This is the new face of the Peace Corps: older - often retired - volunteers, many with years of professional training or advanced degrees, who work with foreign government agencies to advance environmental and scientific goals on their own. Launched in 2005, the Peace Corps Mexico program is a prototype, supporters say, of what the volunteer program should be in many parts of the world. The average age of a volunteer in Mali, where the Boston-born Battle was also country director, was 24. In Mexico, it is 48 (including one 79-year-old), the result of increased Peace Corps recruitment through professional organizations and the AARP. Under the Mexico plan, the country's government reviewed the resumes of Peace Corps-approved applicants, and selected a team of economists and ecologists to work with its own environmental protection agencies. The Mexico program requires five years' experience - and, preferably, a master's degree - for participation. While volunteers perform some field work - married couple Ben and Buffy Lenth, both Colorado ecologists, routinely go into the Sierra Gorda mountains to conduct environmental tests - the Mexico-based volunteers spend much time in offices, helping Mexican officials run their own programs. Read more.
Ex-EPA engineer Paul Ruesch is getting his hands dirty in Mexico, and loving it
Running hand augers and sampling oil-soaked soil as a Peace Corp volunteer has energized the former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency engineer. In the midst of a two-year stint in Mexico -- the Peace Corps´ first in that country -- Ruesch has shed his white-collar duties at EPA for a more hands-on experience. Ruesch, 36, and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, is one of 25 volunteers advising Mexican businesses and government officials. Instead of organizing conferences about industrial byproducts from the EPA´s Chicago office, Ruesch spends his days at landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Of late, he´s in Leon in central Mexico helping that region´s leather and tanning industries reduce their environmental impact. Ruesch´ s main role is as teacher. He also assists Mexican co-workers on project bids. "When we win them, I help them select the appropriate equipment, buy it and then show them how to use it," he said. Ruesch, now fluent in Spanish after starting from scratch, will leave behind the equipment and, hopefully, pass along some know-how to colleagues, including scientists at the oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or PEMEX. Before Mexico, Ruesch´s travels abroad opened his eyes "to environmental conditions which made the problems I was working on back home pale in comparison." Mexico´s small, dry and remote landfills don´t generate much leachate or pose great risks to drinking water. Yet, Ruesch said, there is little oversight on where and how these disposal sites operate. More eye opening, though, are the large groups of pepenedores, or garbage pickers, that sift through trash on the working face of Mexican landfills, separating anything that can be reused or sold. "It is not uncommon to see whole families dedicated to this practice [and] specialize in one particular commodity. The others working a particular landfill will respect each other´s domain and not touch the materials that they know another family is recovering," he said. Ruesch´s presence on the Peace Corps team has aided Mexico´s National Council on Science and Technology, too. The council and U.S. EPA are collaborating on a number of projects, thanks to Ruesch, said Hector Raul Pacheco-Vega, senior researcher at the council´s Leon office. Read more.