Monday, June 29, 2015

Retaking the Fort

My current visit with the Peace Corps is not the first time I have been to the island of St. Lucia. During one of our Caribbean cruises (probably about seven years ago), Anna and I were on a ship that stopped for a day in St. Lucia. We disembarked from the giant cruise ship in the capital of Castries and went to another dock where we boarded a two-masted wooden sailing ship. This old sailing vessel took us out from the port and up the Caribbean coast of the island.

The sounds of a sailing ship are much different than motorized ships—the whipping of the wind in the sails, the waves cresting against the hull, the creaking of the wooden planks, etc. I remember thinking that somewhere back in my family tree, my ancestors made a crossing of the Atlantic on a similar wooden ship—a humbling thought which made me thankful for their bravery. I realize (especially now) just how blessed I am to have been born in America.

Our ship's destination that day was Pigeon Island, which includes the remnants of a fort built by the British in 1778. Named Fort Rodney, it was a key post in the battles with France for control of the Caribbean. The fort is atop one of the two peaks on Pigeon Island, which was originally just off the coast of St. Lucia. However, in 1972 the island was artificially joined to the western coast of the mainland by a man-made causeway (now home to a Sandals Resort).

Upon our ship's arrival years ago, Anna and I decided to create our own path to the fort at the top of the mountain, by going straight up the steep hillside, rather than taking the tourist path which zig-zags its way up the hill in a more casual manner. After all, we are West Virginia Mountaineers, and we enjoy blazing our own trail when scaling mountains!

Once we made our way to the summit, it was interesting to roam around the remains of this historical site. Plus, the views were fantastic! Later that day we sailed back to Castries, where we reboarded our giant cruise ship and headed off to some other Caribbean island.

Little did I know that years later I would return to Fort Rodney—this time as a local Peace Corps volunteer. On Sunday, thirteen of us squeezed into a minibus for a trip down the mountain to Pigeon Island (which can be driven to as a result of the aforementioned causeway). It was a beautiful day to spend checking out the historical sites atop the twin peaks (thus refreshing my memories of my prior visit), as well as for relaxing on the beach afterward.

This time, I went along with the group and we took the tourist path up the mountain. Of the two peaks on the island, the slightly shorter one guarding the bay was where Fort Rodney was built. The higher peak is called Signal Hill, where a lookout could see as far as the French island of Martinique. Roaming around the remnants of a fort built well over two centuries ago was awesome—but not as awesome as the views from this high vantage point! It was obvious why Admiral Rodney occupied Pigeon Island and built his fort here.

After exploring the fort, we crossed the ridge of the island and climbed the steep trail to the summit of Signal Hill, with its commanding view of the entire area. From that height, you could see for miles—it was phenomenal!

After hiking back down, we spent the rest of our time on the golden beach and in the beautiful turquoise waters. It was a great day of relaxation—before we hit the classroom again for another week of intensive training. Below are some pictures with captions.

This is the beach where we swam after climbing the hills. Fort Rodney can be seen at the top of the mountain.

With my colleagues at the fort, with me holding my Peace Corps beach bag.

On the top of the fort with my colleagues.

Looking down the coast with one of the remaining cannons at the fort.

A view out one of the windows through the thick walls, looking toward Signal Hill.

Looking down on a large boat from the edge of the fort.

Looking along the coastline towards Signal Hill from the fort.

Looking back towards the fort from the gap between the two hills, with the remnants of another outbuilding in the foreground.

A caravan of Peace Corps trainees traipsing up the steep hillside.

The man-made causeway that connected Pigeon Island to the mainland, as seen from atop Signal Hill.

Looking towards the northern end of St. Lucia from atop Signal Hill.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Glimpse of Teaching

We have now completed two weeks of intensive training to prepare us to be Peace Corps volunteers, and specifically to turn us into reading teachers for primary schools in the eastern Caribbean. I've already mentioned that it seems I am back in grad school with a bunch of impressive fellow students. We are expected to keep up with our reading assignments and other homework in order to “graduate” from Pre-Service Training and become full fledged Peace Corps Volunteers.

Given how much we have to cover in a short amount of time to convert us into classroom teachers, the workload seems daunting. This is way more preparation than what I was given before I started teaching at our local community college. However, all the hard work we have been doing was rewarded at the end of this week. We finally got away from our own classroom and found ourselves in local elementary schools for the first time.

It was great to spend time with school children, since we came here in the hopes of helping them out. On Thursday afternoon, all 32 of us were bussed to a particular elementary school for the afternoon. We had been divided into small groups and expected to create a one-hour learning activity for a specific classroom.

The group I was assigned to included two other older women (one had served in the Peace Corps back in the '90s, and has now signed up for a second “tour of duty,” while the other is a former elementary teacher from near Athens, Ohio), as well as two recent college graduates (one from California who is thinking about a foreign service career, and the other is a recent Howard University graduate whose father is from Tobago, another nearby Caribbean island).

We chose a large book (about two feet tall and three feet wide when opened) designed for reading to a classroom. The story contained 11 compound words (e.g., sailboat, sightseers, downtown), which became our theme. The five us each had a specific role to play—mine was to actually read the story to the class (which included lots of interactive opportunities). It reminded me of the years that I read to classes on a weekly basis with the ReadAloud program at Nash, Park, and Worthington Elementary schools back in the early 1990s.

We listed what they had thought were the compound words as the story was read (by clapping twice when they thought they heard one), and discussed which ones were and which were not actually compound words. We later split the classroom into two teams and played a puzzle game we created by cutting 3x5 cards into jigsaw puzzle pieces for them to piece together other compound words that had not been included in the story.

All in all, we had a successful hour spent with these school children. It was great to see their smiling faces. Their behavior was wonderful! However, we learned how difficult it can be to accurately predict how much time is required for classroom activities. As we tried to follow our lesson plan, we discovered that some things took less time that we thought while others segments required more time. I'm sure this difficulty with lesson planning is familiar to many educators, but I bet it gets better with more experience. In the meantime, you just need to be flexible and adjust "on the fly" as necessary.

The school building itself was interesting. It had a concrete playground/courtyard. The walls were made of cement blocks, with some of the blocks laid on their sides so that the open “holes” could allow air to flow through the walls. Obviously, there are no air-conditioned schools here, and the schools stay in session until July (it is a trimester calendar system). [As we were leaving, I noticed a plaque that this school had been rebuilt after damages from a hurricane years ago.]

