UF honored for its Peace Corps role


Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:57 p.m.

A representative of the Peace Corps recognized the University of Florida Monday night as the No. 1 producer of volunteers for the Peace Corps in the Southeast.

Allene Zanger, the regional director of programs for inter-America and the Pacific, presented a plaque to the dean of the International Center, Dennis Jett, and spoke to former and prospective Peace Corps volunteers from UF about the contributions volunteers made in the past years.

The Peace Corps changes the lives of everyone involved, Zanger said. Volunteers bring hope to people where there is none. When volunteers believe in and help people in countries around the world, the people go on to succeed, she said.

The Peace Corps sends volunteers with specific skill sets to countries that ask for help, said Amy Panikowski, the Peace Corps campus recruiter and former volunteer in Malawi.

Many people at UF have great skill sets that would be useful for the Peace Corps, Panikowski said. Volunteers work in areas such as agriculture, information technology, English education and HIV prevention.

About one-third of Peace Corps volunteers now serve in HIV prevention and care for orphans who are the product of AIDS deaths, Zanger said.

The deaths from AIDS every day are equivalent to eight commercial airplanes crashing, she said. About half of the victims are women, and it takes many years for countries to recover.

"Sustainable projects are the key (to recovery)," Zanger said.

The Peace Corps helps the people it serves to learn to be autonomous.

Zanger spoke of a woman she visited in a remote village in Peru who lived in a hut lit by a kerosene lantern. The woman was probably 30 years old but looked 60 because of the hard life she led.

"But, she had the broadest smile on her face," Zanger said.

The smile was because of a stove in the corner of the hut. Peace Corps volunteers worked with the women in her village to help build these stoves. Her stove prevented her children from being burnt by the hot embers of a fire and allowed her to boil water, preventing them from becoming sick.

Panikowski said she did not realize the magnitude of the impact AIDS had before her experiences in Malawi. But when she returned to Malawi after her volunteer time spent there, she found a change in the country because of AIDS. There were more 24-hour coffin shops, more orphan care facilities and her counterpart, a local person who assisted her with projects, had died of AIDS.

The volunteer experience lasts 27 months and begins with three months of training in the country. Volunteers are trained while living with a host family so they can learn the language, the culture and what it is like to live in a community, Panikowski said.

"You learn how to form relationships again," she said.

Volunteers learn how to listen to what people really need while developing a bond with the community they serve, she said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top