Dalton man plans Peace Corps trip to Africa
By Amanda Korman, Berkshire Eagle Staff
DALTON -- Tent? Check. Sleeping bag? Check.
There's only so much you can do to prepare for a 27-month stint with the Peace Corps in Sub-Saharan Africa. For Matt Dindio, who leaves for Malawi next Thursday, the kids' rubber bands shaped like animals, the candy bracelets and the bottle of bubbles in his luggage are for the children he'll encounter working as a community health adviser in a nation ravaged by HIV and AIDS.
"I'm not going in trying to save the world," said the Dalton resident. "I'm a realist. I think it's more that you do something to help out."
Dindio, 29, is already intimately acquainted with some of the odder wonders of the United States -- he was a public affairs specialist for the snafu-ridden Big Dig while a student at Suffolk University, and after earning his master's, he spent six months driving a tram at the parking lot of the Animal Kingdom in Disneyworld.
But Malawi is literally a world away. Dindio is preparing to be without running water or electricity for the extent of his trip.
"I wanted to go do something different," he said. "Whenever you travel, you don't get the whole. You don't see the culture of it. This, you're living the exact same way as your neighbor."
Scattered across his parents' living room floor are stacks of items waiting to be packed up. The gifts Dindio is bringing for children will hopefully ease some of the difficulty of what is likely ahead of
him, as his father, Ross Dindio, pointed out.
"I think he's going to see people dying right in front of him -- little kids," he said. "He's going to come back a different person."
Malawi is ranked ninth in the world for HIV/AIDS infection -- almost 12 percent of adults have the disease. Due to the high mortality rate, the average age of the 15 million people is 17 years old.
As a community health adviser, Dindio will work with families in which the heads of household are 13 or 14 years old, their parents dead from AIDS or malaria. A former public affairs aide to Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto, Dindio will be putting his communications experience to work through outreach and education with the Malawian community and clinics.
The challenge ahead of him will also be difficult for those he leaves behind.
Asked how he was dealing with his son's pending departure, Ross Dindio said his feelings were mixed, then choked up.
Elaine Dindio picked up where her husband left off. "We're going to miss him terribly," she said.
Dindio has been living at his parents' Dalton home since ending his three-year stint as Ruberto's aide.
Having him at home means his departure will feel like losing him all over again, Ross Dindio explained.
"Being a parent, we support what they want to do. That doesn't make it easy," he said.
Dindio won't know where in the country the size of Pennsylvania he'll be stationed until seven weeks into training. His parents won't find out until weeks after that -- and even then, communication will be scant and slow. The Peace Corps has instructed them that no news is good news.
In the meantime, the Dindios are enjoying their last days with their son before he is changed indelibly -- by the dry heat, by the taste of Malawian's corn food staple called nsima, and by the disease epidemic in which, Dindio acknowledges, he can only begin to make a dent.
Story featured in the Berkshire Eagle.
PS - 6 days in the countdown.