After our successful half-day venture on Thursday afternoon, our Peace Corps contingent was split up again into several groups and spent all day Friday at other elementary schools. Six of my classmates were assigned to join me at another school on Friday morning. We spent most of the morning performing literacy assessments—a specific reading test to get data on how well a child is reading. Then we were allowed to interview a classroom teacher. We also got to spend some time exploring the school library after completing the assessments. Finally it was time for lunch with the teachers, which was delicious!

Following lunch, I wanted to get more classroom time, especially since they had recently finished their national exams and so they were merely winding down the school year. Myself and another of my classmates arranged to go with one of the teachers back to her classroom. We started off by talking about our lives back in America, and allowing them to ask us any questions. American culture is quite influential here, and some of our questions were things like “Have you ever gone to DisneyWorld?” (I told them the story of the conference I attended at a DisneyWorld hotel, but all I got to do was to ride the monorail—plus drive a race car at the Richard Petty Driving School on the outskirts of the park).

It was a good opportunity to promote the “2nd Goal” of the Peace Corps--to tell host country residents about America. We wanted these school children to know that all of America is not like New York City or Hollywood, California. I made sure they knew that my home of West Virginia is known as “the Mountain State” and that we have lots of steep, winding roads like they do here.

Later, we formed a circle with the children, and played an alphabet game. Each person in the circle would say the next letter in the alphabet, and then a word that matches the category we were playing. For example, the first round was books, and everyone had come up with a book title they were familiar with (my letters ended up being “C” and “T” so I used “Cat in the Hat” and “Tom Sawyer” when my turn came around). Later we played again using foods.

Then we broke the class down into two smaller groups. My colleague and myself took charge of our separate groups, and we worked up Venn Diagrams to discuss the differences and the similarities between St. Lucia and America. Stuff that was only found in St. Lucia (the Pitons, wild parrots, etc.) went on one side of the two overlapping circles. Stuff that was only found in America went on the opposite side of the page (snow, DisneyWorld, etc.). Where the circles overlapped, we listed items that could be found in both locations. This activity made them realize that America was a much larger country, and that some of the items in St. Lucia—while not found in my home state of West Virginia—could be found in other parts of the USA (such as coconut trees in Florida).

We spent the entire afternoon enlightening these students about life in America. It was a very rewarding day, as the students seemed to genuinely enjoy interacting with us. All the classroom training we had received the first ten days will eventually result in a full-time job as a Reading Literacy Co-Teacher. These two days of school visits give me hope that when we are assigned to our permanent schools when the next semester starts in September, we will bond closely with the students and be able to truly help them.

I want to close with a funny incident. During our visit, one of the students said he thought I reminded him of Santa Claus. I responded with a hardy “Ho, Ho, Ho.” To my surprise, the students all responded spontaneously and in unison by yelling “Merry Christmas!” I think that December in my school is going to be an interesting month for a stocky white fellow with a gray beard.

This is lunchtime at the school where I worked on Friday. The boys are playing cricket below the beautiful orange blossoms of what is known as the Flamboyant Tree. Notice the mountain shrouded in clouds in the distance.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

One year later...

Thursday night, June 26, 2014, is when my Peace Corps application journey began. Oh sure, I've written previously about my longstanding interest, as well as stories about our visit with Peace Corps Volunteers in the Dominican Republic in 2012, or our visit to the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary on the mall in Washington back in 2011. However, things didn't get really serious until this same Thursday night one year ago.

I drove down to Charleston, WV, that night after work and arrived in time to attend a Peace Corps recruiting event at the Kanawha County Public Library that evening. Little did I know at the time that exactly one year later I'd be writing about this topic while enjoying a tropical breeze and palm trees swaying outside my window.

In the spring of 2014, I began to seriously consider applying for the Peace Corps upon my retirement, and started exploring their website. I didn't know exactly when I would be retiring, but I knew the earliest I could retire was May 28, 2015, when I would have both the age (57) and the minimum number of years (30) to retire. I had read some recommendations that one should start applying to the Peace Corps as early as one year prior to your departure, so I realized that while at that time I didn't know exactly when I would retire, I needed to start getting serious about the application process. More importantly, I also noticed on the Peace Corps webpage that one of the few recruiting events in West Virginia would be held in Charleston on June 26, 2014.

It just so happened that Anna and I had already made a hotel reservation in downtown Charleston for Friday, June 27. The “Blues, Brews, and BBQ” event at the University of Charleston was scheduled for that night, and we had enjoyed attending this party on the UC riverbank in the past (including the year we stayed in one of the dorms). “Blues, Brews, and BBQ” is always a lot of fun, but I guess I will be missing this event over the next two years.

I had another reason to be going last year. On Saturday morning, June 28, 2014, the television show “The Biggest Loser” was sponsoring a half-marathon in Charleston. It would start at the levee, go past the WV State Capitol, and then head up into the hills, going all around the city cemetery, then coming back downhill and into downtown, going up through the historic East End, around the Capitol again, and then following Kanawha Boulevard along the river back to the levee. I had signed up for this challenge, and looked forward to completing my third half-marathon.

Once I saw that the Peace Corps was going to be there on Thursday night, I decided it was worth paying for another night and head to Charleston early. The recruitment event was very interesting, and included the very first Peace Corps volunteer from West Virginia, who went to Nigeria in 1961. I talked with some of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who were there, as well as the two Peace Corps staff members from the Washington headquarters.

Although I had already started on the essays required by the old application process, I gained a valuable tip at this event. The recruiters encouraged me to hold off on applying, because a brand new on-line recruitment system would be starting up in July. The new streamlined process would be better, they assured me. You would even be able to apply for specific positions in the country of your choice.

So I postponed applying. Even after the new system went live in July, I held back to make sure it was operating properly (I've been involved with bringing up new computer systems, and know how there can often be problems).

It didn't take me long to identify the job that appealed to me the most—Reading Literacy Co-Teacher in the Eastern Caribbean. I knew I wanted to be involved in education (although this was for elementary students, with whom I had little experience). Plus, I knew the Eastern Caribbean or Jamaica would be good choices for me, because of their proximity, climate, and predominant use of English. I think the deadline for applying was the end of September, and you would know if you are selected by the end of January. The tentative departure date was June 15 as I recall.

