2006.06.25: June 25, 2006: Headlines: COS - South Africa: Education: Teacher Training: Older Volunteers: Winston-Salem Journal : Sara Skinner, 68, will be heading to South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer to help primary-school teachers in a tribal village learn how to do a better job of teaching math

Peace Corps Online: Directory: South Africa: Peace Corps South Africa : The Peace Corps in South Africa: 2006.06.25: June 25, 2006: Headlines: COS - South Africa: Education: Teacher Training: Older Volunteers: Winston-Salem Journal : Sara Skinner, 68, will be heading to South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer to help primary-school teachers in a tribal village learn how to do a better job of teaching math

By Admin1 (admin) (adsl-69-150-133-223.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 69.150.133.223) on Sunday, July 09, 2006 - 1:09 pm: Edit Post

Sara Skinner, 68, will be heading to South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer to help primary-school teachers in a tribal village learn how to do a better job of teaching math

Sara Skinner, 68, will be heading to South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer to help primary-school teachers in a tribal village learn how to do a better job of teaching math

"I know there are needs here, too," Skinner said. "I know there are many worthwhile things you can do. But this really makes you feel that you're doing something to help the world. This is a good opportunity for me to be a good ambassador for the country, and I feel that we really need some positive images abroad." For someone who's never even been to Europe, living in a village in South Africa will also be "a wonderful opportunity to learn another culture."

Sara Skinner, 68, will be heading to South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer to help primary-school teachers in a tribal village learn how to do a better job of teaching math

Retired teacher putting her skills back to work a world away

By Linda Brinson
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR

Sara Skinner was in her early 20s when President John Kennedy started the Peace Corps. She thought it was a wonderful idea, she said recently, but she also thought that for her, it was already too late. Married and with a school-teaching job, she wasn't in a position to pick up stakes and head out to help needy people in some distant country.

But life's road can take interesting twists and turns. Now, some 45 years later, she's found that it's not too late after all. Next month, Skinner, 68, will be heading from Winston-Salem to South Africa, where she will help primary-school teachers in a tribal village learn how to do a better job of teaching math.

"This is just perfect," Skinner said last week. "So much just came together; it seems as thought this was meant to be."

Skinner and her husband, James, had three children as the years went by, and she stopped teaching to stay home with them. Later, when the children were pretty well grown, she headed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to renew her certification. She enjoyed the campus atmosphere so much, she said, that she stayed in school until she had her doctorate in education. While there, she worked a lot with student teachers.

She didn't need that doctorate when she took a job teaching math at Forsyth Technical Community College. She looked upon the degree as having enriched her life but not being of much use, she said. Still, she had no regrets.

Her interest in the Peace Corps had remained tucked away in the back of her busy mind. She'd continued to think of it as an opportunity for young people, until Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1976 and news accounts mentioned that his mother, Lillian Carter, had joined the Peace Corps at the age of 68. That was the first time Skinner realized that older people could also serve, she said.

She and her husband decided that they would try to join when they retired. But before that could happen, he died, in 2003.

Skinner had some decisions to make. She has a good life in Winston-Salem, a nice home of 34 years, friends and activities. She has a son in Flagstaff, Ariz., a daughter in Raleigh and a daughter and three granddaughters in Winston-Salem.

"I have a full life," she said, "but after my husband died, I just didn't have the meaning in my life."

So not long after his death, she went to hear a Peace Corps recruiter at Wake Forest University. The recruiter told her that the oldest person in the Peace Corps at the time was 80. "I thought, 'I might really be able to do this,' " she said.

A long and demanding process followed, including an online application, an interview and lots of medical tests.

Suddenly, that "useless" degree and her experience working with student teachers at UNCG became important. Back in the 1990s, President Clinton and Nelson Mandela, the president of South Africa, had agreed that the Peace Corps would go into rural areas of South Africa to help make up for decades of inadequate education for natives during the days of apartheid, Skinner said. Her education and experience made her a strong candidate for the job of helping village primary-school teachers improve their skills.

"I was persistent," she said. And this February, she finally heard that she'd been approved. A lot of conversations with her family and friends ensued. Then came all the details of shutting down her life in Winston-Salem for her 26-month stint in South Africa. There was a lot to think about and a lot to do, she said, but it just felt right.

"I know there are needs here, too," Skinner said. "I know there are many worthwhile things you can do. But this really makes you feel that you're doing something to help the world. This is a good opportunity for me to be a good ambassador for the country, and I feel that we really need some positive images abroad." For someone who's never even been to Europe, living in a village in South Africa will also be "a wonderful opportunity to learn another culture."

She will learn that culture intimately. After two months in training in a suburb of Pretoria, a city with modern amenities, she'll be assigned to a village. There she will live with a family, sharing their normal way of life. That could mean no electricity or no indoor plumbing. Skinner said she will find out what the conditions are when she gets there.

Meanwhile, as she prepares to leave Winston-Salem, she's been surprised to find herself treated as something of a hero.

Wednesday morning, friends - most of them from the water exercise class she attends at the YWCA - honored her at a party given by Betty May Barnett and Anne Kesler Shields at Shields' Burke Street studio. They plied her with questions and told her they're proud of her.

Skinner told me she thinks she's being a role model for her 15-year-old granddaughter. Who knows? She might also be a role model for some other 60-somethings who will see that it's not as late as they think.

Linda Brinson is the Journal's editorial page editor. She can be reached at lbrinson@wsjournal.com





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Story Source: Winston-Salem Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - South Africa; Education; Teacher Training; Older Volunteers

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