The year was 1966 and Peace Corps volunteer English teacher Edward Shultz entered a South Korea high school classroom to find the heartfelt plea scrawled on the board: Music is an international language, please teach us “Love Position #9.”
“I laughed, erased the board, told them they would never know what they had requested, and then taught them Love Potion #9,” reminisces Shultz, now interim dean of UH Mānoa’s School of Pacific and Asian Studies.
The same year in India, Clyde Sakamoto convinced farmers in Deccan Plain to buy hybrid wheat, sorghum and rice seed, only to watch their planting parched by drought then washed away in a three-day downpour. “Fortunately, we found a Food for Work project and built 200 wells while paying the farmers and workers with soybean oil and wheat. Whew!” Sakamoto recalls.
Peace Corps assignments are wide-ranging. More than a third of volunteers are involved in education, but one in five addresses health issues, including AIDS, and others work in business, environmental, youth or agricultural projects. Since it was established in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent 190,000 volunteers to 139 countries. More than 500 of them have been UH alumni, including 24 from UH Hilo and 2 from West Oʻahu. Current Hawaiʻi volunteers include Kapiʻolani and Maui Community College graduates serving in Botswana. Other UH alumni—17 of 21 current volunteers from Hawaiʻi—are assigned to Central America (Belize and Panama), the Pacific (Kiribati and Vanuatu), Europe (Macedonia and Romania) and Africa (Malawi, Senegal, Togo and Uganda).
The typical volunteer is female, single, age 25–27 and holds a bachelor’s degree. “The Peace Corps provides a continuation of students’ activities to learn and explore the world,” says Rosemary Casey, UH Peace Corps representative in Mānoa’s Office of International and Exchange Programs. “It is an attractive alternative for those who have traveled abroad and wish to return to a country for a more in-depth experience that enables them to learn language and culture in very concrete and intensive ways.” A former volunteer herself, Casey is university liaison for the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Hawaiʻi group.
“Volunteers got far more than they ever gave,” says Shultz, one of the more than 60 returned volunteers working in the UH System. For Sakamoto, now chancellor of Maui Community College, the experience spurred continuing interest in filling the gaps between theory and practice. Two Kapiʻolani professors have turned Peace Corps volunteerism into ongoing commitments—James Metz spending the past five summers in South Africa with Teachers Without Borders and Frank Noji helping train teachers and develop curriculum in Vietnam.
The positive experiences of returned volunteers on faculty encourage students to choose Peace Corps service. Casey plays a more active role, spending the past two years establishing a Peace Corps presence throughout UH. She is negotiating with officials in public health, nursing, social work, education and agriculture programs to re-establish a Peace Corps Fellows program along the lines of one that operated in Mānoa’s School of Public Health during the 1990s.
“The Peace Corps allows you to exchange skills and ideas with a community greatly different from your own,” says Hale Sargent, a former volunteer who serves as a Peace Corps public affairs specialist based in San Francisco. Peace Corps volunteers receive training before heading out to fulfill the organization’s three basic goals: improving the image of the United States abroad and that of foreign countries at home and working to improve people’s lives by training members of the local populace in various subject areas. “The Peace Corps brings people together,” rather than focusing on governments,’ Shultz says.
Linda Fujikawa, a Kapiʻolani Community College assistant professor of Japanese, volunteered in South Korea in the 1970s. Among other things, she taught English at a girls’ middle school in Chungju. It was a life changing experience, she says. “I learned how to function on my own in a totally new environment and gained lifelong friendships, skills and trust in myself and others.” Fujikawa was one of 11 Peace Corps alumni nationwide presented with a 2008 Franklin H. Williams Award for continuing the organization’s mission at home.
In 1998 she created the International Café, a place where local and international Kapiʻolani students can meet, share their cultures and participate in service projects. Participation grew from 10 the first year to 150 last spring, and participants live the spirit of service here and abroad. Five-year café veteran Rui Apaka heads a team doing art projects with Lēʻahi Hospital residents. During their summer break, Myung Ki Kang helped build a school in Cambodia and Caitlin Molina worked with children at a Japanese preschool. Back at her home university in Italy, Giulia Bonacalza spent her summer in Ukraine working with children with cancer. Sri Lankan Premnath Vijayakumar, who has led café activities at Next Step Homeless Transition Center in Honolulu, plans to start an International Café at Kansai University while studying in Japan this year.
“Peace Corps taught me that it’s not just about what you give—it’s a two-way street,” Fujikawa says. “It’s the same with this café. By giving, you get so much more. It’s about making a life rather than just going to school and getting by.” Peace remains a vital goal, she adds, quoting the moving words shared during the June awards ceremony: “Let us cross the walls of self to build upon the heart of humanity.”
Knowledge of pop tunes not required.
Read more stories in The Urge to Do Good series:
- Intro: The Urge to Do Good
- Part 1: Students engineer solutions at home and abroad
- Part 2: Peace Corps part of UH experience
- Part 3: Student turns adversity into a medical mission
- Part 4: Library student finds the words to help
- Part 5: More ways UH is making a difference