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Peace Corps Volunteer Values Staying Active In Old Age

Alice Carter and friend Saida Saleh, dressed in traditional Amazigh clothing. Carter is serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco.
Courtesy of Alice Carter
Alice Carter and friend Saida Saleh, dressed in traditional Amazigh clothing. Carter is serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco.

Alice Carter has traveled a long road to get to where she is today. Morocco, that is. Carter, 87, is the oldest current volunteer in the Peace Corps. She says she's been interested in the world for a long time.

This isn't her first adventure. Even in her earlier life, she had more experiences than most. She was involved in the civil rights movement and protested the Vietnam War. She's lived in many places, and she had six children along the way.

Carter ended up living in Boston, near several of her children. Until recently, she was tutoring inner-city kids and helping with church dinners. You might think that she would choose to calm down in her old age.

But she wanted something different than the standard slow life for those in their twilight years. So a year ago, at the age of 86, Carter began serving as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Morocco.

"It was like a little blip," she says of deciding to volunteer for the organization. "Like when you fall in love with somebody and that little blip — that click goes off, and you say, 'That's for me.'"

She talked with NPR's Rachel Martin from her station in Rabat, Morocco, about the Peace Corps' role in keeping her physically and mentally active.

Interview Highlights

On what made her think of volunteering for the Peace Corps

I went to a party in Vermont and I met a whole lot of 1960s Peace Corps graduates. They were all at this party and there was a recruiter there. So I kind of wandered over and said, "What's the cutoff?" And she said "Oh, there's no age limit." And bingo. I went home, got on the computer and started applying right away.

On resistance to the idea from her children and grandchildren

They came around, almost 100 percent of them except my granddaughter, who was from the get-go "No Peace Corps, no Peace Corps!" And I said, "No, I'm gonna go. I can't stand Boston anymore, I'm too old and I keep falling down in the snow. I have to find a warmer climate."

On being in the public view in old age

I like being very active, I like being with people, and my whole life has been forming relationships. And so, that has to continue. You can't quit. I've been told that it's hard to make friends as you get older. I have not found that to be true. In the Peace Corps I've made a lot of friends of younger people and the people ... in their 60s and 70s who are here.

On the physical demands of the work

I think that for people who are thinking about it who are our age, there's some specific concerns and one of them would be health. You kind of have to tinker with your body as you get older, so it's wonderful to have a supportive Peace Corps medical staff, which we have in Rabat.

So that's one thing. Energy is another. When I first came, the head of the Dar Shabab, the youth center, wouldn't let me work more than four hours a week — he was afraid I would just tumble dead if he pushed me further. But then I kept picking up more and more kids and doing more and more, and he saw that I was going to live through it. So he eased up. But people do not push old people to work at the same pace that the younger people do.

On what she brings to the Peace Corps that is different

I think it's an attitude. Younger people in our culture are raised to compete. So they're all trying to do as much as possible and it's very restful for them to be around people who are not competing.

I'm not here to be a world-beater or accomplish impossible tasks. And I just want you to know that you can have a really good time in the Peace Corps when you're old.

What next?

I have one more year and I'm not going to extend because I think my family would come and drag me off the continent of Africa if that happened. And I haven't made any plans about what I'm going to do when I come home.

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