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 British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid