Andrew Ross begins 27 months of service in Peace Corps; will work in South Africa

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When John Kennedy established the Peace Corps as a way of helping underprivileged people around the world, he did so with an eye toward recruiting young adults into public service.

Although he wasn’t even born when the Peace Corps was created, Florence native Andrew Ross has always shared that same vision of helping those less fortunate. And — like thousands of others — he has decided to take an active role in that help.

A graduate of Switzerland County High School and Indiana University, Andrew Ross has been accepted into the Peace Corps, and this Monday he will leave for a 27-month assignment in South Africa.

“It sounds sort of corny, but my true motivation in this is that I have always had the feeling that we are very lucky to have happened to be born into this country with the freedoms that we have,” Andrew Ross said. “I have always felt like I have a responsibility to help others who weren’t as lucky. I was thinking about going to law school, and I decided if I was ever going to do the Peace Corps, now was the time to do it.”

Andrew Ross will first travel to Philadelphia, where he will spend two days going through orientation and other organizational matters, such as getting his required immunizations. From there he will fly to Pretoria, South Africa. In the capital city, he will spend three months in pre-service training. He will go through cultural training, language training, and job training.

From there, the Peace Corps will assign Andrew Ross to a specific South African village, where he will work for two years with the people and units of government.

“They haven’t placed me yet in any specific village,” Andrew Ross said. “I know that it will be a small, rural setting. Right now I don’t even know if they’ll have electricity.”

The Peace Corps has identified Andrew Ross’ “primary project.” The primary project is the work assignment that a Peace Corps member has. In South Africa, Andrew Ross will be a “School and Community Resource Volunteer”, and will be working at the primary school-age level. He will have three basic roles:

— He will assist educators in the villagers in improving their classroom practices in the area of math, science, and English.

— He will support initiatives by governmental and non-governmental agencies to promote awareness of HIV and AIDS.

— He will work with educators, parents, and community members to strengthen overall school management and foster a greater partnership between the schools and the community.

In addition to those three primary responsibilities, Andrew Ross will also spend time on other smaller, unspecified projects as they arise. Although he doesn’t know for sure, he has the feeling that he will be one of very few — if not the only — Peace Corps workers in his village.

“I feel like I wanted to experience a different lifestyle for awhile,” Andrew Ross said of his decision to travel to another part of the world for this program. “We really have everything here at our fingertips; and going to a place that has very little, I think it changes your for life in a good way.”

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Initially Andrew Ross was interested in working in Central America, but he said that it is such a popular choice with those entering the Peace Corps, unless you are fluent in Spanish there is little chance of getting assigned to that area of the world.

Having taken some French courses in both high school and college, the Peace Corps originally found a good fit for Andrew Ross in Morocco, which is situated on the northern tip of Africa just below Spain on the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea. One of the major languages in Morocco is French — so Andrew seemed to have a natural fit.

“I got some books on Morocco and started studying about the country and the people,” Andrew Ross said. “Then the Peace Corps called and said that Morocco wasn’t going to work and asked if I’d consider an assignment in South Africa.”

Andrew Ross said that when the Peace Corps comes up with an assignment, the person has 10 days to make a decision on accepting it or not. With a laugh, Andrew Ross said it took him about nine days to make the choice.

“It wasn’t that I was against South Africa, but I had been studying about Morocco, thinking that I was going there, and suddenly that’s off and something new was presented,” he said. “When you’re talking about spending two years of your life somewhere, you shouldn’t make that decision quickly. I wanted to make an informed decision.”

But once taking time to sort out his feelings, Andrew Ross is now excited about the two year adventure that lies in front of him.

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Andrew Ross said that the process to apply for and be accepted into the Peace Corps takes about a year, but because of his extensive background in working with at-risk children, he was accepted in about six months.

“Dealing with children who are at-risk is so badly needed all over the world,” Andrew Ross said. “I think my background helped move the process along.”

For the past two years, he has been living and working in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, teaching in a unique intergenerational child care center. A cross between a YMCA and a retirement community, the “YMCA Children’s Center at Carol Woods” tries to bridge the generation gap between children of preschool age and senior citizens.

Andrew Ross said that the program provides the opportunity for senior citizens to get involved with the younger children by sharing their talents on a volunteer basis.

“It’s a wonderful way for children and seniors to bond and learn from each other,” he said.

Although South Africa is a long way from Chapel Hill — and Switzerland County, Andrew Ross said that he hopes to stay in communication with family and friends while he is on assignment. He said that even if his village assignment is primitive, he will have the chance on a monthly basis to visit a larger, more modern city, where he will have access to the Internet and other comforts.

“It’s really going to be a life-changing experience,” Andrew Ross said. “It’s an adventure that will allow me to change the lives of other people for the better, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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Editor’s note: Vevay Newspapers has offered Andrew Ross the opportunity to contribute information about his Peace Corps experience via the Internet while he is on assignment. Provided that he has access to email, Switzerland County residents will have the chance to follow his journey over the next two years here in the newspaper.