Desire to help others continues to lead people to Peace Corps

The News Press - Fort Myers, Fla.
Author:Braun, Mike
Date:Aug 19, 2013
Start Page:1
Text Word Count:1057

They join Peace Corps to teach, travel and experience another culture or because a vision offered by a charismatic president 50-plus years ago inspired them to take a chance.

"Different people have different reasons," said Steve Hunsicker, the agency's South Florida office recruiter. He will be at the Fort Myers Library at 6 p.m. Tuesday as part of a push for new volunteers.

He said U.S. citizens of all ages, races, political affiliation and gender have been volunteering for the Peace Corps since the now-independent governmental agency was formed in 1961 after being promoted by President John F. Kennedy.

"We've had great success in Fort Myers and the surrounding areas previously," he said. There are six Lee County and six Collier County residents posted in China, Zambia, Fiji, Macedonia, South Africa and Thailand and one waiting to take her turn in Mozambique.

Hunsicker said there has been more than 400 Lee and Collier residents among the than 210,000-plus volunteers who have been part of the Peace Corp. About 139 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe have hosted volunteers since 1961.

One of those Fort Myers residents afield is Katherine Myers, serving in Senegal since 2011 as an agriculture volunteer.

"I love my posting. I love living in Senegal and especially enjoy learning Wolof -- what a rich and beautiful language," she said via email. Sometimes, Hunsicker said, getting in touch with volunteers in the field can be a difficult process because of primitive conditions.

Myers said she was attracted to Peace Corps after meeting another volunteer working in the field.

"Her language ability and agricultural knowledge impressed me and I was looking for an opportunity to learn about farming systems that contribute to (rather than deplete) the soil and biodiversity of the local ecosystem." she said. "Peace Corps seemed like a good way to get experience working abroad and a unique way to become integrated in a different culture."

Myers, who had been in Fort Myers only a year when she got her posting, plans to stay an extra year in Senegal.

Recruiting FGCU

Hunsicker said one fertile spot for area volunteers is Florida Gulf Coast University, especially since the school requires graduates to participate in community volunteering.

He said every volunteer from FGCU, 19 since 2005, has community volunteer experience. "They make the best volunteers when they have experience in the community."

Hunsicker said a lot of people who go into the Peace Corp go straight out of college. "They decide that's what they want to continue to do and they have gotten a taste of what that's like," he said.

Mark and Sheila Simpson teach at FGCU and are former Peace Corps volunteers. The couple were posted in Africa in the 1970s, he in Senegal and she in the Ivory Coast.

Mark Simpson, 63, said his reason for joining was altruistic. "I wanted to give back to others all the good things I had received. I was an education major and I wanted to teach and have adventures."

Shiela Simpson, 65, however, said her reason was a more selfish.

She got a degree in French and was heading to grad school to study speech communication. While working at a bar, a friend came in and started filling out the extensive Peace Corps application in front of her.

"He said he'd buy me a beer if I filled one out too," she said. She got accepted soon after.

Both Simpsons said they got so much out of their postings and both stayed an extra year.

"Our world got so much bigger," Sheila Simpson said. The couple spent 30 years overseas in Indonesia (where they married), Italy and Saudi Arabia, landing at FGCU in 2004.

Now their children are grown and on their own, they have cast an eye back to Peace Corps.

"We're interested in going back," Mark Simpson said, as part of the returned Peace Corps volunteer program.

"RPCV is for people like us. You must have a lot of experience," he said.

Helping others

Bonita Springs resident Marvin Hancock was 22 and just out of college in 1963 when he headed out from Texas to Colombia as a Peace Corp volunteer.

"It was a really nice country with really nice people," he said of his experience. "I worked in small villages and mostly traveled by boat."

It was a speech by President Kennedy which prompted the retired international banking officer to join.

"I didn't know a word of Spanish when I went in," he said. "I was fluent when I came out. Still am. I had to learn because you gotta eat."

During his tenure he helped build a water purification facility, constructed bridges and was a supervisor for other volunteers.

"I saw a lot of the country," he said. "It was definitely a life-changing experience. It was a chance to work with other people from other parts of the world."

That chance to work with others is one reason why Maria Medina, 23, of Naples, will be leaving for a three-year posting in Mozambique on Sept. 24.

The Florida International University grad came to the U.S. at 10 from Colombia. She previously volunteered with City Year Miami as an AmeriCorps volunteer working with at-risk youth in inner city schools.

"I always liked to help others," she said, noting she also liked education and working with youth, something that should help her in the southeast African country.

"I knew it will be a little bit of a challenge," she said of life in the former Portuguese colony. "It will definitely not be the lifestyle I have in the U.S."

When her posting is over, she said she'd like to get her masters in terrorism studies and to eventually be a diplomat.

Connect with this reporter: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook) @MichaelBraunNP (Twitter)

If you go

>> What: Peace Corps recruitment meeting

>> When: 6 p.m., Tuesday

>> Where: Lee County Library, 2050 Central Ave., Fort Myers.

To be a volunteer

Length of service is 27 months, which includes an average of 10 weeks of in-country training and 24 months of volunteer service.

The minimum age for Peace Corps service is 18; there is no upper age limit. Volunteers must be U.S. citizens.

Volunteers receive a living allowance that covers housing, food and incidentals, enabling them to live in a manner similar to people in their local communities.

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