A week ago, the Miami Herald ran this story about US Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador:
On a parched corner of this Central American nation where searing heat and dust punish those who live here, Brendan McCleary leads a group of youngsters on a hike for an up-close look at the hemisphere's second-most deforested country.
"It's hot here, right? Why?" McCleary, 24, asks the nodding children at a clearing in the sparse woods.
"Because there are no trees," several shout.
McCleary and Nathan Dollar, stationed at another community in the same region, are part of a reviving U.S. program that was launched by President Kennedy in 1961: the Peace Corps.
The agency rose to 15,500 volunteers in the mid-1960s, then dropped to about 5,000 in the Reagan era. With little fanfare or publicity, the Peace Corps has grown again to some 7,750 volunteers, mostly single young adults involved in everything from health to agriculture assistance programs in 139 countries. Once viewed as an agency that focused mostly on infrastructure needs like digging wells, the Peace Corps now concentrates on education, health, business development and environmental projects.
"The Peace Corps is less about building bridges and getting potable water," said Dollar, 25, from North Carolina. "It's about human-to human-contact and capacity building -- human development on a grass-roots level."
And where volunteers were once eyed with suspicion, sometimes even regarded as CIA agents, they are now widely embraced.
"We define being welcome on whether or not we feel safe in a country," said David D'Agostino Leavitt, a Peace Corps spokesman. "In the countries we're in now, there is a comfortable marriage."
The Peace Corps now clearly feels safe in El Salvador. More than 1,600 volunteers have served in this country. But the agency pulled out in 1979, amid a bloody civil war, and did not return until 1993. It currently has 156 volunteers in this small and largely poor nation.(more)
Many Peace Corps volunteers have blogs which can be found here. Read about their experiences in El Salvador in their own words.