I realized that June 15 would be cutting it close for me, since I couldn't retire until the end of May. In addition, I had hoped to divest myself of many belongings, as well as sell my motorcycle and house. However, such opportunities do not come around very often, so rather than waiting to see if a Jamaica position were to open in the future, I decided to jump on the Eastern Caribbean job.

I submitted my application on August 15, and thus began the long wait before my interview. I continued to check the Peace Corps website for other recruiting events, and to research Peace Corps on the web to learn as much as I could. I saw that there would be another Peace Corps recruiting event in September at the library in Elkview, WV, so I drove down there after work to soak up as much information as I could—and to demonstrate to the recruiters just how committed I was to this endeavor.

I didn't limit myself to just recruiting events in my home state. I noticed that there was a recruiter who was providing private meetings in the student union at Ohio University, so I drove the 40 miles over to Athens to meet with her in the fall. She was very helpful and encouraging, even though I was technically from outside her recruiting area (although it was the closest event to my house).

I also happened to be in Washington, DC, in November, and was able to get over to visit the Peace Corps Headquarters while I was in town. On Friday afternoons, it seemed they always had some sort of recruiting event there, and I was glad to see the last part of one. Even better, I got to talk to a recruiter afterwards who had recently returned from serving in the Eastern Caribbean (Dominica). It was also nice to see the inside of the “mother ship.” I was emotionally moved by the monument to volunteers who had died in service.

I must say that I think my interest in attending these recruiting events probably improved my chances of being selected. I don't claim to know any of the secrets that goes on behind-the-scenes, but I would imagine that the fact that I was making a special effort to get as much information as possible had to impress the recruiters. I'd recommend such a strategy to anyone desiring to join the Peace Corps.

Much of autumn 2014 was spent waiting and wondering. Would I be selected? Would I pass the medical exams? Was this what I really wanted to do? When will I hear something? I tried to find a balance between not to getting overconfident and not worrying too much. It weighed heavily on my mind for months. My future was hanging in the balance.

Finally, they contacted me to set up an interview on Friday morning, December 5. The interview went well, in part because I emailed some background information ahead of time to the recruiter conducting the interview. It included a draft of what became the first story in this blog announcing my decision to join the Peace Corps. By the way, it turned out that I had met the person who interviewed my at the recruiting event I attended in Elkview.

I didn't have to wait long for an answer. I interviewed that morning, and by the afternoon I had received my invitation, which I eagerly accepted. It gave me a little over six months to finish my job, clear out my house and sell it, and then leave the country.

I also had to figure out how to tell my family and work colleagues, all of whom I had left in the dark on this in case I might not get selected. Only Anna, my daughter, and a few other close friends knew about my secret plan. As it turned out, the invitation came just days away from my birthday, so it was at my birthday dinner that I informed my parents and sister that I would be joining the Peace Corps. They were shocked, but doing it over birthday cake made it hard for them to argue against my “birthday wish.” I told my boss the next day, and then the folks with whom I worked. So began a nearly six month transition from my long career.

Almost as soon as I accepted the invitation, the Peace Corps started sending me lots of requests for information, forms to fill out, on-line training to be completed, and the lengthy requirements for the medical staff. I take some blood pressure medication, so I was a bit worried about whether this would cause any problems. However, they only asked my doctor to provide some additional information, which he kindly did so. Eventually, I received my medical clearance.

There is also a legal background check, but this caused me no concern, because as a federal employee, I had been subjected to such checks every five years. I knew my record was clean.

I was very busy in the spring, transitioning out of my job, clearing out my house, and donating away most of my possessions. However, the time finally came for my departure. My farewell party at work seems as if it was years ago, rather than a month ago. I've come a long ways in the past few weeks (and I'm not just talking about miles from the mainland).

So on this anniversary of my first official contact with the Peace Corps as a potential volunteer, I find myself busy preparing for going to a local elementary school tomorrow to perform reading assessments on real students. The training is intense, but I think I'm going to survive this ten week pre-service training program.

Most importantly, I think I'm going to survive the 27 month commitment I have made to the Peace Corps. I think it will truly be one of the most significant things I've done in my life.

I'm glad I added on Thursday night to my hotel stay in Charleston one year ago tonight. It was well worth the money!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Morgantown Newspaper Article

The Morgantown Dominion Post ran a story about me on the front page of Monday's newspaper (including color photos). I requested permission from them to include it in my blog, so here is the story “Courtesy of The Dominion Post.” I noted one important correction within the article, and I could nit-pick a few minor things, but overall it was a lot of column inches with ideal placement in a major newspaper (the home of West Virginia University)—good publicity for a good organization! I hope it may inspire some others to look into the Peace Corps. The article begins below:

- - - - - - - - - -

Signing up for the Peace Corps

57-year-old ready for the
“toughest job he'll ever love”

By Jim Bissett
The Morgantown Dominion Post

It's not every guy who can laugh at 6:00 AM, but David Kurtz did this past Wednesday.

He chuckled, anyway.

OK, he smiled. A little one. He wasn't quite awake.

That's because the roosters of Paix Bouche, Dominica [NOTE: Actually, I am on St. Lucia, but Dominica is one of the four island nations where I might be assigned], are nothing but punctual.

It was first light at that dawning hour, in the little mountain town in the Caribbean with the steep, steep road leading to it, when the birds punched in for work.

They crowed, one right after the other, in a call-and-response that would make even a morning person fry up a revenge plot most fowl.

Other times, they harmonized—just like Col. Harlan Sanders' favorite doo-wop group.

Kurtz now knows how the high-incline town got its name.

Loosely translated from Creole, “paix bouche” is a leveling directive that means “Shut your mouth” in English.

Mouths or beaks. No matter.

“I wanted to share that,” Kurtz wrote in an email to The Dominion Post at 6:08 AM that same day. “Before I went off to class.”

Good thing he retired so he could do all this work.

Kurtz, 57, a WVU College of Law graduate who worked 30 years for NASA and the federal Department of the Treasury, left a job he loved—for the toughest job he'll ever love.

Ask not (all over again)

The Peace Corps. The toughest job you'll ever love.

That was the tag line for public service announcements that popped up on TV in the 1970s to recruit volunteers for the outreach organization that was signed into being a decade before by the John F. Kennedy administration.

Kurtz and Kennedy go way back. The once-and-future Peace Corps volunteer was a little boy when those bullets were fired into the president's motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

In the family living room back home in Parkersburg, Joan Kurtz gentle explained to her 5-year-old why everybody was suddenly crying on the black-and-white console TV in the corner.

