Peace Corps letters from Chacopampa
Editor’s note: Brennan Wenck is a long way from South Lake Tahoe, where he was a student at Tahoe Montessori school more than 20 years ago.
Wenck, 26, joined the Peace Corps last year and is living and working in Chacopampa in southern Bolivia, where he focuses on education and rural sanitation.
Wenck, who spends many of his days teaching English classes or working in corn fields, helped build a cafeteria and greenhouse in Chacopampa and is raising money to build the small town’s first library.
He plans to periodically share his experiences and adventures with readers of the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
My name is Brennan Wenck, better known to my current circle of friends as Brennancio. I am working as a Peace Corps volunteer in South America. I am writing to try to answer some questions people may have about the Peace Corps, as well as about my personal experience.
n What is the Peace Corps?
Peace Corps is a U.S. government-run group of more than 7,000 volunteers who work around the globe to help improve the lives of people in third world countries.
Peace Corps only sends volunteers to countries and communities which ask for assistance. The process to get a volunteer is actually quite extensive, so only communities and countries that are diligent enough to go through the process receive a volunteer.
Peace Corps is working on five projects in Bolivia: small business, agriculture, tourism, basic sanitation and education. I was sent to Bolivia to work on basic sanitation and education. However, I have shifted my focus more toward education as my community has both running water and a decent latrine system. There is still a lot of basic sanitation to be done, but it falls more under the category of educating the people on how to be clean and healthy.
n Is Peace Corps trying to westernize the world?
Because Peace Corps only goes where it is invited and only works on projects that the communities ask for, the threat of westernization is minimized.
This was very important to me when applying for Peace Corps. I told my placement officer I would go anywhere, do anything – except teach English. When I got to my community, however, the locals really wanted to take advantage of my English skills. As other projects started to crumble beneath my feet, I found myself at the high school, teaching English.
The kids are eager to learn. Unfortunately, they have not been disciplined to work hard at their studies. That’s why I’m here. A few weeks ago, the English teacher at the school said she was finally learning how to teach from me. That certainly made me feel good.
n Is Peace Corps something anybody could do?
No. The 40-percent dropout rate is proof enough.
Some people get off the plane at their destination and end up back on the same plane for the return trip to the United States.
The application process for Peace Corps is not difficult, but it is extensive. It takes about a year and includes a 10- to 12-page application, a two-hour interview, several visits to doctors and an FBI background check. The process is designed to weed out people who are not sure if they really want to be in the Peace Corps. Many people change their minds once they arrive.
n Is being a volunteer dangerous?
Being a U.S. citizen in a foreign land does have its disadvantages. Americans are all viewed as rich and are targets for robberies and snide remarks. I don’t think anything could happen to me down here that couldn’t happen to me in the states. Sure, I’m more of a target since I stand out like a sore thumb, but that’s part of the excitement. Honestly, I feel very safe where I am. The Peace Corps has strict safety regulations. My site was checked before I arrived to make sure adequate communication and doctors were available in an emergency.
n What about diseases and health concerns?
The Peace Corps does go to areas where rare diseases exist. There are certified and trained dentists, doctors and specialists who are ready any time I need a check-up. I sleep in a large mosquito net to help protect me and twice during my service I must have medical tests run, despite how I am feeling at the time. My health is a concern but I feel it is being dealt with sufficiently.
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