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Spring 2003
Volume 39, No. 3
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PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar

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Pomona teaches students how to explore the possibilities. The Peace Corps teaches them how to serve. Pairing them taught a few Pomona alumni how to be better global citizens...

Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, generations of Pomona College graduates have lent their hands, minds and hearts to the institution with a mission to "promote world peace and friendship."

In March, the Peace Corps acknowledged every Peace Corps volunteer from Pomona College—236 of them and counting—by presenting the school with a peace pole, an 8-foot tall, white monument with the words "Let Peace Prevail on Earth" printed in a different language on each of the pole’s four sides.

"Pomona College has made a tremendous contribution to our agency's global legacy of public service," said Michaela Brehm, Peace Corps spokeswoman. "The college’s students apply the skills and knowledge they acquired during their time at Pomona to help improve the lives of many people in need. The important role that these students play in promoting hope, opportunity and freedom cannot be underestimated."

Throughout the years, Pomona College alumni who volunteered in the Peace Corps have been united in their desire to make a difference in the world. Some see their missions as a success, others wonder if their contributions mattered. But for all of them, the Peace Corps made an indelible difference in their lives and forever changed the way they viewed the world. Recently, a handful of Pomona College alumni recalled their days in the Peace Corps and the impact it had on them.

Jim Ludden ’61
Jim Ludden taught chemistry and mathematics at a secondary school in Arochuku, Nigeria, from 1963 to 1965. During several vacations, he helped build a pipe organ in the town of Calabar.

The Peace Corps gave me an opportunity to experience another culture closely, and learning new corporate cultures in the United States is not quite sufficient any longer. I can more readily accept some of the cultural and philosophical differences that we encounter when dealing with people of different backgrounds, economic levels, and heritage. I also better accept people where they are, after seeing what the really poor have to put up with.

At one point I seriously wondered if, by teaching Western science and math to West Africans, I was really doing the world any good. I never really could answer the question, but realized that if I didn't believe that I was helping my only alternative was despair. A couple of my fellow volunteers met that fate and had to be sent home early.

Working in an underdeveloped country like Nigeria gave me a sense of technical omnipotence that has persisted, for better or worse. So I've flitted from one thing to another as the opportunity arose: pipe organ building, roofing engineering, Ph.D. in forest economics, research science, management consulting and, finally, computing, figuring that would pay for a while.

The experience in Nigeria meant enough to me that I'd willingly do it again. My wife, Carol, and I have actually applied for an overseas mission where I would be useful as a technician. We also travel to a retreat center in Cuernavaca, Mexico, run by a group of 250 Benedictine nuns who work mostly with poor, indigenous people in different areas, including a very poor region of northern Nicaragua. The Peace Corps experience gave me a good preparation for visits there.

When I visit Latin America I'm constantly puttering around, fixing the car, the water pump, oiling rusty hinges, etc. But I try to learn from the poor, too—something that I did not do very well in the Peace Corps, where I mostly read books and visited other volunteers in my spare time.

I would recommend the Peace Corps to anyone willing to learn more about themselves and another culture, and to possibly be a great help to someone.

Dennis Aronson ’63 and Susan (Girdler) Aronson ’63
Almost 40 years ago, after graduating from Pomona College in 1963, Susan (Girdler) and I were married and joined the Peace Corps. Our assignment: Afghanistan.

The Peace Corps experience had a profound influence on our lives, our careers, our subsequent volunteer work, many of our personal relationships and our appreciation of being United States citizens.

We both taught English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Afghanistan from 1963 to 1965. After our Peace Corps service, we continued in TEFL in Saudi Arabia and in Lebanon. (I took my MA in TEFL at the American University of Beirut.) Back in the United States, Susan taught foreign students, and we were instrumental in establishing an ESL program in West Virginia.

Susan was always dedicated to helping people in need. She cared for disadvantaged foster babies, coordinated CROP Walks (to provide food overseas and in the United States) and headed up numerous outreach projects throughout her life. One of her major volunteer efforts was editing the newsletter for Friends of Afghanistan, an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association. I became the editor after Susan passed away in May 2002.

