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Into Africa: Loren Pinski’s Upcoming Peace Corps Adventure
Montana Senior News, February/March 2013
Among the the best known words ever uttered by a president of the United States are these two lines from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Less known but expressing a similar sentiment are the words Kennedy spoke directly afterwards: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Kennedy brought those ideas to life just a couple of months later when he issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. His goal was to send an “army” of civilian volunteers to underdeveloped nations. These volunteers would share their skills and expertise in areas ranging from agriculture to zoology to help strengthen those countries.
"Our own freedom," Kennedy stated, "and the future of freedom around the world, depend, in a very real sense, on their ability to build growing and independent nations where men can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, ignorance, and poverty."
Half a century later, history has proven the value of Executive Order 10924. Peace Corps volunteers are still traveling to far-flung corners of the world to aid needy countries in bettering the lives of their citizens. This year, Missoula’s Loren Pinski will be among those volunteers, many of whom are seasoned professionals, heading overseas to over 130 countries. For Loren, this will fulfill a dream he has nurtured since he first heard Kennedy speak to his compatriots. Like many baby boomers, he regards the Peace Corps as something that came of age along with him.
“When JFK was elected, I was in junior high school and excited over the young president and his inaugural address. After learning about the Peace Corps, I thought it sounded like an incredible program,” recalls Loren, who grew up in Great Falls.
But despite his adolescent longings to participate in this noble adventure, Loren’s life took a more traditional turn. He married, attended college where he majored in business, and raised a family. It wasn’t until he was laid off from his marketing job last summer with a firm that salvaged logs from Somers Bay, that his interest in joining the Peace Corps reignited. He gleaned as much information as possible from returned volunteers and from the organization itself and then embarked on the lengthy application process.
“I feel I owe this country a great deal. It’s been good to me. I’ve never served in the military and if I can do this, I can partially give back what America has given me—the opportunities and the freedom. This is a darned good place to live. It’s a very small world and how people and countries perceive us will greatly impact our role in the world,” says Loren. “By providing a positive view of what the United States is like with its values, we can make friends in other parts of the world. One-on-one connections make people allies.”
For Loren, the timing to live abroad was perfect as there was nothing tying down this active grandfather to Montana’s soil. He is single, he enjoys good health, and he no longer has career obligations. In addition, he realized he could even save his Social Security payments while overseas and build a little nest egg to dip into upon his return.
Although the Peace Corps offered choices as to what he could do and where he could serve, Loren told them he would do anything and go anywhere. To his surprise, instead of giving him an assignment in business or marketing, areas in which he had plenty of experience, they asked him to travel to a remote Zambian village to start up an aquaculture project.
“Many countries have cut back on business development preferring to have the Peace Corps help with food production,” says Loren. Despite having no background in fish farming, he agreed to go trusting he would learn what he needed to know during the intensive three-month training period he will undergo upon arriving in Africa.
“I’ll probably be teaching people how to raise tilapia in artificially created 250-square foot ponds. Tilapia eat bugs and mosquitoes. They grow fast and they grow almost anywhere. It’s a good way for villagers to get more protein into their diets and still have a product to sell whenever there’s an excess,” states Loren, whose artistic muse has led him in recent years to carve Western birds and mammals out of wood. “In my spare time, I’ll teach the village children English. And I hope to learn tips from the local carvers and maybe share some carving techniques with them.”
As Loren explained it, the need these days is not so much for volunteers experienced in a particular field but volunteers experienced in life. Flexible people with strong communication and problem-solving abilities top the list. That is why the Peace Corps and the countries they aid are seeking mature volunteers like Loren along with current college graduates.
“Older volunteers bring a lot of practical experience. For instance, someone who has taught for 20 years brings the skills learned during that time in the classroom to any job. Aside from that,” says Loren, “in many cultures older people are greatly respected and admired for what they have to offer. In Africa, this goes back to the tribal elder mentality. It’s a very real thing in other parts of the world. They honor life skills.”
While you might expect Loren to be nervous about possible uprisings from nearby African countries, he’s not.
“Zambia seems to be pretty stable. The conflict in the Congo is in the north and Zambia is near the southern border,” he points out. Nor is he concerned about mastering the Zambian dialect he will soon be speaking.
“I’ve studied Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Russian and can learn quickly,” he tells you. Additionally, the knowledge that his next home will be a thatch-roofed mud hut with no running water—never mind hot showers or electricity—doesn’t faze Loren. Quite the contrary. He relishes the idea of living in a culture completely different from his own; meeting whatever challenges arise; and becoming a contributing part of that culture.
So, what is Loren’s biggest dilemma right now? It appears to be something far more mundane: how he can stuff two years’ worth of clothing plus a tent and sleeping bag into two measly suitcases. For sure, he won’t leave behind his trusty chisels and knives so he can continue carving and use this widespread art form to bridge divides with his new neighbors. But he has yet to figure out exactly what else will go into those two suitcases.
“Learning to live and work in Africa is going to be work but I’m looking forward to it,” sums up Loren. “Instead of getting out the golf clubs, I prefer to get out my passport.”
For more information about the Peace Corps, visit: To learn more about Loren’s wood carving and follow his adventures in Africa, go to: