Texting, Skype Alter The Peace Corps Experience Until fairly recently, joining the Peace Corps usually meant living in a remote location and leaving behind family, friends and way of life. But mobile devices and the Internet are changing how volunteers serve -- and how they keep in touch with home. This connectivity is helpful for the volunteers, but not always for the Peace Corps staff.
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Texting, Skype Alter The Peace Corps Experience

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Texting, Skype Alter The Peace Corps Experience

Texting, Skype Alter The Peace Corps Experience

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. When it was created, joining the Peace Corps usually meant leaving family, friends and way of life behind.

Well, now with cell phones and Internet access, volunteers are a lot more connected. Reporter Zack Baddorf tells us from Rwanda about how technology is changing the Peace Corps.

ZACK BADDORF: Back in the early '80s, Gordy Mengel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in an isolated community in what was then called Zaire, now Congo.

Mr. GORDY MENGEL (Former Peace Corps Volunteer): I was placed someplace in the middle part of the country. And there were no - in the small community where I lived, there was no post office. So getting letters out, which was basically the only means of communication, was very challenging.

BADDORF: Letters would take weeks, sometimes months to arrive.

Now a Peace Corps training officer in Rwanda, Mengel says increased communication has changed the Peace Corps experience. He said when he served, he lost track of friends and relationships back home. He had no choice but to integrate into the community.

Mr. MENGEL: These days, with the advent of the Internet and cell phone service and so forth, I don't I still see volunteers having some of that experience. But again, when they go back to their homes, instead of turning out the kerosene light and going to bed, they can get on Skype or they can give a quick call to mom and dad back at home. And that, you know, that part of the experience I guess has changed.

Ms. SONIA MORHANGE (Peace Corps Volunteer): Hey.

BADDORF: Sonia Morhange talks with a friend in San Francisco over Skype. She's one of about 100 Peace Corps volunteers now serving in Rwanda. The San Diego native works at an organization in Kigali called Never Again Rwanda, organizing plays about the country's 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead.

She talks over the phone with her mom and emails her dad. She hasn't mailed a single letter through the postal system and can't imagine waiting months for one to arrive.

Ms. MORHANGE: I know. I cannot believe it. I can't imagine having been a Peace Corps volunteer in the '70s or the '80s or even the early '90s. I'm just so used to everyone having a cell phone that works internationally. I'm very, very lucky in the fact that where I live, I have wireless Internet, and that makes it a lot easier.

BADDORF: This week, Sonia's parents visited her in Rwanda. Her mother, Beverly, said she was proud to have her daughter join the Peace Corps.

Ms. BEVERLY MORHANGE: And then at the same time, ah, because she's going to be going far away, and concerns about health and safety and the kinds of things a mother thinks about.

BADDORF: But Beverly has been able to keep tabs on her daughter.

Ms. BEVERLY MORHANGE: Oh yes, we talk every weekend, pretty much. And I'm also there if she needs me. You know, anytime, she can call me.

BADDORF: For 24-year-old Sonia, it's nice to know that her friends and family are always just a phone call or a few clicks away.

Ms. SONIA MORHANGE: Peace Corps is full of ups and downs. And, I mean, you're thrown into an environment that you're not familiar with. You're out of your element. No matter what, you're going to have breakdowns and moments of just moments where you just need help, and you need support.

BADDORF: Peace Corps' Rwanda country director John Reddy agrees. He served as a volunteer back in 1967 in the tiny landlocked African nation of Lesotho. He says the added connectivity has provided volunteers with a support system that wasn't available in the early days of the Peace Corps.

For the volunteers, he says it's helpful.

Mr. JOHN REDDY (Rwanda Country Director, Peace Corps): It's not always helpful to Peace Corps staff. If a volunteer is telling their family they're having a bad day or a bad week, and then the family member calls Peace Corps Washington, then Peace Corps Washington calls me, and I have to find the volunteer and see what the problem was. That didn't happen so much in the old days.

BADDORF: Reddy has spent nearly a quarter of a century working for the Peace Corps in Africa. He said before the Internet, Peace Corps staff had more independence.

Mr. REDDY: Personally, I feel there's a lot more micromanagement from Washington than there used to be. I sort of long for the days before the Internet and good phone service.

BADDORF: For NPR, I'm Zack Baddorf.

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