News / USA

Technology Changes Peace Corps Experience

Cell phones and Internet transform how volunteers do their work and stay in touch

Technology helps Peace Corps volunteer Sonia Morhange, seen here in Rwanda, stay in touch with family and friends back in the United States.
Technology helps Peace Corps volunteer Sonia Morhange, seen here in Rwanda, stay in touch with family and friends back in the United States.

Multimedia

Audio
Zack Baddorf

In the early 1980s, Gordy Mengel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in an isolated community in what was then called Zaire, now Congo.  

"I was placed somewhere in the middle part of the country," says Mengel. "And in the small community where I lived there was no post office, so getting letters out, which was basically the only means of communication, was very challenging.

Letters would take weeks, or months, to arrive.

Hi-tech times

But now, thanks to technology, that is no longer the case. Computers, cells phones and the Internet have changed the way Peace Corps volunteers do their work and stay in touch.

Now a Peace Corps Programming and Training Officer in Rwanda, Mengel says improved communication technology has changed how people serve in the Peace Corps.

Back when he was a volunteer, he lost track of friends and family back in the United States so he had no choice but to integrate into the community.

"These days, with the advent of the internet and cell phone service and so forth, I still see volunteers having some of that experience but again, when they go back to their homes, instead of turning out the kerosene light and going to bed," says Mengel, "they can get on Skype and they give a quick call to mom and dad back at home. And that part of the experience has changed."

Peace Corps volunteers like Sonia Morhange, seen here in Rwanda, can exchange project information and success stories quickly over the phone and the Web.
Peace Corps volunteers like Sonia Morhange, seen here in Rwanda, can exchange project information and success stories quickly over the phone and the Web.

Staying in touch

Sonia Morhange is one of about 100 Peace Corps volunteers now serving in Rwanda. The San Diego native works at an organization in Kigali called Never Again Rwanda, organizing plays about the country's 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead.  

She catches up with friends in California over Skype, talks on the phone with her mom and emails her dad. She hasn't mailed a single letter through the postal system and can't imagine waiting months for one to arrive.  

"I know, I can't believe it. I can't imagine having been a Peace Corps volunteer in the 70s or the 80s or even the early 90s," says Sonia Morhange. "I'm just so used to everyone having a cell phone that works internationally. I'm very, very lucky in the fact that where I live I have wireless internet and that makes it a lot easier."

This week, Sonia's parents visited her in Rwanda. Her mother, Beverly, is proud Sonia joined the Peace Corps but worries about her daughter's health and safety. But she's been able to keep tabs on her daughter since they talk regularly by phone. Like Sonia, Beverly thinks waiting for letters would be too slow.

"That would be horrible, torture," says Beverly. "I'm very close to her and it would be very difficult."

John Reddy, Peace Corps Rwanda country director, says connectivity provides volunteers with a support system that wasn't available in the past.
John Reddy, Peace Corps Rwanda country director, says connectivity provides volunteers with a support system that wasn't available in the past.

Helping hand

Communication technology in the 21st century has done more than provide an easy way to call home.

Peace Corps Rwanda country director John Reddy was a volunteer in 1967 in the tiny, land-locked African nation of Lesotho. Since then, he's spent nearly a quarter of a century working for the Peace Corps in Africa.

He says easy access to the Internet allows today's Peace Corps volunteers to research subjects that can help their communities, from online teaching resources to information on gardening, irrigation and construction.

Volunteers also exchange project information and success stories quickly over the phone and the Web. And, they can get donations for their projects online from around the world through the Peace Corps Partnership Program.

Support system

But still, 24-year-old Sonia Morhange says it's nice to know that her friends and family are always just a phone call or a few clicks away.  

"Peace Corps is full of ups and downs and I mean you're thrown into an environment that you're not familiar with. You're out of your element. No matter what, you're going to have breakdowns and moments of...just moments where you need help and you need support."

John Reddy agrees that the added connectivity provides volunteers with a support system that wasn't available in the early days of the Peace Corps. For the volunteers, he says, it's helpful.  

"It's not always helpful to Peace Corps staff," says Reddy. "If a volunteer is telling their family they're having a bad day or a bad week, and then the family member calls Peace Corps Washington and Peace Corps Washington calls me and I have to find the volunteer and see what the problem was."

Reddy says Peace Corps staff used to have more independence and admits he sometimes longs for the days before the internet and good phone service.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs