I have met many women on this trip to Cambodia whose life focus is to help make the world a better place, and they are an inspiration to me. One such person is Carol Allbaugh, Program and Training Officer in Cambodia for the U.S. Peace Corp, the number two Peace Corp position in the country. Carol is a retired school administrator from California who is living here with her husband, supervising more than 60 Peace Corp volunteers.  A meeting with Alan had been scheduled at Carol’s request to discuss how the Peace Corp volunteers might assist the Harpswell Foundation in its mission.

The meeting is at a small coffee shop, much like a Starbucks in the US.  Carol and Alan have never met in person, so we enter the shop not knowing how to recognize her. She jumps up when she sees us, and greets us with a big smile. Her medium-short hair is salt-and-pepper gray and she looks like a typical retiree heading out for a round of golf. We exchange pleasantries as the meeting gets underway.

This is Carol’s second career, she explains to us.  When she graduated from college in the 1960’s, she had a dream to work in the Peace Corp.  Instead, she got married, had a family, and advanced to a responsible position in education administration in the state of California. She laughingly told us that when her kids would misbehave, in her frustration she would sometimes yell at them “I am going to leave this house and join the Peace Corp!”  So, when she retired a few years back, she decided to follow her dream, working as a Peace Corp field volunteer for two years in Thailand before moving into her current management role in Cambodia. Her husband has followed her in her adventure, and although he is not a part of the Peace Corp, he helps her out whenever he can.

Mira Weisenthal

Alan and Carol discuss several ideas for how the Peace Corp volunteers might contribute to Harpswell. Carol already has one volunteer working with the Harpswell organization as a Resident Leader at the smaller of the two dormitories.  Mira Weisenthal is an impressive young woman who is finishing her two-year Peace Corp assignment by working with the Harpswell students as a Resident Leader, living with them in one of the dormitories.  I have enjoyed getting to know her this week. She has a warm, friendly personality and I suspect it was easy for the students to welcome her into their close-knit Harpswell sisterhood. Mira  is busy teaching English, facilitating evening discussions on current events, and acting as a combination role model and confidant in an older sister kind-of-way.

Lots of ideas are discussed, and I notice that Carol has a way of guiding the discussion back to a few solid possibilities with definable next steps. The Peace Corp volunteers will prepare and run a one-week leadership training workshop for all Harpswell students, building off an existing seminar. Being responsible for the entire program will be a valuable learning experience for the Peace Corp workers, so everyone benefits. Carol will give one or two Harpswell students summer internships so they can gain real-world working experience over the summer. Also, her volunteers will identify exceptional students from the schools in which they are teaching, most of which are in remote provinces that Harpswell can’t reach.  Alan emphasizes the importance of the volunteers recognizing the competitiveness of the Harpswell program.  Only the very brightest students who also exhibit strong leadership skills should be referred. Carol nods her head in understanding. She gets it.

As we leave the coffee shop an hour later, I marvel at the energy and focus of this 60-something individual who is using the skills and experience of her first career to make the world a better place during her “second half.” Carol tells us adamantly, “I love what I am doing; I could do this until I die!”  I am awed by her commitment and desire to make a difference–and I have no doubt that she is doing just that. You go, Girl!