In a few short months, Helga Thompson will be packing her bags and leaving the comforts of home in DeKalb County for a new life experience in Tanzania. For twenty seven months, Thompson will be serving in the east African country as a Peace Corps volunteer working in environmental education.
(CLICK PLAY BUTTON BELOW TO HEAR INTERVIEW WITH HELGA THOMPSON AND DWAN ADAMS)
"Working with people and trying to leave something good behind has always been part of my life," said Thompson in a recent interview with WJLE.
Since its creation in 1961, the Peace Corps' mission has been to promote world peace and friendship by helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Peace Corps Volunteers serve in more than 70 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands. By providing technical assistance to countries that request it, the Peace Corps shares America's most precious resources--its people and their skills.
Though not originally from here, Thompson has called DeKalb County her home for more than twelve years. "I was a teacher. I taught in Alabama, Florida, and I even taught one year in Cannon County High School. My husband and I moved up here about twelve or thirteen years ago. We moved our business up here. I wound up becoming the Liberty Librarian, working part time and helping my husband in his business," said Thompson.
After her husband died last year, Thompson began to think about her future and discovered Peace Corps 50 plus which offers those over the age of 50 the opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps overseas. "My husband died a little over a year ago. I decided I couldn't run the business by myself so I thought what do I do now with my life? I thought about teaching overseas and as I was doing research I came across a line on the computer that said 'Peace Corps 50 plus' . I knew about the Peace Corps. President Kennedy started it in 1961 and I sort of grew up with it but I thought it was for young people. Then I see 50 plus and I'm over 50 so I went to the website and looked at it and thought, if this is what the Lord wants me to do, I'll get accepted so I filled out the application process, which is quite lengthy. It took several weeks to do this because they are very thorough about wanting to know you and wanting to be sure you understand what you're getting into. I had to do interviews and then I got accepted," said Thompson.
It was during the interview process that Thompson met Dwan Adams, Peace Corps Regional Recruiter in Atlanta. Adams served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia from 2007-2009 working as a Secondary English Teacher during her Peace Corps service. After she returned to the United States, Adams decided to continue working in the Peace Corps. "When I got back to the states I thought I definitely wanted to continue working for the Peace Corps because I really believe in the work that we were doing as volunteers overseas," said Adams in an interview with WJLE. "I wanted to have a career where I'm being pushed by my passion and driven by a cause," she continued.
Today, as an outreach specialist, Adams enjoys sharing the story of the Peace Corps with others "I have the great opportunity of going out and really talking about the Peace Corps to college students as well as outreaching to secondary schools or high schools and even sharing this in community sessions and talking to 50 plus candidates and others who are thinking about changing their careers and looking for something a little bit more to do," she said.
Peace Corps volunteers don't get to choose where they will serve, according to Thompson. She said they are sent where it is determined they can do the most good. "I am scheduled to go to Tanzania in February for twenty seven months of service over there. They send you where they think you would best be of service. I'm very excited about going over there and working with the people. I will be working in environmental education. They said I will be working with the schools and the farmers but they will match me with a program when I get there, once they get to know me and see where best I could be of service", she said.
Peace Corps volunteers receive a stipend for their service but they are expected to live and dress as the people they are serving. "I will get a wage that is comparable to the people there. I'm not coming in with a TV and all that. This is about creating relationships with the people. There is a minimal health and safety standard, but I was told that in Tanzania I most probably will not have electricity and I will be drawing water from a well if in the rural areas. It's not a vacation. It's going to be a different way of life. But that's part of the learning process . Not all of life there is like we live it here," said Thompson.
While she is looking forward to her mission in Tanzania, Thompson said she plans to return home after her twenty seven months of service. "I have my farm here. My daughter lives next door. I've got my dog so I'll be coming home. I'm not saying I won't do a shorter stint (as a Peace Corps volunteer) but I'm 57 years old and I don't know how many more good years I have in me," she said.
For more information visit www.peacecorps.gov.