March 21, 2004 - New Britian Herald: Peace Corps works despite wars

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Peace Corps works despite wars

Peace Corps works despite wars

Peace Corps works despite wars

Peace Corps works despite wars
By MICHELLE KNUEPPEL , Staff Writer 03/21/2004
WASHINGTON -- Despite escalating political turmoil around the world since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the number of new Peace Corps members has increased nearly 30 percent in recent years.

Though statistics show a slight dip in Peace Corps volunteer applications immediately after Sept. 11, applications surged in 2002 and 2003, according to Bart Kendrick, a spokesman for the Peace Corps. Last year, 11,518 people applied for Peace Corps service, up from 10,611 in 2002 and 8,917 in 2001.

Established under President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps is a federal agency that sends college graduates to underdeveloped countries where they work for two years in education, community development, health care, agriculture, information technology and small-business development.

Barbara Daly, the corpsí press director, said that instead of deterring volunteers from going overseas, unstable political climates have encouraged volunteers who want to make a difference.

"People want to do something to lend a hand across the world," Daly said. "This is a way that people can fight the ignorance that is out there about who Americans are. By serving in the Peace Corps, they put a face on America."

To cope with the possibility of terrorist threats, the Peace Corps has adopted new security measures, Daly said, including adding additional safety training for volunteers.

"There are risks involved when youíre serving overseas in countries that are less developed. We donít hide that fact," she said. Volunteers go through a 10- to 12-week on-site training session to learn the language, culture and how to assimilate so "they donít stand out and make themselves targets," Daly said.

In its more than four decades, 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers have worked in 136 countries to promote education, health care and information technology, Daly said. The organizationís goal is to help Americans and people in other countries gain better understandings of one another.

In 2003, 221 Connecticut residents served in the Peace Corps. That was up from 189 in 2002, 170 in 2001 and 190 in 2000.

Stamford resident Laura Buchs, 30, served from 1997 to 1999 in Chuuk, an island thatís part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Buchs taught English to first- through eighth-graders and helped to open a library.

She said Americans serving in foreign countries can help dispel stereotypes, which is essential during wartime.

"I think people who are attracted to the Peace Corps often understand the value of firsthand interaction with people," Buchs said.

While there is often a military component to areas of political unrest, she said, volunteers see there is "also a human side.

There is a significant portion of our population who believes in bridging the gaps of miscommunication."

Helen Risom Belluschi, a New Canaan resident, served in El Salvador from 1966 to 1968.

"I certainly was a Jack Kennedy aficionado," she said. "I could not wait to get out of college and join.It was such a hot thing to do then."

In 1961, the programís first year, 51 Americans traveled to Ghana and Tanzania for the Peace Corps. By 1966, more than 15,000 volunteers were working overseas, more than any other time in the organizationís history.

Belluschi said the Vietnam War was a driving force in her decision to join. She said her goal was "to bring the world back home" and to fight poverty.

Mark D. Gearan, a director of the Peace Corps under President Bill Clinton, said volunteers entering the Peace Corps today were more practical than those entering in the 1960s during Vietnam.

The turmoil of the í60s has not been duplicated during the war in Iraq, he said. "Without a draft, itís a different time and a different generation."

"Todayís generation is much more pragmatic than it was in the í60s," Gearan said. "I donít know if you would hear today on campuses, ĎIím going to change the world,í but you will hear, ĎIím going to change my part of the world.í"

©The Herald 2004

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Story Source: New Britian Herald

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