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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Peace Corps is family tradition

WILTON, Conn. – It’s not unusual for a little brother to follow an older brother around the house, the neighborhood, and on into school activities, clubs, sports, and maybe even the same college.

The mirroring usually ends there, as the siblings move on to other chapters of their lives. ...

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WILTON, Conn. – It’s not unusual for a little brother to follow an older brother around the house, the neighborhood, and on into school activities, clubs, sports, and maybe even the same college.

The mirroring usually ends there, as the siblings move on to other chapters of their lives.

T.K. and Dan Mangan took that brotherly connection one step further.

After T.K. Mangan graduated from Wilton High School in 2005, and the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business with a major in accounting in 2009, he opted to join the Peace Corps in 2010 for a two-and-a-half year stint.

Now Dan Mangan, a 2010 Wilton High School graduate, who – you guessed it – earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown’s McDonough School, this time with a double major in finance and international business, will set off for Cameroon in West Africa on Sept. 9 for his Peace Corps hitch.

“I was lucky enough, being five grades behind T.K., to see the impact he had on other people through (the Peace Corps),” Dan Mangan said. “He made change for the better. This is an opportunity our government gives you to go abroad.”

T.K. Mangan was happy he took that opportunity in Ghana, as well as in West Africa.

“It was a nice cultural exchange,” said T.K. Mangan, who was made an African Chief while there. “I got more out of it than they ever got from me.

“I was in a small, entrepreneurial development group,” he said. “I worked with after-school kids, ages 12 to almost 21, and I was basically trying to teach them basic accounting. It was an isolated community. I tried to impress upon them that if they are going to start their own business in town – like selling eggs – and they were losing eggs on the trip to town, they have to maintain their own accounting of all the eggs lost so they can know what they need to make money.”

President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 on March 1, 1961, establishing the Peace Corps on a temporary basis.

Sargent Shriver was appointed the first director of the Peace Corps later that month. In his nearly five-year tenure, Shriver developed the Corps into 55 countries with more than 14,500 volunteers.

The total number of Peace Corps volunteers passed the 200,000 mark in 2010, and last year the Republic of Kosovo became the 140th nation to receive Peace Corps volunteers.

One of the traditions of the Peace Corps had been the luck-of-the-draw placement of its volunteers. Those going in could ask for a region of the world, but requesting one country was not an option – until now.

“I didn’t ask for a specific country, just sub-Saharan Africa,” Dan Mangan said. “I took a semester of French at Georgetown, so I felt prepared for any country. They’ve changed the application. Now you can choose a country.”

T.K. Mangan said his biggest shock going to Africa for the first time was, well, the lack of any shocks.

“It was the lack of surprises that was the biggest shock,” T.K. Mangan said with a laugh. “I was thinking it was a totally wild place, but the biggest differences were the food and dancing. Everyone is human, and the food is good, even if it takes some getting used to. A delicacy is a big rat called a grass cutter. It was always pretty good. I ate iguana once, but we mostly ate goat and sheep. We lived on a river, so we had lots of fish. There was nothing hissing at me.”

If that last paragraph didn’t set back the program several decades, then the Peace Corps might just be on to something. Dan Mangan smiled and nodded as his brother recited the entree options.

The younger Mangan also did not flinch at his overseas departure date.

“I have no idea where I will be (in Cameroon),” Dan Mangan said. “I don’t want to go in with expectations. You love whatever you get. I leave September 9th, for a two-day orientation, and I fly out for Africa on September 11th. I will take a duffle (bag) and backpack, and lots of bug spray. Anything else you can get in country.”

T.K. Mangan said he will never forget some of the sights.

He will shortly enter his second year at Georgetown University School of Law, with a concentration in public advocacy.

“I lived close to Mole National Park,” T.K. Mangan said of the park in the northeastern corner of the nation. “Baboons were everywhere, and they’re pesky. We found a warthog going through our trash. They snort, and they can be mean. I saw gazelles, but no lions. It was all cool stuff.”

Just like a little brother, Dan Mangan can hardly wait for his turn.