Older Americans are key players abroad
When Dorothy Wooldridge arrived in Ghana as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the age of 79, villagers had difficulty accepting that she was there to work.
They came to discover just how capable she was. Wooldridge became a key catalyst who helped her village transform a cocoa plantation into a revenue-generating tourist hub.
“By the time I left, I was a legend in Ghana,” Wooldridge said.
To celebrate Older Americans Month, the Peace Corps recognizes Wooldridge and the many older Americans like her who serve as Volunteers. Because of their extensive skills and experience, older Volunteers often make significant contributions in their communities abroad.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), senior volunteering reached a 10-year high in 2013 with and one in three volunteers at or over the age of 55. Many seniors are choosing to serve the global community as Peace Corps Volunteers. Currently, 7 percent of Peace Corps Volunteers are over the age of 50, and many serve in their sixties, seventies, and beyond. There is no upper age limit to qualify.
At recruitment events, Wooldridge shares stories from her time in Ghana and encourages potential applicants who are older.
“I love sharing my story… with people who say, ‘I wanted to do that when I was in college, but my parents wouldn’t let me go, and I’m too old now,’” Wooldridge said.
Marcee Chipman is a 68-year-old Volunteer nearing the completion of her service in Senegal. Chipman’s 40 years of experience in law and business, as well as her fluency in French, have been essential in helping her integrate with and serve her community of St. Louis.
“My main project was helping several shops promote their products to tourists,” Chipman said. “My secondary project was to create walking-tour pamphlets and utilize social media to promote local art, history and a national bird reserve. Finally, I also taught a course on entrepreneurship for young electricians.”
In addition to bringing her lifetime of work experience, Chipman feels that being an older Volunteer has given her credibility in Senegal.
“Age has high standing and respect in the culture, thus being older than the life expectancy of 65 in Senegal has opened many doors,” Chipman said. “If they learn that I am an attorney in the U.S., the respect doubles.”
Yet Chipman feels that the challenges during her Volunteer experience have had little to do with age.
“My biggest challenge was the first year, accepting and integrating with the culture of Senegal. Learning how they think and why they think as they do,” Chipman said. “I had to learn that time is not important here—if it doesn’t happen today, it will happen tomorrow. I now approach things with small steps. I’ve learned to recognize what is the most important: peace of mind and tranquility.”
Ultimately, it has been Chipman’s attitude that has kept her open to all that life has to offer, including the experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.
“Actual retirement will not happen; that is not my way of life,” Chipman said. “There are many roads to follow and doors to open, people to meet and hands to hold. My personal energy thrives on new challenges and adventures. The game clock is still running!”