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Peace and harmony

Auburn woman shares experience in Bolivia in honor of Corps Week
By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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Vanessa Hunter says she's shy. But when she first arrived in Bolivia in November of 2005 to begin her two-year service in the Peace Corps, she had to get over it. I had to walk door to door to tell people, ˜Hey, I'm the new girl in town,' Hunter said Wednesday from her Auburn home. In the community I worked, no one spoke English. Communicating toward the end was definitely easier than it was in the beginning. Hunter, 24, served with the Peace Corps in San Lorenzo, Bolivia, as a micro-enterprise development volunteer. She worked with a women's group that made artisan goods, helping the women develop organizational, accounting and marketing skills. Hunter also started a community garden and hosted cooking classes to promote nutrition. Getting used to no refrigeration, air conditioning, electricity and running water became easier as the months went on. I really like camping, so I thought of it like a two-year-long camping trip, Hunter said. But overall, it was fun. It was a really good experience. You get to see how other people live and experience their lives. More than 8,000 Americans are currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers in 74 countries and the Peace Corps is now celebrating a 37-year high in the number of volunteers. More Peace Corps volunteers come from California than any other state ” 943 California residents are currently serving. And more than 25,832 California residents have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. Earlier this month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed Feb. 25 through March 3 Peace Corps Week in California in honor of the corps' 47th anniversary. Schwarzenegger's father-in-law, Sargent Shriver, was the first director of the Peace Corps. Simply put, the Peace Corps is America at its best, Schwarzenegger's proclamation states. It is a perfect example of friendship in action, and I hope even more of our residents will consider joining the Corps. Hunter said she knew she wanted to volunteer for the Peace Corps when she was attending Colfax High School. I had gone on a few mission trips and always wished they lasted longer than a week, she said. That's when a friend told me about the Peace Corps and I knew I wanted to do it. She applied during her senior year at UC San Diego and found out in June 2005 she would be traveling to Bolivia. During her two-year service, Hunter helped women sell handmade goods including woven bags, shirts, dresses, skirts and more. When she first arrived, she thought she would be helping the group sell items they had already made When I got there, they were so excited and asked me, ˜What are you going to teach us how to make?' Hunter said. A few of the women knew how to make things and we were able to bring someone in during the week to teach them. By the time I left, things were going really well because the women were starting to get more comfortable with what they were making. After the goods were made, Hunter would help take them to the nearest city to sell, which was eight hours away. Nathan Hale Sargent, spokesman for the Peace Corps based out of the San Francisco regional office, said volunteers receive training for three months in the United States and are then assigned to a country where they serve two years. We work with the applicant so that they can (make a) preference (for) a region, Sargent said. At the end of the day, you are helping a country and so it's really about helping that area that has requested certain skills. Peace Corps volunteers work in a wide range of areas, including education, health, business development, computer training and agriculture. Volunteers are matched up with a counterpart in the community, he said. They live in the community for two years ” you really become a part of that community. Interested volunteers must be at least 18 years old and must be a U.S. citizen. Volunteers receive a monthly stipend and receive full medical coverage while serving. Upon completion of service, volunteers also receive a $6,000 readjustment allowance to help resettle in the U.S. Hunter now has plans to enroll in nursing school next year. She also wants to serve in the Peace Corps again in the future. Maybe next time I can serve as a health education volunteer, Hunter said. It could be anywhere. I have no idea when I would go, but it is just something I know I want to do again in my life. The Journal's Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com or comment on this story at auburnjournal.com.