Peace Corps Volunteers enlighten community

Spinnaker

The Peace Corps, an organization of volunteers established by John F. Kennedy March 1, 1961, promotes selfless service to countries in need.

The First Coast Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Inc. serves as an alumni group of returned Peace Corps volunteers, friends and family. Over 150 FCRPC members served in over 66 countries. They will be sharing stories of travel and experience Feb. 27 at the Main Jacksonville Public Library branch downtown.

“My wife and I served in Columbia, and we ran an educational TV channel for the locals,” said FCRPC board member David Miron. “We took the best Columbian science teacher and broadcast her in every Columbian classroom for the first 15 minutes of class.”

Miron volunteered in Columbia from 1963-1970. He and his wife still visit Cali, the town where they volunteered. Now part of FCRPC, he said he has only one goal: to promote Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps sends volunteers to rural areas all over the world. One of the prerequisites for joining is one must have a college degree.

“It isn’t easy getting into Peace Corps,” said John Paul Martinez, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, Peace Corps volunteer and 2007 UNF alumnus. “You have to have a degree, a full background check and a series of physical exams to make sure you can survive the hardships that come with living in a rural area.”

Martinez volunteered in Peru from 2008-2009, managing a local coffee bean business. With his degree in business management and international business, he helped the coffee bean business find local cafes they could supply beans to. Coming from a Spanish background, Martinez was able to communicate with the locals and teach them business management skills.

“Learning a new language is the primary benefit that comes out of Peace Corps,” Miron said. “Then comes the experience of service and all the skills brought back to the U.S. to be shared with others.”

When overseas, volunteers stay with families that mostly speak only their native tongue. Peace Corps representatives hold intensive language training for the volunteers there, teaching everything from beginner’s courses to expert courses that include local slang and dialects.

“When you’re with a foreign family who doesn’t know English at all, you need tell them somehow that you need to use the bathroom,” Martinez said. “It’s a do-or-die situation, which actually forces you to learn the language pretty quickly.”

The skills learned in the Peace Corps can be applied to communities in the U.S. Martinez said he learned how to live with bare necessities and look beyond the materialistic world. The lack of technology in Peru taught him what was truly needed to survive and what was only a luxury. He is currently raising funds to donate soccer balls to the children in Peru with his program, “The Soccer Challenge.”

With all the experiences Peace Corps brought to the community, Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton announced March 1-7 to be recognized as Peace Corps week, active from Jan. 1, 2011.

“Peace Corps Week is an opportunity to honor Peace Corps volunteers and the service they have provided to the global community and to our own communities,” Peyton said in his proclamation of Peace Corps week. “We especially thank the Floridians who have generously given their time, energy and caring to those in need.”

If you would like to meet FCRPC members, hear their stories first hand and get involved with Peace Corps, be sure to stop by the Peace Corps Expo Feb. 27th at the Main Library downtown from 2-5 p.m.

PEACE CORPS BY THE NUMBERS:
Nearly 7,000 Floridians have served in the Peace Corps over the past 50 years
246 Floridians are working as Peace Corps volunteers
150 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers live in Jacksonville
More than 200,000 people have volunteered in 135 countries
8,655 American volunteers share their skills in 77 countries