Peace Corps Volunteer Values Staying Active In Old Age "You can have a really good time in the Peace Corps when you're old," says Alice Carter, who at age 87 is the oldest volunteer in the Peace Corps.
NPR logo

Peace Corps Volunteer Values Staying Active In Old Age

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466592640/467547228" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Peace Corps Volunteer Values Staying Active In Old Age

Peace Corps Volunteer Values Staying Active In Old Age

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466592640/467547228" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You're about to hear from a titleholder. We called her up far away. And first things first - happy birthday, Alice.

ALICE CARTER: Yeah. I can't believe it. Here I am, 87 years old. I don't even know how I got there. But I'm not the oldest volunteer that ever served in the Peace Corps. Twenty years ago, there was a guy in Ghana who was 90, so I'm second. But right now, I'm at the top.

MARTIN: This is Alice Carter speaking to us from a village outside Rabat, Morocco, where she is, yes, the oldest person currently volunteering in the Peace Corps. She's a Bostonian with six kids, grandkids. And she says she's been interested about the world for a long time - since 1939, when her father sponsored a Jewish refugee from Germany who told her why he fled the Nazis - since 1960, when she heard JFK urge young Americans to dedicate themselves to peace and progress around the world.

CARTER: And I was there with no college education and up to my eyeballs in diapers. And I thought - gee, I'd like to do that, but it's not going to happen. But it was like a little blip, like when you fall in love with somebody and, you know, that little blip - that click goes off. And you say that's for me. And so the Peace Corps was kind of like - that's for me.

But there was a lot of road to travel before I got there.

MARTIN: You lived all this life. You were involved in the civil rights movement and in counseling people through addiction. And you have a long kind of history of volunteerism.

CARTER: Right.

MARTIN: But like you said, you had six kids. You were busy raising a family. So what happened in your life that the Peace Corps became an option again? I mean, did someone plant the idea for you, or did you see an ad? What happened?

CARTER: Oh, it was wonderful. I went to a party in Vermont and I met a whole lot of 1960s Peace Corps graduates. And they were all at this party, and there was a recruiter there. And so I kind of wandered over and said - what's the cutoff? And she said oh, there's no age limit. And bingo - I went home, got on the computer and started applying right away.

MARTIN: You thought - yeah, this is my moment.

CARTER: Right.

MARTIN: What did your kids say?

CARTER: They were like (laughter) - oh, they'll tell her to apply. They'll let her apply, but they'll never give her an assignment. She's too old. But they were wrong, and they came around - almost 100 percent of them, except my granddaughter, who was from get-go no Peace Corps, no Peace Corps. And I said no, I'm going to go. I can't stand Boston anymore. I'm too old, and I keep falling down in the snow. I have to find a warmer climate, so I kind of presented it to her that way.

MARTIN: (Laughter) You could have gone to Arizona or Florida.

CARTER: (Laughter) Never. The whole idea of retiring with people my age - they're wonderful, people my age who go to those places to retire. And I see them on trains holding hands and going someplace together, and I say that's not you. That's not where you're going (laughter), but...

MARTIN: This part of life - when people - and women, in particular - are in their twilight years - 70s, 80s, 90s - they tend to disappear from public life or at least that's the perception. This is clearly not how you are choosing to spend these years. That - you are not interested in sitting in the backseat at all.

CARTER: You could say that, yes. I like being very active. I like being with people, and my whole life has been forming relationships and so that has to continue. You can't quit. I've been told that it's hard to make friends as you get older. I have not found that to be true. In the Peace Corps, I've made a lot of friends of younger people and the people my - well, younger than me - in their 60s and 70s who are here.

MARTIN: Are there a lot of people in that age range? I mean, when I think of the Peace Corps, I think of people who are at the opposite end of the spectrum - people just out of college in their 20s.

CARTER: Well, most of the people are in their 20s. There's a bunch in their 30s, a few in their 40s. And then you get 50s, 60s, and 70s - there's a bigger group. I mean, we're not bigger than the younger people. But it's - you know, I would say there are probably 15 or 20 of us in Morocco who are in the senior citizen category.

And I think that for people who are thinking about it who are our age, there's some specific concerns. And one of them would be health. You kind of have to tinker with your body as you get older, so it's wonderful to have a supportive Peace Corps medical staff, which we have in Rabat. So that's one thing. Energy is another. And when I first came, the head of the Dar Chabab, the youth center, wouldn't let me work more than four hours a week. He was afraid I would just tumble dead if he pushed me further. But then, you know, I kept picking up more and more kids and doing more and more. And he saw that I was going to live through it, so he eased up. But people do not push old people to work at the same pace that the younger people do.

MARTIN: What do you bring to the Peace Corps, do you think, that is different because you are older?

CARTER: Well, I think it's an attitude. Younger people in our culture are raised to compete, so they're all trying to do as much as possible. And it's very restful for them to be around people who are not competing. So, you know, I think that what I bring is a kind of, you know, all I'm here is to model how to be old. I'm not here to, you know, be a world leader or accomplish impossible tasks. And I just want you to know that you can have a really good time in the Peace Corps when you're old.

MARTIN: How much longer do you have on this tour? And would you extend or do another one?

CARTER: I have one more year, and I'm not going to extend because I think my family would come and drag me off the continent of Africa if that happened. And I haven't made any plans about what I'm going to do when I come home.

MARTIN: Well, I imagine it will be something big. Alice Carter, thank you so much for talking with us.

CARTER: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate it.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.