MY NAME IS Mary Lou Weathers. I was too young to understand the goals of the Peace Corps as stated by President Kennedy so many years ago, but I celebrate the spirit of the idea and am thankful that it lived on until I was old enough to join the Peace Corps.
I was an English teacher in a secondary school in Benin, West Africa for three years. I had two different posts, one in the north, in Parakou and one in the south, in Allada. I was able to get closer to the people in Allada which was a small town, consequently I feel that I made more of an impact. What a deep down wonderful feeling one can get from reaching out in friendship to help and learn from people in a different culture. I think the Beninese I knew learned from me and certainly I learned from them. My experiences taught me about some really important things in life like peace, personal fulfillment, and international friendship. Also, never again will I take for granted some of the everyday things of American life.
One of the most fulfilling things about my time in Allada was getting money from the American Ambassadors Self Help Fund to build a library. What a gratifying feeling it is knowing that I have helped the students of Allada in furthering their education. I think that is what Peace Corps is all about, education of Americans about other cultures, education of foreigners about the United States, and education about how we are all in this world together and we need to work together to make it a better place for everyone. What an exciting vision President Kennedy had of global friendship and assistance.
My Peace Corps experience started a period of great personal growth and understanding for me. I learned about my abilities and it has changed me into a better person. Also, I feel privileged to have met some very special people, Volunteers, staff and Beninese who have enriched my life immeasurably. I consider these Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to be my best friends now because of the ties of shared experience that bind us together.
Last year during Volunteer Week I spoke at an Arlington, Virginia high school to a special English language class for recent immigrants. Many of these students were familiar with the type of conditions I was describing. At the end of the class I was thrilled at the number of new Americans who came up to me asking about how to join the Peace Corps. This, however, was in contrast to the students in a geography class that I also addressed. I was dismayed at how little interest was displayed in service to other countries. This is why I think the third goal of Peace Corps is so important since we are all in this together.
In conclusion, I feel privileged to have been a part of one of the great movement of the 20th century which must continue on, and I salute President Kennedy for its creation and all of those who have worked to make it a success. My service was such a formative experience teaching me about myself, humility, international friendship and love. It will have a positive effect on me for the rest of my life. Therefore, bless you President Kennedy and peace be with you.