Colleges President Mark D. Gearan was recently featured in an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette about the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary, and the role of Worcester County, Massachusetts residents in the organization’s history.
Noting Gearan is a Gardner, Mass., native, the article discusses a meeting Gearan recalled with the minister of education in Tanzania “who told him that 30 years earlier his first teacher, and the first American he ever met, was a Peace Corps volunteer.”
It quotes Gearan, “I thought, `Here is someone now who is setting education policy for his country. His image and notion of the best teacher he ever had was a Peace Corps volunteer teacher.'”
While serving as Director of the Peace Corps, Gearan opened programs in South Africa, Jordan, Mozambique and Bangladesh and returned volunteers to Haiti after a five-year absence. He also created the successful Crisis Corps, which sends volunteers to crisis areas to help during emergencies. At the Colleges, he has emphasized that service learning and study abroad are key to developing global citizenship and has created numerous opportunities for students.
This year, six HWS students are entering the Peace Corps. The Hobart and William Smith Colleges ranked No. 17 in the category of “Small Colleges and Universities” on the Peace Corps’ annual rankings of Peace Corps volunteer-producing schools, with 17 alumni and alumnae currently serving. Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, 183 HWS graduates have joined the Peace Corps.
The full article follows.
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Peace Corps memories indelible
Lee Hammel • March 17, 2011
It was an idea for its times, an organization that has delivered aid to needy countries around the world while enriching the lives of volunteers who delivered it.
The Peace Corps was born 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy signed it into life March 1, 1961. As a senator, Kennedy had spoken on the campaign trail the year before, urging Americans to serve the less fortunate abroad.
Whether Kennedy was an agent of change or the product of it, Americans listened to him just two years after “The Ugly American” was published, a book raising the specter of a world taken over by communism because of American insensitivity to the Third World.
And so, as the Kingston Trio seemed to awaken a feeling of clean-cut activism in a generation coming of age in the late 1950s, a 70-year-old president left the White House. And the 43-year-old Democrat was sworn in, announcing to the world “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” in his inaugural, as well as in the creation of the Peace Corps less than two months later.
Since then more than 200,000 Americans have volunteered to serve in 139 countries. The host countries have invited them to work on infrastructure, education, health and AIDs, agriculture and environmental projects.
Currently 8,655 volunteers commit to 27 months of training and service in 77 countries for an agency with a $410 million budget.
Central Massachusetts has fully participated, with many dozens of returned volunteers living in the city of Worcester alone, and with 17 Clark University undergraduate alumni serving as Peace Corps volunteers currently.
Gardner native Mark D. Gearan served as Peace Corps director from 1995 to 1999. Mr. Gearan, now president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, illustrated the value of the agency beyond the projects at any given moment.
He recalled meeting with the minister of education in Tanzania, who told him that 30 years earlier his first teacher, and the first American he ever met, was a Peace Corps volunteer.
“I thought, `Here is someone now who is setting education policy for his country,'” Mr. Gearan said. “His image and notion of the best teacher he ever had was a Peace Corps volunteer teacher.”
Worcester County volunteers reflect the breadth of experience in the Peace Corps.
Ray A. Frieden, of 41 Burncoat St., Worcester, participated in the 1969 student strike at Harvard University. A student at the graduate school of design, Mr. Frieden was against the Vietnam war – as most of the strikers were – but mostly he was appalled at what he saw as the university’s insensitivity to its neighbors, believing it should be offering health services in the Longwood area of Boston.
Mr. Frieden, who was not eager to be drafted, and his wife, Nancy, signed up for the Peace Corps. She said it was “very important for me at that time to serve my country because the guys had the draft and I felt that all women and men should serve their country.”
They wound up in Iran, where she taught English as a second language. Mr. Frieden served as a manager in the Ministry of the Interior, helping with city planning. He worked with more senior Iranian planners who were not as comfortable as he was in converting the design of alleys in a 6,000-year-old culture to a modern vehicular traffic pattern.
Mr. Frieden said, “Both my wife and I loved the United States. We loved Jack Kennedy.
“The opportunity to serve the country and do it in a peaceful way was too much to pass over.”
Even with the revelation to Mrs. Frieden from Iranians that the United States had helped overthrow the country’s elected government in 1953, she said, “To see this country from a distance you realize what a great place America is, how lucky we are.”
Mr. Frieden is director of the state Bureau of Public Housing Development and Construction, distributing and overseeing funds to state-supported public housing such as Curtis Apartments. Mrs. Frieden is a Title I reading and writing teacher for the fourth and fifth grades at West Street School in Southbridge.
Esayas Wureta, 26, returned from Mongolia in July. He’s a student in the graduate international development program at Clark University, as well as a homeless outreach worker for the Worcester Youth Center.
International experience is nothing new for Mr. Wureta, an ethnic Eritrean born in a refugee camp in Sudan to parents who fled war in their native country. After arriving in the United States at age 10, he grew up in Silver Spring, Md.
A juvenile probation worker before joining the Peace Corps, Mr. Wureta arrived in Mongolia about 18 years after it emerged from the Soviet orbit. “My job was to help the school implement and adopt the culture of a child-friendly school,” he said.
He had to do some adapting himself, as the temperature dropped to 60 below zero, he said, which even killed cattle. Fortunately the gert – a felt tent – in which he lived had a plentiful supply of cow dung and coal to burn for warmth.
“Peace Corps has made me more aware of cross-cultural sensitivity,” Mr. Wureta said, which comes in handy working at Worcester Youth Center with its clientele of Asians, Latinos, blacks and white Europeans.
At the other end of Peace Corps’ development, Arthur Young was among the first 130 volunteers when he went to Tanganyika in 1961. Mr. Young, 77, was the city engineer in Gardner before his retirement in 2001.
He met Ann Quink, a nurse from Ware, while they both served as volunteers in the country that is now part of Tanzania.
Asked whether he was caught up in the spirit of the times when he joined, Mr. Young said, “I guess there was a little idealism there, but I think it was more for adventure than for anything.”
A 1955 Penn State graduate with a civil engineering degree, he served as a navigator in the Air Force and was doing road construction for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana when he signed up with the Peace Corps. He made a half-hearted attempt to learn Swahili and built farm-to market roads while in the country.
“The whole focus of my engineering career is to try to improve the physical infrastructure wherever I’m working. There’s a little bit of idealism in that,” Mr. Young mused.
He’s pretty much given up engineering these days. Lately, he assists elderly people with money management, helping to balance their checkbooks, for example, through Montachusett Home Care, and he also helps them do their taxes – on a volunteer basis.
Members here: There are 300 members in the Worcester Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
How to join: Any returned volunteer in Worcester County interested in joining the group, which is part of the Boston RPCV, may call Virginia Swain at (508) 245-6843 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The meetings: The group meets quarterly for social gatherings.