and the village was shown food preserving techniques so that food could be stored to last through this difficult season.

Environmental volunteers help communities develop programs to preserve and protect their environments, including forest preservation, recycling and park management.

Business development volunteers work in a wide variety of settings, encouraging economic and infrastructure strengthening in the community. This can be as varied as counseling local entrepreneurs on small business practices or helping African artisans sell their goods in the market system.

Things to Consider

As Kennedy said when he created this program, ìLife in the Peace Corps will not be easy ... but if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying.î The Peace Corps can be a rewarding experience, but it is not for everybody. It is key to remember that it is in fact a job and should be treated as such. Volunteers are expected to work right alongside the locals, eating the same food, sharing in the same customs. To any one considering serving, first think carefully about these areas:

MAKE SURE YOUíRE FAMILIAR WITH THE GOALS AND PHILOSOPHY OF THE PEACE CORPS. This will be the philosophy you are committed to for two years, so be sure it is something you can live with. To get a basic understanding of their goals visit their Web site HTTP://WWW.PEACECORPS.GOV. This will provide detailed information on the programs available and what you will be doing during your stay.

TALK TO RETURNED VOLUNTEERS. If you want the scoop on the experience without the public relations gloss of the official Web site, speak to someone whoís lived it. However, since experiences are so personal, you may get a wealth of information that is highly subjective and not that useful to you. Try asking specific questions instead of ìSo, what did you like about it?î

REALIZE YOU WILL BE SPENDING TWO YEARS AWAY FROM HOME. This is one of the most important areas to consider because this is really a commitment. Youíll be spending two years far from family and friends in a place that very well may have big bugs, dirty water or no electricity. Once you get there, there will not be the time to realize that you canít live without Starbucks and ìFriends.î Just because this is volunteer work doesnít mean you can back out of it whenever you choose either. Be prepared to make the commitment, they donít want whiners in the Peace Corps.

ìThere are difficult times as well as wonderful amazing times,î Kohler said. ìThose highs and lows are what make the Peace Corps experience something you canít get any other way.î

Educational Opportunities

The Peace Corps also offers two unique further education programs. Masterís International incorporates service in the Peace Corps with a masterís degree program. Available at more than 40 universities across the country, volunteers must be accepted by both programs to qualify. Then they spend one year studying on campus, and the next two years earning academic credit while working overseas on a Peace Corps project.

The Fellows/USA program offers scholarships or reduced tuition for graduate programs at over 30 universities when volunteers return from their service. In return for these benefits, which can include housing allowances, paid employment or health benefits, the Fellows make a commitment to work in an underserved U.S. community while they pursue their degree. This can mean teaching in public schools, working in public health facilities or working on community development projects with nonprofit organizations.

UCSD in the Peace Corps

According to Melody Akhavan, the regional public affairs representative, there are currently 32 UCSD alumni working overseas with the Peace Corps from Honduras to Mongolia. Since 1961, 477 UCSD affiliates have served in 99 countries.

Recent John Muir College graduate Tommy Swanson will soon be joining their ranks when he leaves for Malawi in October to start his training. An animal physiology and neuroscience major, Swanson hopes to gain a new perspective through his experience over the next two years.

ìAfter going to school so long and putting time in my own studies and my own concerns, I thought it would be a good opportunity, as clichÈd as it sounds, to help the needy in other countries,î he said. ìThese are countries you read about in the news, but I want to develop a greater understanding and heart to help them.î

The international work helps many volunteers understand their own goals better and see the real world benefits of their education.

ìThe experience of concrete work helped me see a link between my university education and the real world,î Kohler said. ìIt got me focused on graduate school, learning more and educating myself, but having that be relevant and putting it into practice.î

Peace Corps recruiters are available on campus in the Programs Abroad office located in the International Center. Representatives will be on library walk for the Graduate School Fair Oct. 15 and the Study Abroad Expo Oct. 22. There will be an informational meeting held near the end of October for interested students. The general Peace Corps Web site also has information on when events will be held at specific campuses.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: USCD Guardian

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Recruitment; For Prospective Volunteers



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