December 5, 2006 > Peace Corps provides hope, brotherhood, and brighter futures
Peace Corps provides hope, brotherhood, and brighter futures
by Julie Grabowski
Within this all too often bleak and disheartening world scarred by war and disaster, there exists a strong and persistent beacon of hope to many people in need. The Peace Corps established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, endures as a way to promote peace and friendship throughout the world by asking U.S. citizens to work and reside in developing countries.
The program began with outreach in six countries, and has since expanded its services to over 138, including familiar locations such as Russia, India, and Mexico, and lesser-known countries like Eritrea, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Lesotho, and Montserrat. Participating nations communicate their needs to the Peace Corps which then looks for volunteers possessing the requested skills. Enrollment requires a two-year service commitment, following three months of onsite training. There are currently 7,810 volunteers and trainees serving in 69 posts in 75 countries.
Education and community development, health and HIV/AIDS, and environmental programs are the largest work areas in the program, though volunteers are also involved in agriculture, business development, and information technology. Public Affairs Specialist and former volunteer Nathan Sargent says that agriculture is actually their smallest work area, and most likely the public's primary idea of what service in the Peace Corps involves. A variety of jobs exist as needs arise and change, and working environments range from islands, mountain tops, and deserts to rural communities and urban cities.
Volunteers can voice regional preferences, and be assured that safety and health conditions have been assessed before hand, volunteers' safety being the Peace Corps highest priority. Sargent says they look for people with a particular skill set, level of cross-cultural understanding, and flexibility with jobs and destinations, but "Interest in helping first and foremost." The goal is to transfer skills and form relationships as a member of the community. A sense of adventure is also helpful. "It really is the adventure of a lifetime," confirms Sargent, who volunteered in Armenia for two years. After graduate school and working various jobs he returned to the program, now serving in the San Francisco regional office. "Nothing ever really matched the level of fulfillment I had with the Peace Corps."
Local resident Nicole DeLisi has always been philanthropically minded, volunteering at free kitchens and the Neonatal unit at UCSF throughout her twenty-nine years. Working for a stockbroker, DeLisi was turned off by materialism; decided she had had enough of the business world and joined the Peace Corps. "We were not happy," laughs DeLisi's mother Cece on first hearing about her daughter's plans. They felt there were plenty of needs here in the states, and with their only other child in New York, liked having Nicole close by. They reluctantly heard their daughter's wishes and came around. DeLisi was assigned to Corozal, Belize, and has been working in education for the past one and a half years.
"I am thoroughly enjoying my job as a teacher!" DeLisi writes in an e-mail home. "I am teaching English and Math to youth that range between the ages of 14 and 20. They are considered 'high risk youth'; they have been kicked out of school, dropped out, have never attended, ESL, or have been released from prison with hopes of developing a future. They have experienced so much in their young lives and the majority comes from extremely dysfunctional homes." She tells of hungry children without enough food in their homes, those with parents in prison for alcoholism and drug abuse, and a young man missing school for a court date because he stabbed the stepfather who brutally beat his mother. "The school has no resources and no money; we struggle each day to provide an education; however, we (three teachers) are the only stability they have in their lives and we dedicate ourselves as best that we can, supporting them emotionally, physically, and scholastically."
Cece and Peter DeLisi visited their daughter in Belize last Christmas, experiencing the impoverished country firsthand. There is no industry in Corozal, says Mrs. DeLisi. All of the schools are private and run by religious organizations; education is not open to everyone due to lack of money and transportation, and no one can afford college. She says Nicole has managed to get a couple of promising kids into higher education, despite the lack of resources. Mrs. DeLisi calls the school "very rudimentary" with no chalk, old uniforms, practically nothing of what they need. She and her husband were moved to set up a fund to help fill these needs; contributions so far have enabled the start of a lunch program, and provided new uniforms, shoes, crayons, and paper.
"I'm amazed at what they give up," says Mrs. DeLisi of Peace Corps volunteers. They sleep on the floor, have no hot water or utilities, and have to learn to live with harsh realities day after day. But she knows her daughter gets a deep satisfaction out of her work helping others. "She's making a big difference in the lives of these kids." In addition to her teaching, Nicole DeLisi has also been involved in AIDS programs, and conducted classes on feelings and communication for adults and older kids who don't have strong relationships in which they can talk to people. Her dedication and selfless service to people in need is an inspiration, and proof that the world can be changed and made brighter when people give the simplest thing they have: themselves.
The Peace Corps provides an unmatchable outlet for memorable, meaningful service, striving to promote understanding and brotherhood, and the building of a better future for citizens of the world. Those wanting to join the program must be18 years of age, a U.S. citizen, and in good health. To apply or learn more visit www.peacecorps.gov, or call the San Francisco regional office at (510) 637-1520. The office is located at 1301 Clay Street, Suite 620N, Oakland, CA 94612.