Photo by Clint Keller
Dougherty, left, and daughter Monica both served in the Peace Corps;
Terry in Afghanistan, Monica in Kazakhstan.

Advocates for peace

By Nancy Vendrely
The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 27, 2001

Peace Corps volunteers come home with renewed perspective

When Terry Dougherty stood atop the 170-foot Buddha statue in Bamiyan in 1972, he looked out over a peaceful Afghanistan.

Since that day, both the statue and the peace have disappeared.

Dougherty, a Peace Corps volunteer in that country from December 1972 to January 1975, naturally has thought of the time more than usual in the past three months as U.S.-led coalition forces have bombed Afghanistan to root out the al-Qaida network and Osama bin Laden.

Dougherty, 52, one of three former Peace Corps volunteers interviewed about their reaction to events since Sept. 11, says he and his former wife chose the Peace Corps after graduating from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in spring 1972.

"I'd had a student deferment and a high lottery number and hadn't had to do military service," he says. "It was a (President) Kennedy 'ask not' kind of call - it was my alternative service."

Peace Corps volunteer Monica Dougherty, daughter of Terry Dougherty and Trisha Gensic, says she knew from a young age she wanted to join.

"I'd heard about it my whole life," Monica says, "and I was always interested in other cultures."

Heidi Boener was enticed by Peace Corps commercials about "the toughest job you'll ever love," and by her love of travel.

"Since I was a high school freshman, I wanted to do the Peace Corps," Boener says.

Both Boener, 26, and Monica Dougherty, 26, finished their Peace Corps service just last year. Boener served in the Dominican Republic from July 1998 to September 2000. Dougherty was in Kazakhstan from June 1998 to June 2000.

The tragic events of the last few months have reinforced one of the major realizations these volunteers brought home - that openness to other cultures is key to understanding them.

"The first thing you learn is real open-mindedness," Monica Dougherty says. "Our way of doing things is not necessarily the right way for everyone."

"One thing is the same in the U.S. and all over the world," Boener says. "In every culture, there's bad and good. . . . There's a lot of fear right now and it's very understandable. But I encourage people to get out and meet the (local) international community and talk to them. They want the same things in their lives as we do - for their families, their kids' schools, and not to live in fear."

Terry Dougherty says that after a Peace Corps experience, "you can no longer view people in other parts of the world as somehow separate and different. You find the humanity we all share. Peace Corps volunteers come back with a changed perspective on their relationship with humankind."

Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent more than 164,000 volunteers to 135 countries. Today, more than 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers are in 70 countries, teaching, working to improve health and nutrition of families and assisting small businesses and non-governmental organizations.

In Afghanistan

On Oct. 1, the Peace Corps suspended its programs in the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, neighboring countries of Afghanistan, because of security concerns. But there have been no Peace Corps volunteers in Afghanistan since 1978, when communists took over.

When Dougherty arrived in 1972, Mohammad Zaher Shah, king since 1933, still reigned. English was required in the secondary schools, girls went to school until age 14 (when many married), and many men and women worked together and went to school together. Yet, he says, some groups were more conservative and some Muslim women wore the burqa, a head-to-toe covering.

Dougherty taught English in a boys' high school in Talaqan for a year, then taught for a year at a coed teacher's college in Kabul, where his wife taught at a high school for married women, "who tended to be wives of high officials."

Dougherty, now senior programmer analyst in Information Technology Services at IPFW, says most of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan have nomadic origins.

"They were camel drivers, shepherds, weavers of carpets - nomads from the steppes of Central Asia. . . . They can move with few possessions and minimal requirements for housing and preparation of food. Wheat is ground on stone to bake bread and the oven is a hole with a fire made of twigs."

Peace Corps volunteers found most people to be "very open and accepting . . . very hospitable."

Many of the Afghans Dougherty knew became refugees after Russia invaded the country in 1979, yet he finds his reaction to the war being waged there now is "very emotional. It's like having a family member under attack."

When the bombing started, Dougherty called the White House to protest.

"I also wrote to our senator. I asked him not to do this. I am a pacifist, actively engaged in non-violent resolution of conflict. . . . This is not, in my opinion, a war - 9/11 was an act of terrorism, not perpetrated by a nation or state. It was perpetrated by a madman."

Dougherty is concerned about what will happen to the widows and children.

