By Heather Arney
Ohio University's recent homecoming parade brought together many organizations representing the campus and community. Among these organizations were the Athens Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, whose members carried flags from their countries of service. The returned volunteers include students, faculty and staff members, and others who are living, working or retired in the community.
John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961 with a challenge to students to serve their country for the cause of peace, by living and working in developing countries. Since then more than 170,000 volunteers have served in 136 countries. Volunteers bring technical skills to their country of service and also engage in a cultural exchange.
Ohio University has traditionally had a strong relationship with the Peace Corps. In the early years of the Peace Corps, volunteers were trained in the United States before going abroad. Ohio University was one of the universities that provided the training before volunteers were sent to their countries of service. Some of the University's graduate programs also give returned Peace Corps volunteers special consideration for financial aid, and OU has many connections with the international world attracting students and cultures from all over.
Sue and Alan Boyd, who now work at the University, volunteered in Ethiopia from 1964-66. Their group was known as Kennedy's Children since they were some of the first volunteers to serve in the Peace Corps and to enter Ethiopia. During this time they had very little information about the country and except for a few books had no way to find out much more. "Eastern Africa was a little different than I had in mind but I loved the experience and diversity of culture," she said.
Laura Mack, a first-year international studies student, served as a volunteer in Tanzania from 1999-01. "Peace Corps was an invaluable experience to me, it showed so many new things that I did not expect, and I learned that small scale community development can be some of the most important development work," said Mack.
Molly Steinbauer, a first-year graduate student in international studies, was also in Tanzania, where she worked as a community development agent. Her projects included working with cash crop production, farmer cooperatives, bee keeping, working with natural pesticides and HIV/AIDS awareness and other health issues.
Holly Delong, a recent Ohio University graduate, left for her Peace Corps assignment in Samoa in early October. Armed with her degree in family studies and a good dose of idealism, Delong will work as a dietician in a hospital. "I feel like I'm really doing something with my life," Delong said.
Peace Corps volunteers work to make a positive and lasting contribution to the communities they serve. They gain experience, knowledge and new perspectives about themselves, the world, and their place in it. "It is important yet difficult for Americans to understand how different life is in the developing world and that we must equally realize that we are more connected with them than we think," said Steinbauer. "Our actions here in the United States affect the lives of people in other parts of the world more than we can ever really know."
Heather Arney is a graduate student writer with the Center for International Studies.