May 2, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ecuador: The Argus: Karen Mitchell remembers the challenge that President John F. Kennedy issued to Americans in 1961 and volunteered to serve in the newly formed Peace Corps in Ecuador

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ecuador: Peace Corps Ecuador : The Peace Corps in Ecuador: May 2, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ecuador: The Argus: Karen Mitchell remembers the challenge that President John F. Kennedy issued to Americans in 1961 and volunteered to serve in the newly formed Peace Corps in Ecuador

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Karen Mitchell remembers the challenge that President John F. Kennedy issued to Americans in 1961 and volunteered to serve in the newly formed Peace Corps in Ecuador

Karen Mitchell remembers the challenge that President John F. Kennedy issued to Americans in 1961 and volunteered to serve in the newly formed Peace Corps in Ecuador

Karen Mitchell remembers the challenge that President John F. Kennedy issued to Americans in 1961 and volunteered to serve in the newly formed Peace Corps in Ecuador

Fremont women recall 'life-changing' work

Peace Corps workers describe their service

By Michelle Meier, CORRESPONDENT

FREMONT -- Karen Mitchell remembers the challenge that President John F. Kennedy issued to Americans in 1961.

"He said to do something for the good of society without any expectations of a monetary return," the longtime Fremont resident teacher said.

After her college graduation in 1964, she responded to the call and volunteered to serve in the newly formed Peace Corps. She is one of more than 100 Tri-City area residents who have served in the Peace Corps during the organization's 43-year history.

Stationed in Ecuador, Mitchell spent her two years of service in Guayaquil and Quito, the capital, teaching kids how to swim and coaching one of Ecuador's competitive diving teams. Her duties also included going to local schools, taking the children to nearby swimming pools and teaching them the basics of swimming.

It was, she says, a pretty good assignment.

"Being on the Equator, the best place to be is the swimming pool," she said.

The Peace Corps' mission is to promote peace and friendship throughout the world, according to the organization's Web site. In the early years of the Peace Corps, volunteers aided developing countries by bringing clean water to communities or by educating children in academics or sports.

Today, such services still are provided, along with training in HIV/AIDS awareness, information technology and business development.

Since the Peace Corps' foundation, more than 170,000 volunteers have served in 137 countries. Currently, 7,533 volunteers and trainees are

serving, according to the Web site.

According to the regional Peace Corps office in San Francisco, 85 volunteers have come from Fremont since 1961. Eleven Union City residents and six Newark residents also have served since the Peace Corps' inception.

Two Fremont residents are serving now, and three others have been nominated for service and are awaiting assignments.

Maria Caluag, a native of Fremont, joined the Peace Corps in 1998. Her decision to join was motivated by her childhood visits to her parents' homeland of the Philippines, she said.

"I saw children begging, people squatting in garbage dumps and people getting by without the conveniences we have in the States," she said.

Her curiosity grew when Peace Corps leaflets were passed out at Fremont's Irvington High School.

While at the University of California, Davis, Caluag was recruited and assigned to serve on the island of St. Vincent, in the eastern Caribbean.

Her work involved developing a high school counseling program at the island's largest secondary school.

During her first year, she said, she taught classes on "conflict resolution, effective communication, anger management, what to do if there is abuse, drug and AIDS awareness, etc."

During her second year, she spent more time counseling students on an individual basis.

"A lot of my cases were females who were victims of sexual abuse," she said. "I visited the victims' families andhomes. I accompanied them to the hospital, police, and consulted with lawyers about their legal rights. I basically became their advocates, when normally they wouldn't find such support because of the taboo nature of their abuse."

Despite her efforts, Caluag said, she felt she had failed to accomplish what she had hoped to in her two years of service.

"This was to be expected, since I came in as an idealistic volunteer wanting to fix everything before I leave," she said.

After her service, she received letters from students who were making progress, she said.

Caluag, who now is teaching English in Japan, said she now understands that social change takes time and that each act of kindness makes a difference.

The Peace Corps stresses that anyone can be a volunteer. Although the average age of volunteers is 28, individuals as old as 81 have served.

For those in the Tri-City area who are interested in learning more about the Peace Corps, information meetings and activities are held in the Bay Area throughout the year. The next is at 7 p.m. May 19 at the Rockridge Public Library, 5366 College Ave., Oakland.

Mitchell said her years in the Peace Corps had a profound effect on her life.

Originally a French major in college, she said she went into Ecuador with no Spanish-speaking skills.

After her service, she returned home and went on to use what she learned in Ecuador to become a Spanish teacher for the Fremont school district for 29 years. She still works as a substitute teacher in Fremont.

"(The Peace Corps) was really a life-changing experience," she said.




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Story Source: The Argus

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ecuador

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