2007.06.06: June 6, 2007: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Older Volunteers: Women's Issues: The Fountain Hills Times: Dawn Schlum joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : Peace Corps Tonga: New Stories: 2007.06.06: June 6, 2007: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Older Volunteers: Women's Issues: The Fountain Hills Times: Dawn Schlum joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga

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Dawn Schlum joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga

Dawn Schlum joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga

Dawn Schlum of Fountain Hills joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga. That is pretty exciting news. But what makes it truly phenomenal is the fact that this late-blooming flower child finally realized her life-long dream of joining the Peace Corps at the age of 66. "She has always been a hippie at heart and it didnít surprise me," son Jay says with a grin. "I thought maybe she could find something in it to satisfy that passion of hers." While Schlumís Peace Corp volunteer acquaintances in Toga are all young, she has the advantage of being able to note the social situation with experience and age. Women there have their place in society, and men still rule. "Even at my age, I think I was ill-prepared for this experience," she says of the culture shock. "Itís like our country was back in the 50s," she says, "before women had equality, when they were stifled and unable to express themselves. But itís on the brink of change." She adds that, unless performing a ritual, the women cover their ankles and knees, and anything above the elbows, and are not allowed to show any skin in between. Her daily outfit is three layers of clothing that are topped by a woven or grass skirt, and she always wears her kiekia Ė a woven "skirt" Ė that she made for herself. She adds, "They respect age, which has made my stay a little easier than the younger girls."

Dawn Schlum joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga

Dawn Schlum joins Peace Corps

By: Audrée Peters, Times Reporter

June 6, 2007

Dawn Schlum of Fountain Hills joined the Peace Corps last year and went to Tonga.

That is pretty exciting news.

But what makes it truly phenomenal is the fact that this late-blooming flower child finally realized her life-long dream of joining the Peace Corps at the age of 66.

"I applied for the Peace Corps back in the 60ís," she recalls, "but because of a horrible car accident it curtailed my plans to travel."

Schlum had extensive facial injuries in that accident, which required extensive surgeries and a long recovery.

"You have to be pretty healthy to go into those environments," she says.

Life went on and Schlum got married and raised three children.

She made the decision to pursue her adventurous dream after she lost her husband and mother close together, and retired from a job in the Radiology clinic office at Mayo Clinic in 2005.

"Thereís just a small window in your life when you could leave your family for two years," she says. "And before my body started falling apart I wanted to contribute. I still want to sit back and enjoy the fruits from my labor, but that time will come."

To those who know her, Schlumís decision to fulfill her latent dream was not a total surprise.

"She has always been a hippie at heart and it didnít surprise me," son Jay says with a grin. "I thought maybe she could find something in it to satisfy that passion of hers."

Schlum is fulfilling her Peace Corps work in Tonga, a tropical archipelago of Polynesian South Seas islands about a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii, and northeast of Sydney, Australia.

She says she lives on the main island, Tongatapu, which holds about 60 percent of the total population of the archipelago, which is comprised of approximately 170 islands.

"There are about 25,000 people on Tongatapu," she says, "about the same as Fountain Hills."

Tonga is the only remaining independent monarchy in the South Seas, and is ruled by a king who lives in a castle on Tongatapu. When he travels through town with his entourage, all eyes must be downcast, she explains.

While Schlumís Peace Corp volunteer acquaintances in Toga are all young, she has the advantage of being able to note the social situation with experience and age.

Women there have their place in society, and men still rule.

"Even at my age, I think I was ill-prepared for this experience," she says of the culture shock.

"Itís like our country was back in the 50s," she says, "before women had equality, when they were stifled and unable to express themselves. But itís on the brink of change."

She adds that, unless performing a ritual, the women cover their ankles and knees, and anything above the elbows, and are not allowed to show any skin in between.

Her daily outfit is three layers of clothing that are topped by a woven or grass skirt, and she always wears her kiekia Ė a woven "skirt" Ė that she made for herself.

The menís attire also includes outfits that are skirted to the ankle, and a grass skirt at the waist.

"Women are not allowed out after dark, canít show affection in public with the opposite sex, and can have no male company after 6:30 p.m.," she says.

She adds, "They respect age, which has made my stay a little easier than the younger girls."

Schlum didnít know what conditions to expect when she was assigned, but says, "I was lucky going to Tonga, because I donít have to see children starving or going hungry, because they have a lot of food growing there."

Schlum says the weather is like Florida in the summer, with even heavier heat and humidity.

"Mold is the biggest problem," she says.

Her training was three months on the small island of Haíapai to learn the culture, language, food preparation, weaving and making clothes, before she was moved to Tongatapu, on the main island.

"It was three months of heavy training," she recalls.

She and her fellow Peace Corps volunteers then underwent an initiation ceremony, in which they had to perform a skit and a song in the Tongan language, cook a native dish and weave an item, such as a bamboo skirt. She wove her kiekia, which she has worn every day since.

They had additional optional choices which included making a fishing pole and fishing with it, or climbing a coconut tree.

She passed up the option to climb the coconut tree.

A month after she was moved to Tongatapu, there was a civil uprising, and the entire downtown, only three blocks away, was burned.

She says the Tongans thought it was quite a show, "but it reminded me of the riots in Detroit in 1960 when they burned the downtown."

"The biggest loss to the Peace Corps people was that our main escape Ė the movie theater Ė was burned down," she says.

Schlumís work in the Peace Corps is to teach the staff at a girlsí middle school kitchen Ė called the "canteen" Ė get organized, serve healthier food at a reasonable price and show a profit.

The girlsí schools prepare them to be good wives and mothers with reading, history, culture, cooking, religion and singing. Tonga is very religious, and primarily Christian.

"And the people are singing all the time," she says. "Singing is the highlight of my experience in Tonga."

She says the majority of Tongans are very well educated, "but the majority of well educated ones leave the country for other destinations. This is another problem for Tonga and why things donít change too much. My objective in the Peace Corps is to help create jobs so that people stay there."

Schlum came back to Fountain Hills for her annual break just in time to see her granddaughter graduate from middle school and her grandson graduate from high school, and to see her fifth, and newest, grandchild.

Her family is holding a reception for her Saturday, June 9, at 2 p.m., at the Fountain Hills Community Center. She will be sharing highlights of her time in Tonga. Friends and others who are interested are invited to attend.

After the reception Schlum will go back to Tonga for another year of Peace Corps work in the final lap of her lifetime dream come true.

"Iíve always loved adventure and travel and all the people I meet," she says. "This is a way of doing that."




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: June, 2007; Peace Corps Tonga; Directory of Tonga RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Tonga RPCVs; Older Volunteers; Women's Issues





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Story Source: The Fountain Hills Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga; Older Volunteers; Women's Issues

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