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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid