Happy Birthday Peace Corps…(Maybe)
On this day (March 1st) in 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Since 1961, there have been more than 220,000 Peace Corps volunteers who have served in 140 or more countries around the world, according to the Peace Corps’ website. Such impressive statistics show the great lure the agency has had for people yearning to do meaningful, peace-building work internationally during the last 50 years. I certainly was one of those civilians who wanted to work abroad and help others as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sadly, I will probably never have the chance to do this. Why? I actually applied for the the Peace Corps a few years ago and I was rejected because of my RA.
To say that I was upset about being a Peace Corps reject would be an understatement. I couldn’t believe that they had put me through the stressful, nearly year-long application process before the Medical Review portion at the end, which I passed, then ultimately decided to not accept me. Their reason for not approving my Medical Review was that one of the medications I take for RA was too risky and a “liability.” Are you kidding me? I remember reading the brief letter that explained their decision and then feeling my Peace Corps dreams die.
However, perhaps all was not lost–there was an appeal I could submit! I filled out the appeal right away, answering questions and explaining the status of my RA. In my appeal letter, I emphasized the previous experience I had living abroad in Ireland and France while also having RA and taking similar medications. Moving to a different country with RA was not that big of a risk, I thought. Especially not in Central Europe, which is where the agency had found a placement for me as an English teacher. It’s not like I was going to be living in the desert or the jungle in a remote part of some less-civilized country. How crazy is that? They had already secured a position for me in Europe, but after I didn’t pass the Medical Review teaching English there went out the window. All of this didn’t seem very fair.
What really wasn’t fair was feeling like I was being discriminated against for having RA. It was a big slap in the face being rejected, especially since I had already demonstrated that I could have successful and healthy experiences living and working in other countries. In my heart and gut I knew that I could do this; I could be an awesome Peace Corps volunteer if given the chance.
But I wasn’t given a chance to experience the Peace Corps life, and this really depressed me. I remember angrily thinking: This is something that I’ve always wanted to do and I can’t do it because of my stupid body! I hated the thought of RA stopping me from living the life I wanted to live.
One of my main passions in life was traveling and gaining international experience, being a “world traveler” and connecting with people all over the globe–and it still is today. I crushed significant challenges and obstacles twice before to do this when I moved to Ireland and France all alone. Those experiences, especially in Ireland, were two of the best, most enriching ones of my life. I hungered for more and I had thought the Peace Corps would be the next best way to have that experience again. Despite my careful arguments, success stories, and pleas–the Peace Corps still gave me a loud and resounding “NO.”
Am I still bitter about not being in the Peace Corps? Yes. Could my life be drastically different today if I had been accepted? Maybe. That’s a dangerous road to go down, however: the “what-if” road. When I stop to think about the things I haven’t been able to do and experience because of having RA since age 18, I also try to quickly push those sad thoughts out of my head. You can torture yourself with “what-ifs” if you let yourself. It’s not always easy, but I do try to remind myself of the good things that have happened because of having RA. And maybe, just maybe, I’m simply not meant to go down that Peace Corps path, like many other paths in my life that RA has destroyed. I sincerely and deeply want to be grateful for the good things that have happened in my life these past 18 years and for the many opportunities that are still out there for me.
Happy Birthday to you, Peace Corps. If I blew out your candles today, I’d make a wish that you’d realize you lost a damn good volunteer.