"Because of the restrictive nature of their society and many men killed in war, the women will be destitute," he says.

"A generation of boys has been fed jihad . . . and it's continuing in many parts of the world. . . . If we don't provide an alternative and some income for these people, then these radical terrorists will continue to influence them."

Like father, like daughter

Home from Kazakhstan, another Central Asian country, just over a year, Monica Dougherty, shares her father's concerns.

"I have a lot of mixed feelings. . . . I knew a lot about the Taliban even before. I was so upset about the way they treated women and anyone who didn't agree with them," she says. "People didn't understand why I was upset, why I cared. (Now), everybody cares.

"What they've been doing in Afghanistan was horrible, but I'm a pacifist and I don't feel bombing of people is right. . . . There are special forces that could have gone after the terrorists."

A graduate of Snider High School and Indiana University, Bloomington, Dougherty went to Kazakhstan as an environmental educator, assigned to work with non-governmental organizations in Pavlodar, a city about the size of Fort Wayne, not far from the Russian border.

Instead, she taught ecology and English in middle school and high school, teaching in both Russian and English.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Dougherty says some things are better in Kazakhstan, "but a lot of things are worse, especially unemployment. . . . Before, they had a job and could feed their families. Now, 5 percent are getting rich and 95 percent are getting poorer every year.

"Visibly, it seemed like it was getting better. Businesses would open - 24-hour supermarkets, pharmacies. . . . During the Soviet Union, people had money but nothing to buy, and now they have plenty to buy and no money."

Dougherty says she learned how people can see the United States "as a super power, trampling on them."

". . . Kazakhstan has some large oil reserves and Americans have the rights to it but haven't started drilling. Kazakhs thought it would be a boost for the economy, but they haven't seen anything yet."

Now working with a non-profit group dealing with environmental issues in Indianapolis, Dougherty says she can't help but think "there are always a lot of games being played" in the high echelons of government and the military.

"I feel a lot of stuff happens that the average American doesn't know about and doesn't seem to care about."

Back to the land

Heidi Boener's experience in the Dominican Republic, in some ways, took her back to her rural Indiana roots. A graduate of the University of Evansville, with a major in international studies and a minor in Spanish, Boener grew up on a farm near Plymouth. In the Peace Corps, she spent two years as an agricultural extension officer in Canafistol, 20 minutes from a Caribbean beach and 40 minutes from the mountains.

Boener worked with farmers on irrigation, use of pesticides, crop rotation, tree grafting - whatever their concerns were.

"You're taking what you know from the U.S. and what they're trying to do in that country and you collaborate. . . . I also had families I visited on a regular basis. That's one of the most important things about the Peace Corps, keeping up the visiting.

"You let the culture and the people affect you as much as possible but you also have to remember who you are and where you came from. . . . It forces you to think about who you are, because you are the different one."

Boener hopes to do a lot more traveling, even though she realizes some people fear traveling.

"I'd be honored to go to the Middle East some day and see that culture and experience that culture. . . . What makes me sad is people who have never traveled may never do it now."

Boener, who worked with non-profit organizations in Washington and in Oceanside, Calif., before joining the Peace Corps has been director of immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Fort Wayne and South Bend since March.

"It is really a dream job," she says, "so I decided to stay in Indiana for awhile."

What is needed now

"I think right now we need the Peace Corps more than ever," Boener says. "Cultural understanding between people in the U.S. and other countries is needed more than ever. A lot of walls have been built up."

Monica Dougherty agrees.

"You must be open-minded to other cultures. If you think your way is the only way, you can become very extremist - like the Talibans."

Terry Dougherty, involved in peace movements through Church of the Brethren and the Fellowship of Reconciliation at Manchester College, believes American foreign policy must change, too.

"We're the biggest gun trader in the world - we provide the means and the training. It is a military/industrial complex problem. We have to stop repeating this mistake."

Dougherty went to Washington in September for the dedication of Peace Park, commemorating the work of Peace Corps founder and longtime director Sargent Shriver. A quote from Shriver is posted at the site: "Serve, serve, serve. That's the challenge. For in the end, it will be the servants who save us all."

Dougherty believes that, too.

"We have to share. The opportunity for a healthy life and for education and for a safe existence needs to be propagated throughout the world."

If you have comments or suggestions, write me at: or call me at 219-481-6903
Sign My Guestbook / View My Guestbook