January 13, 2004 - Chico Times: Eritrea and Solomon Islands RPCV Justin Spence opens Peace Corps office in Chico

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Solomon Islands: Peace Corps Solomon Islands : The Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands: January 13, 2004 - Chico Times: Eritrea and Solomon Islands RPCV Justin Spence opens Peace Corps office in Chico

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-19-87.balt.east.verizon.net - on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 10:24 pm: Edit Post

Eritrea and Solomon Islands RPCV Justin Spence opens Peace Corps office in Chico

Eritrea and Solomon Islands RPCV Justin Spence opens Peace Corps office in Chico

Peace Corps office opens in Chico:

InnerView Justin Spence on volunteering that's no sacrifice

By MARY NUGENT - Staff Writer

Caption: Justin Spence with a souviner called a Nguzu-Nguzu (a figurehead placed at the front of a canoe) from the Solomon Islands, where he served in the Peace Corps.

Justin Spence has been to Africa and the Solomon Islands, but these trips were not exotic vacations. He was doing what 169,000 Americans have done in 136 countries since 1961.

He was a Peace Corps volunteer.

In September last year, Spence became the Chico area representative for the Peace Corps. He has an office on Main Street. Spence is the first person in several decades to represent the Peace Corps in Chico.

He is happy to set anyone straight who thinks volunteering in the Peace Corps is nothing but sacrifice.

"You're not sacrificing; you are giving two years to a country that can benefit from your skills and self-knowledge. You get so much out of it, more than the people you are there to help. You challenge yourself, and sometimes it isn't easy. You do it for altruistic reasons you work so the people in developing economies can live happier and better lives."

With the Peace Corps, Spence and his wife of six years, Catalin Kaser, spent a year in Eritrea in East Africa by the Red Sea, and two years in the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.

"In Eritrea, Catalin and I both taught English. I taught seventh grade at a junior secondary school and Catalin taught eighth and ninth grade at a senior secondary school," said Spence.

"In the Solomon Islands, Catalin taught English and home economics and I taught science to grades seven, eight and nine in a rural village school. I also worked part-time as a community development volunteer in the Solomons, which involved a number of small-scale projects.

"For example, I conducted some workshops on health, sanitation and nutrition to village groups, and worked with village entrepreneurs on a variety of business-related skills such as planning, budgeting and bookkeeping."

Their volunteering reflected their skills, strengths and education, which is the goal for Peace Corps volunteers in general. Spence said Peace Corps volunteering can benefit volunteers even after they complete their two-year commitments, and shared an example.

"Catalin didn't have her teaching credential, but her experience teaching in Africa and the Solomon Islands counted as student teaching. Now she teaches at Chico Junior High," he said.

Spence operates the Peace Corps office 20 hours per week and is busy working on a second master's degree in museum studies at Chico State.

The Peace Corps was almost a natural for Spence, whose parents volunteered in Malawi and Ghana, Africa in the 1960s. He grew up with a background of souvenirs and positive stories of their experiences.

When he was 9, he accompanied his mother on a trip to Malawi, and briefly attended school there.

Spence grew up between homes in Sebastopol and Davis, and graduated with degrees in French and linguistics from UDC Davis, where he also met Catalin. After serving in the Peace Corps, the couple moved to New York, and Spence earned a master's degree in linguistics at Cornell University. They moved to California in 2002.

Spence is new at interviewing potential volunteers, but says if they have the gumption to make it to his office, they are probably serious. "I had a guy who is 73 and a woman who is 70 ... Older workers have had such great experience. We get more young people than old, but we like to get both. This is a skills-driven agency, and I can get them through the application process."

Spence said the best advice and perspective for a potential volunteer comes from people who have already served. "I encourage them to talk to others," he said.

"The Peace Corps takes hard work and persistence. You need to be flexible and able to make adjustments. Development is hard, changing the way people do things."

Besides the work he did, there were so many moments that stood out for so many reasons, he said. "I remember when we first arrived (in Africa), after 48 hours in transit, we were exhausted. We walked around the capital and what I noticed and still remember was the smells. Everything seemed so raw and new. There was a strong smell of bougainvillea, and people herding goats down the street. I remember the huts made from mud and dung."

He recalled meeting a student who was 19 and in the seventh grade, common in Africa, he said. School is often delayed for young children because parents did not want to send them 10 miles away to school.

"He showed me his farm, where he grew up. He was so enthusiastic about learning, and it was an eight-mile bike ride to school."

Because of war in Eritrea in 1998, the Spences were asked to leave and continued their volunteering in the Solomon Islands.

Today, there are 7,000 active volunteers serving in the field in 70 nations. They receive training before they leave the U.S., and when they arrive at their destination.

Spence said he and his wife will probably always be involved with the Peace Corps at some level. "We feel nostalgic about it. Our Peace Corps friends will always be friends because of the intense experience we shared. These are the people we waxed nostalgic for pizza and all the things we couldn't get.

"My dad was in the Peace Corps 30 years ago, and he is still friends with people he served with."

Considering the Peace Corps?

There are 25 Chico State University alumni serving abroad in the Peace Corps right now. A total of 504 alumni and more than 400 Chico area residents have served in the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961.

For information call Chico's new Peace Corps director, Justin Spence, at 898-4829. He is available to speak to classes and he conducts informal meetings. E-mail him at peacecorps@csuchico.edu, and visit www.peacecorps.gov.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Chico Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Eritrea; COS - Solomon Islands; Recruitment



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.