Adventures in Peace: Kendall Mau applied and began work as a Peace Corps volunteer, setting up credit unions in Panama and Senegal.

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Adventures in Peace: Kendall Mau applied and began work as a Peace Corps volunteer, setting up credit unions in Panama and Senegal

Adventures in Peace: Kendall Mau applied and began work as a Peace Corps volunteer, setting up credit unions in Panama and Senegal

Adventures in Peace: Kendall Mau applied and began work as a Peace Corps volunteer, setting up credit unions in Panama and Senegal.

Adventures in Peace

By Becky Peterson and Nicholas Van Brunt Contributing Writers

It was in 1968, the year when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed, that Kendall Mau resolved to change the world.

"I was sitting in my room, watching the funerals on TV, and I decided it was time for me to give back to society," Mau says.

When Mau, a French and Spanish major and member of the UC Berkeley class of 1968, began his search for something more, he found his answer in the Peace Corps. He applied and began work as a Peace Corps volunteer, setting up credit unions in Panama and Senegal.

After leaving the Peace Corps, Mau continued work in international finance. His jobs included working for the Dole fruit company and running a 8,000-acre banana farm in Costa Rica -- where he says he was twice held hostage by communists in 1981.

"The first time, I was held hostage for six weeks," Mau says. "It was like being in a house arrest, and I managed to escape in the back of a fire truck. The second time I was held for two weeks, but this time the government intervened and provided the farm with armed security."

Mau says he attributes his bravery during this time to the Peace Corps.

"The Peace Corps trained me for the hellholes of the world," he says.

About 150,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 132 developing countries around the world, including South Africa, Jordan, Nepal, Honduras and Poland, since President Kennedy started the program in 1961.

Recently UC Berkeley was named the top Peace Corps recruiting university in the United States for producing 2,960 volunteers -- the most in the Peace Corps' history.

Patti Madigan, public affairs specialist at the Washington, D.C.-based Peace Corps Office of Communication, says she wasn't surprised that UC Berkeley garnered the first-place position.

"Berkeley has long enjoyed a reputation as a very activist campus," Madigan says. "Berkeley grads are continuing to serve."

UC Berkeley graduates were among the first to serve in the Peace Corps; in fact, the organization's first recruitment center was located on the UC Berkeley campus. Madigan said the number of UC Berkeley volunteers has been continuously increasing since its inception, adding that the number of UC Berkeley volunteers this year -- 66 -- has doubled since 1988.

Although most of the initial 124 volunteers traveled as teachers, current Peace Corps members work in the fields of agriculture, business, health, environment and urban youth, in addition to education.

"Today's volunteer is just as likely to carry a laptop as a backpack," Madigan says.

But an experience that involves dropping everything and heading off to spend 27 months in a poverty-stricken country is not without its problems. The Peace Corps does provide its participants with three months of language, cross-cultural and technical training, as well as self-defense classes. But some volunteers said adjustment to their new environment can be difficult.

Carla Semmler, San Francisco regional recruiter for the Peace Corps, says that at the beginning, her stay in the Dominican Republic was somewhat hampered by language barriers.

"When you can't express yourself, you can get lonely and homesick," says Semmler. "I still had some doubt about my language ability, even after the three-month training."

Madigan says that there are people who leave the program and return to the United States, although their numbers are few.

"The biggest reason that people leave is because they have left a significant other behind," she says. "Other reasons are health or family crises."

The application process -- which Madigan describes as "very long, very involved and onerous" -- may also discourage some people from joining the Peace Corps. It entails a ten-page-long application, essays, a background in specific skills and an interview. Semmler says the selection procedure usually takes about nine months.

Despite the lengthy application process and warnings that their housing would be in a dangerous area, Bill and Shirley Rush, a married couple from the UC Berkeley class of 1951, were determined to join the volunteer service.

After Bill graduated with a degree in business administration and Shirley graduated with a degree in English, the two married, had children and pursued their careers.

"Eventually everyone grew up and moved out," says Shirley Rush. "In 1988, we applied to enter the Peace Corps."

The Rushes are an exception to the norm. Married couples make up only 10 percent of Peace Corps volunteers, and the average age of volunteers at the time of service is 30 years old.

The countries which participate in the Peace Corps program often request certain skills from their volunteers. In the Rushes' case, the 108,000-person town of Hatillo, Costa Rica, wanted a married couple to help out with the development of the city's economy.

Bill Rush said that their status as a married couple created additional conflict in the "machismo" culture of Costa Rica.

"One morning, I was washing the windows outside while Shirley was inside," he says. "At first the women looked at me with glee and the men looked at me with incredulity, but eventually they saw that what we were doing wasn't too terrible."

The Rushes lived in what Bill Rush described as "terribly trashed" public housing. He says that it was all they could afford with what the Peace Corps gave them, but adds that they experienced no problems there.

The Peace Corps provides its volunteers with $200 per month to cover living expenses. Madigan says that participants are generally expected to live at the economic level of the people in their host country.

In addition to the $200 that Peace Corps volunteers receive for each month of service, the organization gives them $5,000 upon their completion of the program.

"The $5,000 is so that afterwards, people can buy an apartment and restart their lives," Madigan says.

Madigan adds that she believes having Peace Corps experience on a resume can boost chances for employment.

"It shows someone who has an interest in things outside of their own domestic agenda, someone who has a sense of adventure," she says.

Randy Kolstad, a biochemistry major from the UC Berkeley class of 1989, says the Peace Corps helped focus his career in the right direction.

"With a biochem degree, you either go into biotech or you go to med school, neither of which I wanted to do right then," says Kolstad. "Then, in junior year, I took a public health class where you could get credit for being a health worker. The TA of the class was going into the Peace Corps and it seemed like a great idea."

Kolstad says he advises potential Peace Corps volunteers to consider their options carefully before committing to the service, as it can be isolating.

"When I was in Morocco, the closest English speaker lived about an hour-and-a-half away, so all I could do was listen to the BBC, read a book, or try to socialize," he says. "Look, it's tough. It's not for everybody."

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Panama; COS - Senegal; Special Interests - Credit Unions



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