Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A CHAT WITH… STEVE HUNSICKER

https://pasifikatruthfully.com/2016/10/19/a-chat-with-steve-hunsicker/

Steve Hunsicker is the South Florida recruiter for the Peace Corps. Before taking on the job, he served as a volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga. His experiences are described in a wonderful book called ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’. If you are interested in what Steve has to say about his memoir, the South Pacific country, and volunteering, read on!
steve-hunsicker
Pasifika Truthfully: You quit your job to become a Peace Corps volunteer. Have you ever regretted that decision?
Steve Hunsicker: I have not regretted the decision. Becoming a Peace Corps volunteer changed my life in a very positive way. I had a wonderful 23-year career in TV News, but it was time for me to do something else. Peace Corps was the perfect move.
PT: You were assigned to serve in the Kingdom of Tonga. A South Pacific archipelago with pristine lagoons and sandy beaches – that’s the image people conjure up in their minds when asked about Polynesia. Had you had the same picture in your head before you went there?
SH: That image is largely true. Tonga is a beautiful country, especially Vava’u, which is the island where I lived. However, there is much more to Tonga that that. Each of the island groups is different. Tongatapu, where the capital is located, is flat while the area where I was is quite hilly. I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting when I first found out I was going to Tonga, but Vava’u is certainly more beautiful than I could have imagined.
PT: Tonga from travel brochures vs. the ‘real’ country. What’s the difference?
SH: Tonga is a developing country. At first appearance, they have many of the amenities you might expect, but those are really there for the tourists. Most Tongans are subsistence farmers and fishermen who live below the poverty level. However, they are a very happy people and genuinely         friendly. You will see people talking on cell phones but they may live without running water and electricity.
PT: What surprised you most after you stepped out of the plane?
SH: Without a doubt, how friendly everyone was. Walking around the first day, people stopped and said hello and asked: ‘Where are you going?’. I later learned that’s a very common expression in the Tongan language, but hearing it in English from so many people was very welcoming.
PT: Is there anything – and I’m sure there is – you learnt during your stay?
SH: Probably that ‘People are People’ no matter where they live, no matter their culture and no matter their financial situation. I made such wonderful friends in Tonga and there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think of them.
PT: What can people learn from Tongans? What can we ‘take’ from their amazing culture?
SH: In Tonga, people take care of each other. They don’t have day care centers or retirement homes. If a family member has to work, another family member (or neighbor) will help.   They accept the responsibility to take care of children and of their elders. There is almost no homelessness in Tonga because everyone has a place to go.
PT: Now, focusing on your book. Why did you decide to write it?
SH: Peace Corps is a life-changing experience and I really wanted to document my experience. I challenged myself to write a blog post at least once a week for my entire 27 months in Tonga. I had spent the previous 23 years in a TV newsroom so I guess I also still had some of the journalist in me. When I first returned to the US, I decide to take those entries and expand them into a book.
PT: Your memoir is an extremely informative and entertaining read. I’m pretty sure, however, that there are quite a few stories or anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book. Could you share one of them?
SH: Tongans love to laugh and they like jokes. I became of the ‘victim’ of one of those jokes during my language training. Just like in every language, Tongan has slang. For example, the Tongan word for chicken is ‘moa’. It is commonly used to describe food, but it is also slang for your girlfriend or boyfriend. If a Tongan asks you if you have a ‘moa’, they aren’t asking if you have a chicken, but if you have a significant other. This was explained to us in our language classes.
During my language training, I was given a very simple assignment to interview someone in the Tongan language, to find out their name, where they were from and what they liked to do. We then had to present the results of our interview to not only our fellow volunteers, but also in front of the Tongans who work for Peace Corps.
I completed my interview and when it was my time to present, I stood up and said in Tongan ‘My friend’s name is Rose, she is from Nukualofa and she likes to husk coconuts’. As soon as I said this, the room erupted in laughter, I turned beet red, not knowing what I had just said.   However, it was quickly explained to me that ‘husking coconuts’ has nothing to do with ‘husking coconuts’ and instead refers to a sexual act. She was in the room and was the person laughing the hardest. She had set me up, but it was a good lesson because she wanted all of us to know the expression so that we didn’t use it in our conversations with our host family and neighbors. And everyone got a great laugh at my expense.
PT: The book is full of details regarding both the Peace Corps and volunteering in general. Did you want to create a guide of sorts for future volunteers?
SH: I’m not sure I necessarily set out to publish a guide for future volunteers. I really was trying to document my own service. Almost all of the information in the book about the application process is out of date. Last year, Peace Corps significantly over-hauled its application process and it takes less than an hour to complete the application. In addition, you can select the country where you serve, something I was not able to do. I did get really frustrated with the length of the application process at that time, so these are all very positive changes for people wanting to become a volunteer.
PT: What advice – if any – could you give to those people who’d like to become volunteers?
SH: Do it!  Not only will you make a difference in the lives of the people in the country where you volunteer, but it will change your own life.

Guest Speaker from Peace Corps

Roto Luci Newsletter
Port St. Lucie, Fl
10/19/16

This week’s guest speaker was Steve Hunsicker, who is the South Florida recruiter from the Peace Corps. Before being hired by Peace Corps, Steve was a Peace Corps volunteer in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga helping local business owners either start or improve their business. Steve has written extensively about his Peace Corps experiences in a book called "Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps." He is also co-author of a travel book about Tonga.

