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World to Peace Corps: Skilled volunteers needed

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"You can't replace that experience," Tschetter said in an interview in Addis Ababa. "The same kind of passion that these young people have, these people have … but they have 30 years of experience to bring along with it."

These steps may not go far enough, according to Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association for former volunteers. Mr. Quigley advocates more drastic reform to attract older volunteers: breaking with the tradition of sending volunteers to the field for 27 months.

Quigley says he would be delighted to serve the Peace Corps again in Thailand, but, like many others, he cannot afford two years away from work. He envisions changes that would allow older professionals to travel to the field intermittently over the course of several years, while the rest of the time providing guidance to local partners via e-mail, phone, and Skype. Quigley says he has growing support among lawmakers for a significant reform of the Peace Corps in time for the agency's 50th anniversary in 2011.

"We absolutely are at a historic moment for the Peace Corps," says Quigley.

That historic moment has come later for the Peace Corps than for some of its counterparts. Once identical agencies from Japan and Britain have since overhauled their operations and re-focused their attention on making measurable contributions to development.

Japan's overseas volunteer program was incorporated about a decade ago into its international aid agency after receiving criticism that the program was more helpful to its volunteers than to the beneficiary countries. Now Japanese volunteers work alongside paid Japanese professionals.

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