Peace Corps alumni reflect on organization’s 50th anniversary

Celebrating birthdays while scaling mountains in Africa.

Being the only English speaker in a rural Costa Rican village.

Spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS.

These are all the momentous experiences Peace Corps alumni shared at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the organization during GW’s Alumni Weekend.

“Universities have always been the backbone of the Peace Corps,” Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams said.

Founded in 1961, over 1,050 GW alumni have served, or are currently serving, in the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps provides training, support and networking for volunteers willing to contribute 27 months of their lives to the organization’s mission.

“They don’t just throw you in a country and say dig up a potato, it’s all you have; they train you,” Williams said.

Annemarie Emmet, a 1975 graduate of GW, served in the Peace Corps from 2002 to 2004 and celebrated her 72nd, 73rd and 74th birthdays in the mountains of Lesotho, Africa.

As a volunteer, Emmet received training in HIV and AIDS education and promoted safe sex practices in Lesotho.

“Every third person in the population of 2 million people was HIV positive; if I was able to make one person put on a condom before having unprotected sex and prevented them from contracting HIV then that would make my journey worthwhile,” Emmet said.

Sandra Feldman, a 1965 graduate of GW and Peace Corps volunteer, said her personal experience greatly influenced both her life and career decisions.

Feldman was the first Peace Corps volunteer, and the only English speaker, in the community in northern Costa Rica in which she served from 1965 to 1967.

“It was a small village,” Feldman said, “No paved streets, no restaurants, no hotels; it had a school that kids attended only until the 6th grade.”

The school principal had hesitated to supply bus transportation to a higher-education school, citing a lack of money.

“The villagers’ revenge was to locate the bus stop right in front of the principal’s house,” Feldman said. “On the first day, when the bus driver tooted the horn, the principal came running out of his house to see 30 students running towards the bus – this was the first time the villagers realized their power.”

She now runs a Costa Rican tour company.

As vast as volunteers’ impact is on their community, alumni are also a testament to the mark their experience with the Peace Corps leaves within them.

“We are in 77 countries,” Williams said. “Young and old people are rolling up their sleeves to serve humanity.”

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