By Azka Asif, Published in Rotary International

Cal Mann is semi-retired industrial designer leading a consulting firm. He has been a Rotarian since 2004, and member of California Rotary Clubs of La Jolla, Del Mar and Oakland. He has also served as director of his club’s Youth Service Committee overseeing Interact clubs, and served on his District’s RYLA committee and supported outreach to the school community. Cal joined Peace Corps as a Community Development Volunteer in North Macedonia in September 2017. We asked him to share his experience serving as a volunteer.

Why did you join the Peace Corps?

After many enjoyable years of dedicated volunteer service with Rotary, the National Parent Teacher Association, Big Brothers and more, I was intrigued with the idea of taking on one of the biggest volunteer opportunities: Peace Corps. I knew it would be difficult, especially as an “older volunteer” (fewer than 10% of Peace Corps Volunteers are in the 50+ age group). It was also clear that my life would be enriched from the experience. The opportunity to fully immerse myself in a different culture was a very attractive aspect.

As a Rotarian for more than ten years, I learned how satisfying community service can be. The more I put into it, I found, the more rewarding the experience was. My business and creative skills had been very helpful in my Rotary service so I was confident that they would be useful in Peace Corps service as well. The more I researched, the clearer it became to me that Peace Corps mission-oriented culture was very compatible with Rotary’s service leadership model. I anticipated that my Rotary service experience would help me meet the challenges of Peace Corps and they have.

What kind of projects have you worked on during your service in the Peace Corps?

My primary assignment is advising a tiny legal clinic that serves the regional Roma population. For this group, having positive role models is critical to achieving social justice and respect from the non-Roma community. Besides helping them evolve to a more sustainable operation, I helped them create an event we called Roma Inspire. The event showcased a panel of eight very accomplished Roma professionals sharing their stories to achieve success.

Our community is fortunate to have an American Corner at the local library. This facility has provided me with a wealth of opportunities to share my skills teaching English, information technology and photography.

With two other Peace Corps volunteers, I am mentoring a wonderful high school community service club (much like Interact) as they learn leadership and how to develop local projects and as they work to make to make a positive difference in their city, their country and the world. We have forged a partnership with the local Rotary Club of Stip, that is strengthening both clubs and beginning to address the serious issue of youth outmigration.

How have you worked with Rotary while serving in the Peace Corps?

Early in my Peace Corps service, in a very happy stroke of good luck, I met Zoran Mitev, the charter president of the then six-month old Rotary Club of Stip. From Zoran, I learned that there were twenty clubs in Macedonia and that I was welcome to attend their upcoming club meeting.  Zoran and I soon recognized that we could mutually benefit by working together. I could help their club by sharing my Rotary experience and the club could help me quickly learn about and serve the community’s needs.

I informed my local Peace Corps leaders, and Peace Corps North Macedonia Country Director, Mark Hannifin, who encouraged me to engage with the club and see if we could find opportunities for collaboration.

With President Zoran, I helped the Rotary Club of Stip renovate music practice rooms at a local school. With seed funds from Rotary Club of La Jolla (United States), one room was renovated last fall. Recently the club held a very successful concert which raised most of the funds needed to complete the remaining two practice rooms. The total budget for the three rooms was about $6,000 USD, a dollar goes a long way here. I really enjoy the opportunity to develop projects between Rotary clubs from Macedonian with clubs from the USA. Besides the local benefits, these joint-projects have the additional benefit of helping grow Rotary’s awareness and strength within Macedonia.

Through the Stip club, I began to meet Rotarians from other communities and I met Zoran Todorov (no, not every Rotarian is named Zoran!) who is the Coordinator of the Association of Rotary Clubs of North Macedonia. After several months and a few successful collaborations, the leaders of Rotary Clubs in North Macedonia and Peace Corps of North Macedonia agreed on an overlapping Memorandum of Understanding for North Macedonia.  Since that time, I have been working with Rotary and Peace Corps to establish productive collaboration between local Rotary clubs and Peace Corps Volunteers assigned to their community.

What are the benefits of Rotary clubs working with Peace Corps Volunteers?

In my case, having Rotary clubs in my community has been instrumental to my success as a volunteer. There are rich benefits and lots of potential for mutual productivity. For Peace Corps Volunteers, Rotary clubs increase community integration between the volunteer and organizations within the community including the Rotary club itself. Volunteers also have the opportunity to help with existing Rotary projects and events. Rotary clubs help volunteers get to know their adopted community, understand needs of the community, and they are a tremendous resource for connection to the community.

For Rotary and Rotaract, working with Peace Corps volunteers opens up awareness of volunteer initiatives throughout the country and it helps build on Rotary’s mission of service. Peace Corps volunteers often have valuable skills and experience that can be very beneficial to growing Rotary clubs. It should be noted that for many Peace Corps Volunteers, this is their first interaction with Rotary. Peace Corps Volunteers are outstanding candidates for Rotaract as well as Rotary service upon their return to the United States. For clubs in the USA, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can be excellent partners for their international projects where their support will greatly assist Peace Corps important role in developing countries.

For Rotary International, the partnership with Peace Corps represents a tremendous opportunity for growth in membership and global impact. The 7,300 currently-serving Peace Corps Volunteers and the more than 200,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are natural allies and partners for Rotary.

What else would you like to share about your service in the Peace Corps?

Similar to the way an astronaut forever sees the world differently, Peace Corps has given me a newfound appreciation for the unique role the United States has in the world. To anyone, Rotarian or not, who feels a resonance from my words, give the Peace Corps experience your consideration.  As Peace Corps recruiting likes to say “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.” If this 63 year-old can handle it, you certainly can!