Steve explained that this is Peace Corps’ 55th year in existence, having been founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. There are about 7,000 volunteers serving overseas in more than 60 countries. And, as evidence of how far things have come, they are preparing to send volunteers to Vietnam.

When he was 46 years old, Steve decided he wanted to do something else and so he filled out a Peace Corps application. At 47 years of age, he boarded a plane and went to Tonga in the South Pacific. He spent 2 years there working with small business owners. Upon his arrival, his first mission was to learn the language. The Peace Corps is about building relationships, after which you can help people by finding out what they want.

Steve told us how fulfilling it is to go overseas and build a connection with people who seem so different from youThe first relationship he built was with his host family. Steve shared with us that the last thing he did before leaving Tonga was to say goodbye to his host family and his "host father." One of the last things this "father" said was "Steve, I don’t ever want you to ask to come back, because you never have to ask to come home."

Steve did his training, passed the language test, and became a volunteer. He decided that his work would be in development banking. One of the projects he became involved with was micro financing. This program allowed mostly women to borrow small amounts of money so that they could start a business. Under this program, if the person who borrowed the money made all the payments on time, 100% of the interest they paid would be rebated to them. The interest rate was about 24%.

Steve told us that one woman he worked with came up with an idea. Everyone had cell phones that could take pictures, but nobody had smart phones and there was no internet available. She thought that if she had enough money, she could start a business where people would bring their phones in and she could print out their pictures. She didn’t have money for the printer or the ink, and so she applied through the micro financing program to get an inkjet printer and some ink so she could start a business. The money she borrowed was about 1,000 U.S. dollars. Steve taught her how to keep the books and she worked out of her house. She made every single payment on time. At the end of the term of the loan, she received a check for about $200, which was enough for her to get a storefront for her business. In addition to printing photos, she got women in the village to make crafts which she then sold, and with the money she could give them, they were able to make progress. The money she received for her loan came from the New Zealand government.

Steve also told us that a woman from Miami had served as a volunteer in Columbia, and she is now working with Rotary to provide micro financing there. Peace Corps has other partnerships with Rotary around the world.

Besides development, Peace Corps provides educational help. There is also a health program, an environmental program (preservation of natural resources), an agricultural program and a youth program.

Thank you Steve for a very informative and well presented program.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

‘STEVE’S ADVENTURE WITH THE PEACE CORPS: STORIES FROM THE KINGDOM OF TONGA AND THE UNITED STATES PEACE CORPS’ BY STEVE HUNSICKER

By Pasifiki Truthfully
October 12, 2016
https://pasifikatruthfully.com/2016/10/12/steves-adventure-with-the-peace-corps-stories-from-the-kingdom-of-tonga-and-the-united-states-peace-corps-by-steve-hunsick

‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps: Stories from the Kingdom of Tonga and the United States Peace Corps’ is a memoir written by Steve Hunsicker, a former Executive News Director who decided to give up his successful career in order to become a Peace Corps volunteer.
steves-adventure-with-the-peace-corps
Summary
For some people even the most interesting job may not be enough to feel content and fulfilled in life. Steve has always dreamed of helping others and now, after spending 23 years in TV industry, he comes to the conclusion that it’s high time he finally realized his ambition. So he applies to the Peace Corps and soon after that is sent to the Kingdom of Tonga.
Responsible for business development, Steve helps the local communities exploit their economic potential. He is a tutor and a mentor, always ready to offer advice, give words of encouragement, and share his professional knowledge. As a reward he gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Tonga as very few visitors ever do.
Review
I-was-a-volunteer-in-an-underdeveloped-country is such a common and popular theme in non-fiction literature that it should constitute a separate genre. All these personal accounts basically tell you the same story, so there will never be any surprises here. But the author’s writing style is a whole different thing. It can be excellent, mediocre, or plain bad, and it usually determines if the book is considered any good.
Steve Hunsicker’s memoir is what I like to call a ‘simple piece of literature’. It certainly isn’t a masterpiece, but it charms you right from the very first page. You instantly get drawn into Steve’s world and quickly realize that one chapter compels you to read another.
Written in a journal-like manner, the memoir starts in the US when the author finds out about his Peace Corps nomination. From that moment we accompany him as he prepares to fly out of the country, then arrives in Tonga, and finally carries out his volunteering duties. In describing his experiences he is honest, meticulous, and awesomely funny. He is like a buddy of yours, with whom you’re having a friendly chat over a cup of coffee. Or a glass of beer. Or – even better – a bowl of kava. You choose. And you genuinely want to pay careful attention to what he is saying, because his stories are truly fascinating.
Especially worthy of note are Steve’s comments on Tonga. As an astute observer who was willing to familiarize himself with a foreign culture, he gives readers colourful details of life in the Polynesian country. You really get to know the local customs, traditions, and practices – not the ancient ones, but those observed on a daily basis. The little snippets he shares are not only very informative but most of all fun to read. If you have never been to Tonga, it’s a great way to start your journey. See the islands, meet the people, and soak up the friendly atmosphere of the South Pacific.
The author writes about the Kingdom and his Peace Corps service with a fierce passion you simply cannot fail to notice. It is obvious that volunteering in this particular place affected not only his life but also him as a person. The initial culture shock gradually gave way to understanding, acceptance, and even appreciation of the culture so different from his own.
‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’ is a terrific book. I’ll venture to say it is more revealing than most guidebooks ever written on Tonga. If you decide to read it, it will not be wasted time.