It was Joan who suggested that David draw an American flag as a patriotic get-well card for the fallen president.

They never got a chance to send it to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

David Kurtz's mother, who recognized a good, teachable moment when she saw it, grabbed the drawing and saved it.

“Well, of course, it was history,” said Mrs. Kurtz, who went on to a career as a nurse in Wood County's public school system. “That's why I wanted to save it for Dave.”

Kennedy's “Ask not” ethos resonated in the Kurtz household. That was the president's call in his inaugural address for Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

David's parents did that without making a deal about it. They were always volunteering and supporting community causes.

And they were all the time telling their son to appreciate he was growing up in comfortable circumstances—and that he should never hesitate to help those who weren't so lucky.

“All that stuck with Dave,” marveled his father, Harry, who is retired from G.E. Plastics.

David Kurtz would go on to earn a political science degree from the University of Charleston and would continue at WVU, taking a master's degree in public administration on top of graduating from law school.

At first, he wasn't sure if he had any academic energy left for law school. He did have a Plan B, however.

If he had to bail from the WVU College of Law, he'd go forth to serve the world in the Peace Corps.

Might as well do some good while recovering from a book-burnout, he reasoned.

“Have you lost your mind?”

After two years at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, Kurtz took a hometown transfer to a Treasury Department facility in Parkersburg, where he served a few terms on the Wood County Board of Education and was also an adjunct political science professor at WVU-Parkersburg (WVU-P).

His WVU-P classes always started the same way. Kurtz would give a practice test on that first night based on real questions from the U.S. Citizenship test.

“I've always had a strong sense of patriotism and public service,” he said. “I realize how lucky I was to have been born here, and I made sure my students understood how lucky they were to be here, too.”

Today, Harry Kurtz laughs at his reaction when his son, pushing 60, told him he was joining the Peace Corps and selling his home in the process.

“I have to be honest,” the elder Kurtz said. “When he told me, the first thing I said was, 'Have you lost your mind?' I just figured he'd stay in teaching after he retired.”

Which he is, his father said.

Just in a whole different culture.

He'll spend the next two years teaching literacy skills in Paix Bouche and other locales across the Caribbean.

“He's just always felt that he's owed his country,” Harry Kurtz said.

“Ask not,” Joan Kurtz added.

The kid from Yale and the 77-year-old

More than 650 West Virginians—now including David Kurtz—have signed up with the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961.

Some 220,000 Americans have served during the Peace Corps' past 54 years.

To date, you'll find Peace Corps volunteers in 60 countries across the globe, and 7 percent of them—Kurtz included—are over the age of 50.

“Our older volunteers bring a wealth of experience,” said Sarah Reichle, who handles public affairs for the Peace Corps' Mid-Atlantic Regional Recruiting Office, in Washington, D.C.

“They're the ones who are the professors and CEOs,” said Reichle, who served a year-and-a-half in Ecuador with the organization.

“They know how to start up companies, how to help people accomplish their goals.”

In case you are wondering, Kurtz isn't the oldest among his tropical group.

That honor belongs to a 77-year-old retired anthropologist, he said.

There's also a recent Yale graduate from Texas, to go with that husband and wife who recently retired as public defenders. A young educator on board spent this past year teaching school in inner-city Philadelphia.

“They're an amazing collection of Americans,” Kurtz said.

Peace Corps particulars

Kurtz and the others in his group landed in the Caribbean two weeks ago.

He'll begin teaching those literacy classes for youngsters in grades 1-3 in August.

Right now, he's living in the home of an older woman who regularly hosts Peace Corps volunteers.

He's getting an education in the art of local cuisine, having dug into breadfruit, dasheen, crystal fin—and that's just for the introductory eats.

“It's been quite an adventure so far,” he said, “and it's only just beginning.”

The all-day training sessions focus on local culture, health concerns and other issues that pertain to the four island nations of the Caribbean.

He's pretty tired at the end of the day, but he doesn't think he has to worry about oversleeping. The roosters are big on wake-up calls.

Reproduction of this story by courtesy of the Dominion Post.

I very much appreciate the writer's interest in my story. What is especially amazing is that he did it with very little input from me. I thought I'd share his original email below, as well as my three brief responses to him. All the rest of it he surmised from talking with my parents and a Peace Corps public affairs person, as well as from my blog. So I'm impressed with how he creatively handled our limited interactions. Here is his original email:

My name is Jim Bissett, and I’m a reporter with The Dominion Post in Morgantown, W.Va.

I’m checking with you – I know this obviously a busy time for you – for a story on your Peace Corps experience I’d like to have for this Sunday’s (June 21) edition. I see kind of an “Ask not – all over again” take for the story.

Is it possible for you to respond to some questions by email? I’m out of the office Thursday and Friday, so if I could get them by Wednesday (provided your schedule allows) that would be great.

Your blog entries are fantastic, so I don’t have to burden you with background questions as I write about your journey.

What I’d like to know are:

--Your impressions now that you’re out with a host families – plus, exactly where you are in the Eastern Caribbean.

--What “English literacy” entails, exactly. Will you teach an English as a Second Language course, or will you do novels? (For some reason, I’m thinking “The Catcher in the Rye” and what that could mean for Creole ears).

--What you think of your fellow volunteers. Have you made friends? Are you the oldest guy in the room? (I turn 56 on July 16th, so we’re in the same neighborhood).

Thanks very much,


Here are the three emails that I sent back to him (after checking first that it was okay to do so).

1st message:

You asked about my colleagues and if I am the oldest. They are an amazing collection of Americans! Here are just a few examples:

* A Penn State grad who got a Fulbright scholarship and went to India to teach
* A recent Yale grad from Texas
* A retired University of Missouri professor
* A married couple who retired recently after a legal career as public defenders
* A young man who just finished "City Year" teaching at an inner city school in Philly

A total of nine out of the 32 are over the age of 50, and I am not the oldest. That title goes to a retired anthropologist who is 77 years young. However, she is not the oldest currently serving around the world with the Peace Corps--somewhere there is a 79 year old serving.

I'll answer more later.

- - - - - - - - - -

2nd message:

Here are a few pix [NOTE: These pictures appear earlier in my blog, so I'm not repeating them here.]. The first is a view from the Benedictine Abbey where we spent the first two days.

Here is a picture of the road in front of my homestay house, with a local "bus" passing by.

