Peace Corps: Its a Family Affair
June 21, 2004WASHINGTON, D.C., June 21, 2004- Thirty-seven year-old Matthew Onega left many things behind when he departed for Africa to become a Peace Corps volunteer – except his parents. Former Peace Corps volunteers in the Solomon Islands, Albert and Cheryl Onega arrived in Africa only months after Matthew for their second tour in the Corps.
It was Matthew’s parents who first introduced him to the Peace Corps. "I was able to go to my parent’s old village in the Solomon Islands when they returned for a visit and was able to see first-hand the people they had met and relationships they had developed. They had such a wonderful experience, I thought it would be refreshing to be involved in such a positive organization," recalled Matthew.
On March 17, 2003, Matthew arrived in Botswana, southern Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer. Combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana is the main focus of the newly re-established program, and Matthew's assignment includes HIV/AIDS program development and education. Since his arrival, Matthew has had the opportunity to meet with President Bush and Secretary Powell during their visit to Botswana last July, as well as meeting President Mogae of Botswana. He also presented a paper on behalf of his working community to a national conference on AIDS.
Albert, 64, and Cheryl, 61, first became Peace Corps volunteers in 1997. With their four children out of college and living on their own, the couple felt as if they were 'treading water.' They remembered seeing their peers growing old with little excitement and interest in their lives, and not being satisfied with the prospect of 'slowing down.' "We decided to keep active and use our knowledge and experience in a useful way," said Albert. Cheryl added, "I felt that what knowledge I have and my life experiences could be used in a positive way to help others."
The Onega's did just that. In the Solomon Islands, Albert taught agriculture at a rural training center, while Cheryl taught English and business. In addition, she held village women's workshops and Girl Guide training. They enjoyed the new culture and environment of the Islands, and both expressed a wonderful sense of accomplishment, from the appreciation they received in their communities to meeting and working with younger volunteers.
Having such a rewarding experience in the Solomon Islands prompted the Onegas to join again and "continue with the chosen lifestyle." In September 2003, Albert and Cheryl arrived in Cameroon, West Africa. Albert is currently teaching agriforestry at a regional college and doing extension work with local farm groups. Cheryl also teaches agroforestry to improve soil fertility and plans to help the primary school in the future. "Learning a new language (French) and living in a new culture has recharged our sense of purpose," Albert writes about their new experience.
Together in Africa, the Onega’s and Matthew are able to share their experiences through letters and phone calls. More importantly, they look forward to visiting each other’s communities and seeing the other’s projects first-hand.
Cheryl Onega is extremely proud of her son; “He has a lot to offer the community he works in. He has taken the time to be of service to people truly in need.” Albert and his wife “feel a sense of pride in that our son holds many of the same ideals and sense of purpose that we have and is demonstrating many of the attributes we have tried to instill in our children."
Matthew is even more proud to be volunteering and sharing with other volunteers and his community that his parents are also doing what he is doing, and in Africa as well.
Albert and Cheryl Onega call Lore City, Ohio, home and have been married for 40 years. They have four grown children and eight grandchildren. Before their Peace Corps experience, Albert worked as an electrical engineer for 31 years afldren. Before their Peace Corps experience, Albert worked as an electrical engineer for 31 years after graduating from Pennsylvania State University, and Cheryl worked with the East Guernsey Schools in Old Washington, Ohio, for 12 years. Both were raised on farms and were able to contribute those skills to their Peace Corps service.
Matthew Onega grew up in Lore City, Ohio, graduated from Ohio University in 1993, and served in the Army National Guard for six years. Matthew last lived in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he worked for an auto insurance agency before leaving for the Peace Corps.