Love Knows No Borders: Married Couples in the Peace Corps

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 12, 2004 –


Today, more and more Americans are volunteering alongside their spouses in the Peace Corps. Currently, 369 married couples, approximately ten percent of all volunteers, have dedicated their lives to the Peace Corps and serving others around the globe. This is a 26 percent increase in the number of married couples who served in 2003.

Peace Corps service is a rewarding, enriching experience for married couples. In all cases, both spouses must serve as volunteers and live and work in the same community. From newlyweds to couples in their retirement, volunteers highlighted below share their experiences:

Sera and Zachary Arcaro
Namibia 2002 – present
English and Math Teacher
Hometown: Pickering, Ohio

photo of Sera and Zachary Arcaro
Sera and Zachary Arcaro
Four months after getting married, newlyweds Sera and Zachary Arcaro arrived in Namibia, in southern Africa, to teach at a secondary school. They opted to join the Peace Corps at this time in their lives, not only because they believed it was best to do “before starting careers and growing roots,” but also because they “knew it would be easier to adapt to a different living environment while we were still young and not too settled in our [their] ways.” Both in their early twenties, Sera and Zac dove right into their full-time teaching duties and their first year of marriage.

In addition to teaching, Sera and Zac have initiated projects with their Namibian counterparts. Zac has been working on setting up a computer lab and beginning computer classes at the school, while Sera started an HIV/AIDS awareness club and a debate club. Together, they have also hosted a computer-training workshop for the other teachers at their school. Sera and Zac have found that one interesting thing about being a married couple in Namibia is that they didn’t adhere to typical gender roles, and their students were surprised to find Zac cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. Overall, the Arcaros feel that starting their married life out as volunteers has built a strong foundation for their future together.

Harry and Margie Bennett
Belize 2002 - present
Community Agribusiness and Environmental Education
Hometown: Marion, Kansas

photo of Harry and Margie Bennett
Harry and Margie Bennett and family
Across the globe in Belize, Harry and Margie Bennett are serving in the Peace Corps at a different point in their marriage. After seeing their three daughters off to college, Harry and Margie Bennett traded life on their small farm in Kansas for that of a Mayan village in southern Belize. Harry’s agricultural experience quickly earned him an important role in village organizations, like the San José Branch of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, while his plumbing skills were treasured by the struggling water committee. Margie easily moved into the women’s basket weaving organization, helping them with quality control and marketing, while teaching English as a second language and tutoring students in the local school.

Last December, the Bennetts were made aware of how their Mayan community felt abouocal school.

Last December, the Bennetts were made aware of how their Mayan community felt about them when they were asked to be godparents for the marriage of a young Mayan couple. Harry wrote, “This experience will probably rank as one of the most significant in our Peace Corps service, mainly for the way it blurred the line between Peace Corps volunteers and the village we serve. We were allowed to become a part of an extended family and to participate in the celebration of one of life’s benchmark events. The fact that we could be engaged with these families of another culture in this celebration demonstrated to me that with a little understanding, respect and love the obstacles between our cultures can be overcome.”

Dennis and Nova Maack
Moldova 2003 – present
Business Advisor and NGO Development
Hometown: Kansas City, MO

photo of Dennis and Nova Maack
Nova and Dennis Maack
At age 61, Dennis and Nova Maack from Kansas City recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, in an intensive Peace Corps language in-service week. Dennis is studying Russian and Nova, Romanian. Speaking different languages has led to some unusual experiences for the pair. A store clerk nearly fell over laughing once when Dennis bought cookies in Russian, Nova bought an item in Romanian, and then they discussed in English who would pay.

When they volunteered for Peace Corps service, they requested to serve in Eastern Europe. They now live in Balti, a city in northern Moldova, part of the former Soviet Republic in Eastern Europe. They work with non-governmental organizations serving youth and women. At their age, they are able to use their life experiences in education and business to help these organizations with planning and development and to teach English to eager youth and adults. Upon returning to the U.S., they hope to share their experiences and insights with Americans to promote understanding of the difficulties of life in a former Soviet republic.