We met many of our friends through the Peace Corps experience, including several students and Afghan colleagues with whom we have kept in touch over the years. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a former student became a political prisoner and was threatened to be killed. He was released after Amnesty International intervened—and we became AI members.

Many of our activities were focused on the third goal of the Peace Corps: bringing the world back home. We gave many presentations about the experience of living in and learning about a different culture and the way the experience made us appreciate what we have here in the United States: a democratic system of government with freedom of speech and movement, educational opportunities and an abundance of clean food and water. (I still appreciate being able to use water out of a tap and not having to boil drinking water.)

In short, the Peace Corps experience had a major impact on our lives.

Chris Henze ’63
Chris Henze was an English and physical education instructor in Danané, Ivory Coast, from 1964 to 1966.

Although inspired by President Kennedy and the idealism of the sixties, I joined the Peace Corps because of the war in Vietnam. I've never been back to Ivory Coast since I returned from my assignment, but my peaceful village of Danané has been in the news recently as the scene of ethnic strife and civil war. Aside from the fighting, the country looks much the same. I wonder, did the Peace Corps make a difference?

In retrospect, it definitely made a difference to me. I have often thought of my life as an unbroken chain from the Peace Corps to teaching in California, where I met my wife of 35 years now, to 25 years in the Foreign Service and semi-retirement in France. My Peace Corps experience and my Pomona anthropology major with a heavy dose of French led quite naturally to an international career.

I recently recovered some 53 letters I had written to my parents from West Africa nearly 40 years ago. Fascinating stuff. I was pretty tough back then. I edited excerpts and proudly dedicated them to my children. They haven't found time to read them!

Margaret Pollack ’78
I remember vividly as a child of the 1960s and the "boob-tube" generation, the famous Peace Corps commercial depicting a glass of water, with the question: Is the glass half empty or half full? If you think it's half empty, maybe the Peace Corps is not for you. If you think it's half full, you've got the first thing we look for in Peace Corps people. Optimism." I knew from age 10 that that's what I wanted to do—to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.

From September 1978 to August 1980, I served as a community health worker, working with tuberculosis patients in a 178,000 populace rural, mountainous community smack dab in the middle of South Korea. Did I cure my county of TB? No. But through the hard work and countless sputum tests, chest x-rays, counseling sessions, and home visits, my fellow volunteers and I are humbled by, yet proud of the fact that over the 15 years that Peace Corps volunteers worked side-by-side with our Korean counterparts, we significantly reduced the TB-rate in South Korea and enhanced public awareness of the disease a thousand-fold. Today, the Republic of Korea is virtually TB-free.

I will never forget the welcome I received from the family I lived with for my two years. Raw cow stomach and liver—true rural Korean delicacies. Not a fan of liver in any form (I had previously never tried the stomach of any red-blooded animal, so I was game), I was hard pressed not to take a few bites in real respect and joy for the welcoming I was receiving. Thank goodness for Korean red peppers: anything is palatable with enough hot sauce!

The memories are endless. I will never forget the baby I helped deliver (we did receive some basic training in this) or the old man (one of my patients) who died in my arms. Or my colleagues at my health center who taught me how to net fish along a river (and fry them over an open fire, with lots of singing and story telling), or villagers who taught me how to plant rice, and then, in the fall, how to cut it down. Or my Korean family who always seemed to understand everything I tried to say, or my Korean grandmother who took great pride in introducing me to her friends in the bathhouse (you've never been so humbled as to meet someone for the first time buck naked). Or the rural high school girl—Mi-suk—to whom I taught English in the evenings—only to return to South Korea five years later to find out she was now a graduate student at the most prestigious women's college in all of South Korea (Ewha University). Or the smell of burning rice paddies in the late fall after the harvest was in, when it was a time of "high skies and fat horses."

To this day, I still say, "There are two things in life that made a difference in who I am today: Pomona College and the Peace Corps." Pomona College taught me how to explore the possibilities. Peace Corps taught me how to serve. The two in combination taught me how to be a better global citizen.

