Peace Corps director reflects on attack - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Peace Corps director reflects on attack

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Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004 10:03 am | Updated: 5:19 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

September 24, 2004

Van Nelson has been serving the cause of peace throughout the world for more than a quarter-century.

And he’s still at it.

The 59-year-old Scottsdale resident is director of the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia — more than 7,000 miles from his home in the 6500 block of East Oak Street. "He has — and is — doing lot of good things in this world," said Jill Gross, a friend of Nelson’s who lives with her husband, Robert, in Scottsdale and who communicates with Nelson by e-mail.

"He loves Scottsdale and Arizona, and he loves doing things for the less fortunate," Gross said.

She said Nelson, who is single, has encountered and faced many tragedies in

countries where he has served.

The latest was Sept. 3 when terrorists took over a school at Beslan, Russia, about a three-hour drive from Nelson’s office in Georgia, and killed more than 330 hostages, most of them children.

Nelson offered this response via e-mail:

"The border crossing between the Republic of Georgia and North Ossetia was closed as this situation evolved in Beslan. The first day of school is a big event for everyone in this part of the world and the people of Georgia can certainly relate to the horror of this shocking incident."

Nelson was appointed Peace Corps director in Georgia, a republic of between 4 million and 5 million people, in July. He directs a staff of 18 who coordinate about 50 Peace Corps volunteers in and near Tbilisi.

"The Georgian Peace Corps volunteers . . . teach English (as a second language and at the college level) and all work as volunteers in their respective communities," Nelson wrote, adding that his volunteers live with sporadic electricity and many without heat during the cold winters. "The volunteers exemplify that the Peace Corps is ‘still the toughest job you will ever love,’ " Nelson wrote.

Bill Hoeb, another friend of Nelson, describes Nelson as a man with a sense of humor and a great deal of compassion.

"He has a big view of the world," he said.

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