July 11, 2013 1 Comment
I think that’s what President John F. Kennedy was thinking — on a macro level, of course — when he stroked the executive order that created the United States Peace Corps back in 1961. Friendship, whether on a personal or global scale, is a powerful thing. He must have hoped that by sending young, eager and energetic Americans out into the world, he might change it for the better. Today — 52 years and 210,000 Americans later — Peace Corps volunteers are still making friends and helping in 139 countries. That’s a lot of friendships
Last week a press release crossed my desk telling me about Angelina Loverde (’11) who left last month to begin a 27-month stint in China. Along with 146 other Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in China, Angelina will be learning Mandarin Chinese and getting acclimated to the culture during the next few months while living with a host family. Then she’ll begin teaching English to university students. The 2011 graduate in International Relations with a minor in Asian studies was a member of the International Learning Community while she was a student at JMU. She spent her childhood in Thailand where her father — a Peace Corps volunteer himself then — met her mother. Angelina graduated from the American School in Switzerland.
In addition to her international experience, Angelina has also interned or worked in the office of Senator Dick Durbin, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy and the White House.
The press release about Angelina also noted: “More than 440 JMU graduates have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.”
I wondered about those other “Angelinas” who decided to take two years out of their lives to live far away from home — often in less than comfortable conditions to make friends for the U.S.
Back in 1967, Angelina’s counterpart would have been Louise Schullery Cox (’67). In a story in Montpelier, the precursor to Madison magazine, I learned that Louise grew so close to a friend in Sierra Leone, her host country, that the woman named her infant after her. Obviously, Louise, the elementary education graduate of Madison College, became a friend to the mother of Louise of Sierra Leone.
More recently, “Angelina” was Michael Waidmann (’10). In September 2010, Michael traveled as a business volunteer to Ethiopia. The College of Business graduate with a degree in marketing helped rebuild nine classrooms in a local school. According to a story on the Peace Corps website about Michael, more than 1,500 elementary-age students share only 11 classrooms “made primarily of mud and eucalyptus branches.”
Quoted in the story, Michael said: “In a country where education is the only means to a better life, the reality of the primary school is heartbreaking….By adding cement flooring, a brick exterior, and one extra classroom, the spread of disease will be drastically reduced, rats will be kept outside, flooding will be prevented, and the classroom held under a tree can move to a proper school environment.”
Another JMU “Angelina” is James Rodriguez. Born to parents who immigrated from El Salvador, James graduated from JMU with a degree in International Affairs and Spanish. He spent his two years in Drohobych, Ukraine where he “taught English to tenth and eleventh grade students,” according to the Peace Corps website.
There are many more. Hundreds more, in fact. Like Meme McKee (’99) who served in Nicaragua and Erica Bleeg (’96), a JMU faculty member, who served in Benin.
All giving two years to form lasting friendships and change lives. In our JMU vernacular, that’s “being the change,” living a meaningful life and putting it on the line with time and talents to make a difference. Making friends by being friends — like Angelina, Louise, Michael, James, Meme and Erica.
What is perhaps most encouraging, though, is that since 1961 — when the Peace Corps had few counterparts — humanitarian NGOs and international help-giving organizations have proliferated, and hundreds more JMU graduates have served there as well, which means that along with the 44o Peace Corps “Angelinas,” there are hundreds more eager JMU friends all trying to change the world.
One friend at a time.
We’d love to hear from more JMU Peace Corps “Angelinas.” If you were one or know one, let us know in a comment or an email to Bethechange@jmu.edu