Peace Corps Videos

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Adventure Begins October 2nd!

Congratulations!! It is with great pleasure that we invite you
to begin training in Tonga for Peace Corps service.

That's how the letter began, ending months of speculation and confirming that I will be heading to the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga in October. Included with the letter, lots of information about Tonga, about my Business Development program and a few surprises. (More on those in a minute).

First, where is Tonga? Tonga is "Where Time Begins". That means it is the first country across the International Date Line, the place where each day begins. The Islands are south west of Hawaii and north east of New Zealand.

Tonga is a Kingdom and is the only Pacific Island Country never to have been under the rule of a foreign government. For detailed information, read the Wikipedia Entry.

My job title will be "Business Educator/Advisor" in the "Business Education and Development" program. I won't know until I complete three months of training exactly what I will be doing, but the information from the Peace Corps says it will either be "business education in schools" or "Business advising with local governmental and non-governmental institutions". There are opportunities in the "development and sale of handicrafts, agricultural and marine products, and tourism services." Regardless of what I do specifically, I will probably have some business teaching responsibilities in addition to my main work area.

I will gather with the other people in my group, which is called "Peace Corps Tonga Group 73" in the United States on October 2ND and then leave for Tonga on October 4Th. My training is scheduled to be completed on January 15, 2008.

I am allowed to have visitors and hope that many of you will come visit. However, I can't have visitors until at least April 15Th of next year. That gives you plenty of time to pack your bags..

There are many details about the Kingdom of Tonga and what I can expect in the Peace Corps Welcome Book. However, it is a large document and I would not recommend downloading it on a dial-up connection.

I mentioned there were a couple of surprises in the packet.

The first is that I will likely be based on Tongatapu near the capital city of Nuku'alofa or in the city center of an outer Island. If I'm on the main island, it is likely that I will have Internet service and even cell phone access. Internet and e-mail are also available in the cities on the outer islands. That would be great if it works out. A pleasant surprise.

The second surprise has to do with the dress code. I am quoting below from the assignment materials I received:

Men wear a cotton button down shirt with a collar (long or shirt sleeves) and a wrap around skirt (tepenu) or long pants.

Yes, that did say a SKIRT. It also goes on to say that shorts, my favorite form of dress, are never appropriate in a work setting. Nothing I can't get used to, but a surprise none the less.

I have lots more reading to do and many forms to fill out, including an updated resume, a passport application (can't use my current one) and insurance forms.

In addition to all the Peace Corps paperwork, I'm going to get back to my Tonga Blog Reading and hopefully even make contact with some of the other members of Peace Corps Tonga Group 73.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What makes a President Cry?

“People are more alike than they are different”. That was the bit of wisdom delivered by this year’s winner of the Lillian Carter award which honors Peace Corps volunteers who started their service after age 50. “Miss Lillian” Carter joined the Peace Corps in her sixties and volunteered in India. At today’s reception honoring this year’s honoree, President Carter reflected on not only the work of his mother, but that of the other returned Peace Corps volunteers in the room.

The former President told the story of how his mom worked for a family in India. The father used to give Miss Lillian fresh vegetables. “Miss” Lillian had no way to pay for the produce so she taught his daughter English.

President Carter, who has been active in Habitat for Humanity since leaving the White House went back to India last year and met that girl. The former President, his emotions showing, explained that that girls is now the President of a University and had earned her PhD. Yes, the Peace Corps does make a difference and his mother made a difference. And even Presidents are more like the rest of us than they are different when telling stories about their mother.
Perhaps the highlight of the ceremony was a performance by a African Drum group, the Burundi Drummers and Dancers of Atlanta.

These kids were just terrific and they got a standing ovation from the crowd of former Peace Corps volunteers and guests.

Today was a great day for me. It was gratifying to not only hear the stories about Miss Lillian but also those of the current director of the Peace Corps, Ron Tshetter and Shirley Maly, the woman honored at today’s event. I had a chance to talk with several returned Peace Corps Volunteers and I have no doubt that I am about to embark on one of the greatest adventures of my life. I hope I live up to the build-up that I’ve gotten so far from not just the Peace Corps but my friends and family.

