“It’s My Time Now”
By Jonathan Pearson on Monday, July 11th, 2011
It would be an understatement to call Rekha Shah a late bloomer to the Peace Corps.
She’s more like a late BLOOOOOOMER!
Originally from India, Rekha came to the United States in 1967, at the age of 22. Soon after her arrival she began to meet Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who had served in her country of origin.
“I always wanted to (join the Peace Corps),” she said. But, as with many other U.S. citizens, the timing wasn’t right. Rekha was just starting to raise her family.
Over the years, Rekha raised three daughters and worked at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, in the patient insurance division. She volunteered in her community.
Rekha earned a degree from the University of Vermont after the family moved north. She continued volunteering after subsequent moves to Arizona and California. Her area of interest? Social work. Crisis intervention, conflict resolution and rape crisis counseling.
Almost 40 years later, her interest to serve in the Peace Corps had not subsided. Her daughters were grown, while her husband had traveled to several countries in the 1990′s as staff for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In 2004, at the age of 60, Rekha announced her intentions. ”It’s my time now.” To her daughters she said, “It’s time for Mommy to grow.”
In 2004, at the age of 60, Rekha became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.
But that’s not all…
In 2007, at the age of 63, Rekha began her second tour as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.
But…that’s not all.
Rekha, at age 66 is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland. She is scheduled to complete her third term of service in August, 2012.
We recently met Rekha at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. She is on leave to visit one of her daughters, who recently gave birth to her first child (Rekha’s sixth grandchild).
As a volunteer in Swaziland’s Lumbombo Region, Rekha is heavily involved in prevention, education and awareness raising programs to combat HIV/AIDS. ”America has given me so much. It’s my time to give back.”
Rekha would like to see more diversity in the Peace Corps. ”I’m Asian American. But that’s what America is…America is different races and ethnicities. Let people see the true face of America.”
And, she would like to see more seniors answer the call to Peace Corps service. ”We have a lot of education. A lot of life experiences. We are ambassadors to America. It keeps you young. It keeps you alert. It’s a great way to be involved after retirement.”
With service in three countries since turning 60, Rekha’s family misses her but accepts her passion for service. That passion is still going strong. During our interview, Rekha noted that the oldest currently serving volunteer is 85. ”I’m so young, only 66! I’ve still got twenty years!”