November 15, 2005: Headlines: Directors - Vasquez: Diversity: Monitor: Peace Corps director touts diversity

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Peace Corps director touts diversity

 Peace Corps director touts diversity

"Promoting global peace and friendship under the Peace Corps should not be viewed as so far fetched, but a mandate considering what’s going on the world today," Vasquez said.

Peace Corps director touts diversity

Peace Corps director touts diversity
November 15,2005

Daniel Perry

The Monitor

McALLEN — The first Hispanic director of the Peace Corps wants to create more diversity among its volunteers.

The organization’s workers should reflect the cultural fabric of America, said Gaddi H. Vasquez, 50, during a mid-morning interview in McAllen. He spoke later at Global Opportunities Day at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

Vasquez said the Peace Corps is working to recruit more Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minority groups to work overseas. In 2002, there were 133 Hispanics, 110 blacks and 148 Asians volunteering, according to Peace Corps information.

"We need to do more to share ourselves with the world," Vasquez said.

He said the 9/11 terrorist attacks and disputes with other nations have not slowed down the number of people working overseas. The Peace Corps is attracting more volunteers now than it has since its creation in 1961, and there are now 7,810 people working in 71 nations with 182,000 alumni.

Vasquez, who was confirmed in January 2002 by the U.S. Senate, said the organization wants to attract more teachers, couples and older Americans. Although the average age of volunteers is 28, Vasquez said he wanted to increase participation by older people. Right now,

6 percent of volunteers are 50 or older. The workers being recruited and selected are helping to decrease ignorance about foreign lands, Vasquez said.

Vasquez said there has been a rise the last three years in the Peace Corps venturing into some of Africa and Asia’s Muslim nations, like Jordan and Morocco. Algeria and Pakistan are two of the 15 countries now seeking the Peace Corps’ assistance.

The Peace Corps first sent volunteers to Mexico last year after signing an agreement in 2003 with that country’s National Council on Science and Technology. Workers are assisting in bettering the environment, water quality and small business creation.

He said Americans typically draw conclusions about foreign countries from the media, which might prevent some from traveling overseas.

"Promoting global peace and friendship under the Peace Corps should not be viewed as so far fetched, but a mandate considering what’s going on the world today," Vasquez said.

He said education can also open doors to new experiences. The Carrizo Springs, Texas, native and son of migrant parents was the first member of his family to graduate from college. He said the migrant life taught him about working hard and building character.

He said youth who are going to college for the first time are making it easier and serving as inspirations for other relatives to do in present or future generations.

Vasquez said he was inspired to learn about the Peace Corps when he saw a Bob Hope commercial touting the organization when he was a child. He did not volunteer for the organization when he was younger because of financial restraints.

"I was intrigued by the whole idea people could go overseas and help other people," Vasquez said.

He said his job has been described by people in Washington, D.C., as the best position to have in the federal government. Vasquez counts President Bush as a friend, and has known the president for about 17 years. Bush recommended him for the position.

Vasquez’s work has taken him to 47 nations including Mongolia, where Bush will visit Peace Corps workers this week as part of his Asian tour, and Madagascar, which attracts 5,000 American tourists yearly and has 80 native species of animals. He said it was good for Peace Corps volunteers to work among the natural beauty of these and other countries.

Sharon E. Sugarek, the Peace Corps’ regional director in Dallas, said volunteers can show employers their ability to work independently, handle challenges and master languages after their two-year stints.

"They are five to 10 years ahead of their peers in their job," she said.


Daniel Perry covers Edinburg and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4454.

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

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