The bus system is just vans, with green license plates starting with "M" (notice that they drive on the opposite side of the road, which is one reason why Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to drive here). We (myself and a few other volunteers) are in a small village up on top of a mountain. Every morning I take a 25 minute walk down the steep hill to our training location, but then ride the bus back up the hill during the late afternoon heat.

I am currently living in a home of an older woman who has previously hosted Peace Corps volunteers. She is very nice and is teaching me a lot about local produce and cooking methods. I love the tamarind juice she makes. I've also enjoyed my first taste of breadfruit, dasheen, crystal fin, and more. It is quite enlightening.

We will live with host families for seven weeks on St. Lucia, until August 1. Then, we will be split up among the four island nations, and will live with new host families for three more weeks in our assigned neighborhood. After three weeks, we can move into our own Peace Corps approved apartments. School begins shortly after that.

Our training is intensive. It seems as if I am in graduate school at WVU again. We arrived on Friday and have been in training activities every day since. We will have a special training event this coming Saturday, so Sunday will be my first day off since I spoke to the North Morgantown Rotary Club last Wednesday.

The training we receive covers local culture, health concerns, safety issues, etc. It also focuses on the "Reading Literacy" program that we will run. It is an effort to improve reading skills for students in grades 1 through 3. We will be working in local elementary schools, helping to co-teach, working with small groups and individual pull-out programs, conducting assessments, etc.

It has been quite an adventure so far, and it has only just begun! I'm looking forward to what lies ahead!

- - - - - - - -

3rd message (sent early last Wednesday morning):

I had a thought overnight that it might help your readers if I add this observation: "The road might be compared to Falling Run Road in Morgantown, but windier and steeper."

You also asked where we actually are located. Our training is being conducted in the town of Babonneau at their community building. Babonneau is a town in the mountains. Volunteers are scattered with host families in Babonneau and the surrounding villages. A few volunteers are pretty close to the training site. Some live below the training center and must walk uphill in the morning, but I live much higher so we get our exercise by walking downhill in the coolness of the morning. I am with five other volunteers in a community called Paix Bouche that is at the top of the mountain. Although I can't see it from my house, some of my neighboring volunteers have a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside with the ocean in the distance. It is beautiful!

I awoke with the neighborhood roosters crowing and had to share this with you before I go to class.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Volcanoes and Waterfalls and Beaches! Oh My!

What an incredible first weekend—or at least the first weekend we had free time for ourselves. Actually, we did need to complete some training on Saturday morning. We were required to find our way (using local buses) to our special consolidation point (a hotel) in a different town where we would gather in the event of an emergency.

Once everyone arrived, we talked for awhile with our security officer. Then we had to ride to the capital city of Castries and perform a scavenger hunt in small groups. This was designed to make us more knowledgeable about St. Lucia. We had to find specific items in the big marketplace as well as facts about different landmarks around the town, such as the library, the cathedral, the police station, and the post office. It was a good way to get a sense of the town.

This beautiful church was built in 1899.

Finally, we had the afternoon off—which gave us the opportunity to visit the beach for the first time since we arrived the previous Friday afternoon. Our training classes take place in the town of Babonneau up in the highlands, and we are all being housed with host families in surrounding villages. We know we are on a Caribbean island surrounded by beaches, but our feet had not yet touched the sand.

So after we were done with the scavenger hunt, we took the local buses to one of the popular beaches (Rodney Bay). It was a beautiful afternoon, sitting on golden sand and swimming in crystal clear water (for those of you worried about such things, I was wearing lots of SPF 50 sunscreen). Across the bay, I could see the old fort, high atop Pigeon Island, that Anna and I had climbed to on a cruise excursion when we spent a day at St. Lucia on a cruise years ago. It was hard to believe that I was back in the same geographical coordinates, except this time I will be here for two years, rather than just the few hours the cruise ship was in port.

Pigeon Island is in the distance, with its fort built in the 1700s on top.

While Saturday was fun, Sunday turned out to be even more of an adventure. One of my neighboring host families has a taxi van, so they arranged an island tour for a few of us. We left early in the morning, and drove more than an hour-and-a-half down the western edge of the island, primarily on hilly, twisty roads. We saw passed through a few towns such as Anse la Raye, Canaries, and Soufriere. There were many majestic views looking down at the Caribbean Sea, as we climbed across ridges separating about half-dozen small rivers or creeks.

This was taken during a stop for Cassava Cakes (which were delicious).

As we approached Soufriere, the iconic twin coastal mountains for which St. Lucia is famous came into view. Known as Grand Piton and Petit Piton, they are an impressive sight! I have heard that you can hike all the way to the top, but that it is a very challenging hike taking at least four hours (one way). I've been warned to take plenty of water and leave extra early if you attempt to climb one of the Pitons.

The town of Soufriere is jammed into the valley next to the Pitons.

Near the Pitons is the remnants of a volcano. One side has collapsed, allowing St. Lucia to tout itself as having a “drive-in” volcano. The park in which it is located has a road you can drive directly to the caldera. After first learning about volcanos in elementary school during the 1960s, it was amazing for me to actually be staring at the steam venting from the caldera—I never thought I'd be able to say that I had been inside a volcano.

Note the steam rising and the black stream flowing down.

Another feature of this park is the sulphur springs, which supposedly has healing qualities. Hot sulphur water from the caldera forms a stream, which is black from the sulphur. The smell of rotten eggs permeates your nose. The water temperature is very hot. We slowly lowered ourselves into the hot water, and dutifully rubbed the black mud all over our bodies to take advantage of the magical healing properties. While I'm skeptical of the medicinal value, I appreciated the opportunity to take part in this local (as well as tourist) tradition.

I refrained from putting on a thick coating of the black mud.

You see, I've had experience with sulphur water when I was young. I attended Murphytown Elementary School, which was too far from town to have “city water.” Instead, the school depended on a well that delivered sulphur-tinged water. During my dad's tenure as PTA President, they purchased a fancy water cooler with a filter that made our water fountain much tastier (and no longer smelled like rotten eggs). I saw no advantage during my elementary school days of sulphur water!

After leaving the volcano park, we went to a nearby waterfall. It reminded me a bit of Cathedral Falls in West Virginia, except we had to hike through the jungle to get there. In some spots on the path, there was a good view of Petit Piton, and looking downstream, you could see the Caribbean Sea through the trees. Even better, while the water wasn't as hot as the sulphur springs, it was still warm from the volcanic activity. Best of all, there was no stinking black mud!

That is Petit Piton towering behind me.

