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Peace Corps Volunteers Find a Wired World

Technology helps Peace Corps volunteer Sonia Morhange, seen here in Rwanda, stay in touch with family and friends back in the United States.
Technology helps Peace Corps volunteer Sonia Morhange, seen here in Rwanda, stay in touch with family and friends back in the United States.

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Next year, the Peace Corps will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Peace Corps volunteers are Americans who teach and work on projects in developing countries.

The United States created the Peace Corps during the cold war with the Soviet Union. Today, technology has changed how the volunteers do their work and stay connected with friends and family back home.

In the early nineteen eighties, Gordy Mengel served in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Letters from home would take weeks, or months.

As a result, he socialized more with people in the local community. He lost contact with friends and family back in the States.

Today, Gordy Mengel is a Peace Corps programming and training officer in Rwanda.

GORDY MENGEL: "These days with the advent of the Internet and cell phone service and so forth, I still see volunteers having some of that experience. But again, when they go back to their homes, instead of turning out the kerosene light and going to bed, they can get on Skype or they give a quick call to Mom and Dad back at home. And that part of the experience, I guess, has changed."

(SOUND: Call on Skype)

FRIEND: "What's going on? I'm connecting my webcam."
SONIA MORHANGE: "Oh, awesome, I'll get to see you as well."
FRIEND: "I look like a mess right now. I was gonna get ready, but ... "
SONIA MORHANGE: "Did you just wake up?"
FRIEND: "Can you see me?"
SONIA MORHANGE: "Yeah, I can see you."

Sonia Morhange is one of about one hundred Peace Corps volunteers in Rwanda. She talks with a friend in California on Skype, an Internet calling service. She talks with her mother on the phone and e-mails her father.

SONIA MORHANGE: "I can't imagine having been a Peace Corps volunteer in the seventies or the eighties or even the early nineties. I'm just so used to everyone having a cell phone that works internationally. I'm very, very lucky in the fact that where I live I have wireless Internet and that makes it a lot easier."

Peace Corps volunteers receive a living allowance and other benefits in return for twenty-seven months of training and service.

John Reddy is the country director in Rwanda. He says fairly easy access to the Internet means that volunteers can do more than just call home.

They can research subjects to help their communities. And, through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, they can get donations online for their projects.

But John Reddy admits he sometimes misses the old days, before the Internet and good phone service. He says volunteers had more independence.

JOHN REDDY: "It's not always helpful to Peace Corps staff. If a volunteer is telling their family they're having a bad day or a bad week, and then the family member calls Peace Corps Washington and Peace Corps Washington calls me and I have to find the volunteer and see what the problem was."

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, available online at We're also on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.


Reporting by Zack Baddorf, adapted by Lawan Davis