November 22, 1997 - Steamboat Pilot: Retired Teacher Peter Yurich has served five tours in the Peace Corps - Namibia, Lesotho, Liberia, Philippines, Kiribati

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Namibia: Peace Corps Namibia : The Peace Corps in Namibia: November 22, 1997 - Steamboat Pilot: Retired Teacher Peter Yurich has served five tours in the Peace Corps - Namibia, Lesotho, Liberia, Philippines, Kiribati

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Retired Teacher Peter Yurich has served five tours in the Peace Corps - Namibia, Lesotho, Liberia, Philippines, Kiribati

Retired Teacher Peter Yurich has served five tours in the Peace Corps - Namibia, Lesotho, Liberia, Philippines, Kiribati

'Culture shock' OK by Oak Creek native; globetrotting to 5th Peace Corps tour

by Melissa Roddy
Steamboat Pilot staff

After retiring from his job as a teacher at Yampa Elementary School 10 years ago, Peter Yurich decided -- as many retirees do -- to travel.

Namely, the Oak Creek native and grandfather decided to travel to the remote, undeveloped regions of Liberia, the Philippine Islands, the Kiribati Islands and Namibia as a member of the Peace Corps. He got the idea after seeing a television advertisement.

This week, Yurich left for his fifth Peace Corps tour, a two-year trip to the tiny, remote country of Lesotho, a land-locked island surrounded entirely by South Africa. He will be one of almost 1,700 volunteers to work in the country since the Peace Corps first established a program there in 1967.

"It's something I like to do," Yurich said. "I like working in rural areas in developing countries. It's something I enjoy doing and I think I'm effective at."

Nonetheless, Yurich admits that serving five tours of duty is unusual, as is being one of the 7 percent of volunteers older than 50. However, his qualifications -- a bachelor's degree in primary education, graduate work in library science and special education, and classroom teaching experience -- make him a valuable resource as a "primary teacher trainer," a mentor and educator for elementary school teachers in the countries to which he travels.

"He happens to represent a scarce skill with the elementary training background that he has," said Sharon Fuller, a recruiter with the Peace Corps' Denver Office. "He's probably the only person whose ever gone back five times."

"I understand it's unusual, but there's a lot of requests for the field I'm in (primary teacher training)," Yurich said, explaining how he ended up living first in the West African country of Liberia (1987-88) and most recently in the South African country of Namibia (1993-96).

Yurich has never requested a specific location, beyond asking for rural assignments. He also has never turned down a location offered to him, despite potential dangers. His tour in the Philippines was cut short when political unrest caused the Peace Corps to pull its volunteers from the country.

"I've never gotten an invitation I turned down," he admitted. "Once I'm there, though, I usually request and beg for a remote area. I like moving into a community and living and working with people."

The remote areas he has served have each provided him a unique experience and a taste of a different culture, but they have had some depressing similarities from a teacher's standpoint.

In all of the countries he has visited, education is generally thought to begin at the fifth grade level, Yurich said, so the early elementary years are considered less important. Often times, the teachers in the remote locations have very little education themselves, and must manage a class of 50 to 100 first- or second-graders without an aide and with very few materials.

"It's an eye-opener," Yurich said. "You go down there with a lot of ideas and none of them work when you get there. They are very limited on books; the chalkboard space is usually just a painted piece of plywood."

Showing teachers how to break classes into small groups is a technique that Yurich frequently focuses on, both to make working with the large group easier and to stretch limited resources.

In some locations, Yurich has worked with teachers in a cluster of regional schools -- sometimes walking 10 miles to visit different schools.

In other locations, as in his recent three-year tour in Namibia, Yurich taught soon-to-be teachers, establishing a primary teacher training program at the local teachers college.

"The college itself was nothing but a plywood building with seven rooms. The entire subject matter of three years was taught in those seven rooms with no doors or windows," he remembered. "I tried to show them how they could manipulate materials to teach a large classroom -- breaking into 10 groups if only 10 copies of an assignment were available, and collecting those copies afterward to use again in the future.

"We also focused on classroom management in actual practice: Ways to teach without corporal punishment, a well-established practice in many places, and how to reward without materials, by saying 'good job' or writing students' names on the board."

Every location is different, he emphasized, so he never expects the same approaches to work in different locations.

"I look at each Peace Corps assignment as an entirely different experience," he said.

But of the many challenges Yurich faces as a Peace Corps volunteer, luckily language is rarely one of them. In all the countries he's been to, English has been either the first or second language. On his current assignment in Lesotho, for example, English is the official language but children speak the native Sesotho language in elementary school.

As part of a 10-week in-country training course prior to his assignment, Yurich will learn enough of the Sesotho language to provide a basis for communication.

The most difficult part of being a Peace Corps volunteer for Yurich is not the language or the often primitive living conditions. It is the culture shock of coming home.

"I find it kind of easy to go in; I'm most comfortable in rural areas, and my parents spoke Croatian at home (in Oak Creek), so being surrounded by people speaking another language doesn't bother me," he said. "But, when you get out, there's a time period when you have terrible culture shock, coming back home."

Adjusting to a less-developed country with few resources is far easier than readjusting to the hustle and bustle of the U.S., with its overabundance of material goods, Yurich insisted.

"When you're there, the first time you get a beer and a fly lands in it, you turn it in for a new beer. You're there a little longer, and when a fly lands in your beer, you just fish it out and keep the beer. By the time you've been there for a few months, a fly lands and you just keep drinking -- you get used to it."

Coming home is tough though.

"I have a harder time when I re-enter. Using the telephone -- I don't like using the telephone with all those recorded messages.

"Going into a supermarket, it's mind-boggling," he said with a laugh. "There's an aisle -- an entire aisle -- just for toilet paper, all different kinds of toilet paper and in single rolls, packs, even huge boxes. I'm used to going to the store and saying, 'You've got toilet paper today? Great, I'll take a roll.'"

When Yurich returns from Lesotho in two years, he could be returning home for good.

"I've really enjoyed it, but I'm ready to move on. I have other projects here that I want to work on," said Yurich, who was responsible for the historical exhibits and new Miners' Wall monument featured in Oak Creek's 90th birthday celebration last summer.

But long after his active involvement with Peace Corps ends, though, Yurich's staunch support of the organization's mission will continue.

"I think the Peace Corps is one of the neatest programs the U.S. has for extending peace," he said.

"It's taking Americans of all ages and ethnic groups and it's sending them into a country, and into rural areas, not just regional capitals, to live with people and work with people. To see how volunteers grow from that experience is fantastic."

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Story Source: Steamboat Pilot

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Namibia; Older Volunteers; COS - Philippines; COS - Kiribati; COS - Liberia; COS - Lesotho



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