I loved the feeling of the water cascading down the hillside and pounding on my body. It was like a natural “shower massage.” In fact, that was the first “shower” I had enjoyed since we left the Benedictine Abbey a week ago. We had a wonderful stay these warm water falls! But eventually we loaded back into the van for the long ride home.

That is my young friend Kyle sitting on the rock behind me (he is part of another host family).

It was a grand adventure to have on my first full day off. I certainly have a new appreciation for how large the island is and how twisty the roads are, as well as a sense of the small towns along the west coast. Now I need to resume my literacy studies. Tomorrow begins our focus on Reading Literacy skills, so that they can turn us into teachers in six weeks (when most teachers get four years). It will be intense, and so I'll be looking forward to new adventures for next weekend!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ode to the Bucket Bath

First, I set the large plastic bucket (approximately two feet wide and a foot tall) directly under the faucet. I turn on the spigot in the tub, and the water comes out as a trickle—not the normal strong rush of water that I was accustomed to in the USA. Since it is cold water, I walk to the other end of the house, retrieve the carafe of hot water from the kitchen, walk back to the bathroom, and pour in about one-and-a-half liters of hot water to mix with the gathering cold water within the green plastic bucket.

Once it has about four or five inches of water in the tub, I turn it off and slide the bucket to the far end of the tub. I climb into the tub naked, and get down on my knees, somewhat reverently. After all, this precious water (St. Lucia has been suffering from a drought recently) is going to cleanse my body and prepare me for my day's activities. Slowly I bend forward and dunk as much of my head into the water as possible. [It reminds me a bit of bobbing for apples at Halloween parties when I was a kid.]

After my head has been immersed, I get to work shampooing my hair. I rinse out the shampoo with a small tin cup, dipping it into the water and then pouring it over the back of my head. I must hold my head over the bucket so the water stays inside as much as possible. I am so grateful that I donated my long hair before I left so that it is quicker and easier to clean. Plus, I don't need to go through the same routine a second time using conditioner after the shampoo. I will definitely be keeping my hair short during my two years with the Peace Corps.

Then I get my soap and washcloth, stand up, and put my feet inside the bucket. I proceed to clean the rest of my body with the washcloth and then rinse off with my tin cup. It is very important to rinse off in such a manner as to retain water in your bucket. It is a slow and deliberate process.

My normal shower back home had become so routine that I could “do it in my sleep.” It was so easy to do the first thing each morning! I know I will gradually become accustomed to bucket baths, but for now it is a new experience, and it takes some thought early in the morning.

I had previously mentioned the importance of retaining as much water as possible within the bucket. Obviously some of it drips off without returning to the bucket, and thus just works its way down to the drain for the tub. However, the soapy water that remains in the big green bucket plays a vital role. Instead of simply turning the bucket over and allowing its contents to go down the drain, the big green bucket has a secondary role. All leftover bucket bath water goes out to the garden, to help the vegetables and other plants to survive the drought.

This reminds me of my years in the late 1980s working in the Office of Space Station at NASA Headquarters. One of the major systems that was being designed for the space station was known by the acronym ECLSS—as I recall, it stood for Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, but we just referred to it as “eckless.” It was ECLSS where I learned of plans to recycle “gray water” from showers and kitchen activities for other uses. It is ironic that using my leftover bucket bath in the garden, in this “low tech” environment, makes me think of high-tech solutions that are now orbiting above my head each day.

All in all, bucket baths are not bad—they just take a little getting used to. I appreciate that I'm doing my part to conserve precious water. When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I knew there would be sacrifices. Given that they sent me to a tropical paradise, it is altogether fitting that I face a few hardships.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Television News

Watching the local news is a bit different here in St. Lucia. Being a small island country, there is no distinction between local news and national news as is done in the USA. Instead, it is an hour long broadcast covering everything from a local blood drive to global politics. There are two stations that compete during the 7:00-8:00 PM time slot, and then a third station that broadcasts their news from 8:00-9:00 PM.

Sometimes we watch the news for two hours, and I like to notice the differences between the newscasts. Obviously I haven’t been here long enough yet, but I’m already wondering if there is some political partisanship by any of these channels. Does one tend to support the party in power more than the others? Is one of them more supportive of the opposition? Or have they all been “fair and balanced” in their journalistic endeavors?

Surprisingly, there is very little weather coverage here. None of the stations have a weatherman. They may run some basic weather information on the “crawler” at the bottom of the screen, and one station presents some weather information (without any verbal commentary) via something akin to PowerPoint slides as they go into a commercial break.

One reason for this lack of weather coverage is that for the most part, the weather here is warm all the time, with a chance for brief showers most of the time. So far it seems we have seen at least a bit of rain each day we have been here (although they still need more). The clouds will come and go, and occasionally a sprinkle or a brief downpour will happen. Rarely does it last very long.

I would imagine that predicting when and where it might rain under these conditions would be difficult. Plus, St. Lucia probably doesn’t have the extensive weather forecasting infrastructure that the USA has, with fancy Doppler radars at airports, satellite imagery, National Weather Service computing models, etc. So most St. Lucians just accept whatever comes—they know it will be generally hot, with a chance of rain. The temperatures here don’t vary a lot—I’ve heard that it generally ranges from a high of 90 to a low of 75, and this would be consistent with what I have seen so far during my first week. Of course, if a hurricane were to be brewing, I’m sure that it would become the focus of the news (hopefully I can avoid confirming my suspicions).

Sports coverage exists, but focuses on cricket and soccer primarily (and includes a sportscaster). The only American sports news that I have seen mentioned was a story about the NBA Championship, but this was only shown after coverage of a local basketball tournament. Needless to say, I saw nothing about the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.

There are a number of differences between newscasts in the USA. Probably the most jarring to me (at least at first glance) was coverage of a drowning victim in the harbor of the capital city of Castries. The news story opened by stating that passerbys had noticed what appeared to be a drowning victim floating in the harbor. The camera then showed something bobbing up and down in the water. Apparently it was the head of the victim.

While that view was something I would not have seen on American TV, the next shot was even more different. The news camera showed the arrival of a police boat, which then proceeded to pull the body on board. It could be clearly seen that rigor mortis had set in, as his arms were frozen out ahead of his body. This view would never have been shown on an American newscast.

