March 9, 1995 - San Fransisco State University: Liberia RPCV Victor C. Johnson taught social studies in the capital city of Monrovia 30 years ago

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Liberia: Peace Corps Liberia : The Peace Corps in Liberia: March 9, 1995 - San Fransisco State University: Liberia RPCV Victor C. Johnson taught social studies in the capital city of Monrovia 30 years ago

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Liberia RPCV Victor C. Johnson taught social studies in the capital city of Monrovia 30 years ago

Liberia RPCV Victor C. Johnson taught social studies in the capital city of Monrovia 30 years ago

Give Peace Corps a chance
by Alex Mullen

When Bill Clinton won the presidential election in 1992, Victor C. Johnson sent out his resume to see if he could get a job in the new Democratic administration.

He had the experience. For 17 years he worked for the subcommittees in the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. But the job he was offered, the only job he was offered, was a position in the Peace Corps.

Thirty years ago, Johnson worked in the African country of Liberia teaching social studies for the Peace Corps. After accepting the new position, he returned as the Peace Corps' Regional Director of Operations for Latin America and the Caribbean.

For Johnson, who grew up in Berkeley and obtained his masters degree at SF State, it has been a career that, for the most part, was unplanned.

"I am the perfect example of what your not supposed to tell young people: 'You really don't have to plan your career,'" Johnson said. Johnson was born in 1941 in Pittsburgh, Pa. but was raised in Berkeley. He received his bachelors degree in political science at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash.. After graduation, Johnson joined the then newly formed Peace Corps.

"I was one of those people who, when President Kennedy announced the establishment of the Peace Corps in 1961, knew that it was what I wanted to do," he said. "I was one of the idealistic kids of the time who responded to the message 'you can work for world peace.'"

He spent two years in Liberia, teaching social studies in the capital city of Monrovia and also in a small village.

"The Ford Foundation, which is one of our major foundations in the U.S. who gives several million dollars in grants a year, was in town dropping off job descriptions at UC Berkeley and Stanford and for some reason also at SF State. They usually only recruit at the more prestigious schools. Someone passed one of these job descriptions on to me and I applied and happened to get a job in Bogota, Columbia. I had studied Spanish in school and it was an area of the world which I was interested in," Johnson said. Johnson then went to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a career in teaching. Johnson got his Ph.D. in 1975 and at that time, according to Johnson, teaching jobs were scarce. He then packed up his car and went to Washington D.C.

"I walked the street looking for a job and I happened to be in the right place at the right time and got hired for one of the subcommittees for the House Foreign Affairs Committee," said Johnson.

"Eventually I became staff director for the subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs and was intimately involved in all the big policy debates in the '80s over aid to the Contras, El Salvador and aiding human rights in Latin America."

Now working at the Peace Corps as Regional Director, Johnson is involved in working on policy issues for the agency and doing public speaking on behalf of the Peace Corps. He also keeps in touch with people in the State Department who deal with the countries in his region and the embassies of those countries.

"We are working on new, innovating forms of education and not traditional classroom teaching. We are using informal education techniques with street kids to try to get them back in the system; kids who have dropped out of the schools and the economy, and who are often engaged in drug abuse. We try to entice them back into the system and give them life skills and job skills. Some of these countries have 40 to 50 percent youth unemployment," Johnson said. The Peace Corps have three goals, according to Johnson: to provide trained manpower for a countries own development, to increase the understanding of the United States in other countries, and to increase understanding of other countries and cultures.

Peace Corps volunteers get a dose of cross-cultural training, Johnson said. They tend to adopt to the local customs, by living in the local houses, eating the local food, and by learning local traditions.

According to Johnson, all volunteers live at the same level as the people they are helping. This means if the community has no water or electricity the volunteer must live the same way.

The Peace Corps recruits volunteers for 59 different skills. The largest percentage, about 40 percent, is volunteers in teaching positions.

The Bay Area is one of the largest areas for Peace Corps recruitment, recruiting more than 6,300 volunteers since 1961. SF State alone has recruited 681.

"Ninety-six percent of our applicants and volunteers are college graduates, and that is due to the fact that we receive so many applications we are able to pick the most qualified," said Cammie Noah, public affairs officer for the San Francisco Peace Corps branch.

To become a volunteer you must be at least 18 years old and have U.S. citizenship. Also, applicants need to posses the skills requested by the host country.

"The average age for Peace Corps volunteers is 31... Ten percent of the volunteers are over 50. One thing that precludes the requirement is you have to be in good health," Johnson said. "I met a women in her 80's who was living in Guatemala, up in a little town with a tiny, little factory where they made textiles -- dresses and wall hangings for export -- and she was helping them with quality control, marketing etc. Seniors in other countries are well respected and admired."

What makes the Peace Corps different from other programs that send people to other countries is that they work with the country to decide what is needed.

"We are into things that people themselves identify with. We build the local organizations and train the people to take control of their own lives by conducting their own affairs," Johnson said. Every last Wednesday of the month, the Peace Corps have informational presentations held at Fort Mason cultural center, in building C, from 7 to 9 p.m. The next meeting will be held March 29.

For more information: 800-424-8580 or 415-744-2677.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Liberia; Special Interests - Education; Peace Corps Washington



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