Today I had my photo taken at the Carter Center and then was interviewed by a woman from the Peace Corps communication office. She asked me a lot of questions about the application process and what advice I would have for further mid-career applicants. (That’s PC-speak for people like me who are not at retirement age, but who have been working for a while.) The director of Peace Corps announced a new program today to get more baby-boomers to sign up.
President Carter was introduced by his grand-son, Jason Carter, who was also a Peace Corps volunteer. He’s written a book about his time in Africa. And President Carter’s sister has compiled a collection of Miss Lillian’s writing. I’m ordering both from when I get home.

The event generated a lot of media attention with several TV crews there and some print reporters. I made the Atlanta Journal Constitution this morning in a preview of the ceremony. Reading the article which appeared on Page One of the Local section, I wondered how I was going to be worked into the story. You can read that for yourself.

To those 50 and older: Peace Corps wants you
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/16/07

When Lillian Carter approached her children in 1966 about joining the Peace Corps, she expected some resistance. Carter was 68. The Peace Corps was in its infancy, and largely staffed by college-age kids looking to save the world at the time of the Vietnam War. "She was looking for something exciting to do," said Jimmy Carter, then a state senator. "Age was no barrier for her."Lillian Carter spent 21 months in the Peace Corps, working as a nurse in India treating lepers. She returned to America with 10 cents to her name and was so emotionally and physically drained that she had to be wheeled off the plane to Atlanta in a wheelchair. "It opened my eyes to the need in the developing world for better health care, when I was governor, president and now," Jimmy Carter said. "[The Carter Center has] programs in 71 nations. [Her experience] has affected my life profoundly."

This afternoon, the Peace Corps will honor the former president's mother, who died in 1983, by presenting the Lillian Carter Award in a ceremony at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Jimmy Carter and Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter will present the award to Shirley Maly of Nebraska, who served in Uruguay from 1992 to 1995.
Established in 1986, the award is given every two years to a volunteer who was at least age 50 at the time of service. Tschetter said he also will use the ceremony to begin a campaign to recruit more people over 50. Only about 5 percent of the 7,749 Peace Corps volunteers are over 50. The average volunteer is 27 years old.
"We are putting a lot of new emphasis on trying to get the boomers," said Tschetter, 65, who in the 1960s volunteered with his wife, Nancy, in India. Tschetter said he wants 10 percent of volunteers to be older Americans and hopes to recruit up to 500 by next year. Tschetter said recruiting efforts will expand to retirement groups, like the AARP.

"They are the Kennedy people," he said. "They heard about Kennedy's call in the 1960s. But at the time, they thought, 'Wonderful, but I need a job.' Now, they are here, they are healthy, they have resources and they really have a heart to serve."
John F. Kennedy, during his 1960 inauguration, laid the groundwork for the Peace Corps with : "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you —- ask what you can do for your country."

Established by a 1961 executive order, the Peace Corps was immediately popular, and by 1966 had 15,556 volunteers in more than 55 countries."The goals of 1961 are still the goals of today. To take a sustainable skill abroad and bring a better understanding of America," said Tschetter. "It is amazing, when you visit the villages, the work, the connections, the grass roots have not changed a lot."
Tschetter said 98 percent of volunteers are college graduates who serve in 73 countries. About 1,800 returned Peace Corps volunteers live in metro Atlanta. "It changes you drastically. You go from being kind of a playful college kid to being a serious person," said Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason Carter, who volunteered in South Africa in 1998, a year after graduating from Duke University. "The Peace Corps settled me down."A lawyer in Atlanta, Jason Carter will host the event. My great-grandmother turned 70 in the Peace Corps," he said. "Her experience affected our whole family. It is one of the things that drives us."

Tschetter said a bulk of Peace Corps work involves HIV and AIDS. And with an ever-changing global political climate, safety is a top priority. "Sometimes we will leave [a country] for safety and security reasons," said Tschetter, speaking from Botswana.

