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Pay is low, but experiences are priceless

A past Peace Corps volunteer encourages Central High students to join and reap the benefits of helping people in impoverished countries.

By Maryan Pelland
Published March 8, 2007


In its 45th anniversary year, the Peace Corps is conscripting past volunteers to turn up the volume on its message of hope, and Spring Hill's Brian Moore took that message to area high schools recently.

The Peace Corps was born in response to John F. Kennedy's admonishment to "ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

The Corps seeks young adventurers to join the 187,000 past and present volunteers who have, since 1961, served in 139 countries.

Currently 7,700 Americans are trying to take a positive image of the United States to 39 nations needing help around the world. Moore, who spent two years volunteering in Central and South America, told Central High students last week that they will gain more than they give if they choose to apply.

There's no doubt, the 63-year-old told his young audience, that going to an impoverished country has its pitfalls and drawbacks.

"In a sense, you'll be poor," Moore said. "It's a real wake-up. We got $100 per month. But the Peace Corps gave me an adventurous trip through my whole life."

He painted a picture of life without pocket cash, cars and iPods. Then he told the teens what he learned about himself, the Spanish he picked up, and the college degree that opened the door to every opportunity he's had.

The Corps seems a perfect government project - maybe that's why it has lasted so long, Moore mused. He says it's grass roots, up there with apple pie and motherhood. Moore explained the Corps helps low-income people, is nonpartisan and makes Americans stand out as peacemakers.

"Especially in time of war," Moore said, "the Peace Corps has more impact than diplomats, intelligence or military. In some countries, the only thing the people or governments know of America is the Peace Corps."

Central High teens seemed fascinated, asking Moore targeted questions about training, commitment and day-to-day experiences.

Moore said there's hardship, adventure and even a social life, since volunteers are placed in groups, sometimes as many as 120 Americans together steeped in local cultures.

"I lived in Puerto Rico with a family with 13 children," Moore recalled. "We slept four in a bed and I ended up with a very itchy scalp, not knowing it was head lice until later."

You learn to deal with small discomforts and challenges, he told the audience, and then recounted how he found lifelong friends and even his family because of the Corps. Moore's wife is Panamanian, his son is Mexican and he is a native Californian transplanted to Florida.

Volunteers must be 18 or have a high school diploma. There is no upper age limit - Moore remembers a 77-year-old couple in his group - but applicants are screened for medical and mental health.

"You may ride motorcycles, trains and boats. You'll go up mountains and see so many things. It will change you. I encourage you to explore the possibilities," he said.

Fast Facts:

To learn more

For information and applications, visit any post office or community college, contact a congressional representative or visit www.peacecorp.gov on the Web.