May 7, 2003: Headlines: Older Volunteers: COS - Guyana: COS - Romania: Peace Corps: Peace Corps Honors Older Americans Serving Abroad

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Peace Corps Honors Older Americans Serving Abroad

Peace Corps Honors Older Americans Serving Abroad

Peace Corps Honors Older Americans Serving Abroad

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 7, 2003 – In honor of Older Americans Month this May, Peace Corps is proud to highlight the service of older Americans and recognize their contribution in international development and cultural appreciation.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy enacted the observance of Older Americans Month. Every president since JFK has issued a formal proclamation during the month of May celebrating the contributions of older persons to our country. This year, President Bush recognized the service of seniors in a proclamation stating, “These individuals understand the importance of service, and their efforts are helping to build a more welcoming society. Many food banks, clothing distribution programs, and other social service activities of faith-based and community organizations could not operate without the senior Americans who volunteer in these efforts.”

Peace Corps celebrates the unique role of older Americans who serve as volunteers overseas. Older volunteers put their experience and expertise to work in a variety of assignments around the world. Currently, 423 volunteers, six percent of all serving as Peace Corps volunteers, are over the age of 50. Volunteers who are well into their eighties have served and continued to serve.

Many volunteers come to Peace Corps after retiring from long, successful careers bringing a wealth of experience to their host communities and their assigned project areas.

Edith Sloan, 61, and Rel Davis, 66, are excellent examples of retired professionals lending their expertise to Peace Corps projects. Edith, a retired school administrator and teacher, and Rel, a former minister and journalist, were living in South Florida when they made the decision to join Peace Corps. The couple now lives in a small agricultural town in southeast Bulgaria. Edith teaches English as an education volunteer, and Rel works as a community service volunteer in economic development. Together, they have worked to create economic and educational opportunities for their community by encouraging civic engagement, creating English resource centers, and utilizing technology. Click here for full story...

Mervyn, 61, and Joyce Alphonso, 57, were both active in their communities in the United States, but decided to leave their home to return to their native Guyana. The Alphonsos, a Guyanese-American couple, became U.S. citizens as adults and returned to Guyana as Peace Corps volunteers. Mervyn, formerly a banking professional, is a life skills teacher and guidance counselor at a secondary school. Joyce has years of experience as a nursing professional and works as a community health educator in the Maternal and Child Health Clinic at a regional hospital. Click here for full story...

Since 1961, more than 168,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and awareness, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.

Willing to Go Wherever the Peace Corps Needed Them

Bulgaria is a world away from South Florida where Edith Sloan, 61, and Rel Davis, 66, lived before joining the Peace Corps in June 2001. The couple now lives in a small agricultural town on the Thracian Plains in southeastern Bulgaria. It is a town where donkey carts outnumber automobiles, flocks of sheep wander down the cobblestone main street on the way to pasture, and holidays are celebrated with traditional costumes, singing, and dancing. Edith, a retired school administrator and teacher, and Rel, a former minister and journalist, came to Bulgaria hoping to make a difference in the world and willing to go wherever the Peace Corps needed them.

Edith Sloan and Rel Davis

In Bulgaria, Edith works as a education volunteer teaching English, and Rel works as a community service volunteer in economic development. Initially shocked by the high levels of unemployment and inadequate facilities of community schools, both are committed to improving the employment and educational opportunities of the community.

The couple began by soliciting donations from local merchants and worked with volunteers to construct a new playground for a local primary school. As a result of their efforts to mobilize community support for the school, a partnership, similar to a Parent Teacher Organization, between community members and the school was formed for the first time. The couple also appealed to U.S. residents to donate funds and materials for the English resource center at the secondary school. The resource center is now equipped with a computer, VCR, tape players, photocopier, scanner, and a reference library. The couple worked with the local orphanage to update two under-equipped vocational programs in culinary education and lathe work technical training. The programs are now completely outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment.

Edith Sloan tries out a traditional Bulgarian dress.

Concerned with the high unemployment rate in the community, the couple conducted two micro-enterprise projects. Edith and Rel created a weaving and sewing cooperative to address a shortage of job opportunities for women. Financial donations, a building facility provided by the municipality, hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, and training were invested into the cooperative which has the potential to employ over sixty women. The couple also worked with a local non-governmental organization dedicated to finding jobs for community members. They assisted the organization by creating an internet craft shop where Bulgarian artisans are able to sell their work to collectors worldwide. The site is

The couple also helped the municipal government obtain funding to establish a service center, equipped with the technology and linked to seven surrounding villages. The project supplied computers and internet access to these remote villages and provides computerized government services to the region. Now, citizens will be able to obtain necessary government services at one office instead of dozens, and people in outlying villages can obtain paperwork without making the day-long journey once required.

Edith and Rel are proud of all they have been able to accomplish, but stress the active role of the community in their projects. "In reality," Rel says, "the community has given us back far more than we have been able to give the people here. They accepted us into their community, supported us during the difficult times. . . and shared with us all the wonderful cultural activities that village Bulgaria is famous for."

Volunteers Return to their Homeland

Mervyn and Joyce Alphonso appreciate the benefits of American life. However, they did not let that stop them from sharing those benefits with the less fortunate in their homeland of Guyana, South America. Both of them were born in Guyana, South America, and emigrated to the United States where they became citizens and had successful careers. Success, however, was something the Alphonsos wanted to share in their homeland. Therefore, they joined the Peace Corps in 2000 and were sent to work in Guyana.

Mervyn Alphonso with students.

Joyce, 57, and Mervyn, 61, live and volunteer in a northeastern city of Guyana. Formerly a banking executive, Mervyn is a life skills teacher and guidance counselor at a local secondary school. Just seven months after coming to the school, he was assigned to the Senior Management Team, a position he used to improve record-keeping and daily operations. He also organized the largest fundraiser in the school's history and obtained a power generator and playground equipment for the school.

Joyce works as a community health educator, applying her years of experience as a nursing professional in the Maternal and Child Health Clinic at the regional hospital. Joyce has improved operations at her the hospital by obtaining sanitary equipment and spearheading new initiatives in preventive health care. Each have contributed to the community on a daily basis in community health education, HIV/AIDS education awareness, and student counseling. Both "consider it a tremendous honor as Guyanese Americans to be able to return to our native land as representatives of our adopted country."

Mervyn and Joyce keeping connected.

The Alphonsos met and married in Albany, New York, near Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy where Mervyn earned his Masters degree in Management. His commitment to volunteerism and service, even before becoming an American citizen, was rewarded by an Honorary Doctorate from Albany's College of Saint Rose. The Alphonsos continued their involvement in public service after moving to Springboro, Ohio. In Springboro, Mervyn was president of Keystone Bank and Joyce worked at the Kettering Medical Center Hospital, and both committed untold hours and energy to helping the less fortunate in their community.

A few years ago, the Alphonsos decided to return to Guyana as Peace Corps Volunteers. The Alphonsos commitment to service in Guyana is so great that when first nominated to the Peace Corps, they waited for over a year until positions in Guyana became available. They state, "our faith in God gives us the courage, the strength, and the contentment to leave the comforts of American life behind and to accept the challenges of Peace Corps service."

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Peace Corps

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Older Volunteers; COS - Guyana; COS - Romania



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