By Donna Thornton/News Editor
In a matter of days, Patrick Welch embarks on an adventure – 27 months in the Peace Corps, working in Nicaragua, to bring environmental education to schools and communities in the Central American country.
Welch, a Gadsden native educated in the city school system and a recent graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, leaves Sept. 4 to begin this new chapter in his life.
Welch said he will spend three months in training, then two years of volunteer service.
He started thinking about the Peace Corps about three years ago, Welch said, but didn’t give it a lot of serious thought.
“I decided in May to apply. I thought if I changed my mind, I could throw that application away,” Welch said.
But in talking to people, he found many who knew someone who had served in the Peace Corps, and many who had served.
“I didn’t talk to one person who said they’d had a negative experience.”
“They all said it had been very rewarding,” Welch said.
“I thought this would be a way to spend some time abroad, in another culture, and at the same time I’d be doing something positive and substantive,” he explained.
Welch said he didn’t want to just spend a year backpacking in Europe -even though that experience would have been a lot of fun.
“I wanted to do something productive,” he said.
Welch said when people hear he’s going into the Peace Corps, many of them seem to think it’s going to be a two-year vacation.
He knows that’s not the case. Several people who have been involved say it is difficult and it is hard work.
As far as his job assignment goes, Welch said he will be working at a school in the community that he’ll be living in and in two others within driving distance.
Welch will be training teachers and co-teaching, helping the teachers to incorporate environmental education into their lessons.
Welch said he majored in environmental studies in college, something he believes led to his assignment in Nicaragua.
Living arrangements vary depending on where Peace Corps volunteers go, but in Nicaragua, Welch said, volunteers are required to live with a host family during their time in the Peace Corps.
He said he has not met or communicated with his host family yet.
The closest Welch has been to Nicaragua is a scuba diving trip to the Honduras.
It may be close geographically, but he doesn’t expect it to be much of a primer for this experience.
“I don’t think what I’ll be doing will be much like that,” he said.
Welch said he’d recently finished a book about the civil war in Nicaragua, and he’s learned a bit about the country.
“I’ve read that it’s the se-cond poorest country in the hemisphere, behind Haiti,” Welch said. “People are living in pretty extreme poverty.”
Seeing that, he said, it will be a different experience for him.
Otherwise, Welch expects teh region to be rural, not very developed, mountainous and hot.
Peace Corps volunteers get two days off a month, Welch said, but he’s not sure if he’ll use time off to come home.
Welch’s family members will visit him, and he thinks it might be difficult to come home for a week or so, then return.
“I told all my friends they should vacation in Nicaragua during the next two years,” Welch said.
Friends will be able to keep up with Welch through his blog, which can be found at pwnica.blogspot.com.
Welch said there’s not much there yet, but when he gets to Nicaragua, he’ll start adding photos and keeping people posted about his experiences.