PART TWO: The related article
in the Super Second Life Newsletter on 7/15/2001 follows.
What does it take to succeed and be truly effective in the Peace Corps once you’re 50 plus?
A mindset that says “This is a singular, two-year chance to make a change in my life and others’.” Then the unyielding tenacity to make that happen. It takes extraordinary focus, then determination.
If your health will be a detriment, the Peace Corps won’t accept you--or will bop you out in training. Learning another language is seldom an issue, despite most volunteers’ misgivings, and many programs take place where English is spoken.
Mary Jane’s comments are correct: “It’s not for all 62-year-olds. It’s tough. I’ve had problems here.” But another son, 33, adds “I don’t think (Mom) knew what her capabilities were before she went into it.”
You also must be able to leave your problems behind. Being single or widowed/divorced (and recuperated from it), in this case, is also an asset. It’s too hard to simultaneously lead a life at home and overseas.
Age is usually an asset in the poorer countries that the Peace Corps serves. It was in Colombia where “old” in rural villages was 40, and healthy, alert volunteers with gray hair were listened to.
The same with Mary Jane, where she was awarded the respect of a “gogo,” or grandmother. “When M.J. says something, people are going to believe it and trust it more than if a 22-year-old says something,” adds Terry Murphee, Peace Corps Malawi director.
I saw two more qualities that distinguished the PC volunteers of any age, in the 100 or so in my region: they needed energy and they flat-out had to care about the folks they were helping or working with. Neither of those are age-linked.
My bias regarding the Peace Corps has undoubtedly seeped into this newsletter. I was indelibly impressed by the amount of short- and long-term good done by those caring Americans. But mostly I saw that the caring and the one-to-one, positive human bonding and sharing left every volunteer so much better a person for having given of their time and energy. And I see a much stronger America because of them.
Interested? Contact the Peace Corps. Or if you like the idea and the reward but aren’t eager to slumber in a hut, eat beans and rice, and tempt the tse-tse, you may wish to check the other links at this “Giving Back” site for agencies that provide similar, valuable experiences closer to home…
When a feisty lass or itchy buck turns 55 or 60 (or even 65 or more), could their future plans include the Peace Corps? Why not? Ask Mary Jane Lucas, 62, who started Malawi’s first-ever hospice program.
When I read Susanna Loof’s AP article in the local Santa Maria Times, it unleashed memories of the two years I spent directing the CARE program on Colombia’s northern (Atlantic) coast, from Cartagena. CARE also administered the Peace Corps (South America’s first) since community development was our shared area of expertise.
Our volunteers were mostly eager college grads long on idealism, mediocre on language, and weak on practical experience who mostly spent at least half of their two years becoming effective. But the older the volunteer, the more that was reversed: they arrived ready to work, with a kitbag of failures they had learned from.
Mary Jane Lucas was living comfortably in Sheridan, Wyoming, when her son, 23, moved to Alaska. Divorced and tiring of her homecare nursing job, she says “There was something missing. I needed to do something more in my life. I needed one more big bang.”
Her job? To improve rural health care in the bone-poor African nation. On her “big bang” did list? She created a mobile clinic that brings medical staff by bicycle to remote villages, laid the groundwork for an orphan training program and volunteer AIDS testing and counseling program, helped raise money for and oversaw the construction of six bicycle ambulances, and started the nation’s first hospice program.
Mary Jane’s reward? A monthly living allowance of about $130, no running water, a hole in a cement floor outhouse, and a bumpy 18-mile hitchhike by truck to the nearest telephone. Not for you? Couldn’t do it?
“I’m a heck of a lot tougher than I ever thought I’d be. I feel like I can do anything, anything I really want to do. I’ve empowered myself,” says Lucas.
Mary Jane will leave Malawi this month when her two-year term ends. She says her life will never be the same.
“There’s something inside,” she says. “I’ll look at all these people in an airport or in a Wal-Mart store and they didn’t do it. They didn’t do what I did. Inside I know it. I call it inner attitude and it’s there.”
Is the Peace Corps for you (or a friend) trying to extract more meaning
from what you’ve done and learned? See the article above!