The toughest degree you'll ever love

B Y - A L E X - C R E V A R

UGA alumni have been mainstays of the Peace Corps since 1961, and the partnership has now evolved into a master's degree program.

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, "Certainly, I can!" Then find out how to do it.—Theodore Roosevelt

The world has changed a great deal since John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961. Unfortunately, those changes have made the agency even more important to Third World countries today than it was four decades ago. The first Peace Corps volunteers were often just hearty souls with a yen to help those less fortunate and see the world in the process. They shared a desire to be a part of what JFK called an opportunity to "exercise more fully our responsibility in the great common cause of world development." Those who possessed that desire—people like Larry Dendy (ABJ '65) —got a lot more than they bargained for.

"My project was poultry development," says Dendy, who was sent to southern India in 1965 (see sidebar below). "There had been some success in the northern part of the country with chickens, so with the cooperation and tolerance of my very friendly and helpful co-workers I was able to get a poultry house built in one village. But it was just too hot in the south; nearly all the chickens died. The building was never used to raise chickens."

Leslie Marbury, an environmental economics Master's student, bonds with Ghanaian children during training.

Although prerequisites for Peace Corps volunteers still include an open mind, a child's heart, and a flame of righteousness, the world is now a global community with highly specialized issues and problems. Yesterday's volunteers, like Dendy—who had limited knowledge of poultry development, based on a few weeks of training—might today be replaced by schooled nutrition experts with degrees in family health. Today's volunteer is expected to not only raise chickens but plan health programs to eliminate infectious disease. Four decades and 155,000 Peace Corps volunteers after JFK uttered these words—"To those peoples in huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves"—what the world needs is caring people with cutting-edge skills.

To this end, the University of Georgia has joined a 38-university Master's International Program (MIP), working with the Peace Corps to send graduate students to one of the 78 countries the agency serves. In these countries, the students fine-tune their skills, earn master's degrees, and act as grassroots U.S. ambassadors.

"MIP participants are valuable because they come with a technical knowledge that our 'general' type volunteers don't have," says the Peace Corps' university programs coordinator Sueko Kumagai. "They are able to tackle higher-level, broader-ranged types of assignments and can act as a technical resource for other volunteers."

Top: First-decade volunteer Larry Dendy (ABJ '65) learned the difference between idealism and reality.

Bottom: John English taught English in the then-British colony of Borneo before becoming a UGA journalism prof. (See his sidebar below.)

The MIP agreement, signed in late August by the Peace Corps' acting director Charles Baquet III and UGA's senior vice president and provost Karen Holbrook, made the partnership official.

"The MIP is a win, win, win situation," says Baquet. "The University attracts top graduate students, these students receive an experience to die for, and the Peace Corps gets highly motivated volunteers."

Gordhan Patel, dean of the graduate school, says the partnership is just the first of many collaborations between UGA and the Peace Corps. What makes it so appealing, says Patel, is the chance to offer students the type of real-world education that's often overlooked by American universities.

"We need to get away from the one place, silo mentality," warns Patel. "We need to get away from the chauvinistic attitude the U.S. has—and we will learn a lot. We look forward to a wonderful marriage with the Peace Corps."

When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.—Henry Kaiser

The Master's International Program began in 1987 as the brainchild of Rutgers University faculty members, who approached the Peace Corps with a proposal to incorporate volunteer service with an existing graduate program. It was a symbiotic relationship: Rutgers was responding to pressure from students who wanted hands-on experience in conjunction with in-class studies, and the Peace Corps—at a low-point in enrollment—needed new methods to recruit and train higher-skilled volunteers.

Rude awakening in India

Larry Dendy (ABJ '65), assistant to the director of UGA Communications, left for the Peace Corps immediately following graduation. Married just nine months earlier, he and wife Gail were sent to Kovvur in southern India, along the Godavari River on the Bay of Bengal.

Sent to help raise poultry, Dendy quickly learned that 110-degree temperature is a death sentence for chickens, and that most people in the area were vegetarians. After receiving 600 baby chicks, most of which died in the first few days, the poultry project was declared a bust.

"You have to remember that this was very early in the Peace Corps' existence," says Dendy. "The idealistic notion still prevailed that with three months of training, young Americans became instant experts on how to 'save the world'—sometimes in places that weren't all that eager to be saved.

"My reasons for going into the Peace Corps weren't all that noble," says Dendy. "I saw it as a chance to travel, have an adventure, and reap a little life experience. It was also a way to forestall my military service, which seemed attractive. "But I did learn to appreciate another culture first-hand—and my good fortune to live in America."

Fears of Borneo, then adopted citizenry

UGA journalism professor John English was a member of the first group to travel to Malaysia in the first year of the Peace Corps. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English in Borneo.

English arrived with visions and concerns about the famous circus character, "The Wild Man of Borneo," who was a headhunter. While English was there, he learned to sit in peaceful silence. He built a swing set for the village kids, and also founded a Boy Scout troop with donated uniforms. He replaced his stereotypes with long hikes and personal discovery. Today, he still feels like an adopted citizen.

"I grew up in Oklahoma—but I really grew up in Borneo," says English. "It was the first time I was self-sufficient and it was the first time I learned that I actually had expertise and could make a real, long-term difference in people's lives.

"My time there absolutely changed my life. It gave me the desire to see the world and be a part of a global society. I honestly would not trade my Peace Corps experience for anything."

"The timing was right for the partnership," recalls Baquet, who started his 35-year career in international diplomacy as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Somali Republic from 1965-67. "No organization, especially one which can do so much good, can afford to resist change. In the 1980s we hit a low. People were not returning our phone calls—it was a product of the times and attitudes. So, we had to investigate ways to roll with the changes.

