Peace Corps panelists talk of trials, triumphs
By Andrew Wells, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 11, 2008
In the West African seventh grade classroom of Meg Fuchs '01 -- which held about 35 desks for her 55 students -- Fuchs sought creative means to teach her students about safe sex and preventing the spread of AIDS.
On one occasion, Fuchs asked each of her students to bring a condom to class to avoid receiving a zero-percent grade.
Fuchs' experiences were among those recounted at "Inspiring Service for the Common Good," a panel discussion held in the Rockefeller Center on July 8.
The event featured five speakers, including three Dartmouth alumni, who recounted their experiences in the volunteer community.
"I had always wanted to change the world; everyone does to some degree or another," Kiva Wilson '04, who worked in El Salvador from 2004 to 2006 helping farmers and youths improve farming techniques, said at the event. "Peace Corps seemed like the most tangible way to do something."
The event began with a showing of the PBS documentary "American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver," which biographied Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps and the creator of the volunteer programs HeadStart, AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America and Job Corps.
Several of the speakers recounted the challenges they faced during their time in the organization.
Fuchs, who served in the West African island nation of Cape Verde, cited the initial language barrier and her first experience as a minority as obstacles, but said she overcame these roadblocks with the help of the local population.
"I was amazed at the hospitality and friendliness I experienced," Fuchs said.
"I stuck out like a sore thumb," he added. "That was hard for me to get used to at first, but the people in my town were so patient with me and with my language skills."
Panelists agreed that their work in the Peace Corps provided them with valuable experience for later ventures.
"The skills that you acquire when you are doing international service are infinitely transferable to whatever you pursue ultimately in your career," said Jacque Caglia, who worked in the Dominican Republic on community health issues and has since volunteered as a HeadStart teacher and worked as a VISTA volunteer.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edgar May, another of the event's panelists, similarly pointed to the benefits of community service.Although he had no volunteer experience with the Peace Corps, May was the only participant who personally knew Shriver.
"Working for Sarge Shriver was like joining a monastery," May said. "You joined up for what he believed was a religious and moral crusade."
After speaking, members of the panel hosted "informal breakout discussions," in which the audience of the packed auditorium was divided into groups of about five to 10 to focus on the specific topics including public health, education and the environment.
The panel was organized by Rockefeller Center First Year Fellows Ian Rorick '10, Maura Cass '10 and Joanna Pucci '10 as part of the Sophomore Summer Venture, a program that sponsors dinner discussions each week throughout the term to discuss national and world issues.