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Sunday Seniors: Peace Corps member learned a lot in short tour before pandemic hit

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/4/2020 10:08:17 PM
Modified: 4/4/2020 10:08:15 PM

THETFORD — Genevieve Lemire’s plan for retirement had always been the Peace Corps.

“It always intrigued me,” she said.

After spending more than 40 years as a quality analyst working in the aerospace field in Lebanon, Lemire retired in January and started preparing to go to Madagascar as a member of the newest class of Peace Corps volunteers.

“I was ready to retire, but I wasn’t ready to not do anything,” Lemire, 66, said. “I figured I would do it before I was unable to do anything.”

Lemire, of Brandon, Vt., was one of 58 volunteers who arrived in Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of mainland Africa, on March 1. But only a few weeks into her training, she became one of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers worldwide who were recalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She arrived back in the U.S. on March 19 and went into a 14-day quarantine at her son’s Thetford home.

After training for three months, Lemire was set to start her two years as an agriculture volunteer where she would work teaching youth nutritional and gardening skills. Lemire has a particular passion for helping young people and volunteered with Vermont’s Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership for 16 years and with Hugh O’Brian Youth International for 12 years. She was also a member of the West Windsor Zoning Board.

Lemire did not indicate a country preference when applying.

“I was excited because I knew where it was, it was different than any place I’d ever been,” she said of being stationed in Madagascar.

She was the oldest person in her volunteer group, as many Peace Corps volunteers are college-age. Despite their age differences, Lemire found commonalities with the other volunteers, and they became close through their shared experience.

During her time in Madagascar, Lemire was staying with a host family where she learned more about the island nation’s culture and Malagasy language. Though she was there for only a few weeks, Lemire said she learned a lot.

“My host family didn’t have power or water. There was a well. They used candles. You learn to live a very different life than what you live,” Lemire said.

Despite her short stay and language barrier, Lemire formed a connection with her host family in part by participating in joint tasks such as doing laundry by hand and making peanut butter.

“You get a good sense of how hard they work every day just to live their lives,” she said.

Once the federal government made the decision to evacuate Peace Corps volunteers, Lemire said the program did an excellent job of keeping everyone informed throughout the process.

There is no current timetable for restarting Peace Corps placements as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow. When the program starts up again, volunteers who were already enrolled in training programs will be given priority for placements.

“If it comes in a timely fashion I might consider it, but I also realize that there are other opportunities closer to home. I’m going to continue my training in the language. I was starting to feel like I was getting a little bit of handle on it,” Lemire said, adding that signing up is a big endeavor because you must mentally and physically be prepared to be away for more than two years. “The thought of doing it again is daunting the second time around.”

Lemire instead is more worried about the younger volunteers, especially those who pursued the Peace Corps right out of college and upon returning home will likely have trouble finding employment in a tough economy. Her group has been keeping in touch and continuing to support each other.

“A lot of people are hopeful they can return” to Madagascar, she said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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