Heidi Adler and her husband, Todd, joined the Peace Corps together in 1992 and served in Fiji.

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Heidi Adler and her husband, Todd, joined the Peace Corps together in 1992 and served in Fiji

4683,c2-i16-t0-a12699,00.html,Heidi Adler and her husband, Todd, joined the Peace Corps together in 1992 and served in Fiji.

The Peace Corps - an Alternative Graduation Vacation

Arlene Wilson

The Metropolitan - Metropolitan St. C. of Denver , (U-WIRE)
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DENVER, Colo. -- Imagine that, after working your way through four or five grueling years of college, you end up living in below-poverty conditions. No running water. No washing machines. Rats climbing through your broken windows at night.

Now imagine volunteering to live in those conditions, as some Metropolitan State College graduates have.

Many former Metro students have enrolled in the Peace Corps after graduation, and some say it was the best experience of their lives.

The Peace Corps is a program where American volunteers go abroad to provide people with training and education in the hopes of reducing their poverty. The Corps also tries to promote a better understanding of Americans, according to recently published Peace Corps literature.

Many of the countries served are under-industrialized or impovrished. Thirty-eight percent of Peace Corps volunteers help with education in English, math and other general subjects. Eighteen percent of volunteers assist with environmental training, another 18% with training in the health field, 13% in business training, 9% in agricultural training and 4% with training in other areas.

How's That For a Honeymoon

Heidi Adler and her husband, Todd, joined the Peace Corps together in 1992 after graduating from the Metropolitan State College of Denver with degrees in chemistry and accounting, respectively. They learned of the Peace Corps through a job fair, and they felt it would be an exciting opportunity to see the world, Heidi said.

"We just weren't quite ready yet to settle down into our careers," Heidi said.

The Adlers are an oddity in the Peace Corps - only 7% of volunteers are married. After about a year wait, the Adlers were sent to small island in Fiji, a 13-hour boat ride from the main island.

For 24 months they lived without hot or running water. They had to wash all their laundry by hand, and they slept with a mosquito net over their bed each night to keep the cockroaches and other insects out. Heidi said all the windows in their house were broken, and rats would often come in at night. She spoke of one night, after she and Todd had been on the island for one month, when a rat got into bed with them.

"My parents actually thought the experience was good for me, because I had always been so squeamish of bugs and rodents," Heidi said.

Opening Eyes

Heidi taught chemistry and math to children grades 7-12, and Todd taught accounting and math. Because they were the only teachers at the local school with bachelor's degrees, they were held in high regard by the school administration, and Heidi immediately became head of the sciences department.

But more important than teaching the basics to students was the opportunity to educate them about American civilization, Heidi said.

"Many people in Fiji think that everyone in America is rich," Heidi said. "They have the idea that we all live a Hollywood lifestyle in the United States."

"My parents actually thought the experience was good for me, because I had always been so squeamish of bugs and rodents."
-- Heidi Adler
Heidi said the experience made her appreciate what Americans have, especially their vast opportunities and freedoms back home. Americans live in a rushed society, she said, and Fijian life is taken one day and meal at a time. She learned to appreciate the small things in life.

After receiving her degree as a physician's assistant from the University of St. Louis, Heidi, 33, now lives in Eureka, Nev.

A Clash and Coming Together of Cultures

Now, there are 20 Metro graduates who are serving in the Peace Corps overseas. One such graduate, Jennifer Mattison, is serving in Cameroon, Africa, teaching English to high school students.

When Mattison first arrived in Africa, her mother, Barbara, said she was stationed in a remote, poverty-stricken area in north Cameroon. The local people were hostile toward Mattison, because she was a professional woman in a Muslim society where women are stillconsidered "lower-class" citizens.

Mattison's classes consisted of up to 70 students, and Jennifer had to teach with no textbooks, no chalkboard and no writing materials. The community was situated in the middle of a desert area and temperatures often were well above 100 degrees.

Mattison was transferred to Galim, Cameroon, in the western part of the country. The climate is milder, and the land is lush and suitable for farming.

Barbara Mattison said women's rights movements are taking a strong hold in that part of the country, and her daughter is respected rather than shunned by the community. She is good friends with a community tribal chief and his 15 wives and 60 children. Barbara said her daughter spends a good deal of her free time with the locals, exchanging cultural ideas and customs.

Building a Better World

Another portion of her free time is spent putting together an environmental education manual, Mattison's mother said.

Mattison and some other Peace Corps volunteers wanted to educate the locals on environmental issues, such as water conservation and recycling, with which few locals are familiar. Once the manual is complete, they will submit it to Peace Corps headquarters in Africa for approval for publication.

Mattison told her mother her experience with the Peace Corps taught her many things. Wherever you go, people are people, sharing many of the same ideas, dreams and experiencing the same day-to-day frustrations and problems. She said she feels a great openness and caring toward other people that she didn't feel before.

Mattison, 26, has a technical communications degree and an international diplomacy degree from Metropolitan State College and hopes to work in an American embassy abroad when she returns from the Peace Corps in June 1999, Barbara said.

Both Heidi and Mattison's mother said that along with being so far from home and family, one of the biggest drawbacks to being in the Peace Corps is that many volunteers, despite precautions, often succumb to disease. Mattison herself has had malaria three times since being stationed in Africa. Heidi said most Americans are encouraged not to seek treatment for minor illnesses, so they have a chance to build up their immune systems.

The Peace Corps was established in 1961, and over 400 Auraria graduates have served since then.

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