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Peace Corps vet urges student activism

POSTED AT 12:05 AM ON Mar. 4, 2010  (UPDATED AT 12:05 AM ON Mar. 4, 2010)

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In Zambia, he was known as Jesus.

At the informational meeting in the atrium of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs on Wednesday night as part of Peace Corps Week, Peace Corps alumnus Jeff Rhodes was simply an advocate for the program, presenting his experiences to a small crowd of about 20 potential applicants.

His Zambian nickname came from both his well-cultivated beard as well as his mission to educate the local people on the health risks of their country, most notably malaria. Rhodes’ main message was motivation; It takes dedication to serve two years in a developing country. Making an effort to learn the language and culture makes you stand out to the native people.

“The more you jump into that stuff, the more endearing it is to the people you’re with,” he said, recalling how the local women would literally fall on the ground when he started negotiating with them at the market.

Rhodes now works as a recruiter for the program, a far cry from the health work he did in Zambia, where he hauled his own water, cut his own firewood and spent his vacations in Zanzibar.

“I need to start bringing my traditional dress around for these presentations,” he said. “It’s so much more comfortable than a suit and tie, and it gets the point across so much better.”

Peace Corps Week marks the 49th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy signing the agency into existence on March 1, 1961.

As Rhodes said, the Peace Corps is a great experience, but the more assimilated you become, the more work there is.

“When you break that barrier and become their friend, that’s when the real work starts happening.”

 

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