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Couple finds calling in Peace Corps



Published: Fri, June 13, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By John W. Goodwin Jr.

The couple will now spend time teaching in China.

LIBERTY — Eli and RyAnn Heller are not the type of people to let grass grow under their feet — unless they have planted the seeds and helped tend to the soil for another group of people in need.

The Hellers, both 25, have been to several countries to study and perform service work. They most recently joined the Peace Corps and spent more than two years in Manila, Philippines.

The Peace Corps was started in 1961 by President Kennedy as a means of promoting world peace and friendship. Since its inception, more than 190,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 host countries, working on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.

The Hellers first became interested in the Peace Corps while still in college before they were married.

“We learned about Peace Corps in college. We went to the same school, Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and we both felt the call to a life of service. This was a good way to give back since we have had such blessed lives,” said RyAnn.

The couple applied to the program and underwent the strict screening process and training regiment before being selected to join the program. It took more than two years — eight months into their marriage — before they were actually selected.

A short time after being selected to participate, the couple found themselves in a culture unlike any they had lived in and among people unlike most they had experienced.

RyAnn said the people embraced them and were willing to provide or share anything they had, no matter how little they had to share. With the remote living arrangements, the Hellers had a good amount of time to get to know those willing to share so much with them.

“We lived in a very rural area in the middle of rice fields and mango groves. If you wanted to go to a movie it was about four hours away by bus so that was not likely,” said RyAnn. “What people did for entertainment was sit on the porch and talk, laugh or just fellowship with one another.”

The Hellers, both trained educators, spent the next two years educating children in separate schools.

RyAnn conducted teacher observations, taught classes, created a reading program and curriculum, and launched an oral health advocacy program amongst other things. Eli taught classes, observed teachers and performed other tasks.

Both Eli and RyAnn said experiencing and working with the people was the most rewarding aspect of the two years spent in the Philippines. Eli also said the opportunity to represent the United States on such a mission was an honor.

“For me, the most rewarding part was the relationships. There were people there that took us in like family and the kids just enjoyed anything you did with them. It was all really appreciated and we also learned so much from them,” Eli said. “America gets such a bad image for so many things, it has been wonderful to show what Americans are really about to people in other countries.”

The Hellers are not finished representing America. The couple will be leaving to teach English in China sometime in August. They will spend up to two years teaching in Chinese schools.

Eli and RyAnn are no strangers to travel or volunteer work.

RyAnn began traveling at age 14 when she traveled to Israel and volunteered in an orphanage. Both Hellers have studied abroad in places such as Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago during their college years.

jgoodwin@vindy.com


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