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Changing attitudes, altitudes
Stafford resident will be home from Peace Corps service in Bulgaria for Thanksgiving

 Stafford's James Mayers spent some of his downtime in Bulgaria mountain climbing and sightseeing.
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Date published: 9/12/2006



James Mayers, a Stafford resident, found that his greatest challenge in his Peace Corps service in Bulgaria was the pessimism among the older generation.

But he has been able to infuse some American optimism among the younger Bulgarians.

Mayers, who left the United States in August 2004, has almost completed his 27 months of service.

His post is in Purvomay, a city located on the Maritsa River with a population of about 21,000. Mayers worked for the city tackling environmental and community issues. He also worked in the schools.

"We created projects where the children got involved and volunteered their services, or performed studies and experiments related to the local environment," he said in an e-mail.

In the United States, volunteerism is a norm. But in Bulgaria--a country that was under communist rule for 45 years and adopted a socialist form of government for another seven--volunteer service is a newer concept, explained Mayers.

He used grant money to help clean up and beautify the community. Local government officials also helped. "Hopefully, this is a beginning of a shift in thinking" among city residents.

Mayers explained that many of the older generation lack the initiative to change things for the better.

"This is definitely the why-bother-trying, nothing-will-change attitude," he explained.

His projects were funded through National Youth Service Day and Disney.

Mayers also won funding through USAID for a project to train vineyard workers. Fifteen people spent more than two months learning the theory and practice of wine-making, from planting to pouring. The trainees received certificates of completion and employment at one of the two local vineyards.

"The success of the program generated a lot of interest in the community, which is providing momentum for continuation of the program. Future training will be funded by the vineyard owners," Mayers said.

Peace Corps service can also offer opportunity for play.

When Mayers had a chance to get away from it all, he would head for the hills.

Throughout his time of service, he went hiking, climbing and camping through the mountains in Bulgaria.

More than half of the country is hilly or mountainous. The average elevation is about 1,575 feet.

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