March 30, 2004 - Yakima World: Norm and JoAnn McCarthy volunteer in Morocco

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: March 30, 2004 - Yakima World: Norm and JoAnn McCarthy volunteer in Morocco

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Norm and JoAnn McCarthy volunteer in Morocco

Norm and JoAnn McCarthy volunteer in Morocco

Norm and JoAnn McCarthy volunteer in Morocco

Never Too Late to Volunteer for Peace Corps

By SARA MURPHY

YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC

Photo courtesy of KEN BEST
Lynne Best, right, and friends father at the Family Planning clinic in Janakpur, Nepal.
Norm and JoAnn McCarthy considered joining the Peace Corps when they were younger, but life made other plans.

Three decades later, the idea came around again.

"I was fooling around on the Internet and I thought, by golly, that sounds neat," says Norm McCarthy, who found information about the Peace Corps online and signed up with his wife in 2001.

The Yakima couple Norm, 60, and JoAnn, 59 are among an increasing number of adults over age 50 who join the Peace Corps, a path more commonly chosen by folks half their age.

"Lately we've been seeing mid-career changers and retirees and seniors attending a lot of our events," says Jim Aguirre, a Peace Corps spokesman in Seattle. "We still get most of our volunteers directly out of college."

About 6 percent of the Peace Corps' more than 7,500 volunteers are more than age 50. While the median age for volunteers is 25, there is no upper age limit to join if volunteers are in good health. Currently, the oldest volunteer is an 84-year-old New York woman, working in Latin America.

"Seniors are of great interest to us because they come with terrific job skills," Aguirre says. "College students come with a lot of energy, but not a lot of practical experience."

Photo courtesy of KEN BEST
An ethnic Mithila girl from an outlying village visits Janakpur.
Volunteers make a 27-month commitment three months of training and a two-year assignment and work in a number of fields, including education, health, agriculture, business and information technology.

Like the McCarthys, about 10 percent of volunteers are married couples. Only legally married couples are guaranteed to stay together because it can be difficult for the Peace Corps to match couples with a country that needs the skills of both partners.

Norm and JoAnn McCarthy were assigned to teach English at a state-run community center in Ouarzazate, the "Hollywood" of Morocco. It was a perfect match for JoAnn, a retired English teacher.

"The students were so enthusiastic, it didn't even seem like a job," she says.

But the position required a little more work for Norm, a retired fruit industry operations manager. Before leaving Yakima, he took two terms of French a common second language in mostly Arabic Morocco and volunteered for a local English-as-a-Second-Language program to gain some teaching experience.

And while the couple had a lifetime of experience to draw upon, they say joining the Peace Corps as an older adult has some considerations that may not affect younger volunteers a list that includes health, tolerance for inconvenience and caring for elderly parents.

Photo courtesy of KEN BEST
An ethnic Gurung man sells rice at the vegetable market in Ilam, Nepal.
"When you do it in later life, it's clearly more complicated than when you're in college and all you've got to do is clean out your dorm room," says Norm, whose brother stayed at their house while the McCarthys were away.

Not unlike college students, however, the McCarthys admit they were nervous when they told their parents about their adventurous retirement plan. Turns out, their parents were supportive, but their adult children were caught offguard.

"Our kids, when we told them, their noses were all out of whack," says Norm, adding that they eventually came around.

Jean Smith, of Ellensburg, understands the McCarthys' desire for a retirement adventure. After a career as a high school English teacher, Smith joined the Peace Corps in 1997 at age 62 and taught English for two years at a Moroccan business college.

Smith says she would have liked to join the Peace Corps when she was younger, but was married with children when newly elected President Kennedy launched the program in 1961. When a Peace Corps brochure arrived in the mail more than 30 years later, volunteering seemed viable.

"I thought the adventure would be something I could take on while I was still young enough," Smith says. She rented her home to a colleague and packed her bags.

Smith admits she had difficulty learning Arabic and missed spending time with her children and grandchildren, particularly when she wasn't home to comfort them when her ex-husband died.

Concrete floors and a third-story walk-up also took their toll, but the greatest challenge may have been emotional, says Smith, who was located in a rural town where Westerners were a rare sight.

The McCarthys, who used the Internet to manage finances back at home, say retirees can expect to "tread water" while they're with the Peace Corps, which provides health and dental insurance as well as a monthly stipend that allows volunteers to live in tandem with their native counterparts. Volunteers also receive about $6,000 when they complete their commitment.

"I know people who lived on 50 percent of their Peace Corps income and I know people who spent every dime," says Norm. "Then there are people who spend twice their allowance, and we were one of those."

The McCarthys and Smith used personal funds to buy some comforts of home: a refrigerator, a hot water heater and an American-style toilet. Squat toilets, also called Turkish toilets, are more common in Morocco.

Still, the McCarthys' two-bedroom apartment had no heat, air conditioning or insulation. A touch of their concrete walls could gauge the temperature outside. In winter, the couple accustomed to a climate-controlled home off Scenic Drive huddled by a portable heater while summertime saw them spending more time at the sink scrubbing clothes.

Yet what an adventure the McCarthys even climbed Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in Northern Africa at 13,665 feet.

Of course, they were stiff for two days, JoAnn admits.

"We just about killed ourselves," she says.

Their regret, however, is that they weren't able to complete their two-year stint. Because of the war in Iraq, the Peace Corps evacuated its volunteers from Morocco in April 2003, four months before the McCarthys planned to leave.

They say a second tour isn't "out of the realm of possibility," but back at home the McCarthys are settling into a more typical retirement: They purchased a motor home and are spending much of their time traveling the United States.

Smith, who married a Moroccan man and brought him back to Ellensburg, says one turn with the corps was enough for her. It's a life-changing experience at any age.

"You just learn so much, it opens up your world," she says. "If I have any regret, it's realizing how many other places in the world I've never been."




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Story Source: Yakima World

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

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