By Joel Mullen (Ecuador 1970- )
Special to the Standard-Examiner | Aug 30, 2023
In the next three months, 12 Utahns who are joining the Peace Corps will each ship off to spend two years at a site in a country that has requested Americans to live and work among them.
I envy their coming adventures and experiences in learning new languages, cultures, foods, geographical landscapes, histories, and especially getting to befriend those they otherwise would never have gotten to know.
In 1970, I was a new Peace Corps recruit in Ecuador. On the ride into town from Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport, I marveled at how young men jumped on and off moving city buses. They were daring and competent.
Over my next few months in Ecuador, I became adept at running for public transportation, eventually expanding my skills to jump and run for my favorite train from the Andes down to the coast. I later tried the same technique on the Pastaza River in the Amazon and nearly swamped the dugout. Some lessons you learn the hard way.
I was assigned to work on community development projects, mainly working with a village cooperative store, and later helping with the construction of a school and two bridges. In those early years, most poverty was concentrated in rural Ecuador. In one village where I worked, indigenous people lived in thatch roofed adobe houses with no water or electricity. In a testament to their hard work over the years, village life improved. Three young villagers became physicians; several others graduated to become school teachers.
Now, Ecuador’s population is about 20 million, and rural poverty, though still visible, has been overtaken by urban growth and a host of big city problems like crime, drugs, congestion and pollution.
At 62 years old, the Peace Corps finds ways to adapt to changing needs of its host countries. However, its operating rules and procedures need to be adapted as well and brought up to date so it can do even better work going forward. That’s why the 2023 Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, H.R. 1273 and S. 1203, has been introduced into both houses of Congress.
The Peace Corps, with its special sauce of person-to-person relationships, enhances goodwill toward the U.S. around the world. It’s an inexpensive program, its annual costs amounting to less than 1% of the State Department budget.
Last year, Sens. Lee and Romney and Rep. Moore voted for reauthorization of the Peace Corps. This year, I would urge all of our senators and congressmen to vote for the bill, including Reps. Curtis and Owens. After all, like the Peace Corps, Utah has a history of volunteerism and international work.
Joel Mullen, a former Peace Corps volunteer, taught at the University of Utah. He lives in Salt Lake City and remains in contact with several families in Ecuador.