"Now the Peace Corps is again surging with rising numbers and proposed congressional budget increases. By the end of the year we will have almost 8,000 volunteers around the world—8,000 grass-roots ambassadors—at the expense of only 1 percent of the U.S. foreign assistance budget. That means we are far-and-away, pound-for-pound, the best foreign affairs dollars spent. MIP shows our commitment to making the most of our resources."

Acting Director Baquet began his life's work as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1965.

Since MIP's inception in 1987, more than 200 people have received master's degrees. MIP publicity is an invaluable recruitment tool; with every new MIP volunteer and every new school that joins the program, a new community of Peace Corps supporters is born.

"We haven't had any problems attracting schools," says Kumagai. "Since 'internationalization' is a buzz-word in academic circles right now, we have many schools calling us to see if it is possible to start programs. It's great for everyone involved to offer a chance for volunteers to 'hit the ground running' once they get to their village. It becomes an exciting tool for universities and the Peace Corps alike."

They are able because they think they are able.—Vergil

Shortly after UGA approached the Peace Corps about becoming an MIP school and the Peace Corps found UGA's international agriculture department's curricula appropriate for a partnership, department director Ed Kanemasu began to search for the inaugural MIP student. Albany's Leslie Marbury was a perfect fit. An honor student with French as a second language, she had received a certificate in international agriculture and completed an internship program in Morocco.

One month after the MIP partnership was formalized, UGA sent Marbury to Ghana, in northwest Africa on the Gold Coast. She will earn the majority of her MIP credits during the two-year volunteer commitment she made to the Peace Corps. She will finish her course work when she returns from Ghana.

"This program is not for all students," says Kanemasu. "It will take a special person who is able to focus on the large number of day-to-day obstacles and the wide variety of issues needed to volunteer in the Peace Corps. A student who has a problem being without a TV and stereo will not do well.

"Leslie is bubbly and loves people. When you combine that with intelligence and not needing to be pampered, you've got an excellent UGA representative across the earth." The University currently has only one MIP slot, but Kanemasu hopes that will increase with the program's maturity.

Marbury's project in Ghana is to help the village of Liati Wote utilize its immediate surroundings—the country's tallest point, Mt. Afadjato, and the Tagbo Waterfall—to develop community-based ecotourism without negative impact to the culture. The expectation is that Marbury will use her knowledge and experience in environmental economics to improve the area's economic health for years to come—a potentially daunting task.

"I'm a little intimidated because I don't know exactly what to expect—and I fear making large mistakes," says Marbury. "But the people are so wonderful. The main thing is to get to know them and live respectfully within their customs. These people know so much. It's important to listen. I am just getting used to eating cassava roots and fish, and learning the Ghanaian tongue. The rest will take time."

If Marbury's experience is like that of other UGA grads (see sidebar on p. 37) who have bushwhacked their way across the globe to put their creative and philanthropic energies to work, she will return home a richer person. At worst, she will have an insider's view of problems that developing countries—which represent two-thirds of the world's population—face; at best, she will rest easier knowing she put herself on the line for her fellow humans and worked hard to improve Ghana's economic health.

UGA International Agriculture interns, Audrey Looper (far left) and Vicki Collins (far right) helped Moroccans with soil erosion.

My hopes are not always realized, but I always hope.—Ovid

While most of her teenage friends were consumed with dating and fitting in at school, Shaney Williams (BSEd '95, MEd '97) worried about the plight of others. Of particular concern to her were the mentally retarded.

"I learned of the Peace Corps when I started to volunteer with the mentally retarded," Williams recalls. "I wanted to help on a bigger level. Right after high school, I wanted to volunteer for the Peace Corps—but I needed skills."

By the time Williams stepped off the plane as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kingston, Jamaica, she was equipped with two degrees in special education. But in a country where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line, she also had to develop a thick skin to deal with the extreme conditions.

Williams' assignment that first summer in 1997 was a job with a non-profit organization, Dedicated to the Development of the Disabled. She created sexual education programs, gathering materials on her own to acquaint Jamaicans with sexually transmitted diseases and how to protect themselves. She also worked with the mentally retarded, teaching social and pre-vocational skills. Now in her third year on the island, Williams works in the Jamaican Peace Corps office training rookies.

"I had a tough time when I first arrived," she admits. "I came here to create and assist programs for the mentally handicapped and sexually abused. There's a different regard given both of those issues in Jamaica than in the U.S. Pregnancy among the mentally retarded is routine in Jamaica, and it's not uncommon to find adults never leaving orphanages dedicated to mentally handicapped children. But every day I find motivation because of the inner beauty of these people, and a knowledge that goes so far beyond most so-called 'educations.' Every day, I realize I am being helped far more than I am helping."

When Baquet visited UGA to meet with students interested in the Peace Corps, he told a hushed audience about the "gift" he received by joining the Peace Corps. As an English teacher in the Somali Republic, his work was thwarted time and again by tribal conflicts which left some of his students bloodied or dead. So, the New Orleans native learned to chew ceremonial cot (root) with tribal cheikhs (chiefs) and to negotiate compromise instead of bloodshed. The trade he learned, as a result, was diplomacy. The addiction which afflicted him then—and to this day—was the art of listening. He would never have cultivated either, he says, had he listened to his friends, who told him he was foolish to leave a country with so much for one with so little.

"But there is little use trying to make others understand why you do such things," he says. "You do them because you understand."

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