Julia Campbell, 40, a former journalist, was killed in April in the Philippines. A resident has been charged with her murder. "Safety is our first, second and third priority," said Tschetter. He said despite safety concerns the Peace Corps still has three times more applicants than it can place. "Our volunteerism, application rate
and interest have actually gone up since 9/11. We are right around the 30-year high," he said. "The Peace Corps is very vibrant."

Back in 1966, Lillian Carter stressed that she wanted to go "to a country where the people were destitute, dark-skinned and needed help."As chronicled in "Away From Home: Letters to My Family" —- a book co-written by her daughter, Gloria Carter Spann —- Lillian Carter was sent to Vikhroli, a suburb of Mumbai [then known as
Bombay]. Carter said his mother, a registered nurse, initially worked in family planning, but soon began helping a doctor at a local clinic. "I was in the state Senate at the time, running for governor. I was able to contact some of the pharmaceutical companies and got free medicine to send over there," Carter recalled. "But the doctor was grossly overloaded and would treat between 200 to 300 people a day. She gave away all her money and food. She came back debilitated."

In 1980, Steve Hunsicker, a young radio reporter, interviewed Lillian Carter during the Democratic National Convention. They didn't discuss the Peace Corps, but Hunsicker knew of her work. He went on to enjoy a nice career, rising to news director at a television station in West Palm Beach, Fla. Then he quit. To join the Peace Corps. "I thought maybe this was the time to do this," said Hunsicker, 47, who plans to attend the ceremony. He said he will be assigned to the South Pacific to work in business development. "When I was 28, I knew some things. Clearly, I know a lot of things now," said Hunsicker. "I think I have a life experience and a maturity level that will serve me well."

More Newspaper Stories

I don’t remember much that happened my first day in Television News. That was 23 years ago on July 30th, 1984. I don’t think I would have ever imagined my last day, much less that it would be as strange a day as it was. Here is how the day was described in the newspaper.

Former WPEC News 12 executive news director Steve Hunsicker had a rather unexpected, but no doubt eventful, last day on the job Friday, as staff at the CBS affiliate were told they might have been exposed to tuberculosis from an employee who'd contracted the highly infectious disease. I imagine the staff, who were directed to gather at the station Friday morning, were somewhat surprised to see two nurses ready to test them for TB, instead of an occasion to bid farewell to Hunsicker, who left to become a Peace Corps volunteer in the South Pacific. When I called, Hunsicker declined to discuss details of the TB scare, other than to say he still thought a send-off soiree was in the works. As for the risk of TB exposure at WPEC, health department public information officer Tim O'Connor said it was not an outbreak, and the testing was a required precautionary measure whenever someone tests positive for tuberculosis.

And the very last story I wrote? It was a story about the Health Department testing the staff for TB. I doubt it will be remembered for its compelling journalism.

Frequent readers of this blog will remember that I predicted that people would jump to conclusions about the reasons for me leaving. That’s exactly what happened in the Palm Beach Post. The guy who writes this stuff never calls to check his information and has printed many stories that I know are just not true. Here is what he wrote.

There'd better not be complicated computers at the Peace Corps! Former WPEC-Channel 12 and WFLX-Channel 29 news boss Steve Hunsicker stunned most of his employees when he quit last week for a stint in the Peace Corps. Maybe no one should have been too surprised. I'm told by a source close to WPEC that Hunsicker didn't earn many brownie points from new General ManagerDiana Wilkin while overseeing the transition to the new robotic camera system. It allows the station to broadcast news shows with fewer producers — Translation: It saves money! — but on-air glitches have been so numerous that even the unflappable anchor Curt Fonger has had enough ...

There is no question that the automation process was a mess and our shows suffered. However, I had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to buy this equipment and strenuously objected to it being implemented on-air before we were ready. (I lost that argument) What is true is that I knew the equipment was coming when I applied to join the Peace Corps last September. But it had very little to do with my decision to apply. And while I haven't spoken with Curt since the story came out, he has been one of the supporters of the automation.

