2007.02.25: February 25, 2007: Headlines: COS - Vanuatu: Register Guard: Sara Pilgreen is one of 88 Peace Corps volunteers in Vanuatu

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Vanuatu: Peace Corps Vanuatu : The Peace Corps in Vanuatu: 2007.02.25: February 25, 2007: Headlines: COS - Vanuatu: Register Guard: Sara Pilgreen is one of 88 Peace Corps volunteers in Vanuatu

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-249-83-39.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 - 10:24 am: Edit Post

Sara Pilgreen is one of 88 Peace Corps volunteers in Vanuatu

Sara Pilgreen is one of 88 Peace Corps volunteers in Vanuatu

"No one is homeless here," Pilgreen says. "No one goes hungry because everything grows here." And no one worships material things the way Americans do, she says. However, men are considered far superior to women, something that is not easy for Pilgreen to accept. White men, in particular, are treated like gods when they visit, as her father, Springfield's Jim Pilgreen, a retired Kidsports manager, discovered when he visited last summer. Natives threw him a party fit for a king on his 62nd birthday, and could not believe it when they saw him washing his own clothes in the river.

Sara Pilgreen is one of 88 Peace Corps volunteers in Vanuatu

Peace Corps volunteers find paradise plus

By Mark Baker
The Register-Guard

Published: Sunday, February 25, 2007

In the land where bungee jumping was born a long, long time ago, and a season of "Survivor" was filmed not quite so long ago, Thurston High School graduate Sara Pilgreen is undergoing a "life-changing" experience that she wouldn't trade for anything in the world, even if some of the islanders have jumped at the very sight of her.

"Some kids will run up and touch me and run away," Pilgreen says by phone from Vanuatu, a South Pacific archipelago about 1,100 miles east of Australia and 19 hours in the future, "and some will just scream bloody murder."

You'll have to forgive them, Pilgreen says. Some children who live deep in the bush of Pentecost - one of Vanuatu's 83 volcanic islands, where Pilgreen has lived and taught English and sports at a secondary school since late 2005 - had never seen a white person before they saw Pilgreen.

A 2000 Thurston graduate, Pilgreen is one of four Peace Corps volunteers from Oregon who have discovered one another among the 88 volunteers of Peace Corps Vanuatu.

"All my life I felt that things have been given to me," Pilgreen explains about her decision to join the Peace Corps. "I'm single, and this was my chance to do it."

"The toughest job ..."

The Peace Corps says it's "the toughest job you'll ever love," and Neely Dahl, a Florence native and 1989 graduate of Waldport High School, says she used to think it was just a cheesy ad, but it has turned out to be true for her.

"I've hit some of my lowest lows and some of my highest highs, but overall I wouldn't change this experience for anything," she writes in an e-mail from Vanuatu's capital city of Port Vila, on the island of Efate, where "Survivor 9: Islands of Fire" was filmed in 2004.

In fact, she's enjoying it so much she just extended her contract for another year. "I'm continually growing as a person, meeting people from all over the world and, you know, living in paradise is not such a bad place to be," she writes.

Dahl, who volunteers for Vanuatu's Ministry of Health and coordinates the work of other volunteers working on separate islands, met Pilgreen when she first arrived. At least two other Oregonians, Latham Wood, a 2000 graduate of South Eugene High School, and Andrew Scheele, who grew up in the tiny Eastern Oregon town of Cove, are with Peace Corps Vanuatu, but did not respond to e-mail messages from The Register-Guard.

Building hope

Pilgreen, an all-state volleyball player and student body president at Thurston who earned a volleyball scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she graduated in 2004, decided to join the Peace Corps after injuring her knee playing in Europe. She had returned home to coach junior varsity volleyball at Thurston after graduating from college and was considering her future when she landed a brief job working on a cruise ship that piqued her interest in living somewhere tropical. She volunteered, and was fortunate enough to land a coveted South Pacific spot.

Peace Corps volunteers are given a living allowance and health care benefits during their 27 months of service, and receive a $6,000 stipend when their service is completed.

Pilgreen hopes to travel the world and then attend graduate school when her service ends in December. She might, however, extend for another year as Dahl has done, she says.

Her only goal right now is to raise $7,500 to build an outdoor basketball court at her school and resurface the existing court and the school's volleyball court, too. She has written a grant proposal to the Peace Corps Partnership Program but needs donations for matching funds.

Pilgreen's school will host the PISSA games in August, a weeklong Olympic-style competition of basketball, volleyball, handball, table tennis, track and field, soccer and other games for 10 junior and secondary schools from the islands.

"Happiest place on Earth"

The most fascinating thing to Pilgreen and Dahl and other Peace Corps Vanuatu volunteers is the cultural contrast between the United States and the island republic once controlled by French and British rule. It is a primitive culture, Pilgreen says. There is no running water, no electricity, no paved roads on Pentecost. Yet people indeed seem happier there - seem to have everything they want.

In fact, a British economics foundation study recently listed Vanuatu as "The Happiest Place on Earth." (Sorry, Disneyland.)

Most of the children she teaches will quit school after the 10th grade and return to their family farms to live out the remainder of their lives, Pilgreen says.

And most have no desire to leave Vanuatu. "They say, 'Why should we work to take long vacations? That's what we do here.'

"No one is homeless here," Pilgreen says. "No one goes hungry because everything grows here."

And no one worships material things the way Americans do, she says. However, men are considered far superior to women, something that is not easy for Pilgreen to accept. White men, in particular, are treated like gods when they visit, as her father, Springfield's Jim Pilgreen, a retired Kidsports manager, discovered when he visited last summer. Natives threw him a party fit for a king on his 62nd birthday, and could not believe it when they saw him washing his own clothes in the river.

About 115 languages are spoken on the islands; each village has its own language, Sara Pilgreen says. On Pentecost alone, three languages - English, French and Bislama, a crude form of pidgin English - are spoken.

Pentecost is the home of spectacular land diving, an event celebrating the local yam harvest. For as long as anyone can remember, men have jumped from heights as high as 35 yards with vines tied to their feet to show their courage as village crowds dance and stomp below.

It's the original bungee jumping. "It's crazy," Sara Pilgreen says.

In the 1950s, a BBC film crew shot footage of the "land divers," but it wasn't until two decades later that an Englishman, Chris Baker, used an elastic rope and created modern bungee jumping, something A.J. Hackett of New Zealand commercialized in the 1980s.

Dahl says she hopes to visit Pilgreen on Pentecost in March and watch the land divers.

"I love it here," Dahl writes. "I truly wake up in the morning and love what I'm doing. It's been a great learning experience."

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Headlines: February, 2007; Peace Corps Vanuatu; Directory of Vanuatu RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Vanuatu RPCVs

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By e2 pagkale ( on Monday, May 12, 2008 - 8:04 am: Edit Post

hi names e2 and have met some of the peacecorps on penticost i do bump into them now and again and man i must say these women are hard.

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