This year, the Peace Corps is commemorating its 50th anniversary. To date, more than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries, as teachers, health workers and technical and agricultural advisors. Most volunteers are in their 20s or 30s. Only seven percent are over age 50. But the Peace Corps is actively recruiting senior volunteers, and Barbara Joe is helping that effort.
Barbara Joe joined the Peace Corps 10 years ago, at the age of 62. A tragedy moved her to sign up:
“I had a son who died in 1994, in an after-work accident. [It is ] a terrible blow, I think, to lose your child. So for a time there, I was paralyzed. But I kind of revived at the thought of going into the Peace Corps and giving service," Joe said. "So I think it was helpful to me to be in the Peace Corps. I would have to say, for me, personally, it was a healing experience.”
Joe was assigned to Honduras, as a health volunteer. She enjoyed the experience so much, she decided to extend her tour for two years beyond the usual two-year assignment. Joe says the Peace Corps is a win-win situation for everyone: the volunteers, and the country they’re assigned to.
“First of all, it’s good for the volunteers, because they get to be part, really, of another culture, another language, another environment, becoming part of a community, so I think that’s the great privilege for us," Joe noted. "Then, of course, is the benefit to the host country of our knowledge and expertise that we are trying to share. And I think that it’s enriching to them to know us.”
Now 73, Joe has recounted her Peace Corps experiences in a book titled: "Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras."
“I wanted to reach retiring baby boomers here in the United States, people in their late 50s, 60s, who are retiring and who may be trying to think of what to do next, maybe they’re healthy, maybe they’re idealistic, ready for something new, and I think they should consider the Peace Corps,” Joe added.
Barbara Joe lives in the Washington, DC area, working as a freelance writer, and Spanish translator and interpreter. She returns to Honduras almost every year with a medical group which provides surgery for children in poor communities.