Peace (and Love!) in Full Bloom in the Peace Corps
February 10, 2006WASHINGTON, D.C., February 10, 2006 When a volunteer enters the Peace Corps for two and a half years of service, typically the first thing on his or her mind is not forming a romantic relationship or finding a soul mate. Yet anecdotal evidence shows that, along the path of grassroots development, many Peace Corps volunteers sent abroad to build cross-cultural relationships are also forming lasting romantic relationships.
"It's been said that challenging times are often the defining moments for a relationship. It comes as little surprise to me that we see so many successful marriages among our volunteers," said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. "What other experience can bring two people as close as serving in a different culture, far away from life as you know it, where your native tongue is completely foreign to those around you and the 'luxuries' of home are a million miles away?"
El Salvador, 1965-1967
Returned volunteers Mike Jenkins and Susan Mater met in January 1965 when they began their Peace Corps language and skills training in Puerto Rico. By the time they arrived in their assignments in El Salvador five months later, the two had developed a strong friendship. Mike claims he had to take four buses through three rivers without bridges and a mule to visit Susie and as their friendship blossomed into love, the two made arrangements to wed. The Jenkins, who have been happily married for nearly 40 years, decided to take life by the reins after serious health scares in July 2002 and returned to the place they met El Salvador. Using the community development skills they learned in the '60s, the couple applied them to a multitude of projects in the village they served in decades before, including developing a bakery cooperative, a potable water and public wash station project, a community multi-use center with solar panels, to name just a few. The duo remains in El Salvador today, but New Hampshire is their other home.
The (soon-to-be!) Sheas
Sarah Allen and Patrick Shea were assigned to Haiti together in 2003. They spent seven months there before the program was suspended for safety concerns. A year later, when the program re-opened, the couple returned together, newly-engaged. In Haiti, they served as health education volunteers, focused on HIV/AIDS. "Serving in the Peace Corps together especially being evacuated together makes a relationship progress more quickly. We have a shared experience and bond that no one else can understand," Sarah said. Today, Sarah works at Peace Corps headquarters and Patrick works in public health. A September 16, 2006 wedding is planned in Washington, D.C.
The soon-to-be Sheas
The soon-to-be Sheas
Chad Pfitzer and his wife Julia met while serving in Moldova from 2001-2003. Chad was recently quoted in a Peace Corps catalog saying, "The Master of Agriculture program through the Peace Corps Masters International (MI) option at Colorado State University proved key in developing the skills I need to perform my current occupation as an Extension Educator in Daviess County, Indiana. I have no regrets from my MI experience: it was the best decision I ever made … except to marry my wife Julia … who I met in Peace Corps." Julia, who served as an English teacher in Moldova, is now a preschool special education teacher. They have been married for a year and a half and reside in Washington, Ind.ecial education teacher. They have been married for a year and a half and reside in Washington, Ind.
Heidi and Mark Birenbaum served in Guatemala together from 1991-1993 and married two years later upon their return to the U.S. Although the couple initially didnt hit it off when training began, they formed a deep relationship and became "two peas in a pod" by the time training was complete. "You truly get to know someone in a completely different light in a third-world country," explained Heidi, who is the new president of the Gulf Coast Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group. The couple and their children reside in Houston.
Eastern Caribbean, 1985-1987
Jim Cuffe and his wife Elizabeth met at Peace Corps staging in Dallas in 1985, where sparks began to fly. However, after their training in Barbados, Elizabeth remained on the island while Jim was assigned elsewhere, to St. Lucia. Three months into their service, Jim helped arrange for Elizabeth to move her assignment to St. Lucia. Jim set up a library at a research and development foundation dedicated to bananas, and Elizabeth worked with an NGO in micro-business and did legal work for the law library of the federal court. The couple wed in 1993. Jim is currently the executive secretary at Peace Corps headquarters, and Elizabeth is an attorney for the general counsel of the Treasury Department. The Cuffes reside in Baltimore.
Note: An additional story of a couple that met in the Peace Corps was featured in the February 14 edition of the Washington Post. Visit A Little Inspiration for You Lovebirds to read the story of Oliver Culley and Miranda Moore.
The Peace Corps is celebrating a 45-year legacy of service at home and abroad, and a 30-year high for volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 182,000 volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 138 countries where volunteers have served. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.