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Adventures in Peace
Thursday, February 28, 2002; Page C14
Imagine that the president of the West African nation of Mali is on a state visit to Washington, and of all the fancy people he can visit, he asks to meet you.
Why you? Maybe it's because you can greet him in his local language of Bambara, ask about his family, even share a proverb that makes him laugh out loud. Maybe it's because you've spent two years in his country, living modestly, helping construct wells, but most of all sowing seeds of friendship.
Maybe it's because you're a Peace Corps volunteer.
C.D. Glin calls his Peace Corps service "the adventure of a lifetime." A Howard University graduate from Washington, Glin says the Peace Corps gave him the opportunity to make history. In 1997, Glin was chosen to serve in the first group of volunteers assigned to South Africa, which had just freed itself from years of apartheid.
During his two-year assignment, Glin worked with five schools in the northern part of South Africa, a region neglected during the long years of segregated schooling.
"When I first arrived in my community," said Glin, who is African American, "they asked, 'Where's the American?' "
"Within five minutes," he said, "I had made a difference just by letting people know that all Americans aren't white."
When Peace Corps volunteers work in a country, Glin says, they don't do anything to the people or for the people -- everything is with the people. That is why Glin made sure that someone from the community worked alongside him as a co-champion.
Often described as "the toughest job you'll ever love," Peace Corps service doesn't end when a person's two years are up and he returns home. So tomorrow, on Peace Corps' 41st birthday, C.D. Glin will join thousands of other returned volunteers in spreading the gospel of global understanding in schools around the country. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, has given the Peace Corps a great birthday present: He's promised to double the number of volunteers over the next five years.
Like presidents before him, including Peace Corps founder John F. Kennedy, Bush believes that one-on-one international friendships, forged in a rice paddy in the Philippines, or at an AIDS clinic in India, can help reduce misunderstandings that can lead to war.
For most volunteers, settling back into American life means bringing a bit of the world back home with them. Some do that literally.
Shawn Davis worked in a farming community in Mali, home of the legendary town of Timbuktu. After his service, Davis, who felt like he'd been adopted by the people of the village he lived in, invited his Malian "father," Mamadou Dougnon, to spend a month with him in his home town of Richford, Vermont. It gave Davis great pleasure to welcome Dougnon into his American community and return some of the warm hospitality he had received in Mali.
One of the highlights included bundling Dougnon up in winter clothing and taking him to the opening of "Star Wars." And just like Dougnon had patiently translated ancient Malian songs for Davis, it was now Davis's turn to translate "Star Wars" into Dougnon's Dogon language. (For the record, "Star Wars" in Dogon is "Toli Kombo.")
Most Peace Corps volunteers agree that what they receive from living overseas -- the richness of lifelong friendships and the discovery that underneath exotic clothing, strange food and different customs we're all the same -- is much more than what they give.
As C.D. Glin says, when South Africans would ask him, "What did you bring us from America?" he would smile and say, "The U.S. government gave you -- me!"
"And two years later," he says, "my community and I agreed that no dollar amount could be put on what we accomplished together."
-- Kitty Thuermer
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