Melissa Holsman, who wrote the first story will give you a fair shake. Not so with the guy who wrote the second one. He never writes anything nice about anyone.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

News travels Fast

My recruiter Trisha called me today. She said the Peace Corps Public Affairs Officer had heard about me from someone at CNN. He was thrilled with the publicity that has been generated by my announcement. She then invited me to come to Atlanta on Wednesday to attend a reception with Former President Jimmy Carter and the head of the Peace Corps.

On May 16th, 2007, the Atlanta Regional Office will host the Lillian Carter Award Ceremony. This award honors a Volunteer who served overseas as a senior (50 years or older) and has demonstrated a commitment to fulfill Peace Corps’ third goal in his or her community: helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. President Jimmy Carter and Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter will be the featured speakers at the celebration, which will be held at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta.President Carter will read from his mother’s letters reflecting on her experiences as one of the first seniors to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in India. Director Tschetter, who served with Miss Lillian in 1966-68, will introduce the Peace Corps’s new initiative to match more senior Americans in overseas assignments and celebrate the important contribution they have made since 1961 in promoting world peace and friendship. This year’s event will also include the Burundi Drummers and Dancers of Atlanta and the Master of Ceremony will be Jocelyn Dorsey, Director of Editorials and Public Affairs, WSB TV.

Of course, I'm going to go. My first memory of the Peace Corps was when Jimmy Carter was running for President. I remember hearing of Miss Lillian's Peace Corps service at that time and I remember that inspired me to want to know more about the program. I also interviewed her at the 1980 Democratic Convention in New York, which I was covering. She was probably the first famous person I ever interviewed. I was in college at the time but was working in radio news. I also learned a very valuable lesson that day, one I have never forgotten. I asked "Miss Lillian" if I could interview her. She agree and we sat down and chatted for about 20 minutes. When I got done, I discovered the batteries in my tape recorder had died and I had just 10 seconds of usable audio from the entire interview. Lesson Learned...always put in new batteries before you do an interview. It never happened to me again.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What a Surprise

I have been completely blown away by the response I've received to my decision to join the Peace Corps. I knew my family and close friends would be supportive. But I've heard from people I hadn't talked with in years. That's been really nice. However, I was totally unprepared for the reaction from perfect strangers.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale picked up the story of my plans. Right there on its web page were these comments. I'm almost speechless.

mary j acker
Oceanside, CA
Steve, good for you. A humanitarian is certainly an honorable title and this will be one of your best experiences. Good luck and enjoy and please keep us informed.

10-37 from Davie
Pompano Beach, FL
Best of luck to you on this new endeavor in your life. It is admirable to learn of someone wanting to give back to mankind.

Bamako, Mali
Steve, don't know you or had heard about you before this article, but have to congratulate you on making the bold move. As an 'older' volunteer currently serving in Africa I feel it helpful to share that those first month of training are rough, but once service begins the rewards are endless and worth all the hardships in the beginning. Best of luck to you!

Kudos to Mr. Hunsicker. He is doing what many have thought of but will never act upon. Good luck and all the best.

The story has also been picked up by Shop*Talk, a TV Industry Newsletter and this guy has put me on his blog.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I made the Newspaper

WPEC news director quits job to join Peace Corps

Posted at 1:26 p.m. May 3, 2007

Steve Hunsicker, executive news director for WPEC and WFLX Fox 29, surprised just about everyone in local TV news by announcing that he's resigning his job to become a Peace Corps volunteer — in the South Pacific. "I'm going to be a business advisor there and I am just thrilled," said Hunsicker, 47, who joined WPEC in 2003, but has been with the station's parent company, Freedom Broadcasting, Inc., since 1992.

His last day at WPEC is May 11. The move, he said, fulfills a lifelong dream he's kept on hold while racking up 23 years as a successful TV news executive.

