In an era when boomers can’t imagine themselves sitting in a rocking chair on the porch during retirement, the chance to travel, all-expenses paid, halfway around the world and serve others is a unique opportunity that only a Peace Corps Volunteer can experience.
Imagine serving with 8,000 volunteers who contribute to President John F. Kennedy’s legacy of service by teaching classrooms full of children eager to learn, starting a community business venture that supports economic development, showing a village how to conserve natural resources, educating an entire town about HIV/AIDS and public health or bringing information technology to the developing world.
“For 50-plus volunteers, the benefits of serving in the Peace Corps go beyond making a difference in other people’s lives,” said Ronald Tschetter, Peace Corps director. “The Peace Corps offers meaningful work opportunities and a wonderful way to experience living in other parts of the world. Hundreds of current volunteers have found retirement and other life transitions the perfect time to realize their dream of joining the Peace Corps.”
Developing countries benefit from the impacts of volunteers like Prabha Mokshagundam of Flower Mound, who spent 15 years in software development when she realized she wanted to do something different and more satisfying. Armed with an undergraduate degree in chemistry and math, a master’s degree in software development and volunteer experience as a tutor, she became a Peace Corps teacher trainer.
Mokshagundam was assigned to a college in Uganda where she learned her students had a fear of math, because the math curriculum didn’t include fundamental skills to prepare them to teach the children.
Mokshagundam developed a curriculum that gave the soon-to-be teachers the skills to succeed in the classroom while conquering their fear. By the time she completed Peace Corps service, the college had the top mathematics program in the region.
While she successfully taught the teachers, her cross-cultural and business sense helped her recognize the community needed economic development. She initiated a discussion with the local people to see if they were interested in starting a business.
“A couple of people told me they respect me for my white hair,” she said. “They were also happy to have somebody with experience that they could rely on.”
The women encouraged Mokshagundam to find funding for them to purchase sewing machines to produce clothing. Realizing that all of the neighboring communities were trying to market clothing, Mokshagundam decided instead to find a more profitable venture.
One day as she was walking around she said she noticed most of the communities’ bananas were wasted because of the lack of consumption - and realized if they could dry the fruit it could be exported globally.
Research, patience and grant funding helped her find a company that was willing to export the dried bananas to Britain, she said, noting that for more than a year the Ugandan community members have been supplying fruit to the company.
Although Mokshagundam completed her service in August 2006, she still receives e-mails saying the venture is working and is successful.
Very often Peace Corps volunteers return with stories like Mokshagundam’s, Tschetter said, noting that the Peace Corps’ 27-month commitment gives volunteers with technical expertise time to integrate into the community and then gain knowledge from local people to provide sustainable solutions.
Prospective applicants are invited to take the next step and explore how the Peace Corps can fit into their future by joining former volunteers like Mokshagundam for a special event.
Past volunteers will share their experiences at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak Street, Dallas.
For more information about the event or Peace Corps, call 800-424-8580, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site at www.peacecorps.gov.