Corps Values

 

Class of ’66, ’00, ’04 | When Edward Raupp WG’66 was a business and economics professor at Augsburg College in Minnesota and at Waldorf College in Iowa, he often recommended the Peace Corps to his students. One day, after retiring from teaching—he’d already retired from his military career as a full colonel and from his business career as an executive at Westinghouse Electric and other companies—it occurred to him that he should take his own advice and sign up.

The Peace Corps posted Raupp to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, where he taught English language and literature at Gori State University. He also worked with donors from Minnesota and colleagues in Georgia to build the country’s first English-language library. Last June, he extended his service for a third year, in order to fulfill a request from the mother of Georgia’s president to help found a new university. The school, Georgian University of Social Sciences, already has 300 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Raupp will continue to serve there as vice rector and as an economics professor until his third year is up, and he may apply for a fourth year in the Peace Corps to serve in another country.

Putting on his hat as a former business executive for a moment, Raupp notes an additional incentive for those in the Peace Corps: He’d be more likely to hire them. “Successful service as a Peace Corps volunteer shows aspects of character that cannot easily be discerned from other experiences,” he says.

Successful Peace Corps service is not easy to define. Justin Andrews C’04 has spent the past two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fatick, a small regional capital in the dusty, hot interior of Senegal, West Africa. He works on small-business-development projects, helping people write business plans, develop marketing strategies, and apply for funding.

Andrews lives in two dark rooms in a tin-roofed concrete house. While the bathroom is a closet-sized space off his bedroom, with a squat toilet and a showerhead, he’s lucky to have indoor plumbing. Across the street, his host family gets its water from an outdoor tap.

Another luxury rests on the desk across from his bed: a laptop, connected to high-speed DSL. And so, sitting in air-conditioned offices in Manhattan, Andrews’ friends read postings on his blog about his life in Fatick and swap emails with him. One of his friends just bought a new BMW. Andrews, who graduated from Penn in 2004 with a double major in economics and international relations and a minor in French, watched his friends take Wall Street jobs, complete with signing bonuses and impressive salaries.

The fact that he doesn’t know anyone else from Penn who joined the Peace Corps strikes him as odd, considering that the information session he attended in Huntsman Hall his senior year was packed with other students. He suggests that few Penn students, with all the lucrative options available to them upon graduation, would choose to spend two years for practically no pay in some remote, underdeveloped corner of the globe.

Yet since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, Penn has sent 786 students into the program—enough to rank Penn easily among the top 50 contributing schools in the Peace Corps’ history. This year alone, there are 47 volunteers with Penn degrees serving somewhere in the world, the eighth-highest number among similar-sized universities. Most are recent graduates, though not all, as Raupp will attest. Among the Ivies, only Cornell has more alumni currently serving. Like Penn, the Peace Corps is selective about the applicants it accepts.

It’s obvious that Andrews wouldn’t trade his experience in Fatick for a life supply of brand-new BMWs. He knows exactly how this fits in to his long-term goals. “One day, I’ll maybe be in the World Bank,” he says, sounding determined to eliminate that maybe. “And I’ll see a report, and I’ll be able to have a feeling about how it could really play out and what the numbers represent in reality.”

When Tamsir Sall, a telecenter owner in Fatick, came to Andrews with a plan to expand his telecenter into a cyber café, Andrews helped him revise his business plan and apply for funding—successfully, even though months later, the check has yet to arrive. Sall is unfazed, and his cheerful demeanor only turns serious when asked if Andrews had really been helpful.

“Yes,” he replies forcefully. “He helped me a lot. They wouldn’t have given me the money without him.”

Hanging proudly above a doorway in his host family’s home is a framed picture of Andrews with the entire family—grandmother, aunts, cousins. His host-mother, Binta, who has no children of her own, calls him her “white son.”

“The hardest thing will be leaving them,” says Andrews. The experience, he adds, “can’t not change you.”

Eric Griffin C’00 Gr’07, back in his American life for more than two years now, would certainly agree with that sentiment. “My whole perspective on life changed,” he says of his experience in the Peace Corps. “I almost didn’t come back.”

In fact, at first, he didn’t come back. As soon as he completed his initial two-year commitment, he signed back on for a third year.

When you consider Griffin’s experience at Penn, his stint as a health volunteer in Kiribati—a group of islands some 1,300 miles south of Hawaii—seems almost pre-ordained. He was an anthropology major with a focus on cultures in the South Pacific, and had done volunteer work with Penn’s Urban Nutrition Initiative and a trauma-monitoring census program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

But unlike Andrews, who had kept the Peace Corps as an option in the back of his mind throughout his undergrad years, the thought had not occurred to Griffin. “I didn’t even realize the Peace Corps existed until I started looking into it,” he says. It was Dr. Frank Johnston, one of Griffin’s anthropology mentors and his boss at the Urban Nutrition Initiative, who suggested that Griffin consider the Peace Corps.

“Eric is a real idealist,” says Johnston, and when Griffin mentioned that he wanted some international experience, Johnston thought of the Peace Corps. “I’ve had good experiences with other students who went to the Peace Corps,” he says, “and thought it was worth his exploring it.”

Griffin remembers learning as much or more from his initial mistakes as from his later accomplishments. “My first six months, I tried to implement a project on a school garden,” he says. Malnourishment is a significant problem in Kiribati, and he’d had plenty of practice working on similar projects with the Urban Nutrition Initiative. But the garden was “not something that they were interested in really working on,” he says.

“You have to throw out all your preconceived notions of what needs to get done,” he adds. “Be open to what people are telling you. Figure out what kinds of issues are most important to them. The ones that they talk about tend to be the things that they’re willing to spend time and energy working on and doing better.”

Griffin then teamed up with a youth group to create a series of skits that imparted lessons on family relationships and alcohol. The skits were a hit, and as Griffin and his troupe of Kiribatians toured the local villages, he was able gauge reactions and establish his presence as a resource for the islanders.

Later projects built on that foundation. In his third year, Griffin was finally able to integrate his experience in Philadelphia with his experience in Kiribati. Like all his successful projects, it started with an observation. “I noticed that there were a lot of car crashes in the capital,” he says.

He worked with the Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization to design and implement an injury-surveillance program at the hospital in the capital, along the lines of the Children’s Hospital Trauma Link project he’d worked on as an undergrad. The goal was to use information gathered by ER staff to design an effective injury-prevention system later on. Two years later, the injury-surveillance program lives on in Kiribati, and Griffin recently heard the news he’d been hoping to hear: Road-crash injuries have decreased.

“What you’re really doing,” Griffin says of this project, but also of his work as a Peace Corps volunteer in general, “is planting a seed for something later on.”

—Naomi Schwarz C’03 G’03



Profiles : Events :
Notes : Obituaries

After Penn, the Peace Corps
Architect of place Peter Dominick GAr’71
Big-band “orchestrator” Emily Tabin W’78

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