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Scenic images from the field

A Lifelong Peace Corps Dream Comes True

The following excerpt comes from PBS Next Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota and was originally published on May 24, 2012.

“When I joined the Peace Corps after college, I assumed everyone would be like me: young, hippie-ish, and there to avoid student loan payments or a return to the parental basement. It was a revelation to learn that the actual makeup of that venerable institution included every slice of society: rich and poor, urbanite and farmer, conservative and liberal and, possibly most surprisingly, young and old.

Today, roughly 7 percent of the corps’ current crop of 9,095 are 50 and older, a percentage that seems to hold steady, as does the slight predominance of women (60 percent). Perhaps it’s the organization’s motto — ‘The toughest job you’ll ever love’ — and images of mud huts that particularly discourages more older people from joining, but passionate members, like Joan Sara Romm, 61, a former shopkeeper from Ithaca, N.Y., now serving in Saint Lucia, have a different take.

‘The older volunteer is more prepared for certain challenges,’ she says. ‘Our survival resources come from life experiences, like solving intractible problems and overcoming challenges in our work life.’ Still, she concedes, it’s not exactly a selling point to get running water just 10 days a month or to live in rugged rural conditions where no one speaks English.

So what motivates these 600 or so hardy souls? The slogans may have changed over the years (the current one: ‘Life is calling. How far will you go?’), but the rewards of public service, cultural exchange and sacrifice are little altered since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961. For those who take up the call, it also offers a blank page to write a new life story.”

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