|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, October 05, 2003 - 12:16 pm: Edit Post|
John Parsell served in Tonga
John Parsell served in Tonga
Peace Corps call to serve inspires young volunteers
Posted Saturday, October 4, 2003 - 10:41 pm
By Jason Zacher
Peace Corps volunteer John Parsell, 26, talks about his experiences in the Peace Corp during an interview at Greenville's Pita House restaurant Monday afternoon. STAFF photo by Owen Riley Jr.
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Forty-two years after John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps by calling youth to serve America and the world in the cause of peace, the country's volunteer humanitarian army is still raking in the recruits.
The stereotype of Generation X and Generation Y is one of the pampered sons and daughters of baby boomers addicted to fast food, video games and creature comforts. But the vast majority of the 6,700 active Peace Corps volunteers in 70 countries are from those two generations.
Furman student David McGill said he thinks it's still popular because "as young people, we really don't have our minds focused. This is a chance to do something positive, and it's only a two-year commitment."
John Parsell, 26, and others in his generation were not alive when Kennedy called youth to serve, but a new culture of service and activism calls young adults to areas of the world forgotten by the West. Parsell returned to Greenville last month after spending more than three years in Tonga, a small island in the South Pacific.
The 1999 Furman University graduate left for Tonga armed with a German language and literature degree and a desire to work toward a doctoral degree. He taught English in an all-girls Catholic school before coordinating the Peace Corps' mission in Tonga.
"I realized I would be spending my early 20s in libraries looking at old German texts," he said. "I had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy. I wanted to direct that toward something positive."
Nearly 1,000 South Carolinians have joined the Corps since it began and about 60 are currently posted somewhere in the world. They all traveled to countries unfamiliar to most Americans: Tonga, Malawi, Kiribati or the Kyrgyz Republic. They've taught local populations chemistry and English, built schools and instructed farmers on more productive farming techniques.
And like any army, the Corps is always actively looking for new recruits. Peace Corps recruiter Keith West visited Furman and Wofford College last week.
McGill has already signed up. He wants to work in public health, so the Peace Corps is the perfect place to start, he said. He hopes to be assigned to Morocco or Jordan, places he's interested in because of his curiosity about Islam and Arabic culture.
"I want to compare that with my Christian beliefs," he said.
West said the number of people interested in the Corps is up. He attributed the new popularity to the lagging economy and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which has forced potential candidates to realize how interrelated the world is. West said the Peace Corps is not for super-people, just ordinary ones.
"If the economy improved, I think it will slow down," he said.
Another major problem American recruits face is learning and blending into the culture. Sometimes corps members must do it alone. West said he didn't wear earrings he had in either ear or put in his tongue ring while serving.
It's not just college students who feel the call. The oldest Peace Corps volunteer is 84 years old. There are retirees, married couples and people who need time off from corporate America. They work for a minimum of 27 months — two years as a volunteer and three months of training.
West said he'd do another 27 months as a volunteer with a wife he has yet to find, saying he'd like to serve as a couple.
"It has proved over the course of time to be a good experience for people who want to learn more about other parts of the world," said Glenda Bunce, a Corps volunteer from 1964-1966 in Venezuela. "If you want to do international work, the Peace Corps is a good place to work."
Bunce, an Aiken native, said her work in Venezuela helps her every day. She's now an immigration attorney with the Catholic Charities for the diocese of Charleston. She learned Spanish through her service with the Corps.
But Peace Corps activism is not strong in the South. Of the top 78 universities that sent volunteers to the Peace Corps this year, 10 were in the South and seven were major universities in Virginia or North Carolina. In fact, the 1,000 volunteers South Carolina has sent abroad since 1961 is half the number sent all-time by just the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and only one-third the number sent by the University of California at Berkeley.
And there are nearly as many Californians in the Peace Corps right now as there have been South Carolinians in the history of the Corps.
One thing hasn't changed much in 40 years: If you met a Peace Corps worker on the street, that person is most likely female, single, college-educated and 25 years old; much like Robyn Zimmerman's daughter, 26-year-old Amber Little. Zimmerman, the manager of public relations for the Greenville Hospital System, watched her daughter leave for Nepal three weeks ago. Friday, she spoke to her daughter for the first time.
"She absolutely loves it," Zimmerman said. "She said the people are very friendly and look up to the Peace Corps volunteers."
Literally and figuratively. She said the diminutive Nepalese are "in awe" of how tall her daughter is.
Zimmerman also said her daughter has always loved taking risks and meeting new people, but Little's desire to join the Peace Corps took her by surprise. Zimmerman thinks her daughter was looking for meaning in her life. Now she's adjusting to boiling all of her water and eating two meals a day sitting on the floor and eating rice with her hands.
Friday, Zimmerman sent her daughter two small boxes of items she requested. It cost $84 and will take a month to arrive.
"In the days before e-mail, how did parents do this?" Zimmerman said. "I'm so proud of her."
Jason Zacher covers the environment and can be reached at 298-4272.
|By paul rehklau (184.108.40.206.kzo.mi.chartermi.net - 220.127.116.11) on Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 9:33 pm: Edit Post|
I would like to find Bruce Rowe. He served in Tonga with the peace corp. My friend Simeon Mokena would like to see him before he goes home.
Please put Mokena in the subject box.