When I Grow Up, I Want to Join the Peace Corps

peace corps 2Talk about an inspiration! Especially during a month when another birthday will bring yet another hard-to-imagine big number. Alice Carter, who just turned 87, said she has no idea how she got there and finds the number hard to believe. I can relate, although my upcoming number is somewhat shy of hers.

I have been thinking about Carter ever since hearing Rachel Martin interview her on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. The oldest currently serving Peace Corps volunteer, Carter was quick to point out that she is not the oldest ever. “Twenty years ago, there was a guy in Ghana who was 90, so I’m second,” she said. “But right now, I’m at the top.”

She spoke to Martin from a village outside Rabat, Morocco where she is in the second of her two-year tour. A Bostonian with six kids and grandchildren, she’s been interested about the world for a long time. And in 1960, when she heard about President Kennedy’s Peace Corps proposal and his call to young people to dedicate themselves to peace and progress around the world, she wished she could comply. But as she said, “I was there with no college education and up to my eyeballs in diapers. And I thought, ‘Gee, I’d like to do that, but it’s not going to happen.’”

And now, after raising a family and with a long history of volunteerism, the option rather serendipitously presented itself. “Oh, it was wonderful,” she said. “I went to a party in Vermont and I met a whole lot of 1960s Peace Corps graduates…and there was a recruiter there. So I kind of wandered over and said, ‘What’s the cutoff?’ And she said, ‘There’s no age limit.’ And bingo, I went home, got on the computer and started applying right away.”

Her family thought the Peace Corps would humor her, letting her apply but never giving her an assignment because she’s too old. “But they were wrong,” she said, “and they came around, almost 100 percent of them…”  One granddaughter objected but Carter told her, “No, I’m going to go. I can’t stand Boston anymore. I’m too old, and I keep falling down in the snow. I have to find a warmer climate, so I kind of presented it to her that way.”

Asked what she brings to the Peace Corps that is different because she is older, Carter said, “I think it’s an attitude. Younger people in our culture are raised to compete. So they’re all trying to do as much as possible and it’s very restful for them, to be around people who are not competing. I’m not here to be a world-beater or accomplish impossible tasks. And I want you to know that you can have a really good time in the Peace Corps when you’re old.”

In spite of that, Carter does not think she’s going to extend her tour beyond this year. “I think my family would come and drag me off the continent of Africa if that happened,” she said.

4 comments on “When I Grow Up, I Want to Join the Peace Corps

  1. Margo Smith says:

    I loved that. Age is only a number — not a limiting factor. More experience makes for better choices. If you want to run a marathon or get a degree in interior design or do stand-up comedy — go for it.
    Time is not infinite. My motto is “suck the pleasure out of every day.”

  2. Roger Keyser says:

    Wow! That really is inspiring. I am surprised but pleased that the Peace Corp recognises the value of octogenarians. Maybe someday?

  3. patnieder says:

    Yes! At one point in the interview Carter said part of her contribution was showing how to be old. I think that’s something we should all try to do.

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