Monday, February 19, 2018
News Roundup

Educator, 73, volunteers with Peace Corps after retirement

"A year or so after retirement from my professorial position at the University of Arizona ... I came to the conclusion that I needed something larger than myself to devote energies to. Come evening, I frequently realized that I had done absolutely nothing that was of use to anyone except to those where I spent my money."

So starts the story of Grandma Goes to Africa.

As she wrote above in her personal journal, Renate Schulz, a 73-year-old lifelong educator who has a condo in Clearwater, was at loose ends in 2009 after her career teaching language and German studies at the University of Arizona was over. But she didn't flail around long. By 2011, she was back to teaching, this time in the impoverished West African nation of Mali as a Peace Corps education and literacy volunteer.

Teaching wasn't new to her — but neither was the Peace Corps or Africa. Schulz was a volunteer with her former husband in Nigeria in 1963-65, after finishing grad school. (Peace Corps volunteers are no longer sent to Nigeria.)

She said it was the life-changing effect of that earlier stint that drove her to "re-enlist" when she was in search of something meaningful. "It was the most formative experience of my life when I was young and the most marvelous experience of my life over 70," she said.

So she signed on for 27 months and was sent to Mali with 23 other volunteers — who were all under 30. They were assigned to work in two sectors, education and water/sanitation, in the almost unbearable subtropical heat.

Her job was to teach English to students in their 20s at the art institute at the outskirts of the nation's capital, Bamako, her eventual home.

After six weeks with a host family in the bush where Schulz said she experienced culture shock and stomach viruses, where she had to eat with her hands and make her way in the dark to an outhouse, she was given new quarters, with running water, WiFi and a telephone, in Bamako.

Although a Western lifestyle was possible in Bamako, it was expensive. She had to eat out a lot, she said. "You can't really come home at 2 in the afternoon and kill a goat for supper."

Schulz boned up on her French, the language of Mali — second only to each individual local tribal language. She found it difficult to teach in a system in which attendance was not mandatory.

"Students came and went," she said.

• • •

In March 2012, Schulz was headed to Ghana for spring break, her first vacation since returning to the United States for the Christmas holidays.

En route she learned that there had been a military coup in Mali. President Amadou Toumani Touré had been forced into hiding, the soldiers had taken over Mali TV, the airport and borders had been closed, and a 24-hour curfew had been declared.

"What was happening to my Peace Corps colleagues? What was happening to my students? What was happening to my neighbors?" Schulz wrote in her journal.

She and the Peace Corps colleagues with her were told to go into consolidation (a locking down of volunteers in regional capitals), call their families and stay in Ghana until further notice. The situation in Mali worsened, with embassies closing and 200,000 refugees in the north.

Schulz worried about the laptop left behind that was full of photos and notes. She had carefully hidden it behind a couch so would-be burglars couldn't find it.

After getting her hopes up and then dashed several times about returning to Mali, the final word came on April 5: Peace Corps Mali was being evacuated. On April 8, a chartered Ethiopian Airlines plane brought the 18 remaining volunteers in her group to Ghana. And the Malian staff had brought along some of the things she had requested.

"Unfortunately, they did not bring priorities No. 1 and 2: my laptop and my income tax papers," she said.

• • •

Schulz had been there 11 months. The evacuated volunteers could choose to either immediately go to another country, get a delayed transfer to another country, wait for Mali to reopen — or figure "duty served."

She took the delayed transfer, and in January left to volunteer at the Autonomous University of Hidalgo State in eastern Mexico. She said she feels as if she's on vacation.

Her students are all faculty members, and she is teaching them to be more fluent in English to help with their computer skills and research.

The Mexican people, she said, have taken her in and have made her feel safe and valued.

Who would expect less for the oldest Peace Corps volunteer in Mexico?

Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.

     
Comments
The Daystarter: Will Rays Ybor move equal more corporate support?; 50th anniversary of Florida teachers’ strike; Warrior Games coming to SOCom; Mary J. Blige at Amalie Arena

The Daystarter: Will Rays Ybor move equal more corporate support?; 50th anniversary of Florida teachers’ strike; Warrior Games coming to SOCom; Mary J. Blige at Amalie Arena

link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2015/graphics/macros/css/base.css"> Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep che...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Planning begins for Warrior Games coming to Tampa in 2019

Planning begins for Warrior Games coming to Tampa in 2019

TAMPA — Army Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, had a court-side epiphany last July at the United Center in Chicago while watching the annual Department of Defense Warrior Games.So impressed with what...
Updated: 10 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: Have Democrats gained 50 seats formerly held by Republicans since Trump was elected?

PolitiFact Florida: Have Democrats gained 50 seats formerly held by Republicans since Trump was elected?

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager had a prescient message for Republican voters: Get out and vote, or risk losing more seats to Democrats.Corey Lewandowski traveled to Sarasota on Feb. 11, along with former Trump deputy campaign manage...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Ernest Hooper: Let’s hope post-9/11 generation will stand, engage and act

We’re approaching a new era. Before our eyes, a post-9/11 generation, stunned by mass shootings, roiled by political divides and connected through social media will soon reach the age of majority.They will be able to vote, hold elected officials acco...
Updated: 11 hours ago
50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

Ulysses Floyd remembers February 1968 all too well.Teachers by the thousands walked off their jobs across Florida. Among their concerns: low pay, poor funding, a lack of planning time, missing materials, and more. "We were at the mercy of the School ...
Published: 02/19/18
Next phase for the Tampa Armature Works: co-working office space

Next phase for the Tampa Armature Works: co-working office space

TAMPA — The mixed-use rebirth of the old Tampa Armature Works warehouse is proceeding in stages. First up: last month’s debut of the new ballroom, followed closely by the opening of more than a dozen vendors in the Heights Public Market food hall.YEA...
Published: 02/19/18
On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community

On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community

TAMPA — Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart says he’s ready to put his checkbook where his heart is when it comes to supporting a Tampa Bay Rays move to Ybor City.So is the investment fund for the founding family of Ashley Furniture. So, it ap...
Published: 02/19/18
Artistic anarchy reigns in Dali Museum’s Dali/Duchamp exhibition

Artistic anarchy reigns in Dali Museum’s Dali/Duchamp exhibition

ST. PETERSBURGIn Dalí/Duchamp, the world-class exhibition now at St. Petersburg’s Dalí Museum, you’ll meet Salvador Dalí, the publicity hound who claimed his nutty moustache was for receiving signals from outer space. And you’ll meet Marcel Duchamp, ...
Published: 02/19/18
Bubba Wallace emotional after Daytona 500 runner-up finish

Bubba Wallace emotional after Daytona 500 runner-up finish

DAYTONA BEACH – No, Bubba Wallace did not win the 60th running of the Daytona 500.But you wouldn't have known that after seeing his emotions after he placed second – the highest finish ever by a black driver in the Great American Race.Wal...
Updated: 7 hours ago
After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

OCALA — In mid-2016, a regional task force that spent almost two years exploring ways to improve safety on a crowded Interstate 75 decided to take a conservative approach: make changes to the highway rather than build or expand other roads. Then Hurr...
Updated: 8 hours ago