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Posted on Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor woman joins a unique Peace Corps minority as she departs for Philippines

By Ben Freed

While most Americans spend their Fourth of July enjoying parades and celebrating America, Sandra Bowers was packing to leave it behind for a bit.

Bowers was learning to travel light as she prepared to leave July 5 for the Philippines, where she will spend two years as part of the Peace Corps.

“My goal is to fit everything into one bag and one backpack,” she said. “I hear that once you’re there it can get tough to lug everything from place to place.”


Sandra Bowers poses with her children. From left: Kara, 19, Erin, 25, Sandra and Scotty, 23. Sandra is going to the Philippines with the Peace Corps to complete her masters in social work.

Courtesy Sandra Bowers

While the Peace Corps is not an unusual calling for an Ann Arbor resident just graduating from one of the local universities, Bowers is part of the 7 percent of corps volunteers over the age of 50.

“Older volunteers really bring their career and life experiences to the corps in a way that’s different and so valuable,”said Jessica Mayle , regional Peace Corps coordinator.

“You can’t overemphasize this enough. It’s really hard to commit to two years whether you’re 25 or 55 and it’s a big experience. Those volunteers who are able to do it really make a difference in such a big way.”

President John F. Kennedy first proposed the idea for the Peace Corps on the steps of the University of Michigan's Student Union where today, a medallion on the ground marks the spot where he stood. Mayle said many of the older volunteers where first inspired into service by his words.

“It’s often people who are stable, have grown kids, and they can pursue this dream they’ve kept in the back of their heads their whole lives,” Mayle said.

“For a lot of people this is something they wanted to do in their 20s but weren’t able to. It’s definitely a different path from people in their 20s right now who are maybe very ideological or don’t want to start a career right away.”

Bowers, who previously worked with special education students in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, is doing the volunteer work as part of a masters in social work program at U-M. She has gone to school for one year, will complete two years abroad and then come back to do one more year before receiving her degree.

“I was the last person in my School of Social Work group to get placed but I was so excited when I heard I’d be going to the Philippines. I couldn’t have asked for a place I’d rather go,” she said.

Once she arrives in the Philippines, Bowers will complete three months of training and then likely will work with youth education and development programs.

“I have done volunteer and service work before but nothing this long-term or international,” she said.

“I have three children, and they’re at the point in their lives where my role as their mother is changing. So I felt I had the window of opportunity to do something that wasn’t necessarily focused around them.”

Her exact placement will not be determined until after she arrives in the country, but Bowers says she knows she could end up in a wide variety of communities. The Philippines is home to Manila, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, as well as very rural coastal communities.

“Throughout the country, most places have pretty good technology, but I don’t know for certain how connected I’ll be,” Bowers said.

“The closest internet connection could be in a cafe a number of miles away or down the street. I will have a phone, and I’ve also already given my contact information to friends and family to send me care packages. I’m like one of the kids going off to camp.”

Peace Corps volunteers earn two days of vacation every month that Mayle said can be used to travel in the region where the volunteer is stationed or to make a trip back to the states if necessary.

“I won’t be coming home unless there’s an emergency,” Bowers said. “But the goal is definitely to have all of my children come and visit me at some point.”

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 2:23 a.m.

Don't we have ppl right here in the USA that could use the Peace Corp's help


Sun, Jul 7, 2013 : 1:23 a.m.

Jns, Filipinos do not hate us, so it looks like your response doesn't fit here. And your statement that you won't get shot at in this country is laughable.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

The point is this. You are safer in the US then in some foreign country where they hate us. Pure and simple hate us. Especially in the Middle East. Look at the confession of that Boston Bomber. Those crazies like us for one reason but hate our meddling in their affairs. Hate to say it, if we don't meddle they will do to us another 911 that we don't do to them. Sad but true. At least here in this country you won't get shot at unless you are in the Appalachians. Then we need to rethink that one. Might as well keep it at home. We are not appreciated over seas.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

I'm not sure I understand your point. If you are suggesting she stays within the country to volunteer to help people, why?

