2006.10.15: October 15, 2006: Headlines: Speaking Out: Midland Reporter-Telegram: Gary Ott writes: When a young politician, who was also viewed as idealistic, challenged them to serve, they accepted

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Speaking Out: January 23, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Speaking Out (1 of 5) : Speaking Out - New Stories: 2006.10.15: October 15, 2006: Headlines: Speaking Out: Midland Reporter-Telegram: Gary Ott writes: When a young politician, who was also viewed as idealistic, challenged them to serve, they accepted

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Gary Ott writes: When a young politician, who was also viewed as idealistic, challenged them to serve, they accepted

Gary Ott writes: When a young politician, who was also viewed as idealistic, challenged them to serve, they accepted

"Still, that romantic appeal never completely went away. Anytime you heard others talk about their Peace Corps experiences, a tinge of guilt -- and jealousy -- would rush through your body. Why hadn't you acted on your initial impulse to join? Which country would you have ended up in? What kind of job would have been given? And would it, like the old TV commercial said, be the toughest job you would ever love?"

Gary Ott writes: When a young politician, who was also viewed as idealistic, challenged them to serve, they accepted

Memories of hard work are best when they occurred many years ago
Gary Ott<br>Chief Editor
Midland Reporter-Telegram
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It was a brief item buried deep in a news story that most people probably didn't bother to read.

But it caught my attention. Basically, it said that it was 46 years ago this weekend -- on Oct. 14, 1960 -- that then-Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to give two years of their lives to help poor people in countries of the developing world.

Vikram N. Patel, M.D.

It was the first time he had ever broached the subject in public.

And less than a year later -- on March 1, 1960 -- the Peace Corps was officially established. To date, there have been approximately 182,000 volunteers who have served in 138 countries. Among the more notable volunteers are the late Lillian Carter, journalist Chris Matthews, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and some guy named "Kinky'' Friedman, who, believe it or not, served in Malaysia from 1967 to 1969 ... presumably while champing on a big, fat cigar.

In a way, it is appropriate that the organization got its start in the 1960s. It was an idealistic time in American history and many young people were looking for ways to break out of the norm and help their fellow man. This was before many of those same young people would decide that making money -- and lots of it -- was far more important than lending a helping hand to those in need. So when a young politician, who was also viewed as idealistic, challenged them to serve, they accepted.

They went to remote villages in equally remote countries and performed difficult tasks. They farmed. They taught in one-room schoolhouses. Some even dug ditches. If a job needed to be done, they pitched in and did it.

And when they returned home, most readily agreed it was a wonderful experience, one that would remain with them for rest of their lives. It was tough work, they told the rest of us, but also incredibly rewarding, adding that they would do it again in a heartbeat.

Maybe it was because of those stories -- and the idea of living among strangers in a tiny country thousands of miles away -- that gave the Peace Corps a certain romantic appeal. This was particularly true when something bad -- like maybe a messy divorce -- happened in your life. It was tempting for you to pout and then say, "I'll just run away and join the Peace Corps. That'll show everybody.'' It was sort of an updated version of threatening to join the circus when you were 8 years old.

It sounded good at the time, but after further review, you decided it might not be such a grand idea. After all, the closest you had ever come to farming was pulling a few weeds from your mother's garden. And besides, they would probably expect you to learn the language of the people you would be serving. So after a couple of days, you dismissed the whole notion. Let the others deal with that. You had your own problems to worry about ... like trying to figure out how to pay for that upcoming divorce.

Still, that romantic appeal never completely went away. Anytime you heard others talk about their Peace Corps experiences, a tinge of guilt -- and jealousy -- would rush through your body. Why hadn't you acted on your initial impulse to join? Which country would you have ended up in? What kind of job would have been given? And would it, like the old TV commercial said, be the toughest job you would ever love?

There is, I like to think, an inherent desire in most people to help others. That desire might not be acted on as often as it should, but it remains there just same. And when we perform a truly unselfish task -- and expect nothing in return -- we feel better about ourselves.

And there's nothing wrong with that. People should pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Of course, it that job required digging ditches and perspiring heavily, it is even better if it was done 30 years ago. Somehow, time lessens that brutal backache. It also makes "loving the toughest job you'll ever have'' a whole lot easier.

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