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DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - July 31, 2009

Corps values

Danville woman heads to Cambodia to serve in the Peace Corps

by Geoff Gillette

The concept of "Giving Back" isn't really a new one. People who've had good fortune help others as a way of spreading their good karma back out into the world. There's giving back, and then there's Giving Back. And then there's JaNise Porter.

The 22-year-old Danville woman has spent the majority of her young life in one form of community service or another, culminating in spending the next 27 months serving a little further afield than the Bay Area.

Porter will be living and working in Cambodia for the next two years, as a member of the Peace Corps.

"I first heard about it at Howard University," she recalled. "I was just floored. I had never even heard of it."

One of her business instructors had spent time in the Peace Corps during the 1960s and told the students about the experience. That same year, two volunteers who had returned from their two-year commitments came and spoke about it.

"After that I was pretty much sold. At 19 years old I used to tell my family, 'I'm going into the Peace Corps.' No one took me seriously. They all said, 'No, you're going to get a job, you're going to grad school,'" she recalled with a laugh.

Regardless, the thought remained crystal clear within the young woman's mind as she finished at Howard, getting a degree in business. After that it was time to start the application process.

"I had to go through a very, very arduous and tedious application process. It's kind of worse than applying to college," she explained.

Peace Corps Public Affairs Specialist Nathan Hale Sargent said there are a limited number of volunteer positions and the competition is fierce. Presently there are 7,876 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 76 countries.

The process took nearly a year from when she first applied, and required several background checks and letters of recommendation. But in May 2009, Porter received her invitation.

"I wanted to cry, jump, scream. It was just so amazing because it's been in the works for so long. This has been the one clear thing I've had in my mind for so long, to see it come to fruition is just amazing," she said.

Porter credits her parents with getting her involved at an early age. She recalled serving food with her family at Glide Memorial in San Francisco, fundraising for various charities, and even making backpacks for the homeless.

Mom Terri Porter said being a part of the community and taking part in service organizations is something they always did as a family, but she said it was obvious from the start that for JaNise the urge to serve went deeper.

"We raise them with the belief that if much is given, much is expected," she said. "JaNise kind of took it on as her personal mission in life. This was in the seventh grade. Even at Carondelet (High School) there was always the belief that you should give back."

JaNice echoes her mother's philosophy. "I'm extremely blessed. Two parents who support me in anything I do. A tight knit family, a good life here in Danville. So, I just think it's necessary."

While she is very proud of her daughter, Terri said she has misgivings about her being away in Cambodia for two years.

"We were at a family shower and she told me she'd figured out what she was going to do after college. I had a meltdown, saying, 'You've got to be kidding me!' We have always given back, but this was a whole different level."

Porter said what concerns her is that they don't know what the conditions will be where JaNice will be stationed. "There's a lot of unknowns. Her living conditions- she's going to be living with a family but she doesn't know if there's going to be electricity or Internet so we can talk," she said.

JaNice left in late July for assignment. She is spending the first three months living with a host family while she undergoes training for the role she'll play in the village where she is assigned. Part of the training will be in learning the Khmer language and part will be preparing for life in a village and the differences between Cambodian life and American.

"It's going to be very different," she said. "Cambodia is still developing. They don't have western toilets. No electricity or running waters in some places. That's going to be my experience."

After her three months of training she will spend the next two years working as a Youth Development Director, helping teach Cambodian children English as well as working in other areas. One area she expects to be teaching is HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

Despite the two-year commitment, Porter is already planning for what happens beyond that point. Graduate school at an East Coast university and then working. She added that being a part of Peace Corps has opened her eyes to more possibilities.

"Like becoming an ambassador to the United Nations," she mused. "Even to intern there you have to be in grad school. I guess we'll see."

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