January 10 - Riverside Press Enterprise: Volunteers react to news of September 11

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 01 January 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: January 10 - Riverside Press Enterprise: Volunteers react to news of September 11

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, January 12, 2002 - 11:16 am: Edit Post

Volunteers react to news of September 11

Read and comment on this excerpt from the Riverside Press Enterprise published in Riverside California and their recent story on how Volunteers reacted to news of September 11 at:

Attacks turn up mix of feelings ; Peace Corps Volunteers report from the field*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Attacks turn up mix of feelings ; Peace Corps Volunteers report from the field

Jan 10, 2002 - Press-Enterprise Riverside CA Author(s): Sharyn Obsatz

From mud huts and concrete-block homes, Inland residents serving overseas in the Peace Corps witnessed the world's reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks -- from horror to indifference, from sympathy to satisfaction.

Across the globe, peanut farmers, taxi drivers, crafts makers and aspiring English teachers offered the volunteers apologies for the American lives lost in the attacks. But some local volunteers, interviewed via e-mail, felt an undercurrent of distrust toward the U.S. government.

More than 90 of the Peace Corps' 7,000 volunteers hail from San Bernardino and Riverside counties or graduated from Inland universities.

Volunteers sign up for two years of service to communities in need. Peace Corps recruiters say that since Sept. 11, public inquiries have increased at the organization's Chicago, Boston and San Francisco offices.

* * *


Jeremy Sporrong, 27, of Redlands was sleeping at about midnight when a fellow volunteer called to tell him that two hijacked planes had slammed into the World Trade Center towers.

Sporrong teaches English to aspiring high school teachers at a college in Neijiang, the sugar-cane capital of southwestern China. The city's 4 million people are mostly crammed into concrete-box buildings.

"Everyone -- my students, the foreign-affairs office, fellow teachers, restaurant owners, the university leaders -- all expressed their condolences. . . . But at the same time, I knew already how they really felt," Sporrong said.

He said the Chinese have a love/hate relationship with the United States. They admire America's economic achievements, Sporrong said.

But many remain offended by U.S. support for Tibet and Taiwan and angry about the spy-plane collision in which a Chinese pilot died last year and the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo.

Sporrong was chatting with a Chinese teacher and asked for her thoughts on the attacks. "Most Chinese are happy," the teacher told him.

"I was really surprised and angry when those words came out. I remember just shaking my head and saying, 'Well, that's disappointing,' " Sporrong said. "She quickly changed her choice of words to not so much happy but rather that the (American) government deserves it."

Sporrong graduated from Cal State San Bernardino in 1998 and worked as a teacher in Baker.

He said many of his Chinese students are from farming families that earn $120 to $360 a year. University tuition is $360 to $600 a year.

Sporrong and a fellow volunteer secured a grant to buy 5,000 English-language books, listening tapes and magazines for student use. He and two fellow volunteers in his city hope to create a multimedia center that would give students better training in computers and access to the Internet.

* * *


Maggie Woods, 24, of San Bernardino first heard of the attacks via her shortwave radio in a small Muslim peanut-farming village in Gambia, a small country in West Africa.

"The people in my village were definitely awed that something like this could occur in America. It definitely broke down their pictures of a perfect America, where nothing bad can happen," said Woods, who lives in a tiny mud hut within a 33-member family compound.

"Few villagers had strong reactions either way over the U.S. retaliation," she said. "They didn't see it as having anything to do with them. It was just another crazy American drama unfolding worlds away.

"The problems of the world have little significance when you're living at subsistence level."

Woods grew up in Riverside and San Bernardino. An environmental-studies graduate from Cal State San Bernardino, she has helped her African neighbors start tree nurseries, a cashew orchard and soil-conservation projects.

"I tell people all the time that my country has plenty of problems: gun violence, drug abuse, teen-age pregnancy, high divorce rates," she said. "In a lot of ways, they are better off here. They have strong family ties, a moral base, low rates of depression."

