Oldest Active Peace Corps Volunteer Raises HIV/AIDS Awareness
By Barbranda Lumpkins Walls
Whenever Vivian Davis feels like doing something, she does it. So when she felt like joining the Peace Corps, she did – at age 78.
Now 80, Davis is the Peace Corps’ oldest active volunteer. But not for long. She’s winding up a two-year assignment in Vaalbank, South Africa, a small, rural village 50 miles north of Pretoria.
Davis has helped to raise HIV/AIDS awareness – distributing condoms, holding meetings about mother-to-child transmission of the virus, organizing data systems and “whatever anybody asks me to do.”
“For me, it’s just a blessing” to be able to serve abroad and experience South Africa, Davis says. She also counts among her blessings living longer than her parents, who died in their 40s and 50s. “The dust clears and I’m still standing.”
Davis, a resident of Austin, Texas, and a retiree from the Veterans Administration hospital system, heard about the Peace Corps while volunteering at a VA hospital. She applied and soon received her two-year assignment. (The Peace Corps also offers six-month overseas assignments for professionals who have at least 10 years of work experience.) So off she went, leaving behind her three children, two grandchildren and two great-grandkids.
The South Africans have embraced her, even addressing her as “Mummy.” “Some are surprised that I am as old as I am,” she says. “But age never comes up. They’re not concerned about it.” In fact, she has observed that elders are greatly respected and held in high esteem there.
Village life demanded some adjustments, such as bathing in a tin washtub and walking 7 or 8 miles a day to get to wherever she needs to go. But “the food is great,” she says, especially the fresh, straight-from-the-market produce and chicken.
What’s next? Davis has kept a journal about her South Africa adventure and plans to write a memoir. While she’ll miss the people she’s met there, she is looking forward to returning to Austin and her family in March.
“It’s been a beautiful journey,” she says. “I feel blessed.”