Written by Katherine M. Trager Friday, 15 April 2011 00:00
Fifty years ago, our federal government created the Peace Corps, an agency that plays a compound role in global interaction. By providing developing countries with volunteer assistance in various disciplines, the Peace Corps provides needed services while fostering positive international relationships.
To commemorate the Peace Corps’ half-century legacy of service, several local residents who are former Peace Corps volunteers shared their memories and encouraged future volunteers.
“I responded to the call made by then-President JFK, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’” said Westbury resident Bill Reed, who served in Lesotho, a country in Southern Africa, in the late 1960s as a trainer for primary school teachers.
“I wanted to serve my country in a peaceful way using my talents and education.
Part of my religious belief as a Catholic is to live life in service to others,” he continued.
Husband-and-wife team Arthur and Lyn Dobrin, residents of Westbury, also served in Africa in the 1960s, working in multiple capacities.
“I worked primarily with women, running a group that met at my house every day, while Arthur went out into the countryside running educational programs,” said Lyn Dobrin.
The couple also helped train Kenyan locals for management positions in agricultural cooperatives.
“Kenya was newly independent from Great Britain, so when the British left, the locals had to be trained for those positions,” she explained.
Diana Dibble, who recently moved to California from Westbury, also worked in education when she recently served in the Kingdom of Tonga, an island in the South Pacific. Dibble taught English to primary school students and held classes in basic computer skills and yoga.
“My favorite part about serving in the Peace Corps was interacting with the locals and learning the Tongan language,” said Dibble.
Reed similarly enjoyed the cultural aspect of his experience. The best part of serving in the Peace Corps, according to Reed, was “living and working in another culture and speaking a foreign language, Sesotho.”
For the Dobrins, a very special part of their time in the Peace Corps was celebrating the birth of their son, Eric, who today serves as president of the Westbury Library Board. Like Dibble and Reed, Arthur Dobrin also appreciated “learning about different cultures and people,” while Lyn Dobrin was especially impressed by “seeing animals in the wild that I had only seen in the zoo.”
For all of the volunteers, their experiences in the Peace Corps have made lasting impacts on their lives as well as the lives of others.
“Today, I continue to work in service professions and do volunteer work,” said Reed.
Dibble stated that her Peace Corps experience has made her realize that “no matter how bad a situation may be, it is not the end of the world.” During her stay on the island, Dibble put this idea into practice by helping to setup a suicide prevention hotline.
Said Lyn Dobrin, “We take very little for granted. I am thankful every time I take a hot shower.” While in Kenya, she helped to compile and co-write a collection of Kenyan folk tales, “The Magic Stone,” as a culturally accurate supplement to the primary school curriculum. Today, “it is still in print and is used in the schools throughout Kenya,” she said.
The volunteers also had words of encouragement and advice for people interested in joining the Peace Corps.
“Don’t be afraid – do it!” emphatically stated Lyn Dobrin.
Dibble agreed, saying, “I would have to go with the Nike saying, ‘Just do it!’ She suggests that those interested in volunteering should “remember to be flexible” and “do your research, there is so much good information out there including books, blogs and Internet groups.”
“Be open to making a fool of yourself at times,” advised Reed. Most importantly, he stated, “You will be going on a great adventure and will discover the things in life that really matter.”