Tuesday, October 6, 2009

El fin

As George Harrison would say, all things must pass, apparently including this Peace Corps adventure. As some of you may know, I have a hearing loss that prevents me from hearing well in places with lots of background noise. I told the Peace Corps all about this beforehand and they accepted me into the program. However, when the training started I realized that I could not understand anything that was being said in the classrooms of 45-60 students. With about 20% of the class paying attention and with kids that were supposed to be in class yelling in the courtyard, I wasn't able to distinguish the sounds that I wanted to hear in the classroom. I talked with those in charge of the training program and they said that it would be easy to accommodate my problem by sending me to a very small site where the classes would be smaller and the students more respectful. Then, two days after getting this reassurance, I was told that I had a “doctor's appointment” in Managua. When I got there, I was told that they were medically separating me from the Peace Corps because of my hearing problem. A few days later, I was on a plane back to Portland.

Goodbye to Jinotepe

Click above to see pictures

I think that the Peace Corps needs to completely change the way they use older volunteers. As much as we might not want to believe it, our bodies are just not the same as the 21-24 year olds that predominate the ranks of the Peace Corps. Most people 50 and older are eliminated during the rigorous year long medical screening process. For the few that survive that, medical separation seems a constant possibility. I think that if the Peace Corps really wants older volunteers (I found out about it in an AARP ad), they should establish a special training group of older volunteers in each country. Then, while caring for the special needs of those of us who are older, they could utilize the amazing amount of experience and expertize that we have. Instead of putting me into a class of 60 kids where I couldn't hear, why not let me develop curriculum with education officials, especially in primary education, the field I was in for 30 years? For retired doctors, they could work on solving tropical diseases with local doctors, not be sent to give talks on malaria or HIV, as they do with young people right out of college. Those with lots of business experience could help local business leaders to pull the country get out of the precarious economic situation it is in. In other words, we need a smarter Peace Corps, not a government agency that seems to think that they are going to produce cookie cutter volunteers, no matter what their age, experience, or medical history.

Now that my 27 month adventure has turned into a 4 week “vacation”, what is next? Well, I'm moving to a small town in Vermont that has a great liberal arts college. Maybe there, through volunteer work, I can make my own version of the Peace Corps, helping people through my experience, enjoying life, and staying healthy at the same time.

1 comment:

  1. my daughter is in the same group that you went to Nicarauga with, Rachael. I read your latest blog and was very saddened that you have to leave, and agree that the Peace Corps is missing out by not making room for your experience and desire. best of luck in the next phase of your adventure.