New Green Economy, philanthropy, Saving the World, travel

Peace Corps: What Volunteers Get

A few readers wondered what exactly volunteers get out of joining the Peace Corps.  Like, is it charity, like helping at the soup kitchen?  The perception is almost as if you could get the same experience sending a few dollars to a preferred charity or sending old clothes to the Salvation Army.

This is not the case.

If you join the Peace Corps, you travel.  Real travel, not just poking ten toes in the sand on a hot beach in the Caribbean.  (Not that that’s a bad thing but..)

Travel in this case means “travel to experience”… a place, a people, a culture.  Pacific Islands, Asia, South America, Africa….  Like the Army, you go where you’re needed.  You commit.  For over a year.

Peace Corps volunteers travel overseas to make real differences in the lives of real people, says the organization’s web copy.   How awesome is that?  It’s a soul-altering experience.

For love, money, discipline and health benefits

The Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience.  It provides a well-traveled perspective and project management experience from which you will draw for the rest of your life.

The most significant accomplishment — and reward — will be the contribution you make to improve the lives of others.  It’s said: just try to feel miserable when the face of a young mother is beaming at you with relief and gratitude at having a new shelter with adequate water.  Watch her sing to her baby now that she can.  And feel it when her eyes catch yours, full of genuine gratitude.

That – will – change – your – life.   Full stop.

Dollars and Sense

There are also other types of benefits for volunteers, personally and professionally.

  • Free Travel: expenses for travel to and from your country of service are 
paid for
  • Living Allowance: a monthly stipend to cover living and housing expenses
  • Vacation: earn two vacation days each month
  • Medical and Dental: 100% medical/dental while serving
  • Health Insurance: affordable health plan up to 18 months after service
  • No Fee: there is no fee to participate in the Peace Corps
  • Student Loans: some deferment, some partial cancellation
  • Transition Funds: receive $7,425 (after full 27 months)

Here’s a form to apply for the Peace Corps. Here are the basics of what it’s like to be a volunteer: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=learn

Professional and Career Benefits

As we’ve said, Peace Corps Volunteers gain valuable skills and experience that will help in any career path.  If you’re looking to start your own business or get into Business — there are key things you can learn in the Peace Corps.

Forget feeding the U.S. Private Education Bubble by going $100,000 in debt for an expensive MBA program.  Learn in real life, see what really works.

  • Develop skills for the global marketplace
  • Get job placement support
  • Receive advantages in federal employment
  • Network with vibrant alumni

Talk to someone who was there

The Peace Corps staff of recruiters — all of whom served in the Peace Corps themselves — can tell you what it’s really like to Volunteer, whether or not you qualify, and how to work through the application process.

Contact your local recruiter at 800.424.8580 or use this page to get in touch: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=meet

I hope this page helps.  Anyone who is interested in the world and has any sort of interest in making the world a better place must consider the Peace Corps.  Myself included.  Seems like in America we think putting an addition on the house or upgrading the bathroom or getting another degree is going to bring joy to the soul.

There’s more out there.

Leave a comment

Leave a comment if you have been in the Peace Corps and recommend it, or if you have any thoughts on the program.

Remember it’s government run, sort of akin to the National Service in Switzerland (but Peace Corps is not mandatory, just advised).

[note: myself as a blogger / citizen of the U.S. has no affiliation with the Peace Corps at all, just think it’s a friggin’ good idea. cheers.]

New England, New Green Economy, philanthropy, Saving the World, travel

You’re Never Too Old For the Peace Corps

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Peace Corps signed a Memorandum of Understanding last week in Washington, D.C.

Newburyites comment on the Peace Corps
"Never too old for the Peace Corps"

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Director of the U.S. Peace Corps, Aaron Williams, announced that a Memorandum of Understanding would facilitate stronger institutional ties between the two groups.  The idea is to collaborate on a wide range of environmental issues.  These issues include bringing cleaner cookstoves to millions in the developing world — while “engaging young people,” [quote from EPA] and expanding the global conversation on environmentalism, while supporting local solutions for communities here at home and around the world.

Hold on.  Engaging the “young people?”

That’s great, but what about the rest of us?  Young people want a new skirt, nicer shoes, and a trip to Cancun — not a long day in the African sun helping women repair water mains.  At least, that’s what I wanted…  but I’ve changed!  I swear!

Never Too Late

“It’s never too late to join the Peace Corps,” said Newbury, New Hampshire resident Margo Steeves.  “A woman in my yoga class is 73 and she just returned from a year in Africa.  She had always wanted to join the Peace Corps.  So she just did it.  She liked working in Africa so much she’s going back next year!”

Why do we think we have to be 18 to experience the Peace Corps?  Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to go when we are a little older and wiser?

EPA and Peace Corps Partnership

“The partnership between EPA and the Peace Corps marks an important advance in the work and mission of both organizations,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “EPA and the Peace Corps can expand our efforts both here at home and throughout the world, combining our experiences and knowledge to tackle complex and pressing environmental issues confronting our global community.”

“Everyday, thousands of Peace Corps volunteers around the planet work with local communities to find sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “Our collaborative work with the EPA will help empower more communities to make environmentally friendly choices.”

