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October 29, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, October 29, 2004

Volunteering abroad Volunteering abroad (October 29, 2004)

Residents drop work to aid projects for Peace Corps, Global Volunteers

By Huong C. Pham

Vacations don't have to be self-indulgent. In fact, Mountain View residents Thomas Peng and Kevin Lum Lung's trips abroad are anything but. Both travel internationally to volunteer.

Peng, 26, a Sun Microsystems software engineer, will spend two years assisting local development in the Philippines as a member of the Peace Corps.

Peng is not sure exactly what is in store for him in a few months when he departs for the island nation.

"I don't know what to expect but I think it ranges to a few varieties in development," he said. "My hopes are that I'll be able to make personal connections there and I hope I can find a project that will sustain itself after I'm gone."

Peng might be able to take a few cues from Kevin Lum Lung, a Santa Clara University administrator who already has a few volunteer missions under his belt. Traveling to several countries, including South Africa and Ecuador, Lung, 34, has contributed his time to building housing and working with schools and children.

As part of the Global Volunteers team, a nonprofit organization that provides short-term "volunteer vacations," Lung's latest expedition was to Ecuador, where he spent two weeks in August working with disabled children at Camp Hope in Quito.

"It was my first time working with kids," said Lung, who took the students on several educational field trips.

"Camp Hope provides a place where [the kids] can be accepted. Schooling for regular kids is solid but there just is not many places for these (disabled) kids to go to," he said. Children with learning disabilities in Ecuador are often neglected and lack the support they need, Lung added.

Although international volunteers said the benefits are enriching and humbling, the process to join is anything but simple.

"The Peace Corps is a federal government agency. We cover all expenses, including medical and dental insurance, and living allowances," said Dennis McMahon, a spokesperson. "It is a two-year commitment, actually 27 months, because an additional three months are required for training."

Peace Corps applicants must be U.S. citizens of at least 18 years of age. The organization requires a written application, an interview, medical and legal clearance and an assessment of the applicant's skills.

Although the requirements for Global Volunteers are similar to those for the Peace Corps, volunteers must cover their own travel expenses.

But the paperwork and interviews are worth it, said Lung and Peng.

"I think it is for everyone who wants to know more about a culture or dedicate time to serving others," said Lung. "This is something I see myself doing for the rest of my life."

E-mail Huong C. Pham at hpham@mv-voice.com


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