November 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Comoros: COS - Bangladesh: COS - Armenia: Speaking Out: Essex County Newspapers: Comoros RPCV Ghlee E. Woodworth says: Peace Corps: For over 40 years, putting smiles on people's faces

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Comoros: The Peace Corps in Comoros: November 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Comoros: COS - Bangladesh: COS - Armenia: Speaking Out: Essex County Newspapers: Comoros RPCV Ghlee E. Woodworth says: Peace Corps: For over 40 years, putting smiles on people's faces

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Comoros RPCV Ghlee E. Woodworth says: Peace Corps: For over 40 years, putting smiles on people's faces

Comoros RPCV Ghlee E. Woodworth says: Peace Corps: For over 40 years, putting smiles on people's faces

Comoros RPCV Ghlee E. Woodworth says: Peace Corps: For over 40 years, putting smiles on people's faces

Column: Peace Corps: For over 40 years, putting smiles on people's faces

By Ghlee E. Woodworth

It was 1998, the inaugural year for Peace Corps in Bangladesh, and Reza Amin, a colleague and Bangladeshi staff member, awaited the arrival of the first volunteers with excitement. I was there to help Reza and other colleagues run a three-month training for the new arrivals, after which they would be sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers and begin their two-year assignment teaching English in teacher institutes. As the training got underway and weeks passed, Reza grew to consider these young Americans as family members. Reza assisted all of us Americans in understanding the complexities of the Bangladeshi culture, which included strict rules of etiquette for behavior between men and women. Finally the three months of training ended and the volunteers began their two-year assignment. My work completed, I got ready to leave Bangladesh. I asked Reza if when I departed Dhaka in a few days, it was going to be OK to give him a hug, a gesture not acceptable in Bangladeshi society between a male and female who are not related. Reza smiled.

This is just one of the many memories that I have since 1991, when I ventured off for my first experience overseas as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Comoros Islands, East Africa. Since then, as a trainer of new volunteers and a mentor of host country national staff members, I have worked in 13 countries (four of these twice) in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, the western Pacific and the Caucuses. My work with Peace Corps has given me the opportunity to work with one of the most effective grass-roots community development organizations in the world, and to have collaborated with some wonderful staff and volunteers. In 71 countries, 7,500 volunteers work in areas such as health, environment, business, youth development and teaching English.

I've had many rewarding professional experiences along the way with American staff members, who manage the countries' programs. But who I really want to recognize and thank are the host country national staff who welcome us to their country, work with us, teach us, learn from us and always take care of us. These remarkable, dedicated staff have made my time overseas such a rewarding experience. How fortunate I have been to have experienced the world through Peace Corps eyes.

During this past summer I worked with Liana, the new training manager for Peace Corps Armenia. Liana is almost a generation younger than I and grew up under the Soviet Union era. Our lives are so different, but yet over the four months as we made hundreds of decisions together while managing the training for the new group of volunteers, our thoughts were so similar that we could sometimes finish each other's sentences. In spite of differences in culture, nationality, religious and political affiliation, language, educational background, communication style and social status, over the years I have learned that we are more alike than different. Whether living in deserts or on mountaintops, in valleys or in mud hut villages on islands, it is possible to work effectively together and accomplish great feats.

I've learned that most of the time the pronoun "we" is more important and effective than "I" and "me." I've experienced that everyone wants to be heard, to be listened to and to have input. People who are open to learning, no matter how many gray hairs they have, are miles ahead of those who aren't. Those who are willing to ask how they can be more effective and then be open to change are brave and smart and well-respected. And people who ask what they can do instead of pointing out what others aren't doing are always going in the right direction. And I've learned that most people like chocolate chip cookies.

There are moments of frustration when I want all of us to pack our bags and return to the States because of the unkind or arrogant behavior of some of us Americans. But a colleague reassures me that 99 percent of us are OK. And I am again reminded of this when I see the smiling faces of children taking part in activities with the volunteers or when host country national staff say thank you for being here and working with us, please come back next year. The staff and volunteers return to the United States, and share their experience in their personal and professional lives in small towns and large cities, in businesses and non-profits, in schools and in high level governmental offices. In today's world, the United States needs Peace Corps and is better for it.

When Sargent Shriver envisioned Peace Corps and President John F. Kennedy spoke the words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," I wonder if they had any idea that Peace Corps would still be here after 43 years. Mr. Shriver has been able to see the impact of Peace Corps around the world, but what would President Kennedy think after all these years? Well, I believe he would say, "You Peace Corps folks have done well; keep up the good work."

When it's time to say good luck to another group of new volunteers beginning their two years of service, I tell them they are part of a unique group of Americans who have been putting smiles on people's faces around the world for over 40 years. It's small, but it's a good thing.

Oh, and Reza Amin in Bangladesh. Did I get that hug goodbye? You betcha, and I got another one when I returned a year later. We're still in touch.

Ghlee E. Woodworth is a Newburyport native.

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Story Source: Essex County Newspapers

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Comoros; COS - Bangladesh; COS - Armenia; Speaking Out



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