I think my favorite Peace Corp public service announcement is the one where they show the palm of a hand with the caption: “This is your life line. If you’re not doing something with your life it doesn’t matter how long it is.”
For 53 years now, volunteers have heeded the call of that caption and committed their own skills and experiences to the betterment of the communities of cultures overseas. The Peace Corp is hailed for its philanthropic services, however like many successful organizations there are always little known facts, myths and scandal that either feed your curiosity or raise your eyebrows in horror.
Murders of Peace Corps Volunteers
Deborah Gardner: In Tonga, 1976, when the Peace Corps was only 15 years old, Peace Corps Volunteer Dennis Priven stabbed 22-year-old Deborah Gardner more than 20 times and left her for dead. According to a New York Magazine article by Phillip Weiss, Priven was initially declared insane then diagnosed with a “situational psychosis,” and consequently released without punishment for her murder.
Kate Puzey: Benin, 2009 – Puzey was murdered after filing a written complaint that girls in the school where she taught were being sexually assaulted. Her complaint named names and recommended the dismissal of a certain employee. In response to her death, President Obama signed the Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act.
Myth: Peace Corps is really a CIA front
Truth: Not so according to reported information, but the very nature of a volunteer made them likely targets. Since PCV’s work intimately with their communities, it was thought that they might be able to provide the United States government useful information. But since this would put them in immediate danger a Time article reported that the CIA has a policy mandating that PCV’s not be a part of intelligence operations.
It’s never too late to join
A 29-year-old young lady will leave for the Peace Corps this July; a 65-year-old man is currently sharing his architect experience in the Ukraine. According to this fact sheet, the Peace Corps has no upper age limit for its volunteers. Here is a wonderful story about Vivian Davis, who joined the Peace Corps when she was 78 years old. Now 80, she’s nearly finished with her two-year stint raising HIV/AIDS awareness in South Africa.
Volunteers get living expenses and essentials
Blogger and PCV Jessie Beck put together a list of 10 facts she wished she had known before embarking on her volunteer experience. You can see the list here. But, the main thing that crossed my mind was how volunteers lived. According to Beck volunteers get a living stipend between “200-800” depending on where you are stationed. Accordingly, she says, “if you are stationed in a malaria zone, they’ll give you a filter … if water isn’t drinkable … you’ll get a filter.”
Notable Peace Corps Volunteers
Lillian Carter, 1966 – 68: the mother of former President Jimmy Carter joined when she was 68 years old. She served her time in India.
Paul Theroux, 1963-65: the author of “The Mosquito Coast” and over 40 fiction and non-fiction titles served his volunteer time in Malawi.
Reed Hastings, 1983-85: The Netflix founder/CEO spent his volunteer time in Swaziland.
Christopher Dodd, 1966-68: the former U.S. Senator (D) of Connecticut spent his time in the Dominican Republic.
If you have any interest in joining the Peace Corps, you can find out more information by clicking on their website: http://www.peacecorps.gov Further, if you happen to be in Baltimore, Maryland in July, returned Peace Corps Volunteer Julia Marsh will speak about Peace Corps opportunities on July 30, 2014, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt’s Free Library Central Branch, 400 Cathedral Street, Poe Room 2nd floor. You can register for this event here.
If you are interested in finding out about Peace Corps recruiting events in your own state, click here.