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Oct 11, 2011 5:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Woman Returns From Three Peace Corps Stints

Oct 12, 2011 8:51 AM

As soon as she returned to American shores this summer from her latest Peace Corps service in Armenia, the first thing Sharon Keld wanted to do was donate blood. She was thwarted.

She could not do so yet, she was told, because of mandatory time constraints based on her travels to far-flung points of the globe.

No doubt the enterprising 52-year-old marketing specialist, who has served three Peace Corps stints in recent years, will jump at the chance to donate as soon as she can. That is, unless she finds another job abroad first.

Ms. Keld, who lives in Southampton Village, is not one to sit still. So if the most recent items on her resumé are any indication, she will not be staying long at the Barons Lane house where she currently resides.

She hopes to speak about her travels and service at the Rogers Memorial Library and she hinted at wishing to write a book about her travels.

From January through July of this year, she served in the ancient city of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital and largest city,

as part of the Peace Corps Response program, a United States service program open to alumni of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps, established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, has the goal of promoting world peace and friendship. Its mission includes helping men and women in interested countries help themselves and promoting a better understanding of Americans as well as of people in other countries on the part of Americans.

During her six months in the former Soviet republic, which shares borders with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia, she worked as a public relations consultant for the Millennium Challenge Account—Armenia, writing articles for quarterly bulletins and drafting press releases. A secondary assignment included helping Armenian artisans through the Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO, Homeland Handicrafts.

What should Americans know about Armenia?

“The Armenians, especially the American-Armenians, want the genocide to be recognized. They had a genocide in the early 20th century,” Ms. Keld replied, referring to the controversial death of more than a million citizens toward the end of World War I and shortly after. “It’s a beautiful country, but it’s a country where a lot of the men have to leave to get work. There’s a lot of subsistence farming.”

Before finding herself in the landlocked Asia Minor country, Ms. Keld spent a short amount of time in New York, helping her sister launch a fitness application for the iPhone, iPad and Android. But for much of 2010, she was serving another six-month stint in the Peace Corps Response. That time, in a land very different from Armenia: the Southeast Asian archipelago of the Philippines. Based in metropolitan Manila, she served as a resource development and marketing strategist for Habitat for Humanity, the organization that functions under the belief that everyone should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.

But after a pair of typhoons, Ondoy and Pepeng, swept through the country, Ms. Keld said she found herself drafting disaster response proposals and helping organize efforts to provide homes for people living in slum conditions.

As she easily flitted back and forth speaking of the people, languages and customs in one country and then another, disparate country on Friday, Ms. Keld had a dove necklace dangling from her neck, symbolizing peace. For her, peace is a goal to work toward at any age, not just in the immediate post-college years.

“I went into the Peace Corps in my late 40s. I thought before I left that the Peace Corps was for 23-year-olds. It’s nice to see that they welcome someone with mid-career experience,” she said. “I thought, I’m single. I rent. I’ve always wanted to live in another culture.”

Over bottled water, the Wharton School MBA graduate lit up when speaking of the people she encountered abroad, especially Abdou, the carpet seller she calls the nicest man in Morocco.

The cool mountains in the Kingdom of Morocco was where her Peace Corps experience started, for a two-year stretch from 2006 to 2008. While there, she advised and trained six local artisans and three regional women’s weaving cooperatives, among others, in small-business skills.

She laughed when recounting how someone in Morocco once asked her to imagine what it would be like not to be able to read certain documents, and she replied that she could imagine it—because she didn’t read Arabic.

That first taste of a culture so different from her own has triggered her wanderlust for the future, she said—even though as of Friday, she had not yet received the results of a parasite test.

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