Peace Corps Never Gets Old

People in developing countries face extraordinarily high exposures to toxic smoke from indoor fires and inefficient cookstoves that lead to nearly 2 million deaths each year, primarily in young children and women, according to EPA documents.  Thus, the EPA and the Peace Corps will work on:

  1. environmental education
  2. community monitoring
  3. solid waste management
  4. waste water management
  5. safe water management
  6. climate change issues

Peace Corps backgrounder

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship.

The Peace Corps’ mission states three simple goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Peace Corps Facts:

Peace Corps officially established: March 1, 1961

Total number of Volunteers and trainees to date: 200,000+

Total number of countries served: 139

Current number of Volunteers and Trainees: 8,655

Gender: 60% female, 40% male

Marital Status: 93% single, 7% married

Minorities: 19%

Average Age: 28

Volunteers over age 50: 7%

Education: 90% have at least an undergraduate degree

Fiscal year 2010 budget: $400 million

Fiscal year 2011 budget: $400 million

Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams (Dominican Republic 1967-70) Peace Corps Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Western Samoa 1981-1983)

Toll-Free Recruitment Number: 800.424.8580

Further info:  http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=about.fastfacts

Green Reviews, Green Tips, Health, Science

Chemicals and Food Dyes

Lately some big stories about chemicals in food coloring have been published.  “Nobody ever said that chemicals that bring the Pow Orange to spray cheese were a health food,” said Environmental Leader.

The Chicago Tribune noted studies indicating that some chemical compounds in food colorings cause hyperactivity and allergy symptoms in children.

Adding Food Coloring to Children may cause ADHD
Children and chemicals in cake frosting: can they mix?

Warning: the color additives in foods containing the following dyes may cause hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children.
•    Blue 1
•    Blue 2
•    Green 3
•    Orange B
•    Red 3
•    Red 40
•    Yellow 5
•    Yellow 6

For instance, check out this profile of blue food coloring, from eHow.com.

For a backgrounder of food dyes in the U.S. (historically), it does not get much better than this FDA treatise.  For a good list of food additive chemicals to avoid, complete with explanation, see this food dyes page from CSPI.   And, lastly, here is everything the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knows about chemicals in food & packaging.

Green dye in guacamole, blue dye in blueberries

The Daily Green, a consumer site out of Maryland, reported the following: “European regulation, according to CSPI, are already more strict: ‘For instance, the syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald’s in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries; in the U.S., the red color comes from synthetic Red 40.

Synthetic food dyes are common in “fun”-colored foods popular with children:  breakfast cereals, candies, snack foods and soft drinks.

But it may be surprising to some that synthetic colors are also used to make fruits or vegetables more appealing.  Kraft’s “Guacamole Dip” gets its green color not from avocados but from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1.  CSPI notes that the “artificially flavored blueberry bits” in Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles are blue thanks to Red 40 and Blue 2, not blueberries.

Be wily: just because it says “strawberry ice cream” in big letters does not mean the food is actually colored with red strawberry juice.  Read the small print.  Of all the major brands, typically Breyers ice cream is the most natural one.  But always read the labels to check for yourself.

From saffron to spray cheese: intelligent life or…?

This quote is irresistible and sums up the food coloring situation, from Environmental Leader:

Using additives to make food more appealing goes back to ancient times when people would salt meat to preserve it. Later, herbs like saffron were added to rice to make it, besides more nutritious, a pleasing shade of yellow.

Many believe that from an evolutionary perspective it was just a matter of time before someone created bright orange spray cheese. – EL

If the food is packaged — from unholy guacamole, easy-cheesy pizza topping to bright blue lollipops — we should think before putting in our mouths or giving it to our children.  Hopefully this article provides good tips and good reference for you to find out more.

The upshot is: keep it natural.

Green Tips, New England, Science, Snow, Winter

Chemicals for Snow Removal

Salting the roads or the walkways for snow removal is illegal in California.  If you’re driving in the mountains in California, say to Tahoe for a ski vacation, you carry chains.  There are turnouts on all the highways, like rest areas, for you to stop and hook the chains onto all four wheels of your car.  They’ll plow, but they won’t salt.

Removing  snow and ice in New England is a little different. Making driveways and walkways passable and safe requires some kick-ass chemicals.  At least, we believe so.

Winter in New England brings unique snow removal challenges.
What chemicals are you using?

Winter ice bonds with pavement and other surfaces.  Ice is like paint – it’s not just a layer sitting on top but is a layer actually knitted to the surface.  What chemical de-icers do is either break that bond or prevent the bond from happening.  A de-icer, of course, is a chemical agent that is spread on snow or ice.

Let’s look at the usual chemical suspects.

Chemicals for snow removal

Snow removal chemicals are either acetates or chlorides.  Acetate chemicals are biodegradable and are believed to have low impact on the ecosystem after being washed off the parking lot and into streams, soil, gardens. Chlorides are salt-based and are more “corrosive,” as chemists like to say.  This means “toxic” to organic life and means “eats away” at inorganic life, such as cement, wood, and the underside of the car.

