March 30, 2004 - NorthCounty Times: Peace Corps director speaks to Escondido Rotary

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Peace Corps director speaks to Escondido Rotary

Peace Corps director speaks to Escondido Rotary

Peace Corps director speaks to Escondido Rotary

Peace Corps director comes to Escondido

By: ERIN MASSEY - Staff Writer

ESCONDIDO ---- You don't need to be a young, white college student to join the Peace Corps, the director of the federal agency told members of the Escondido Rotary Club during its lunch Tuesday afternoon.

The record number of volunteers ---- 7,500 currently spending two years working in poor rural communities in 71 countries ---- is beginning to come in a variety of races and ages, said Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez.

"We have an 84-year-old serving as a Peace Corps volunteer," Vasquez told the crowd at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. "You are never too old to serve in the Peace Corps. Though the average age is 29, we are getting volunteers now who come to us after retirement to serve."

He added that he is also trying to recruit more Latino, Asian and black volunteers to better represent the country. Right now, only 15 percent are people of color, according to Peace Corps data.

"Our recruitment strategy is to see greater diversity," Vasquez said. "We want the number of applicants to be more like the diversity of America so we will be well-represented out there."

Started in 1961 by President Kennedy, the independent federal program now has 59 percent female volunteers compared to 41 percent male. About 90 percent are single, and only 6 percent are over age 50, according to statistics. An estimated 83 percent have undergraduate degrees while 14 percent have graduate degrees.

Escondido resident Laura Sundquist, 25, is among those volunteers, in her second year working in a rural town called Mella in the Dominican Republic.

She teaches information technology in the only classroom with continual electricity, according to her father, Dan Sundquist, who attended the Rotary lunch. He said that at first he was concerned that civil unrest in the region might put his daughter in danger, but a visit a few weeks ago to see Mella eased his fears.

"After seeing the way (the residents) take care of her, we have absolutely no concerns," he said of himself and his wife Verna. "The country seems to be very well-managed and everybody is concerned about our daughter. She has become a mainstay in the community."

Vasquez added that the Peace Corps conducts intensive screenings of each country they plan to help and only come if the federal agency is invited. He added that the recent upheaval in Haiti put workers there at risk, so they were removed.

"Is there still a risk? Yes," he said after the meeting. "But there is also a risk to walking downtown in Los Angeles or Chicago. The volunteers don't serve in the capital cities. They serve in the rural communities were the people know each other."

Despite the risk, the Peace Corps is reporting a record number of applications, ranging from 12,000 to 13,000 last year, he said. Only one-third of those volunteers are selected for service. Vasquez said he credits the increase to altruism of a rich country that understand about half of the world's population survives on less than $2 per day.

"It's about really feeling the need to make a definite contribution to a community," he said. "We asked all of our volunteers if they would do it again, and 87 percent said they would. That is a remarkable statement."

Contact staff writer Erin Massey at (760) 740-5416 or

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Story Source: NorthCounty Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Directors - Vasquez; Recruitment



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