MEXICO CITY, Nov. 9 -- The Peace Corps has opened its first office in Mexico, staffed largely with a new breed of volunteers -- older people with expertise in computers, engineering and business, Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez said Tuesday.
Vasquez said the first 11 volunteers arrived last month and would soon begin two-year work stints, mostly helping small businesses and environmental projects. Their average age is 45, and the oldest is 63. Many have degrees from prestigious colleges and decades of professional experience, Vasquez said.
"This is a radical change in the kind of volunteerism that the Peace Corps does," said Efrain Aceves Piña, international affairs director at Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology. "These are not the typical volunteers."
In the past, Mexico has been reluctant to accept U.S. aid workers. But as the two countries have begun more joint business and science projects, Mexico has requested volunteers versed in information technology, environmental science and business.
Vasquez, the grandson of immigrant farmers from Mexico, was in Mexico City on Tuesday as part of a binational meeting that included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Vasquez said Peace Corps volunteers in other countries were still engaged in more traditional activities, such as teaching English and building rural schools. But the agency is catering its work to fit current needs, he said.
The Peace Corps, founded in 1961, currently has 7,700 volunteers in 71 countries -- the highest number in 29 years. Vasquez said applications are up 20 percent this year over last, with more older and mid-career people seeking to do volunteer work overseas.