Jayne and William Runyan
Suriname 2001 – present
Rural Community Education
Hometown: Easton, Maryland

photo of Jayne and William Runyan
Jayne and William Runyan
After early retirement and between semesters of continuing education, Jayne and William Runyan felt is was a good window of opportunity to do something unique. Feeling like they had something to offer, the Runyans decided to join the Peace Corps. In June 2001, the couple arrived in Suriname, South America, and were assigned to teach in two secondary schools in the Commewijne district to develop computer resources and improve water supply for the schools - good placement matches for a computer science major and a civil engineer.

Two years later, there was a new computer center at each school and more than 40 teachers and 300 students were introduced to computer technology. Water system technical evaluations and improvements were completed for one of the schools and a nearby boarding house for disadvantaged students. None of this would have happened without a lot of hard work and dedication by the people locally responsible for the facilities. Jayne and William extended their service into a third year, not only to see their projects to fruition, but also because they &ldeir service into a third year, not only to see their projects to fruition, but also because they “really like Suriname.”

“It is a beautiful little country, and the people and food are absolutely terrific. At this point, we are a part of our neighborhood, just as we would hope to be if we had moved in America to a new, strange place. Yes, the people, culture and language – Dutch—are decidedly not American, but we’ve concluded that there are many more similarities than differences. Most people in Suriname try the best they can, everyday, to live a decent life, make a living and take care of homes and children. And that is pretty much the bottom line anywhere in the world. We’ve had our share of difficulties and hardships, though nothing insurmountable, and being married has helped us in uncountable ways. We also think being older and maybe a little more life seasoned has been a big plus. Overall, our Peace Corps experience has been irreversible, one we would never retract if given the chance and one we will learn from for the rest of our lives. “

Salena Bailey and Aaron Martinez
Armenia 2002 – present
Small Enterprise Development and Health Education
Sunnyvale, California

photo of Salena Bailey and Aaron Martinez
Aaron Martinez and Salena Bailey
Aaron Martinez writes to us from Armenia, “Ever since we could remember, both Salena and I have wanted to serve in the Peace Corps. It was a great surprise for both of us after four years of dating and one year of marriage, that we discovered that we had the same dream. Salena and I were married for almost two years before we started our Peace Corps service in Armenia in the summer of 2002. We had both worked for years in corporate America, and we were both attracted to the Peace Corps for the opportunity to work together on community-based projects, to spend more time with each other, and to learn about another culture. Serving together in the Peace Corps has allowed us to share our wonderful, sometimes difficult, yet always intense Peace Corps experience.

Armenia is a small country and many volunteers have sitemates. I consider myself the luckiest Armenia-Peace Corps volunteer because I have the best sitemate - my wife!”

Kelley Belina and William Wingbermuehle
Guatemala 2002 – present
Agriculture Production
Fenton, Missouri

photo of Kelley Belina and William Wingbermuehle
Kelley Belina and William Wingbermuehle
Nestled in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, near Lake Atitlan, Kelley Belina and William Wingbermuehle are serving together as Peace Corps agriculture production volunteers.
Both 30, their garden project has extended to eight surrounding communities, where they assist with 50 to 60 small family gardens – depending on the season. Kelley and William work primarily with women who want to grow vegetables near their homes. The women’s experiences range from never having planted anything before to wanting to increase their current production. Kelley and William make visits to homes, giving talks on organic gardening and nutrition, and offering seeds for sale.

Kelley and William been happily married for almost 2 years, and they say, “Serving together has definitely strengthened our overall relat almost 2 years, and they say, “Serving together has definitely strengthened our overall relationship. Because of our similar backgrounds we develop our projects together and work together in our communities. Needless to say, this has been a great opportunity to get to know each other even better. We also feel being married helped us become quickly integrated into the community where we live. Happily, we enjoy working together and couldn’t imagine serving any other way. It’s been a great experience sharing this adventure together. “

To find out more information about serving in the Peace Corps as a married couple, click here.

Since 1961, more than 170,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and awareness, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.

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