However, as I thought further about it, I’m not sure that it was necessarily a bad thing. It may simply be an example of a cultural difference. Perhaps St. Lucians (and other countries) understand the inevitability of death, and don’t try to hide it or sugarcoat it. The news camera was simply recording what all the crowd of people lining the edge of the harbor had seen for themselves. The view was distant enough that you couldn't see details or recognize the face. They did mention that the death had ruled as an accidental drowning, and even noted that this man was known to have an addiction problem. So in some respects, it was a reminder not to get drunk or high because you might fall into the harbor and drown.

I should also point out that my host family has cable television with probably a hundred channels, most of them the same as one can see on American cable television. Since I was too cheap to pay for anything more than the most basic cable package at my old home, I have made the move from America to St. Lucia and now get more television channels than I had previously. I didn't see that one coming! However, I have been limiting my TV time to St. Lucian newscasts and a few glimpses of the BBC World News. I think I'd like to disconnect from the day-to-day American media news as I attempt to transition into the Eastern Caribbean culture. As a bonus, I realized that it will be nice to miss all the negative television ads during the 2016 political campaigns back in America.

Finally, I want to share the link to a feature story included on a recent newscast in St. Lucia about the new class of Peace Corps who have arrived on the island ( Look close around the 45 second mark and you can see me.

[The photo below shows me standing by the St. Lucian flag with the member of the St. Lucian Parliament who came to speak with us.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My New Home!

At long last, I finally have a home! After selling and moving out of my house in Parkersburg, WV, at the end of May, in some respects I have been homeless. Late Sunday afternoon, I met my new host family and moved into their home for the next seven weeks while attending Pre-Service Training (PST).

I am living with a 65 year old St. Lucian woman, whose two 30-something children (a son who is a welder, and her youngest daughter, who works at a bank) share her house. Her other daughter is married and lives nearby. That oldest daughter’s three year old child spends a lot of time here with his grandmother between when he gets out of pre-school and when his mom stops by after her job (as a high school teacher) to pick him up. He is a lot of fun!

I have moved into a small bedroom in the house (which luckily has wifi!). It is a nice home with cathedral ceilings that extend into all the rooms, which I think helps with the heat (I imagine that attics would get very hot, so why not just open up the ceilings to the roofline?). Air conditioning is rare here, so you just grow accustomed to the heat. The island of St. Lucia has also been dealing with drought conditions, which means that we all take bucket showers as well as other measures to conserve water.

My host mom is doing her best to teach me how to cook. I’ve tasted lots of new foods, such as breadfruit, crystaphen, dasheen, tamarind, etc. This is in addition to other tropical foods I was already familiar with, such as mangos, passionfruit, papaya, plantain, etc. She has a nice garden in the backyard with a huge breadfruit tree. She is a good cook and takes care of me quite well! For example, tonight she fixed what is called “one pot”—a soup comprised of salt pork, various garden vegetables, plantain, and dumplings, with passionfruit juice to drink.

We also spend a lot of time talking as she educates me on St. Lucian life and culture. We also have been watching the local news. Last night, the television news carried the story of the 32 new Reading Literacy specialists that have arrived and are now in training with the Peace Corps (plus, there are two short term Peace Corps Response members training with us for the first two weeks before they begin their special projects).

Our training group spends each day at the meeting hall in a town halfway up the mountains known as Babonneau. The training classes are “hard core”—in fact, it seems as if I am back in grad school. The training is intensive because we have a lot to learn to adequately perform our jobs with the Peace Corps. It covers the literacy program we are here to do, as well as cross-cultural, medical, security, language, and other issues. We must pass a test at the conclusion to be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers.

There are six of us new Peace Corps trainees living in a small village near the top of a mountain. Although it is not visible from my home, some of my colleagues have a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside spreading out below and then the sea beyond. The land here is beautiful!

The other 26 trainees are spread out in other locations in and around Babonneau. Since we live above Babonneau, three of us have been walking to our training facility in the coolness of the morning, and then taking the local bus back up the steep, windy road at the end of the day. It provides an opportunity to get some exercise, while also taking in the lush scenery of the area. It takes about 25 minutes to make the walk. Then, on the way home, we get some practice using the main method of transportation here—the local bus system (which is really just vans with a special green “M” license plate).

This time one week ago, I was in Morgantown, West Virginia. It is still hard to believe that I am now living on this Caribbean island! Also, at this time last week I had not yet met what are now my 32 best friends—all of whom are amazing! The next two years are going to be very interesting!

[The pictures below were taken at the end of our driveway. The first looks over at our house, while the second looks up the street (showing the mountaintop plus a local bus passing by), and the third looks down the street.]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Leaving the Abbey

After two days of training meetings and socialization at the Benedictine Abbey, our group will be dispersed later this afternoon to live with our individual host families. Living with locals for the next seven weeks is an important part of the Peace Corps training. We will be attending continuing Peace Corps training sessions at a local community center during the day, but we will be learning from our host families during our time outside of training.

The members of our group will be scattered around to various villages. There are about four or five others that will be in the village I've been assigned to for the next seven weeks.

The Peace Corps provided us money to ride the local bus, but we also have the option of walking to the community center. We've been told the walk takes about half an hour from our village (depending on where your host family lives within the village) and that the walk is primarily downhill. I think most of our little group are interested in walking at least in the mornings, and perhaps riding the bus on the way home. We will hopefully try it out tomorrow and see how it goes.

The move later today to our assigned host families brings excitement as well as questions. How will it be living in someone else's home? Will we hit it off? Will they have an internet connection I can use? There are so many questions that will start becoming clearer later today.

After seven weeks of training on St. Lucia, our group will be divided among the four island nations, and we will spend the first three weeks on our assigned island (Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or perhaps staying on St. Lucia) living with host families there.

It is also sad to be leaving the Benedictine Abbey. Although we only spent two nights here, it has been our first home on this 26 month Peace Corps journey. The food has been delicious, the nuns have been nice to us (by the way, it turns out that they also wear habits in more colors than just white), the grounds are beautiful, and the food has been delicious (have I mentioned that?). We will long remember the time we spent here, learning about our service and getting to know one and other better. I am fortunate to be among this amazing group of fellow volunteers!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The First Two Days

My First Day:
After leaving from Pittsburgh early this morning, I arrived in Miami and met my cohorts for the next two years. What an amazing group of individuals! There are about 30 of us, from all parts of America, in all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors (including a married couple). After spending the afternoon and into the evening in training (with some talented Peace Corps employees who have previously served as volunteers), I have come to realize one thing--it will be awesome working with these folks! The Peace Corps is an incredible organization!