Amie Bishop ’82
While at Pomona, I did a semester abroad in France, which opened my eyes to the world beyond the United States. That, combined with a growing realization of the inequity that exists in the world regarding access to basic resources and opportunities inspired me to consider the Peace Corps.

I was in Morocco from 1983 to 1985. Although I started off as a teacher of English as a foreign language in a high school in a small, rural town, I switched programs and ended up collaborating with another volunteer to found a school for children with cerebral palsy based in a hospital in Marrakech.

The school was the first of its kind in the country and we were overwhelmed with demand from families who had children with other disabilities as well—kids with Down Syndrome, hearing impairment, autism and polio. We took as many as we could and also ended up traveling to nearby towns to do home visits with kids who couldn't make the trip to Marrakech. It was incredibly rewarding work.

My Peace Corps experience set me on a course of international health work, which I continue today. After returning to the U.S., I got a masters’ degree in public health and social work. Following school, I got a job with a non-profit international health organization called the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) where I have been for the past 14 years. I now oversee all of PATH’s health programs in the former Soviet Union, as well as work on various reproductive health initiatives in other countries.

Shapari Enshayan ’99
I joined the Peace Corps because of a desire to live and work abroad and see another part of the world.

I was an environmental volunteer from 2000 to 2002 in Bulgaria in the regional capital city of Haskovo. My primary job was at an non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes energy efficiency, but we were also encouraged to get active in the community with other groups. So while I did some projects with the NGO, I was also volunteering at the high schools and daycare centers.

Because I returned from the Peace Corps relatively recently (eight months ago), Bulgaria and my Peace Corps experience in general is still quite vivid and play an important role in my life. Also, as a student in international affairs at Columbia University, my experience in Bulgaria is invaluable as it gives me a point of reference that I would not have had otherwise.

Kathy Sepponen ’00
I studied international relations at Pomona, focusing on development and gender issues. The Peace Corps was a natural extension of my studies as far as gaining practical experience in doing development work. I also wanted to do something drastically different from writing papers and doing academic research so when I was nominated for the Food Security Program/Small Livestock in Nicaragua, that sealed the deal.

From 2000 to 2002, I lived in San Antonio de las Nubes, San Juan del Rio Coco, Madriz, Nicaragua (translated is Saint Anthony of the Clouds, Saint John of the Coconut River, Madriz, Nicaragua). It was a small village of 250 people, a one-and-a-half-hour walk from the nearest bus or building with electricity (and six freaking hours from the nearest functional phone) in the heart of the coffee mountains of the northern provinces. I worked on crop diversification, soil conservation, fruit tree grafting, animal husbandry (mostly chickens and pigs), livestock vaccinations, family gardens, vermiculture, composting, my beloved women's group and medicinal plants.

Anecdotes from Nicaragua get pretty intense and often times messy. My first week there during training I was palpating cows and learning how to butcher chickens. After my first month I was using hitchhiking as my main form of transport. Then there was all those bouts with amoebic dysentery. I loved my time there immensely and I think the most telling moments of my service were how such utterly different surroundings in which I was a painfully obvious outsider came to feel like home. Walking one-and-a-half hours to buy rice came to seem normal. Bathing with a 5-gallon bucket and a little pan became second nature. Electricity became an urban legend for me, and that was fine. The members of my community became not only my assignments but friends who I cherish and miss dearly. Eating rice and beans for every meal, well, I never got used to that.

In the fall I will be attending the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins to get my masters with the intention of getting paid for doing Peace Corps-type work in the future. My heart and soul are in doing the type of work that I did in Nicaragua. In my mind it requires a delicate balance between innocence and experience—the innocence to accept what is new and strange with excitement and willingness to learn and the experience to know how to make good decisions and listen to your instincts. If anything, once you come back home to the States you can appreciate what you have so much more. To this day a good burrito makes me ridiculously happy. Electricity is pretty cool too. I really do miss hitchhiking, however.

—Deborah Haar Clark