March 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Sri Lanka: COS - Costa Rica: Married Couples: Asbury Park Press: Lynn Ross went to Sri Lanka in 1984, having been inspired by the artwork of her father, Tom Ross

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Lynn Ross went to Sri Lanka in 1984, having been inspired by the artwork of her father, Tom Ross

Lynn Ross went to Sri Lanka in 1984, having been inspired by the artwork of her father, Tom Ross

"I was a single female walking on dirt roads through coffee fields, and I always knew someone was watching me, taking care of me," Chandler said. "It was a strange feeling, knowing no one was going to hurt me. It's something I will always remember."

Lynn Ross went to Sri Lanka in 1984, having been inspired by the artwork of her father, Tom Ross

Lessons last for a lifetime

2 Peace Corps teachers cherish years abroad

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/1/06


Caption: Dan Riordan and his wife, Lynn Ross, of Red Bank show scrapbooks from their years as Peace Corps volunteers to their daughter, Isabel, 7. PHOTO: DARYL STONE

Kerry Chandler can't believe it has been more than 20 years since she served in Costa Rica as a member of the Peace Corps.

"I get all choked up when I think about it, and start to tear," said Chandler, of Rumson. "It was a much better experience than I thought it would be. I got so much out of it. When I returned to the States, I was more open-minded, more tolerant of people."

Two Peace Corps volunteers from the Shore reflected on their experiences abroad and shared their stories leading up to the organization's 45th anniversary today.

Though it was founded in 1961, the Peace Corps actually traces its roots to a year earlier. In 1960, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their nation by volunteering to work in developing countries.

Since then, more than 182,000 Peace Corps vol-unteers have gone to 138 countries to help deal with issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology to environmental preservation.

Lynn Ross went to Sri Lanka in 1984, having been inspired by the artwork of her father, Tom Ross.

"When I was 7 years old, he illustrated a book on Greek culture and I remember it showed two men walking arm in arm," said Ross of Red Bank. "That was common in the Greek culture and it struck me as very interesting. My dad had a saying learn another language, see another world and that was my first inkling of wanting to serve."

After graduating from Millersville University in 1982, Ross signed up for the Peace Corps. Two years later, she arrived in Sri Lanka and was shocked at the culture so different from her days growing up in New Cumberland, Pa.

"The people were mostly Buddhist, Hindu and some Muslim, and they arranged marriages," said Ross, 45. "As a single woman, it was difficult socially, culturally. I had to adjust my behavior to fit in so I didn't attract unwanted attention."

Ross spent her days teaching English to adults. At the end of the year, the adults took a test to see if they were qualified to become teachers. "If they failed, it was back to the rice field," Ross said.

Ross also worked in orphanages and held workshops, using music as a way to enhance English learning.

As her three-year stay was drawing to a close, Ross attended a conference in Colombo, the capital, and heard the children singing the lyrics to a song she had recorded.

"It was just such a wonderful feeling, so heartwarming," Ross said. "It made me feel that I had had a significant impact on them."

The teacher also learns

Chandler was an idealistic 22-year-old when she joined the Peace Corps in 1984. She yearned to teach abroad and was delighted to learn she would go to a central valley in Costa Rica to instruct children.

Chandler stayed with a family that had four small girls, and coached a boys soccer team. She used games and physical activities to interest the children in math and social studies.

Often, she would find herself having to walk long distances to school.

"I was a single female walking on dirt roads through coffee fields, and I always knew someone was watching me, taking care of me," Chandler said. "It was a strange feeling, knowing no one was going to hurt me. It's something I will always remember."

At night, Chandler could sometimes feel a cockroach creeping over her face. Or she'd notice a snake moving slowly into the hut.

"Those are things that you just learn to live with over there," Chandler said. "After a while, I became much more understanding of things, much more tolerant. Now, nothing gets to me."

Chandler, an Essex Fells native, completed her Peace Corps work in 1987. After three years, America held some surprises of its own.

"I couldn't turn on the TV at home. There were so many wires and boxes," Chandler said. "I looked around and saw all the groceries, all this stuff in cabinets and it just kind of took me aback. You have to understand that in Costa Rica I would walk into this little pulperia for food and be lucky to see one carton of milk."

Like Chandler, Ross suffered through "reverse culture shock" when she returned home.

Day after day, she would sit around and watch television for long stretches, growing agitated at the avalanche of ads and relentless references to consumerism.

"The waste and the consumption in America is just so repulsive," Ross said. "One product is not enough. You must have five different brands. To this day, that stuff still bothers me."

Also troubling was the often-frantic pace of American life. She had learned to take her time in Sri Lanka, teaching patiently, methodically.

"Our culture is in such a hurry to get work done," Ross said. "It is such a shame. We don't take any time to enjoy the social aspect of our work."

Ross met Dan Riordan in 1989 after he returned home from a Peace Corps stint in Costa Rica. The couple married in 1991, moved to Red Bank in 1997 and now have four children: Samantha, 11, Ross, 9, Isabel, 7, and Ava, 4.

Riordan said one of the reasons the couple settled in Red Bank was the multicultural aspect of its school system.

"Our kids saw how much we value other cultures, which is a direct result of our Peace Corps experience," said Riordan, 44. "We teach them to be accepting of other cultures, to be broad-minded. When they bring something home from school that has to do with another culture, they know we are interested and it rubs off on them."

Ross said she wants her children to think of people from other cultures as having feelings, too.

