July 20, 2003 - Valley Star: Morocco Volunteer John Powanda is one of oldest in history of Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: July 20, 2003 - Valley Star: Morocco Volunteer John Powanda is one of oldest in history of Peace Corps

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Morocco Volunteer John Powanda is one of oldest in history of Peace Corps

Morocco Volunteer John Powanda is one of oldest in history of Peace Corps

Volunteer is one of oldest in history of Peace Corps

Star photo by Ric Vasquez

REMEMBERING: John Powanda recalls his time in Morocco as one of the senior field workers for the Peace Corps.

Valley Morning Star
Every narrow street of the ancient Arab presidio stuffed John Powanda’s old safari jacket with a memory.

With its mystique, Morocco conjures up images of belly dancers and snake charmers.

But Powanda remembers the leather workers in the marketplace, the children who became his students and the family who opened its home to him.

In Morocco, the Peace Corps helped awaken the spirit of a 79-year-old man.

"Every day was an adventure," said Powanda, sporting the black beret that became his trademark at his Peace Corps post.

Nearly two years later, he was back at Palms Retirement Center, where he’s lived alone since his wife Jane died of cancer in 1997.

In June 2000, Powanda became one of the oldest Peace Corps volunteers when he set off for Morocco.

With his background in the import-export business, the Peace Corps assigned him to the artisan center of Tetouan, once an Arab military stronghold in northern Morocco.

"I really thought I had something to offer the Peace Corps," said Powanda, a World War II veteran that had lived in six countries.

Instead of renting an apartment with his monthly stipend of $150, Powanda moved into the home of Mohammed Bakkali, the local head of the leather workers group.

"I lived exactly how the people lived," he said.

In a country where the average monthly income is $40 to $50, Powanda turned over his stipend to the family.

In the small white-faced home made of brick and cement, he slept in a 9-foot by 15-foot room with a bunk.

"I could have found a place with a Western bathroom, but I didn’t go to Morocco for the niceties of life," he said.

Working with the group of leather workers, Powanda organized small trade shows in Spain and across Morocco.

"Every day was another experience," he said.

Most of all, he remembers the children — two boys and two girls who ranged in age from 7 to 12.

"At breakfast and in the evening, we’d go over the lessons," said Powanda, who taught Spanish at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa. "I would speak to them in four languages — English, Spanish, French and Arabic. I invented the method."

But age caught up to him.

"My equilibrium isn’t what it used to be," he said.

About 18 months into his two-year assignment, an enlarged prostate became a big bother.

"I don’t like to be a quitter," Powanda said. "But I thought, ‘The better part of valor — let’s do something about it.’"

In January, he was back in the retirement center.

"An older person is not geared for the Peace Corps," he said. "But I’m a character, and everyone at the Peace Corps knew it. I was known for my sense of humor, and that’s one thing I had in my favor."

Slice of Life suggestions should be sent to City Editor Dave Ralph or Managing Editor Lucio Castillo at davidr@valleystar.com or by phoning 430-6206.

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Story Source: Valley Star

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Morocco; Older Volunteers



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