Back to aid work in Mongolia for Swampscott womanBy KAIT TAYLOR , Associated Press
May. 26, 2013 2:31 AM ET
SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. (AP) — As a college student when the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, Judy Gates promised herself that one day she would join.
In 2008, at the age of 65, she did.
Leaving the comforts of her Marblehead home behind, Gates found herself in Mongolia drinking fermented goat's milk and learning to split wood to build a fire to cook and keep warm in sub-zero temperatures, all while helping her town establish small businesses in a traditional herding society.
But if you ask Gates what her biggest challenge was during her 27-month service, she will shake her head. "This may sound strange, but nothing," she said. "It's a hard place to live, certainly, but I just loved being there so much."
Now, at age 70, Gates is planning to head back to Mongolia to bring back knitted items for her friends to protect themselves against the frigid winters. Gates recently brought knitting materials to the Swampscott Public Library and spoke to seniors about how it's never too late to make a difference on a global level.
Gates said that while the Peace Corps has a reputation for being a program for recent college graduates, the federal service program is actively seeking potential volunteers over age 50.
"I think it'd be wonderful if more people over 50 got involved," said Gates. "I think more life experience and skills are needed in the Peace Corps today."
Gates acknowledged that she didn't take to the language as well as her twenty-something fellow volunteers, but that's where her weaknesses ended. When someone in the crowd asked her how long it took her to get used to eating mutton fat and dried milk curds, Gates revealed her edge on the youngsters.
"Immediately," she said without hesitation. "I think, 'I'll eat just anything you give me.' I used to be finicky about food growing up, but at one point, I said, 'Why? Why eat this and not that?' That was the difference between me and the kids ... they wouldn't eat the fat. I thought, 'Just do it.'"
That was her attitude from the beginning, said Gates. She described how when the corps had asked her if she had any preferences about where to serve, she replied, "'Send me where you want to send me.'"
Gates said though it took some adjusting for her children to know their mother was milking a yak halfway around the globe, her grandchildren were fine with it.
"They love telling their friends that their grandmother is in the Peace Corps," she said. "They think it's cool."