In the early 1980s, Gordy Mengel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in an isolated community in what was then called Zaire, now Congo.
“I was placed somewhere in the middle part of the country,” said Mengel. “And in the small community where I lived there was no post office, so getting letters out, which was basically the only means of communication, was very challenging.
Letters would take weeks, or months, to arrive.
But now, thanks to technology, that is no longer the case. Computers, cells phones and the Internet have changed the way Peace Corps volunteers do their work and stay in touch.
Now a Peace Corps programming and training officer in Rwanda, Mengel says improved communication technology has changed how people serve in the Peace Corps.
Back when he was a volunteer, he lost track of friends and family back in the United States so he had no choice but to integrate into the community.
“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,” says Mengel, “they can get on Skype and they give a quick call to mom and dad back at home. And that part of the experience has changed.”
Sonia Morhange is one of about 100 Peace Corps volunteers now serving in Rwanda. The San Diego native works at an organization in Kigali called Never Again Rwanda, organizing plays about the country’s 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead.
She catches up with friends in California over Skype, talks on the phone with her mom and e-mails her dad. She hasn’t mailed a single letter through the postal system and can’t imagine waiting months for one to arrive.
“I know, I can’t believe it. I can’t imagine having been a Peace Corps volunteer in the 70s or the 80s or even the early 90s,” said Ms. Morhange. “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.”