June 17, 2002 - Associated Press: Carter Shares Peace Corps Experiences

Peace Corps Online: Directory: South Africa: Peace Corps South Africa : The Peace Corps in South Africa: June 17, 2002 - Associated Press: Carter Shares Peace Corps Experiences

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, June 17, 2002 - 10:09 pm: Edit Post

Carter Shares Peace Corps Experiences

Read and comment on this story from the Associated Press about Presidential Grandson Jason Carter's book about his years in South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer at:

Carter Shares Peace Corps Experiences *

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Carter Shares Peace Corps Experiences


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - As Jason Carter surveyed the opulent surroundings of Pretoria at the start of a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, he wondered whether the volunteer agency was really needed in South Africa.

That was a naive question, as Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, was to learn. Shortly thereafter, he arrived in Lochiel, a small black town near the Swaziland border for his assignment.

It was January 1998 and what Jason, then 22, saw in Pretoria was light years away from the misery of Lochiel. He served there for two years, trying to upgrade underperforming local schools. He has chronicled his experience in "Power Lines," a new book published by the National Geographic Society.

For the former president, Jason's experience had a familiar ring. Jimmy Carter's mother, Lillian, had gone off to India 32 years earlier at age 68 as a nurse in a small town. He said the poverty there was on a par with that of Lochiel.

In a telephone interview from Plains, Ga., last Friday, Jason Carter, son of Carter's eldest son, Jack, along with grandfather, described life in Lochiel.

"No one had electricity," Jason said. "The people carried water from the river, and they built their houses out of sticks and mud. There were 25 people out of 2,000 who had a job."

He named the book "Power Lines" because the lines in his area, long neglected during apartheid rule, connected white folks in South Africa with their brethren in Swaziland, passing over Lochiel and leaving the town with what amounted to a permanent blackout.

Of the two former volunteers, Lillian Carter appeared to have suffered greater physical hardship.

In India, the former president said, his mother lived in the village of Vikhroli, whose well-to-do citizens saw her "as an unclean person because she washed her own clothes and walked barefooted four miles up and down the mountain every day to minister to lepers and other diseased people." She often felt cold and an inadequate diet caused her to lose 35 pounds.

Jason, in contrast, suffered fewer discomforts and had far more mobility than his great grandmother. He was able to escape when he wanted treats unavailable in Lochiel, such as a turkey sub or a McDonald's cheeseburger. He also could dial up the Internet not far from Lochiel.

In addition, the former president said Jason had the advantage of having mastered the local language. Unfortunately for his mother, she received training in one Indian dialect, only to be sent to an area where another was spoken.

Jason's fluency gave him a communication link to black South Africans that Lillian Carter never had in India with the local population, Jimmy Carter said.

Jason said it was impossible to overstate the importance of language as a means of gaining acceptance among blacks in a country historically dominated a white minority.

In Lochiel, he said, he was "the first white person that probably 100 or so people had ever looked in the eye. I was something of a novelty.

"The little kids in the pre-school reached out and touched my arm and felt the hair on it and jumped back because they had never felt anything like that before.

"But when I would speak their language and they knew that I was there to stay, they accepted me almost completely, and it was a really wonderful and amazing experience."

Like her great-grandson, Lillian Carter was able to look beyond the hardships and see the rewards of service.

The former president, in an introduction to Jason's book, shares a letter his mother wrote on her 70th birthday, in 1968, days before leaving India.

"I didn't dream that in this remote corner of the world, so far away from the people and the material things that I considered so necessary, I would discover what life is really about," she wrote. "Sharing yourself with others, and accepting their love for you, is the most precious gift of all."

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