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Peace Corps attracting more retiree volunteers

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When Philip Armstrong graduated from college 35 years ago, he immediately set out to explore the world, visiting Europe, Africa and the Middle East in an odyssey that left an indelible imprint in his mind.

Armstrong didn’t get a chance to continue his travels until three weeks ago, when he retired from the Environmental Protection Agency, but his post-work life will not be spent in a lush Mediterranean beach resort or chic European city.

Instead, Armstrong will live in the impoverished northern African country of Mauritania, volunteering for more than two years as a member of the Peace Corps.

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The 57-year-old is part of a growing trend of Peace Corps enrollees in the Bay Area who are more than 50 years old — a departure from the organization’s reputation as a magnet for fresh-faced, college-aged idealists.

“When I traveled after college, I thought I would do it again very soon,” said Armstrong, who will serve as an environmental educator in Mauritania. “I never expected it would take me 35 years. I thought the Peace Corps would be an excellent way to spend my retirement.”

There are 26 Bay Area Peace Corps members older than 50 — six more than in 2003 — and the organization expects to attract more with a recruiting campaign targeted at baby boomers, according to spokesman Nathan Hale Sargent.

“This is the generation that came of age in the 1960s, when the Peace Corps began,” Sargent said. “Many thought of joining then, and as they reach retirement, we want to remind them that it’s not too late.”

Armstrong said he will earn an allowance from the Peace Corps that is comparable to the living wage of most Mauritanians. Although he concedes he’ll miss his daughter and grandchildren, he said making a meaningful impact in a developing country was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“Promoting understanding and peace is something I really want to do,” said Armstrong, who left last week for the French-speaking Islamic republic.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com



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