January 4, 2005: Headlines: Recruitment: Census: Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Peace Corps gaining recruits

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Peace Corps gaining recruits

Peace Corps gaining recruits

Peace Corps gaining recruits

Peace Corps gaining recruits
JFK-era agency gets new energy

Tuesday, January 04, 2005
By Alana Semuels, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If Mayor Tom Murphy is truly thinking about rejoining the Peace Corps when he leaves office next year, he should apply now. Liz Hogan might tell him to expect delays -- the 24-year-old Mc-Kees Rocks resident applied last March, and anticipates waiting 16 months before she can begin her service.

Whether bound for Niger, Paraguay or Uzbekistan, Murphy and Hogan will have to get in line behind thousands of other would-be volunteers, young and old, whose interest has made the organization more popular than it has been in almost 30 years.

As applications roll in, the Peace Corps continues to dispatch volunteers around the globe, trying to put an overseas face on America while maintaining members' safety in a changing world.

In 2004, the 7,733 volunteers in 71 countries represented the highest number serving in 29 years. The number of inquiries the Peace Corps has received from potential volunteers was up 19 percent last year from 2003, and the number of applications was up almost 10 percent. About one-third of all applicants are accepted. There were more than 7 million visitors to the Peace Corps Web site in 2004, a 31 percent increase from the previous year.

"We've just seen more and more people interested in giving back," said Jennifer Borgen, the organization's deputy press director. "After 9/11, people may be reassessing and saying, 'Hey, I have something to give.' "

Other trends and motivations may come into play: the economy, a general hankering to avoid settling down or a passion to demonstrate to people of other countries that there is more to America than what many foreigners have seen on TV since the start of the conflict in Iraq.

"We need to tell the world that we're not all warmongers," said Hogan, who graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in 2002. She is discouraged by her long waiting period, but is determined to serve in a developing country -- she'll be placed in Central Asia or Eastern Europe. She wants the opportunity to see the world and "step it up and promote peace in the world."

Elisa Echeverria agrees that the organization's mission is especially important today. The 26-year-old Sacramento, Calif., native graduated with a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management last May, and is awaiting medical clearance to start her service. Once assigned, she hopes to work in small business or community development.

"In these days of American jingoism," she said, "I think Peace Corps is one of our redeeming efforts."

The Peace Corps, which was founded in 1961, grew out of challenge made to students at the University of Michigan to promote peace and serve their country leveled by Sen. John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign.

Over the years, Pittsburgh has been a constant supplier of Peace Corps volunteers, and the numbers have gone up in the past decade. In 2004, 23 people from the Pittsburgh region began their service, compared with 15 volunteers from this area starting service in 1994.

Andrew Burtless, a Peace Corps recruiter for the Pittsburgh region, said that one of the first things he mentions in recruiting presentations is that outbound volunteers have a responsibility to show the countries they serve what America as a nation is like.

Burtless also interviews applicants, and said that Americans who are living overseas and apply from their expatriate homes seem to have a particular interest in ameliorating animosity toward Americans. Students living abroad and others who have traveled around the world tell Burgess: "People have a lot of misperceptions about what Americans are like -- it's important to show people that we are individuals as well."

Volunteers typically are welcome in the communities in which they are placed. A site cannot be established unless the community and country request a volunteer. The organization has a waiting list of countries that have requested a Peace Corps presence, and about 20 percent of volunteers are serving in predominantly Muslim areas, with 13 Muslim countries on the waiting list.

Some places are not hospitable. In the last three years, volunteers have been pulled from Nepal, Morocco and Jordan because of anti-American groups, sentiments or events that officials felt might jeopardize individuals' safety.

The careful process of opening new sites and maintaining existing ones, coupled with the influx of interested volunteers, are reasons some applicants wait more than a year to begin their 27-month tour of duty. Once in the field, they will work in areas as diverse as health education, agriculture and information technology.

The number of sites where volunteers can serve is limited by the organization's budget, which has grown from $295 million in 2003 to $317 million this fiscal year.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens and over 18 years old. The organization says that having a four-year degree helps applicants' chances, but is not necessary.

Brooke Smith of Mt. Lebanon leaves for Thailand Jan. 13. The 22-year-old graduated from Penn State University last month and is heading out only six months after she applied. She studied abroad in Australia, and signed up for the Peace Corps because she wanted to see the world and learn a new language.

Smith, who has a degree in elementary education, will be teaching and training teachers in Thailand, and says she looks forward to living in a country where teachers are respected.

She'll be paid $167 a month, and receive health insurance, a round-trip plane ticket and, after she completes her time abroad, a readjustment allowance of about $267 for every month she has served. She doesn't mind the meager pay, and thinks she's receiving something in return -- a chance to bring a new experience back to her community.

But her travels abroad also influenced her choice. "I wanted to show people that Americans weren't loud and boisterous," she said, referring to the foreigners she encountered on her travels who had that opinion. "They just need to meet more Americans for a positive experience."

Smith has a sister training as a navigator in the U.S. military, so seeking challenging government work runs in the family.

"Seeing her serve her country in her own way," she said, referring to her sister, "I wanted to see what I could do."

(Alana Semuels can be reached at asemuels@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1928.)

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Peace Corps issues appeal to Thailand RPCVs Date: December 30 2004 No: 354 Peace Corps issues appeal to Thailand RPCVs
Peace Corps is currently assessing the situation in Thailand, anticipates a need for volunteers and is making an appeal to all Thailand RPCV's to consider serving again through the Crisis Corps. Also read this message and this message from RPCVs in Thailand. All PCVs serving in Thailand are safe. Latest: Sri Lanka RPCVs, click here for info.

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Story Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Recruitment; Census



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