"I finally just said it's time," said Hunsicker, who began the Peace Corps application process in September. He said he opted not to tell the staff at the CBS affiliate until he knew for sure he'd been accepted. "I didn't even tell my parents for about a month," he noted.

And it'll be another month before he learns which of the six South Pacific countries served by the Peace Corps he'll be assigned to. "I'll be working to help either individuals or perhaps a small business, come up with good business practices and educate them about ways to grow their business," he said.

Initially, he'll undergo three months of in-country training to learn the language and become familiar with the country's customs. "Then you learn where you'll be living," he said.
He endured three months of medical screenings and background checks before learning he'd been accepted as a volunteer.
"I had to actually sign a statement that I wasn't applying to work in the CIA, which I thought was kind of bizarre," he recalled.

He said he plans to keep his West Palm Beach home, will pack his dog off to his parents and has enlisted his sister's help to watch over things while he's gone.
"I'm a little nervous," he said. "I'm giving up a career and income to go do this but I feel that I'm not getting any younger and it seemed like the right time to do it and when I got the official word, I was just absolutely thrilled."

Meanwhile, he said WPEC management will launch a search for his replacement.

NOTE FROM Steve: Melissa Holsman who wrote this article has always been a pleasure to deal with and she is one of the reporters I always enjoyed talking with during my time at WPEC. I didn't always like what she wrote, but I felt like she always treated me fairly. I even let her read this blog for her story.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I'm going to the South Pacific!!

It's been a GREAT Day. I got a call from David, the placement officer for the South Pacific area today telling me he is going to send me an invitation for a business development program in the South Pacific. It was the call I've been waiting months to receive. It is the same program that I was originally nominated for last October that was cancelled. David told me they are combining the twice a year programs into a once a year departure as it is one of the smaller programs.

I had been expecting a June departure or July departure based on my last conversation with him. He said instead of trying to rush me into one of those programs and since I told him I was flexible on my departure date, he was putting me into a program in October. That news was almost as exciting as learning that I was receiving the invitation. That means I have four months between the end of my job and the time I have to leave. It also means I will be around for my parents 50th wedding anniversary in August. I am totally thrilled.

I knew that David would not be able to tell me where I would be going, but I asked anyway. As expected, he said that would be contained in the official invitation I would be receiving in the mail by the end of the month. Once I receive it, I have 10 days to accept it, which I'm positive I will do.

I was able to pick up a few clues about where I might be going in our conversation. It's a small program, which means it is not Vanuatu, which I knew was the largest in the South Pacific. And it's a business development program. That means it is either Samoa or Tonga.. Fiji, Kiribati and Micronesia/Palau don't list business development options. And both Samoa and Tonga are relatively small programs with 46 volunteers in Samoa and 49 in Tonga.

Both Samoa and Tonga have had October departure dates in the past. However, in a previous conversation with my recruiter, who served in Samoa, she had said she doubted there would be a June departure for Samoa. That leaves Tonga. I'm totally cool with either one, but I also received tonight an e-mail from the Peace Corps about Tonga. I'm sure it is a coincidence, as I get one each month, but perhaps that is it.

I also searched the blogs this evening and found departures in past years in June for Tonga but not for Samoa. Here's an interesting little tidbit about Tonga: Tonga lies three degrees east of the international date line, which was bent to include Tonga in the same time zone as its
neighbors. For this reason, Tonga is the first country in the world to welcome each new day.

While watching the news in my office tonight, one of my employees came in and said she couldn't believe the big smile on my face. I told her I had found out where I was going and she said she could tell I excited I must be about this. She also said she was "totally shocked" that I was joining the Peace Corps. I've gotten that reaction a lot from people as they are learning of my decision, but almost all have said it in a very positive way.

One of my long-time friends called me today because she had heard I was leaving. It turns out her brother was in the Peace Corps in Fiji and did two stints there, even though the Peace Corp usually doesn't do that. Someone else who I've known for a number of years told me about his experience in Bolivia in the Peace Corps. It's really refreshing and only inspires me more.

I'm thrilled about the four (almost five) month wait but I'm ready to get started.