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

oooooh! my bad

John of Saline

Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 3:52 a.m.



Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

I know someone who did this. Hated it. You almost live the life of the people down there. You have to give almost everything up, every luxury and be down right poor to do this. Some can and some cannot. With the letters I got from the person who did? This person wishes he never went. Good luck. Sorry but I don't eat bugs, don't do boas and certainly hate mosquitoes. Plus there is no pay involved. It is a stipend. JFK never told anyone what a life changer this job is. Enjoy the dirt floor while I enjoy my nice clean sheets and cool house. Plus you might want to remember what a luxury a grocery store is. Because you can't run to one where you are going. Again? Good luck. I'll think of you when I am driving my a/c car to my all nite grocery chain.


Sun, Jul 7, 2013 : 1:22 a.m.

John, you state that assaults on women in the Peace Corp are "very common" based on a NYT article and then say you "rest your case". This very article that you cite actually quotes the crime experts as not knowing if the incidence of these crimes against women are any higher than what already occur against women in the US currently. This article made me research more about the Peace Corp and I think the many volunteers in the Peace Corp can speak about their experiences (positive or negative) with more accuracy than you or I. Again, thanks for the article link but you might want to do more research yourself.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

I rest my case. Read what NYT has to say and then think twice.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Read the NYTimes article and appreciate the link provided. It seems as though the main negative experiences are due to crimes (some horrific) committed on volunteers and then poor handling of these crimes by Peace Corp administrators. In the article the victims only want to improve the PC, not end it. I quickly scanned other links to blogs about PC experiences and still many of those volunteers that had negative experiences still speak well of their overall time as a volunteer. I think I was looking at the negative comments highlighting bugs, boas, dirt floors and mosquitoes more than the crimes highlighted in NYT. I would want to research more though after reading about these.

John of Saline

Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 3:57 a.m. Just for starters.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 2:06 a.m.

Wow, seems like I have only heard positive feedback from those who have signed up to help others through the Peace Corp. I would be curious to know from you jns131 much more specifics about the "someone" you know that had a bad experience. What country? What time period? Were others volunteering with this person having similar experiences? Did this person speak about the difficulties you mention to their supervisors for a possible transfer? Your comments are the first negative comments I have ever heard regarding the Peace Corps.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 1:51 a.m.

Somehow your "Good luck" doesn't ring true.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 11:49 p.m.

jns--how is your comment helpful to anyone? So we know that you are focused on enjoying your conveniences of life while other people try to help improve our world? I'm impressed and inspired by this woman--wishing her all the best and appreciating her contribution to try to make things a little better for people who can use a little help.

John of Saline

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 10:39 p.m.

I wasn't even thinking of all that when I made my initial comment. Assaults, especially on female volunteers, are very common, and the Peace Corps has been covering them up (recently, they promised to do better). Oh, and good luck trying to get help from local authorities.

Beverly Benmoussa

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 6:41 p.m.

Very inspiring! Good Luck !

John of Saline

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

Er, good luck. And stay safe. Some pretty bad stories have been coming out of the Peace Corps the last few years.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

Very bad stories. Some even have had the military get them out and send them home. Wouldn't catch me anywhere except in America. Although the US is getting pretty bad as well.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

Very impressive Sandy! Great adventure and commitment. We all wish you well!


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

I love "unique but not unusual" things, maybe because they always seem to be in such short supply.

Cindy Heflin

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

Hi Nick: We've changed the wording in that sentence to correct the usage problem.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

Who is "Linda" in the photo caption? May want to reword that. Good story....gets me thinking....


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Maybe Linda is the dogs name? Dogs are people too!

Ben Freed

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

It should say Sandra, we've corrected the caption. I'm not sure who Linda is either...

Barbara Brown

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

So exciting to see


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

Sandy and Kids, So GREAT to see a picture of all of you. Would love to hear about the kids. (Dawn A has my email.) All best to you in your new adventure. Diane Cupps