"They are not just objects, pictures from a National Geographic magazine," Ross said. "They are human beings, like us."

Chandler has tried the same approach with her 8-year-old twins, Sam and Tess. She arranged a family trip to the central valley of Costa Rica last summer so her children and husband, Jeff, could experience what it was like for her in the Peace Corps.

"The community was just so loving when we returned," Chandler said. "By the end of the day, 30 friends had gathered at the tiny house where I lived. My family met my old family and we went to see the soccer field where I coached. My daughter just loved the experience. She said, "Mom, can we go back again and live there for a couple of days to see what it is like?' "

When Ross heard a tsunami had caused mass destruction and deaths in Sri Lanka in December 2004, it triggered a flood of Peace Corps memories.

"I lived with a family there and when I saw the news I was just devastated," Ross said. "I desperately wanted to find out if everyone was OK."

After months of uncertainty, Ross learned that one of her friends was going to visit Sri Lanka in the summer as a member of the Crisis Corps Volunteers, a branch of the Peace Corps. The school where Ross had worked was destroyed, but most of its students survived the tsunami, news reports showed.

As the Crisis Corps representative was about to embark on her journey, Ross slipped an envelope filled with money into her pocket.

"Give it to my family over there," Ross said.

Twenty years later, she was still helping, still reaching out to aid the people of Sri Lanka.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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March 1, 1961: Keeping Kennedy's Promise Date: February 27 2006 No: 800 March 1, 1961: Keeping Kennedy's Promise
On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order #10924, establishing the Peace Corps as a new agency: "Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed--doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps--who works in a foreign land--will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace. "

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The Peace Corps Library Date: February 24 2006 No: 798 The Peace Corps Library
The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory. New: Sign up to receive PCOL Magazine, our free Monthly Magazine by email. Like to keep up with Peace Corps news as it happens? Sign up to recieve a daily summary of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

Top Stories: February 2, 2006 Date: February 4 2006 No: 783 Top Stories: February 2, 2006
Al Kamen writes: Rice to redeploy diplomats 20 Jan
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Christopher Hill Sees Ray of Hope in N.Korea Standoff 26 Jan
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Joe Blatchford's ACCION and microfinance 24 Jan
James Rupert writes: A calculated risk in Pakistan 23 Jan
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Margaret Krome writes on Women leaders 18 Jan
James Walsh leads bipartisan US delegation to Ireland 17 Jan
Mark Schneider writes on Elections and Beyond in Haiti 16 Jan
Robert Blackwill on a "serious setback" in US-India relations 13 Jan
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Paid Vacations in the Third World? Date: February 20 2006 No: 787 Paid Vacations in the Third World?
Retired diplomat Peter Rice has written a letter to the Wall Street Journal stating that Peace Corps "is really just a U.S. government program for paid vacations in the Third World." Director Vasquez has responded that "the small stipend volunteers receive during their two years of service is more than returned in the understanding fostered in communities throughout the world and here at home." What do RPCVs think?

RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps Date: February 3 2006 No: 780 RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps
Timothy Ronald Obert has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor in Costa Rica while serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer. "The Peace Corps has a zero tolerance policy for misconduct that violates the law or standards of conduct established by the Peace Corps," said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. Could inadequate screening have been partly to blame? Mr. Obert's resume, which he had submitted to the Peace Corps in support of his application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, showed that he had repeatedly sought and obtained positions working with underprivileged children. Read what RPCVs have to say about this case.

Military Option sparks concerns Date: January 3 2006 No: 773 Military Option sparks concerns
The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is allowing recruits to meet part of their reserve military obligations after active duty by serving in the Peace Corps. Read why there is opposition to the program among RPCVs. Director Vasquez says the agency has a long history of accepting qualified applicants who are in inactive military status. John Coyne says "Not only no, but hell no!" and RPCV Chris Matthews leads the debate on "Hardball." Avi Spiegel says Peace Corps is not the place for soldiers while Coleman McCarthy says to Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps. Read our poll results. Latest: Congress passed a bill on December 22 including language to remove Peace Corps from the National Call to Service (NCS) military recruitment program

Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger Date: October 22 2005 No: 738 Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger
When the National Call to Service legislation was amended to include Peace Corps in December of 2002, this country had not yet invaded Iraq and was not in prolonged military engagement in the Middle East, as it is now. Read the story of how one volunteer spent three years in captivity from 1976 to 1980 as the hostage of a insurrection group in Colombia in Joanne Marie Roll's op-ed on why this legislation may put soldier/PCVs in the same kind of danger. Latest: Read the ongoing dialog on the subject.

PC establishes awards for top Volunteers Date: November 9 2005 No: 749 PC establishes awards for top Volunteers
Gaddi H. Vasquez has established the Kennedy Service Awards to honor the hard work and service of two current Peace Corps Volunteers, two returned Peace Corps Volunteers, and two Peace Corps staff members. The award to currently serving volunteers will be based on a demonstration of impact, sustainability, creativity, and catalytic effect. Submit your nominations by December 9.

Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000  strong Date: April 2 2005 No: 543 Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000 strong
170,000 is a very special number for the RPCV community - it's the number of Volunteers who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. It's also a number that is very special to us because March is the first month since our founding in January, 2001 that our readership has exceeded 170,000. And while we know that not everyone who comes to this site is an RPCV, they are all "Friends of the Peace Corps." Thanks everybody for making PCOL your source of news for the Returned Volunteer community.

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Story Source: Asbury Park Press

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