© The Daily Californian
November 10, 1988
Peace Corps volunteers learn about world
by Don MacLaren
While many people in the United States contemplate visiting developing countries, few have spent two years working in one.
Paula Leslie and Joe Leitmann, recently returned Peace Corps volunteers, said they had the opportunity to do just that.
"I was feeling like I really wanted to do something meaningful…to learn about different parts of the world," Leslie said.
Her decision to join the Peace Corps led her to Paraguay, she said, where she worked in the home extension program.
"I tried to encourage people to build wood burning stoves," she said, adding that many Paraguayan women cook on the ground which "can cause a lot of back discomfort (and) accidents."
She also tried to get Paraguayans to "recognize the importance of women in development" in areas such as health and food production, she said.
Leitmann said he started a center for rural technology while serving in the first group of Peace Corps volunteers in the Cook Islands.
"We were an object of curiosity," he said "because we could speak the language, were familiar with local customs and…brought a lot of new ideas into their lives."
He said the Cook Islanders' "only other experience with Maori-speaking Americans had been with Mormon missionaries….They were glad we didn't proselytize."
The impressions the Islanders had of Americans came from pirated videos, Newsweek magazine, tourists and the missionaries, he said.
Leitmann said the Peace Corps afforded him "the opportunity to take on a fair amount of responsibility. When you get out of college, you're competing with a lot of other people. Therefore it makes you more competitive when you get back to the states…(if) you have skills other young people don't."
Both Leitmann and Leslie said they found their experiences working with people in developing nations rewarding.
"I thought I made a positive contribution to the Cook Islanders, but I think they taught me a lot more than I was able to give them. I made a lot of friends," Leitmann said.
Leslie said "the highlight of the Peace Corps was the people. The Paraguayans are wonderful."
The Peace Corps was launched when presidential candidate John Kennedy addressed a group of students at the University of Michigan.
Michigan students expressed interest when Kennedy proposed a "youth service program" and organized a petition to support it.
Leslie said the Peace Corps has evolved from "generalist people to people with technical specialties. The average age of the volunteer is 30, whereas in the '60s it was 22."
Leitmann said, however, that adults of all ages, majors and specialties are considered for positions as volunteers.
Both said their outlook changed after their tours.
"I came back with a renewed commitment to change things and work for economic development (and) an improved attitude toward the values of relaxation and leading a balanced life," Leitmann said.
"I think the culture shock is worse when returning," Leslie said. "The two hardest things for me to adjust to (were) how wasteful Americans are and the technological advances. Actually, I had a hard time using the phone again," she said.