I will say that I was surprised at the size of our group. There is a special Facebook group for the Eastern Caribbean, and based on comments made on that site, I thought our group was only comprised of about 15 people. It has been nice getting to know those who had participated in this Facebook group, because when I arrived I recognized them and immediately felt like I had finally met my new friends. However, it turned out that there was about twice as many of us than I had realized. Some of them simply don't do Facebook, and perhaps others simply chose to "fly under the radar." I don't mean to second-guess their strategy, but if you are reading this as a prospective Peace Corps volunteer, I recommend that you get involved with your Facebook group prior to departure. Just a little tidbit of advice from someone who spent a lot of time researching Peace Corps blogs prior to my application and selection.

Day 2:
We had to get checked out of our Miami hotel and meet in the lobby at 5:00, which meant a second straight night of getting up around 4:00 AM. A charter bus took us to the airport where we had check in, get our bags weighed, and then run the TSA gauntlet. Our flight didn't start boarding until 9:00, but with 32 of us, with major baggage, it took a long time to get through the process.

The flight on an American Airlines 757 was less than four hours. This time I got a window seat, and it was fun looking down on various islands, with their turquoise blue shallow waters surrounding them.

Soon we were preparing to land on St. Lucia, as its mountainous peaks came into view. We deboarded (using the old-fashioned stairways moved into place against the fuselage allowing you down to the Tarmac), met the Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps Director, went through customs, gathered our bags, and walked out of the terminal. Some current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) met us outside and helped get our luggage organized and onto a truck, and then we boarded two buses to take us to a Benedictine Abbey on the other end of the island.

The drive from the airport at the southern end of the island to the Abbey in the north took nearly two hours, as the roads are narrow and twisty. Because of its British past, vehicles run on the opposite side of the road from what we are accustomed to seeing. We passed through many small towns along the way. This was not in any glamorous, touristy area--the poverty was obvious.

Once we arrived, we met more of the local Peace Corps staff, got our rooms, and had some free time before dinner. The Abbey is perched on a hill overlooking the sea. The nuns wear white robes. The food they prepared for us was fantastic (especially since I had not eaten much lately because I try to avoid filling up before flying).

After dinner, I happened to notice that the television in the lounge was tuned into the local news (there are no TVs in our rooms). It was very interesting for a news-aholic like me to watch a newscast where the only mention of news from the United States was that Golden State had evened the series with Cleveland for the NBA Championship. This was only mentioned at the very end of the sports segment, after major coverage of cricket, soccer, and a local basketball tournament.

The news itself covered topics such as water shortages related to the drought, the opening of a St. Lucian embassy in Taiwan (including concerns by an opposition party about its impact on relations with China), a controversy about whether trade unionists would be better not being identified with a particular party, a local blood drive, a deforestation study, a student leadership award program sponsored by RBC Bank, and a visit by a college group from Guyana.

The advertisements during the news were also illuminating. There were several bank commercials, the two major cell phone companies (Lime and Digicel), a local grocery store, some clothing stores, etc. Between the news and the commercials, I got a sense of my new home. It was a good way to end my first day "in country."

The view from the Abbey.

Peace Corps Press Release

The Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Office for the Peace Corps posted this story about me on their website:

After Impressive Career, Parkersburg Resident Begins Peace Corps Service in the Eastern Caribbean

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2015 – David Kurtz, 57, of Parkersburg, W.Va., has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will depart June 11 for the Eastern Caribbean to begin training as an English teacher. Kurtz will live and work in a community to support primary school English teachers, organize reading groups for young readers and develop school libraries.

David Kurtz Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean“I want to help others. I want to demonstrate that real Americans aren’t like what foreigners may see on TV,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz is the son of Harry and Joan Kurtz, of Parkersburg, and the father of Halley Kurtz, of Morgantown, W.Va.. He is a graduate of Parkersburg High School and attended the University of Charleston, in Charleston, W.Va., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1980. Kurtz then went to West Virginia University, in Morgantown, where he earned both a JD and a Master of Public Administration degree.

In May, Kurtz retired after a 30-year career in the federal government. From 1985 to 1987, he worked at NASA headquarters, in Washington, D.C., and then transferred to the Department of Treasury in his hometown of Parkersburg. Kurtz served as a member of the Wood County School Board from 1992 to 2000 and also worked as an adjunct professor of political science at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

“I’ve always had a strong sense of patriotism and public service,” said Kurtz of his desire to join the Peace Corps. “I love my country and I realize how lucky I was to have been born here. I made sure my students at WVU Parkersburg understood how lucky they were to be born here too. I always gave them a practice test on their first night of class based on real questions from the U.S. citizenship test.”

“My secret plan if I had dropped out of law school was to join the Peace Corps,” continued Kurtz. “Fortunately, I made it through law school, but I always appreciated that the Peace Corps ‘had my back’ if I had needed it. Now that I am retiring, I can finally ‘pay them back.’ More retirees should consider service in the Peace Corps.”

During the first three months of his service, Kurtz will live with a host family in Eastern Caribbean to become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. After acquiring the necessary skills to assist his community, Kurtz will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Eastern Caribbean, where he will live and work for two years with the local people.

“I had the chance to meet with Peace Corps volunteers working in the Caribbean during a stop on a cruise. They, like everyone I’ve ever met who has served in the Peace Corps, treasured their service. I’m sure this will be a life-altering experience for me,” Kurtz concluded.

Kurtz joins the 14 West Virginia residents currently serving in the Peace Corps and more than 656 West Virginia residents who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.

Peace Corps volunteers reflect the rich diversity of America, and about seven percent of currently serving volunteers are age 50 or over. They bring a wealth of experience to their assignments, meeting the critical needs of people in communities around the world. There is no upper age limit to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer, and the oldest volunteer today is age 79.

About Peace Corps/Eastern Caribbean: There are 58 volunteers in the Eastern Caribbean working with their communities on projects in education and youth and community development. During their service in the Eastern Caribbean, volunteers learn to speak local languages, including Vincentian/Grenadian dialect and French Creole, also known as Kweyol. More than 3,875 Peace Corps volunteers have served in the Eastern Caribbean since the program was established in 1961.

About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends the best and brightest Americans abroad on behalf of the United States to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Volunteers work at the grassroots level to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. Through their service, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today’s global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, nearly 220,000 Americans of all ages have served in 140 countries worldwide. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.