Sydney Kling spent the early part of her retirement like many others do — volunteering. She just did it in South Africa.
Kling spoke to members of the Effingham community Monday on her experience in the Peace Corps from 2001 through 2003.“I dearly, dearly love to talk about my experiences,” she said as she opened up her speech at Helen Matthes Library. “I could talk all the way from 10 minutes to 20 hours.”At the age of 67, Kling arrived in Siayabuswa Township in early July 2001 after getting her children's blessing. The idea of joining the Peace Corps actually appealed to her decades earlier in 1963, but by that time she had married and had children. So, she shelved her dream.When Kling rekindled the dream decades later, she was convinced her age would be a strike against her.“They won't take me, I'm too old,” she remembers thinking. “It (being an older volunteer) was unique back then.”To her surprise, the organization sent her the application and started her on the nine-month paperwork process.When asked where she wanted to go, the retired nurse didn't care. She just wanted to go “someplace exciting.”Kling turned down an opportunity to teach breastfeeding to new mothers in China.“I can't think of anything more boring,” she confided, so her next option was working toward education and prevention of HIV and AIDS in South Africa, which she accepted.“For me as a nurse, it's just another disorder,” she said of HIV and AIDS. “It's just another problem ... I can learn.”Kling found South Africa quite different from her expectations — lions were a rare sight, and the terrain was dry.She was able to observe coming-of-age rituals for boys and girls, and while they were unconventional through American eyes, she saw the unique beauty in the traditions.But while there were many parties celebrating sexuality, there was little education on sex and sexually transmitted diseases, and Kling had to correct common misconceptions on occasion.To educate natives, Kling started a support group, beginning with less uncomfortable topics, such as diabetes and hypertension, communicable diseases, diet and high blood pressure before later introducing STDs, HIV and AIDS.More than 50 people attended all of the eight lectures, held outside and in schools, garages and hospitals.Kling documented her experiences in a journal that she then published as a book titled “Inside Outside,” and handed out copies to all in attendance. The library also received a copy and will put the book in circulation.Proceeds from the book have gone back to the community Kling served in. She has since visited twice, but says her 2008 trip was her last.Library information desk assistant Joanna Davies also served in the Peace Corps, shortly after Kling's two years were up.She said the library staff had originally asked her to speak, but then located Kling and her interesting story as an older volunteer.“A lot of retired people are going into the Peace Corps these days,” Davies said. "People would be surprised.”Peggy Brayfield of Charleston related to Kling's experience. A senior herself, she said she had served in the same area in 2004, but had to return home after spraining her ankle, and was never able to make it back to South Africa.
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