2008.09.04: September 4, 2008: Headlines: Speaking Out: Mercury News: Patty Fisher: We need the Peace Corps, now more than ever

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Patty Fisher: We need the Peace Corps, now more than ever

Patty Fisher: We need the Peace Corps, now more than ever

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have pledged to find more money for the Peace Corps. Let's hold them to it. In troubled times like these, an intergenerational army of goodwill ambassadors sounds like a good investment.

Patty Fisher: We need the Peace Corps, now more than ever

Fisher: We need the Peace Corps, now more than ever

By Patty Fisher

Mercury News

Article Launched: 09/04/2008 06:22:45 PM PDT

They were young people with liberal-arts degrees and no marketable skills. But they wanted to change the world.

So when President John Kennedy called on them to do something for their country, they joined the Peace Corps. And if they didn't change the world, it definitely changed them.

Nearly half a century later, former Peace Corps volunteers are answering the call again, this time to rejuvenate the struggling institution that had such an impact on their lives.

At a time when our country's image overseas could use the kind of polishing that Peace Corps volunteers do best, it's alarming that the agency is facing an $18 million budget deficit, closing offices and training fewer volunteers.

Lobbying effort

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush vowed to double the size of the 8,000-member volunteer force. That never happened.

So Peace Corps vets have launched a fundraising and lobbying campaign aimed at doubling the size of the corps by its 50th anniversary in 2011.

On Saturday, in 50 states and 10 countries around the world, the alums will be throwing "house parties" to raise money and awareness.

Locally, there will be a house party in Palo Alto, at the home of Peace Corps vets Wylie and Janet Greig.

If you'd like to attend, call (650) 814-6643 or e-mail jwgreig@sbcglobal.net.

Janet Greig was a student at UC-Berkeley in 1963 when that first batch of


wide-eyed Peace Corps volunteers returned from their two-year stints as American goodwill ambassadors.

"Some of them came in to speak to us, and I knew then and there that was what I was going to do," she recalled.

Three years later, she was on her way to a small village near Madras, India, to set up a childhood nutrition program. There she met and married Wylie, a former English major who was there to build a modern sanitation system.

Neither of their projects was particularly well received.

"Wylie was supposed to dig latrines," Janet said. "But there was very little water in the village and the idea of pulling water from a well just so you could flush it down a hole was unheard of."

She had no more luck teaching women how to cook rice to preserve more of the nutrients.

"The cooking changed the texture," she said, "and they didn't like it very much."

A kind of success

Even so, she considered the mission a success because of the friendships she made and the lessons she learned about herself and her country.

"For the first time, I really saw the United States from the outside," she said. "I learned to appreciate another culture and realized we really are all the same, with the same desires for our children."

In today's ever-shrinking world, imagine if every young American had the chance to learn that lesson.

Jayne Booker, who lives in Aptos, is co-hosting the Palo Alto house party with the Greigs.

Booker was fresh out of college in 1973 and had never even been on a plane when the Peace Corps sent her to Benin, in West Africa.

"I'll never forget the day I was in this truck and I just got dropped off in this village. Literally,'' she said. "It was a little bit like jumping off a cliff. But you know, you do land."

Not all Peace Corps volunteers are young people. Retiring baby boomers, hoping to change the world before their knees give out, are a growing contingent.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have pledged to find more money for the Peace Corps. Let's hold them to it. In troubled times like these, an intergenerational army of goodwill ambassadors sounds like a good investment.

Contact Patty Fisher at pfisher@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5852

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Headlines: September, 2008; Speaking Out

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Story Source: Mercury News

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