First Volunteers On Their Way
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Forty years after it divided the European continent, the Iron Curtain has parted for the Peace Corps, the idealistic creation of President Kennedy.
One of the first 122 U.S. volunteers leaving this weekend for Eastern Europe, 66-year-old Felix Lapinski, has a highly personal motive for traveling to Poland to teach English.
″I learned Polish at my mother’s knee,″ he said in an interview Thursday. ″I had always heard the stories of the old country. Now I have a chance to teach Poles English, which is really the access language of the modern world.″
Lapinski, who has been teaching English to foreign students at night for nine years, was one of those selected from thousands of volunteers.
At the invitation of the new Polish and Hungarian governments, the Peace Corps aims at creating a network of trained teachers to spread the use of English, which Peace Corps Director Paul D. Coverdell said has become the essential ″language of commerce, science, mathematics and computer technology,″ as Eastern Europe turns its face to the West.
″It’s almost as if the Peace Corps had been in training for 30 years for this moment,″ said Coverdell.
The volunteers will first spend several months of language training in Polish and Hungarian university towns. They are expected to begin teaching this fall.
Coverdell expects a decade-long effort, with the Peace Corps expanding its reach to such countries as Czechoslovakia and broadening its scope to include instruction in environmental protection and business development.
But as the effort begins, the focus is on helping Poland and Hungary to set up a system for the wide-scale teaching of English.
″In the very, very recent past, English was a closet language in Eastern Europe; you had to learn it secretly,″ says Jerry Welch, the Peace Corps’ deputy director for Central Europe and other regions.
″Now they have a need for a large number of English teachers,″ Welch told an orientation session this week for the first group of teachers going to Hungary.
″I think you will not find that you are any kind of threat to existing English teachers,″ he assured them. ″They are few in number and overwhelmed.″
The 61 volunteers going to Hungary were greeted by a hand-lettered sign that gave them one inkling of the language barrier they soon will face.
″Udvozoljuk a Bekeszolgalatnal,″ it said in Hungarian. A helpful translation added: ″Welcome To Peace Corps.″
The volunteers, 39 men and 83 women, are a diverse lot.
They range in age from 21 to 77. They come from 31 states. And, while most are experienced in teaching English, their backgrounds span a range of interests, jobs, and activities.
For Mary Lou Moore, who has taught English as a second language to Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Chinese and Saudi adults, President Bush’s call for volunteers to teach English in Hungary seemed to be ″exactly for me.″
Miss Moore, 60 and from Red Bluff, Calif., has also taught English in China. She said the initial motivation to expand her horizons to Hungary came from home.
″My 84-year-old mother said, ’President Bush needs people in Hungary; why don’t you go for it?‴
Charles and Jean Lough of Seattle found their motivation for Peace Corps service not from a president but from a president’s mother.
In 1976, shortly after ending a long career as a planning manager in the Boeing Co.’s space division, Charles Lough began reading stories about the how President Carter’s mother, Lillian, a trained nurse, had joined the Peace Corps at age 65 and served for two years in India.
″I’m in the habit of creating reality for myself,″ Lough said. ″I said, ’When I’m 65 I’m going in the Peace Corps.″
In the intervening years the Loughs taught English for three years in Japan.
″When we came back, we still wanted to do our Peace Corps stint,″ Lough said, adding that he had failed to match Lillian Carter by just a year. He is now 66.
Meanwhile, the Loughs have started tackling the language barrier virtually all of the volunteers soon will face.
″We started teaching ourselves Hungarian using our own teaching methods that we use to teach others,″ Charles Lough said.