* * *


Ed Cho, 23, of Diamond Bar was among 311 volunteers evacuated back to the United States from Central Asia in September as a safety precaution.

Cho had taught English in the small, drought-plagued agricultural town of Yoleten, just three hours from Afghanistan. Volunteers were barred from visiting Afghanistan, where the Peace Corps ended its programs when the Soviets invaded in 1979.

Cho, a Christian, became close friends with a Muslim co-worker from Turkmenistan, a 25-year-old history teacher named Arslan Akmurador. The area is mostly Muslim, although decades of Soviet communist rule discouraged Islamic practice.

"They were raised believing there was no God," he said. "They would eat pork, drink vodka" -- both Islamic taboos.

Cho said he watched the Sept. 11 attacks on Russian-language television.

"We had no idea it was a terrorist bombing. We just thought it was a fire," he said.

Cho and fellow volunteers were pulled from their sites and evacuated 10 days later. Turkmenistan has a longstanding animosity toward Afghanistan, he said, but "we would have been an easy target if (someone) wanted to get vengeance."

"I really didn't get to say a proper goodbye to anybody but my counterpart," Cho said. "He actually apologized. He said, 'This was really stupid. I don't know why these crazy people did this.' He was very sad, I could tell."

Peace Corps spokeswoman Ellen Field said the organization hopes to reopen its programs in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. She said volunteers also might be assigned to Afghanistan if invited by the new government.

In the long run, Cho said, organizations like the Peace Corps will be more effective than the military in lowering anti-U.S. feelings in Islamic countries.

"There's so many misconceptions about Americans all over the world," said Cho, whose family immigrated to the United States from South Korea when he was 7. "Americans are people too. We're not some tyrant overseas superpower trying to exploit them at every turn. . . . I think America has done a lot to help the world."

* * *


Guillermo Jaimes, 24, of Riverside got a call from the Peace Corps about the terrorist attacks while working in the mayor's office in Mairana, a rural town of 4,000 in the South American nation of Bolivia. He turned on the office television.

"Unfortunately, for some reason, we were receiving a Brazilian feed in my town, which was in Portuguese," Jaimes said. "All I could make out that morning was that there was a plane and a bomb, and I could tell that it was New York City."

Many people expressed sympathy for the victims and asked Jaimes whether his family was OK. But, he said, "there were also some instances of people laughing about it and acting like it was just another action film of buildings blowing up and people dying."

Jaimes, a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Riverside and UCR, is helping get a sanitary landfill built and developing composting and recycling projects.

"People down here only get images of Americans from TV and movies so they have a stereotypical vision of America," Jaimes said.

"But when they meet Americans down here, like Peace Corps volunteers who live and work with them for two years . . . they learn that Americans are much more diverse and that Americans do care about improving the quality of life of people around the world," he said.

* * *


Andrea Durham, a 1997 UCR graduate, was at home in her cement-brick house when the president of her village's women's embroidery club came to tell her something was going on in the United States. Durham said she wrestled with fuzzy television reception and her beginner's Spanish to find out what happened.

"It was pretty surreal, especially since I was watching CNN in Spanish. . . . I was devastated, shocked and moved to tears," she said. "I still feel very removed from it all since I was living in Ecuador when it happened."

Durham, 27, grew up in the Bay Area. She promotes soil, water and environmental conservation in a mountainous village 9,000 feet above sea level in the Andes.

She misses the comforts of home, hungering for cheese enchiladas and the sandwiches at Sub Station near UCR.

Her Ecuadorean house has a ceramic-tile roof and a dirt floor. It lacks running water or heat, so she sleeps in thermal underwear and a wool hat during the winter. She uses a latrine and bathes with a bucket.

"The people are shy and conservative but extremely friendly and caring," Durham said. "I didn't know how the world was going to react (after Sept. 11), but everyone was wonderful."

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.


Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.