Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ojai Teacher Bound For Peace Corps

By Nao Braverman
Throughout her life Janelle Matzdorf has taught handicapped children from different cultures around the country and overseas.
This February she heads for Eastern Europe where she is looking forward to surrounding herself in a new cultural environment, learning what it means to educate handicapped children in the former Soviet bloc.
It’s more complicated than you might expect, said Matzdorf.
She remembers teaching in Kunming, a Chinese city about 200 miles from Vietnam, where she was forced to accommodate an entirely new definition of being handicapped. Among the 4 million Kunming residents being “handicapped” included having any noticeable visible scar, she said. Among her pupils, were people who had strong mental and physical capabilities but couldn’t get jobs because of their physical appearance, she explained. Such students had an entirely different speed and capacity for learning than American handicapped students that Matzdorf was accustomed to, who had severe disabilities such as Down’s syndrome and autism.
Full of adventure, with her 60th birthday just around the corner, Matzdorf decided to fulfill an old dream and join the Peace Corps. Though she first became interested in the program which sends American volunteers to other countries when she was in college, she got married and had children and was forced to put her traveling bug on the back burner.
Now that her children are grown and her husband, Rotarian Tony Matzdorf, passed away in December, she has no ties keeping her in the country, she said.
She learned that the Peace Corps, which has traditionally accepted mostly college-age students, is also recruiting retirees.
With more than 10 years teaching severely handicapped children, Matzdorf had skills that could be helpful to educators in many other countries, and her application to the Peace Corps was promptly accepted.
She is now putting her four bedroom Meiners Oaks home up for sale and is preparing to set out to some place in Eastern Europe in February. Though she hasn’t been told which country they will send her to yet, she is looking forward to the new experience. Whereever it is she is headed, she has been assigned to train teachers in educating handicapped students for two years.
After an orientation in San Francisco or Washington, D.C., she will spend three months in the country where she will teach, learn some of the language and acclimate to the culture. Since childhood Matzdorf was raised an adept traveler. She spent some time at a German school and her father who taught English to foreign students was always inviting them into their home. But Matzdorf expects the most interesting part of her Peace Corps experience will be the exposure of to a different perspective on education and disability.
Peace Corps volunteers work in a wide variety of areas including HIV/AIDs awareness, technological advancement, agriculture and education. Volunteers are sent to areas in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, South America and the Pacific Islands.
For more information see the Peace Corps web site at www.peacecorps.gov.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a spectacular individual that woman (my Mother) is. She has always been a stellar model of humanity.

Best wishes to you and your lucky new students.