April 20, 2003 - Palo Alto Weekly: Liza Konnert: doing something positive in the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: El Salvador: Peace Corps El Salvador : The Peace Corps in El Salvador: April 20, 2003 - Palo Alto Weekly: Liza Konnert: doing something positive in the Peace Corps

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Liza Konnert: doing something positive in the Peace Corps

Liza Konnert: doing something positive in the Peace Corps

People: Liza Konnert: doing something positive
Her wild blonde curls and casual attire set Menlo Park resident Liza Konnert apart from the atypical crowd at Cafe Borrone. A small journal with a world map on the cover lies open as she scribbles a few more words. Travel is an addiction she finds difficult to shake. "I've been to Europe a million times," she says with a laugh. When Konnert decided to join the Peace Corps, it came as no surprise to her parents. "The idea of serving an underprivileged population has become increasingly appealing to Liza," says her mother Ellen.

In one of El Salvador's many rural towns, Konnert will work with the municipal government by assisting in mayoral offices. The focus of her assignment is to develop programs for citizens to become favorably involved with their government.

Konnert, 24, began her education at Peninsula School in Menlo Park, a private school whose mission is to encourage child independence by nurturing early decision-making abilities. At age 12, this training began to pay off when Konnert informed her parents she was going to transfer into the highly competitive Castelleja School in Palo Alto. In her first year there, Konnert became fluent in Spanish, an invaluable skill that has served her well. She graduated from Castelleja in 1994 and studied at San Francisco State for the first two years of college.

Having always felt an itch to leave the area she grew up in, "I'd always wanted to live in New York City," she says. "It was one of my life's dreams."

She realized that dream when she transferred into New York University (NYU) in the fall of 1997. When she graduated last December, Konnert felt her options closing in on her. Unwilling to become a waitress in New York or move back in with her parents, she opted to go into the Peace Corps.

The two-year program will begin with an extensive three-month training period that will encompass three or four main areas. She will start immunization as soon as she steps off the plane. For cultural emergence, Konnert will be living with a family during this time while building on her Spanish-speaking skills with advanced training four to six hours a day.

"She will also be learning a great deal about health and safety in a Third World country," says Heidi Thoren, the public affairs representative for the Peace Corps.

Midway through her training, Konnert will be assigned a city based on her skills and will travel to see it firsthand and visit with residents. At the end of the training period, a ceremonial oath will make her an official Peace Corps volunteer. Dignitaries such as the American ambassador to El Salvador, the Peace Corps country director, El Salvadorian officials, and her host family are invited to the celebration.

Konnert got a taste of what her program might be like when she traveled to Chiappas, Mexico for the month of February. The tattered, politically torn-apart region of rural Mexico "destroys its environment," Konnert said. "All the rivers and lakes are polluted with garbage because people who live there have never been informed about the consequences."

Konnert feels an obligation to do something about the way the world works. "I mean, there's no garbage collection in the trash-infested Chiappas."

As a determined, gutsy woman, Konnert only has two fears: standing out in a country where most people are of short stature and dark hair. The second, and much less legitimate fear is that she "won't be doing anything positive."

When asked what her plans are for after the program, she smirks and says, "If I don't end up married--a lot of people end up married when they go into the Peace Corps--but if I don't choose to stay there, I think I want to be a teacher in one of New York City's inner-city districts." She wants to work with younger children who come from limited means and still have an innocent world view. "I don't want to work with teenagers who've already become lost in the system," she said.

Young, vivacious, and with a laugh that tickles, this woman is set out to change the world, "any way I can--big or small."

--Patricia Gosalvez 

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Story Source: Palo Alto Weekly

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - El Salvador; Recruitment



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