June 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Married Couples: Del Marva Now: Husband and wife Woody Starkweather and Janet Givens are about to join the Peace Corps to live in Kazakhstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: June 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Married Couples: Del Marva Now: Husband and wife Woody Starkweather and Janet Givens are about to join the Peace Corps to live in Kazakhstan

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Husband and wife Woody Starkweather and Janet Givens are about to join the Peace Corps to live in Kazakhstan

Husband and wife Woody Starkweather and Janet Givens are about to join the Peace Corps to live in Kazakhstan

Husband and wife Woody Starkweather and Janet Givens are about to join the Peace Corps to live in Kazakhstan

Working for a better world
Island couple prepares for Peace Corps trip to former Soviet Union


Stephen Furness Photo

Caption: Janet Givens and Woody Starkweather, wife-and-husband Chincoteague residents, plan a trip to the former Soviet Union to work at a university there and improve conditions for the country's residents.

A lot can happen in the space of two and a half years.

The United States government could be altered, and the war could end. And the world could be changed.

It is that very idea that drives Woody Starkweather and Janet Givens, Chincoteague residents who are husband and wife. They are about to join the Peace Corps to live in Kazakhstan. Changing the world -- even to only a very small degree -- is just what they hope to do.

However, it's not easy to drop everything for almost three years to live in a foreign land. Besides being unfamiliar with the culture and language, Starkweather and Givens must also leave their friends and family.

"(Janet) had mentioned to me 5 or 10 years ago that she'd always wanted to go into the Peace Corps," Starkweather said. "And it kind of sat there in the back of my mind for a long time. And then I retired and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my days fishing on Chincoteague."

A Connecticut native, Starkweather is a retired speech pathologist from Temple University in Philadelphia. He and his wife chose to vacate the hectic city, preferring the mild and temperate Chincoteague lifestyle.

Perhaps joining the Peace Corps was always on Givens' mind, but it took the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 to motivate her to take action.

"There's very much a 9/11 part of this," she said. "We want to do something for the country. We said all along that if we had more Peace Corps volunteers in Libya and Afghanistan 20 years ago, we might not have come to this point. We believe that."

Working as a psychotherapist, Givens began a therapy group in New York City shortly after the 9/11 attacks. All the while, she nurtured the idea of going out into the world and trying to make a difference.

Givens continued to talk with her husband about joining the Peace Corps. Both have traveled extensively all over the world, and were well aware of the risks living outside of the U.S. However, they made the decision to join in June 2002.

Starkweather and Givens visited the Peace Corps' Web site and began the application process. Both dreamed that perhaps they might be located on a tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific. The Peace Corps is no vacation, but they supposed there were worse places to be stationed.

After the couple were nominated, they began examining possible placements. The Peace Corps will only send volunteers inside countries that have extended the invitation and have jobs to be done.

Unfortunately, their dreams of working in the South Pacific were dashed, with no placements to be found.

Meanwhile, Starkweather and Givens decided to sell their home in Philadelphia and live full-time on Chincoteague. They would stay throughout the winter of 2003 until they found placements with the Peace Corps.

"We had all this planned. We knew exactly what was going to happen," Givens said. "And then both of my sons called me one weekend in February 2003 to say they were both expecting their first babies in the fall."

Because the couple hadn't yet received their medical clearance, they called and postponed their departure, opting to be present for the birth of their grandchildren. Because they cancelled their departure time, their medical files went to the bottom of a very large pile. They did not receive their medical clearances until a month ago.

Along with it came news of their placement. Destination: Kazakhstan.

The largest of the former Soviet Republics, Kazakhstan is located in central Asia, just south of Russia and west of China. It's a vast country with lots of open spaces and cold weather.

Both Starkweather and Givens were at first surprised to learn of their placement.

"It was a shock to hear that," Starkweather said. "My first reaction was: 'Huh? Where is it, what is it, and why do they want to send us there?"

Indeed, Kazakhstan is literally on the other side of the world and a far cry from their South Pacific dream location. But the couple had little say in the matter. They were given 10 days to make their decision. Because Starkweather had friends whose American relatives had retired to Kazakhstan, the couple decided that it was meant to be.

With their departure planned for June 10, both Starkweather and Givens are now busily preparing for their move to the other side of the world. All expenses are paid with the Peace Corps. However, because of the vast change in temperature and culture, there is a considerable amount of money they are spending to prepare.

"You don't make any money in the Peace Corps, but it doesn't cost anything either," he said. "They feed you, house you, so you don't have to spend anything. But we got rid of our winter clothes and we're putting a lot on our credit card to buy new stuff. So it's not as neutral as I thought."

The Peace Corps will give them a living allowance and a settlement allowance after their two and a half years are completed. The idea is to live at the level of the people -- to blend in and not be perceived as pretentious or superior.

Life will not be easy, especially in the beginning. Starkweather and Givens will spend their first three months in training, learning the language and culture of Kazakhstan.

"It's impossible, you really can't learn enough of even one language in three months," Starkweather said. "You can learn enough just to get by."

Afterwards, they will be placed in their respective jobs teaching at a university. They will spend an additional six months with a host family until they are given their own living quarters.

And so in addition to making last-minute preparations, they are searching for temporary homes for their two animals: a greyhound named Merlin and a cat named Molly.

Both have talked with local acquaintances about giving their beloved pets temporary homes. But as yet, they haven't been able to locate foster families.

"That's the hardest part ... what we do with the animals," Givens said. "We really haven't known from the beginning what we'd do, but we figured it would work out. And I still believe that, but we have no idea how it's going to work out."

Givens hopes that someone on the island may be interested in giving Molly a home while she is away. A fluffy white and orange cat that likes dogs, Molly has been de-clawed, neutered and has had all of her necessary shots.

All expenses will be reimbursed for the duration of their stay.

Any interested parties may call them at 336- 2340 or e-mail at givensj@intercom.net.

As for their sojourn to Kazakhstan, Starkweather and Givens cannot wait to leave. The work will be hard, but they believe the longterm effects of their contributions will be far-reaching.

"We're doing this because we want to make a difference," Givens said. "And I think after all's said and done, we can."

Originally published Thursday, June 3, 2004

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Story Source: Del Marva Now

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kazakhstan; Married Couples



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