Wage peace through Peace Corps
I am grateful for your Dec. 17 editorial about the Peace Corps. As a result of the recent events in South Asia, there has been an outpouring of concern from Americans. There are other ways to give. The Peace Corps is one of these ways.
The United States has gained quite a reputation worldwide for being able to wage war, but we Americans are far better and more successful at waging peace. I think the world today would be relieved to be reminded of this noble quality in the American character.
As a young 21-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, I and four other Americans built water wells in Tunisia, North Africa. Back then, in 1971, there was another war going on, and, just like today, there were those of us who were patriotic Americans but just didn't get the same impulse or fervor to spread our ideas of freedom or protect America from outside threats in the same way others did.
Thank God we live in America, and, believe me, I'm grateful for our veterans' sacrifice. I understand this because my father and stepfather participated in the World War II landing at Omaha Beach and fighting in the Philippines. I grew up in a society in which war has been glorified, where service is honorable and the sacrifice these people and their families suffered is beyond words.
Because we live in that free society for which our veterans fought and died, there is a way patriotic Americans can wage peace: the Peace Corps. President John F. Kennedy, a World War II hero, was the driving force for the Peace Corps, and his words "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country" were the motivation for me and others to seek a way to serve our country and be true to our personal beliefs.
My war on poverty and disease took place in a desert country. The people were Muslim. I and the other volunteers learned their language and customs. We worked every day in remote areas in extremely rough circumstances with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees for months on end. Abject poverty was all around us, children had boils and disease. We got to know 80 Tunisian workers very well. They learned to trust us and we learned to trust them. The villagers eventually accepted us and, because we learned their language, began to respect our genuine efforts to learn their world. Our project built more than 132 water sources and provided clean, healthy water to a population of 250,000 Muslims.
We arrived in this Muslim world as babes and left as young men with a world view. I can't tell you how much this experience has shaped my views of life, war, tolerance, compassion and what America means to me and what it means internationally to others. I can tell you that we left 250,000 friends enamored of America and American ingenuity.
If you wonder at and watch the suffering of the tsunami victims and somehow want to help, think about following the path of thousands of American men and women who joined the Peace Corps and waged peace — and at the same time discovered themselves.
Lance W. Holter
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