His Toughest Job? Jason Wians says he can't save the world, but he has made a difference in the Peace Corps in Haiti

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Peace Corps Haiti : Web Sites for Haiti RPCVs: His Toughest Job? Jason Wians says he can't save the world, but he has made a difference in the Peace Corps in Haiti

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, July 11, 2001 - 9:05 am: Edit Post

Jason Wians says he can't save the world, but he has made a difference in the Peace Corps

Jason Wians says he can't save the world, but he has made a difference in the Peace Corps

His Toughest Job?
Jason Wians says he can't save the world, but he has made a difference in the Peace Corps

By Purva Patel
Daily Texan Staff

Medical school sounded pretty good to Jason Wians, a UT alum from the class of 1998. He liked his MCAT scores and felt he could get into medical school after graduation if he wanted.

"Then it hit me. I didn't want to just squeeze in somewhere," Wians said. "I wanted to do something with my life that would make a difference. Now I had to figure out what that was."

Wians decided to sign up for what he said has been most rewarding job of his life. He joined the Peace Corps. John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961. The program sends volunteers to a foreign country for two years, to services at the request of its government such as teaching, helping sick children, or working with the government on cleaning up an urban city.

Wians was assigned to Les Cayes, Haiti. Wians said he initially joined the Corps because he thought it would help build his resume, but his reasons for staying and ultimate career goals changed along the way.

He had the opportunity to work on four major projects during his service. His favorite, he said, was working with a micro-finance lending firm called the Foundation for International Community Assistance because he saw the results of his work immediately. He supervised the lending of small amounts of money to groups consisting of about 20 female merchants. Wians would also help the women, who ran businesses such as selling goods from home or in the market place, learn practical business skills.

"For instance, I had a client who sold rice in the market," Wians said. "She sold this rice right next to four other women who sold rice. When she got her first loan I suggested she start selling something that is eaten with rice but stay in the same place. With the profits she made she was able to start sending her daughter to school."

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Fritzbert Gerald/Special to The Daily Texan

Jason Wians, a 1998 UT graduate, works with a youth group while working at the Haiti Red Cross during his term with the Peace Corps, which was from 1999 to April 2001.
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Wians also worked with Population Services International, which developed and marketed the first locally produced condom in Haiti. Wians worked with a youth group started by the company. He participated in performances and theater productions at local schools aimed at educating projects area youth about AIDS and STDs.

Working with the Haitian Red Cross, Wians also offered a free daily English class.

"I had some great students," he said. "My greatest accomplishment with them was having one student go on to a competition in which he placed second almost winning a scholarship to study in the United States. I was really proud of him."

The fourth place Wians worked was Project Hope Orphanage, an orphanage run by a former Army chaplain from Maine. He said their accommodations were meager children slept three or four to a bed. While he worked there, the orphanage received a grant from an international aid organization, Food for the Poor, and they were able to obtain proper bathing area and latrines.

Wians said working with the orphans was the most rewarding thing he did during his service, and going to see the orphans now is nothing short of a treat.

"It made me realize that life is what you make of it. You can look at what you have and accept it and live every day to the fullest, or you can dwell on what you don't have and be miserable. These kids don't know how bad they've got it because they don't know any better."

During his service, Wians stayed in downtown Les Cayes, in a typical Haitian home. He shared the two-room cement house with his roommate, a 24 year-old Haitian named Max Herve Blaise.

Wians said that going to Haiti gave him a reality check. It helped him understand that people live in hardship and adversity at a level he could not imagine without actually seeing it, he said.

"I learned that Americans, and people in general, need to take a step back sometimes and recognize what is really important in their lives. They need to realize that the world doesn't start at the tip of Florida and end in western California. So when problems arise they need to ask themselves: 'Is that really a problem?' They need to find out that the answer is most likely 'no.' And if they don't see that, tell them to come talk to me. I could paint them a picture or two."

UT has provided 1,181 students as Peace Corps volunteers since 1961. Currently there are 68 UT alumni all over the globe, according to Abel Ruiz, Southwest Recruitment regional manager for the Peace Corps. UT was recently honored for having more graduates in the Peace Corps than any other Texas school in the past four decades.

The Dallas Regional Office screens up to one-and-a-half to two times as many applications as there are positions according to Estella Mays, a special assistant for the Peace Corps. In order to receive an offer, nominees must meet medical and legal clearances. Nominees usually have a college degree or several years of work experience.

"The key is how competitive their skills are once they join the national pool," Mays said.

The Corps, however, is a rigorous program that is not designed for everyone. Mays said that it is often easy to spot the applicants with the wrong motivations. She said they are the ones who usually want to go abroad as a means to avoid their problems at home.

"I just got a call from a girl who said, 'I just want to escape,'" Mays said. She added that those who apply for less selfish reasons usually make better candidates for nomination.

Wians attributes his decision to join the Peace Corps largely to his membership in the Texas Wranglers, the official spirit group for the Longhorn Men's Basketball Team at the University.

"Being an active member of the Texas Wranglers gave me a lot of insight on the values, virtues, and rewards of community service," he said. "The experience I had with the Wranglers during my college years was definitely the ultimate reason that I knew I would enjoy the Peace Corps."

The Wranglers played a part in his stay in Haiti as well by raising money to send his roommate Herve to college.

"They have to worry about how they are going to eat the next day, or feed their families, or afford any kind of decent medical treatment," he said. "It was looking at this and then looking at how I used to complain about the hot water going out or the air conditioner breaking down that showed me that I needed to wake up to how the rest of the world is living and try to do something about it."

Instead of medical school, he decided to continue his life in service after his term with the Peace Corps ended in April. He is currently teaching English in Japan.

He said that he is a more complete person now that he's seen how the majority of the world lives, but he's unsure whether it has made him a better person.

"I still didn't think twice about indulging on a steak dinner when I got back to Texas," he said. "And I think I may have even stayed in a hot shower for about 30 minutes just because I could."

He also realized that one person can't save the world or do it all.

"There will always be poor people and there will always be suffering, but you can make a difference," he said.

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