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Peace Corps: 'toughest job, you'll ever love'

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

McDonough resident Deanna Campbell has fond memories of living in rural parts of the Dominican Republic.

There is little running water in the country, few modern conveniences, but she visits the place twice a year.

Campbell said she never misses an opportunity to tell people about her 27-month experience volunteering and providing Peace Corps health education to Dominican villagers.

"I've always been the biggest advocate for Peace Corps," Campbell said. "Any young person that I can find, I tell them to do it. I think that it was the best experience.

Service advocate

"I always wanted to give back in a way that would be gratifying to myself, and it was a life-changing experience for me. The Peace Corps motto is 'the toughest job, you'll ever love,' and it's absolutely true."

Campbell, 32, works as an epidemiologist for the Public Health Division of the Georgia Department of Human Resources in Atlanta.

Between September 2002 and December 2004, she served in an HIV/AIDS Health Program geared toward reaching young Dominicans and preventing HIV in the teen population. While there, she also provided community education for women's reproductive health, along with child survival and nutrition practices.

"I worked with teens, and we traveled all over the country delivering messages about HIV prevention and awareness," Campbell said. "It's a very rural area where I worked. There were a lot of sugar cane fields."

For two years, she canvassed a small rural village of about 350 people near the Capital City of Santa Domingo, where there are many Haitian immigrants who had a high incidence of HIV infections.

In 2003, the HIV/AIDS infection rate for the island residents was nearly 2 percent (about 88,000 people) living with HIV/AIDS, according to data published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

"We created a task force for health with the community," Campbell said. "We built drains and helped give them running water."

She said her desire to help was born during high school.

"In the 90s, we really had a large incidence of HIV/AIDS cases," she said.

As a student in urban Mt. Vernon, N.Y., she got involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and volunteered as a peer educator on the issue.

The Peace Corps is currently searching for other like Campbell, wanting to make a difference and willing to sacrifice several months in their life to do it.

China's calling

Peace Corps officials say there are teaching assignments open for China and Mongolia. The organization is recruiting qualified teachers for several university assignments around the world. There is a high demand for skilled teachers with classroom and teacher-training experience in China and Mongolia.

Peace Corps education volunteers placed in China and Mongolia will introduce teaching methods and encourage critical thinking in a variety of classroom settings in the country. They also may work in curricula or materials development, and train teachers in conversational English, academic subjects, or instruction methodologies.

Patrick Sansbury, of Spartanburg, S.C., has been serving in China for four months.

"The opportunity to teach here is an amazing one and I would advise any teacher to apply for Peace Corps in China," Sansbury said. "You get to work with highly motivated students who want to improve their English to obtain a good job, and to support their families."

As part of its on-going effort to bring more skilled and experienced volunteers to the field, the Peace Corps is reaching out to mid-career and retiring teachers who are considering new alternatives to traditional retirement.

"For my Chinese students, one of my primary goals is instilling confidence in them," said Megan Smith, of Taylor, S.C., who taught primary school in Iowa and South Carolina. "Most of them have the tools and knowledge necessary to speak English, but many are still quite terrified of doing it."

The most competitive candidates have - a minimum of three years of classroom experience; advanced degrees in teaching, education, TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language), English, primary or secondary education, or linguistics; or teacher trainer experience. Other relevant experience includes working with adult literacy programs, or writing for literary magazines or newspapers.

Nationwide, China has a shortage of 500,000 English teachers. In 1993, the first group of 18 Peace Corps volunteers were sent at the request of the Chinese government. Volunteers participated in a pilot project of English education at the university level. Fourteen years have passed and English education continues to be the top priority for the universities in China.

Currently, 114 volunteers are teaching English in more than 62 universities, including five medical colleges, and four vocational colleges.

Peace Corps Volunteers are known as "U.S.-China Friendship Volunteers." Volunteers teach English at colleges and universities within four regions of Western China, Sichuan, Guizhou, Gansu, and Chongqing.

The Peace Corps/Mongolia program began with an English education project in 1991 and has expanded to include volunteers working in numerous sectors directly relevant to national development priorities. In July 2005, President Nambaryn Enkhbayar and Prime Minister Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj both expressed their desire for increased numbers of Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia.

Since 1961, more than 190,000 volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries where volunteers have served. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. There is no upper age limit. The program is free and requires, in some cases, a commitment of two years, and three additional months of training.