When Christa Bucks leaves her Ellicott City home Tuesday for Paraguay, the Peace Corps volunteer will pack a flashlight, Swiss army knife -- and the electric wheelchair, leg braces and other equipment she uses to get around.
The youth worker, 24, who has muscular dystrophy, knows she cuts an unusual figure as a Peace Corps volunteer. But she insists there is nothing heroic about it.
"All of my life I have had an abundance of material things," says Bucks, who will work with disadvantaged youth in the South American nation. "In reality, I will have more in my two suitcases than the persons have whom I will be working with."
Despite such demurrals, Bucks' assignment is a testament to her tenacity.
One of 3,500 Peace Corps volunteers selected this year from about 10,000 applicants, Bucks says she was determined to demonstrate that her assignment is appropriate for someone with her disability, which severely restricts her ability to walk.
"We have preconceived ideas about what it means to have a disability," she says.
Her success in securing a spot in the Peace Corps makes true a long-standing dream for Bucks, whose mother, Betsy, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia beginning in 1964.
Christa Bucks first applied for the Peace Corps in 1993 while attending her mother's alma mater, Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.
She was a student intern for Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a nonprofit organization based in Eugene, Ore., that promotes international educational exchange and travel.
After earning her bachelor of arts degree in international studies and Spanish in 1994, Bucks was hired by MIUSA to coordinate student exchanges and moved to Oregon. Her position evolved into public relations coordinator.
"Christa is one of the most energetic people I have ever met in my life," said Carole Patterson, an MIUSA leadership coordinator.
All the while, Bucks kept on top of the extensive Peace Corps application process, updating it on her activities and skills. She also submitted a video of herself at work, at home and being interviewed for a television program, "People in Motion," that aired in April on public television.
Though Bucks will not know the details of her job in Paraguay until the end of a three-month training stint there, she knows she will work with young people who confront many of the same problems facing American youths.
"In Paraguay, 51 percent of the population are under the age of 20, and half are considered high-risk," says Bucks, citing drugs, unemployment and a lack of education. "My work will help them to build on their life and on their social and professional skills so that they can be productive citizens in their communities."
She also is prepared to teach the disabled how to interact with others and to introduce devices to help them live independently.
She says her job is to help teach skills that people can use long after she has returned from her three-year tour.
"I am going to enhance what the people already do," says Bucks. "I am a community volunteer who will be there for a short time compared to how long they are living there. It is important for me to help empower them to do their work in the community."
Although she is aware her disability isn't common in the Peace Corps, "I'm not trying to be a 'supercrip,' " she says. "I want to do great things in small, wonderful ways. I hope to make a difference in the world; that's what life is all about."
Pub Date: 5/19/96