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 Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid