Donahue reflects on time in Peace Corps

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

The Westwood Women’s Club had a special guest speaker during their March 21 meeting: historian Charlie Donahue visited to speak on his experience in the Peace Corps and the last legacy left by John F. Kennedy.

Like Donahue, who grew up in the aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of the Vietnam War, many individuals of this post-War generation wanted to serve the country. President John F. Kennedy recognized this urge and started the program after signing Executive Order 10924 on March 1, 1961. It was followed by Congress' authorization with the Peace Corps Act.

Congress wrote that the purpose of the program was "To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, particularly in meeting the basic needs of those living in the poorest areas of countries." The Peace Corp was established partially in order to help people of other countries improve their lives.

Donahue deferred going to college after being influenced by his father’s generation’s dedication to military service. He decided to join the newly-formed Peace Corps. In 1962, organizers began sending volunteers to Ethiopia, where Donahue was first assigned. “Ethiopia was in bad shape because Italy invaded during World War II and killed all the educators,” explained Donahue.

Before traveling to Ethiopia, Donahue had to take an intensive language course to learn the language most Ethiopians spoke. For five hours a day, Donahue and his fellow students would sit in a classroom, reciting whatever their teacher said to them, over and over again. This went on every day until these volunteers had memorized the survival basics, such how to ask for the location of places or for specific supplies they might need.

Donahue was assigned to be a part of the tuberculosis control efforts in Ethiopia, which would later help him when he was relocated. When asked where he wanted to go after Ethiopia, Donahue only had one request: somewhere near the ocean. And the ocean he got, being assigned to the east coast of Malaysia.

Donahue continued to work on tuberculosis control while stationed there, but this time, Donahue was given the chance to provide feedback that helped reduce the problem on a much greater scale. He would help at the local clinic, where he and other volunteers would help test residents. If a child did not have tuberculosis, he or she was vaccinated for the disease with BCG.

Eventually, Donahue and his colleagues realized that they needed to get the word out about tuberculosis prevention and testing. Working together, they came up with a short movie. Following its showing at local cinemas, a record number of people came to the clinics to get tested.

Following Donahue’s time in the Peace Corps, he returned to the United States, where he continued to work in healthcare.

Since its establishment, more than 235,000 people have served in the Peace Corps. Like Donahue, those people have left inspired by their service and the impact that they have made.

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