Chlorides first:

Chlorides for Snow Removal

Rock Salt and Sodium Chloride
> Rock salt and sodium chloride is the most common chemical used in snow removal compounds, but only effective above 20 F.  Rock salt can be corrosive to rebar and steel but has relatively low impact on concrete.  It’s not health food for the ecosystem, significant concentrations can mal-affect flora, fauna and ground water.  Problems, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), include salt toxicity to plants and fish, groundwater contamination, and human health interactions, particularly salt intake and hypertension.

Urea and Potassium Chloride
> Potassium chloride is a fertilizer.   It’s also effective for melting ice. The chemical is said to be safe for plants at low doses, though in high concentrations it may prove deadly to the same plants.  Urea does not contain chloride, so it does not carry the corrosive risk to steel and rebar as other chloride-based snow removal chemicals.

Calcium Chloride
> Calcium chloride is a liquid.  It absorbs moisture from the air, thus essentially “dehydrating” the ice so it dissolves. As a snow removal chemical, it is effective in very cold temperatures – colder than Boston, closer to Fargo or Quebec City type temperatures.  Calcium chloride does not require heat to work and is the less-corrosive of the chlorides.

Magnesium Chloride
> Magnesium chloride is considered less corrosive and kinder, gentler to plants and animals than many other snow removal chemicals. The problem with magnesium chloride is that it’s not as concentrated as other chemicals, so more is used; more chemicals is good for the manufacturer, not always good for the ecosystem.

Acetates for Snow Removal

Sodium Acetate and Calcium Magnesium Acetate  are non-liquid, non-corrosive and by most accounts biodegradable chemical substances for snow dissipation. Downside: these chemicals change snow into slush, making it less than ideal for walkways and other high traffic areas.  Makes a mess of nice shoes.

Potassium Acetate
> Acetate potassium
Used in liquid form and good in cold temperatures, like Montreal.  The chemical-substance sticks, so over the winter less is needed – the stuff already on the ground acts as an anti-icer, or “snow melter on contact.”  Cleaning it up in spring can be a problem.

New England snow

Anyone who’s ever skied Tahoe then skied in New England knows the difference: the snow here in New England is more ice-crystals than the slushier. more forgiving type of snow in the Sierras.  (As a native New Hampshirian, I ski like a pro out west, when in the east, at Mount Sunapee say, I’m just shy of completely out of control.)

For more on the potassium chemicals, go to this excellent site on fertilizer chemicals.  Site is http://www.pesticideinfo.org.  With New England this year being the snow removal capital of the universe (it seems), then with planting season coming along, we should get to know our chemicals.

I mean, can’t we all just get along…?

Environmental Regulations, Green Tips, New England

EPA Says Toxic Chemical Releases Lower

New England EPA‘s most recent Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data are now available for the reporting year of 2009.  It will likely be another 12 months before 2010 data is released, so we’ll take 2009 as current.  Story is that toxic releases in New England are decreasing.

Whether the decrease in toxic releases is due to decreased industrial processes or due to more efficient processes is so far unclear.

Emissions at power plant in Rochester, NH
Emissions at power plant in Rochester, NH

Upshot: about 21.9 million pounds of chemicals were released in the six New England states.  This represents a reduction of about 2,359,064 pounds from 2008.

Background on Toxics Release Inventory program

TRI reporting is by companies who release “dirty stuff.”  The data is collected in a database and provided to the public.  Americans can thus find info on toxic chemical disposals and releases into the air, land and water.  TRI is a key part of EPA’s recent efforts to provide greater access to environmental information — and in a timely manner.

TRI was recently recognized by the Aspen Institute as one of the 10 major ways that EPA has strengthened America.

The danger

ABC News used the term “chemical Hiroshima” to describe the event in Bhopal, India when a deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate killed thousands of people.  In West Virginia, not long after the Bhopal event, there was a grave chemical release at a sister plant.   These incidents underscored public and worker demands for better information on chemicals and other hazardous materials being used in industry.

In response, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) came into being.   EPCRA’s primary purpose is to inform communities and citizens of chemical hazards in their areas. You have a right to know.

How to use the database for your town

Because of EPCRA, there is a searchable database where you can just type in your zip code and see — for all intents and purposes — the toxic chemicals in your own back yard.

Here is one guy’s story of how he looked up the toxic profile of the town in Maine where he went to college: Toxic Release Inventory from EPA: How I Use It

Do you dare look at your own town? Are you curious or would you rather not know? If you dare: enter your zip code in the search box here on EPA’s web site to see toxic chemical information in your town.

If you find surprises, feel free to say something in the comment space below.

New England

A Novice New England Football Moment

Finally trying to watch a football game, Patriots.  Turns out this game doesn’t matter.  And it doesn’t even look like a game – looks more like a bunch of New Englanders wandering across the Miami end zone at will.

That’s what’s on T.V. today, January 2, 2011.

Maybe 2011 will be the year we give up TV altogether.  [Note added January 18, 2011:  Given the Patriots performance against the Jets in playoff football, should’ve given up TV when we were ahead.  Yeesh.]