By Jonathan Pearson on Sunday, September 5th, 2010
It was fitting that one of the gatherings during our just completed August road trip was in Woodstock, Illinois. The locals noted that the idyllic town square was used for filming the movie “Groundhog Day”, in which Bill Murray desperately lives the same day over and over until he develops a deeper sensitivity and understanding toward others. Oh, and of course…he finds his true love.
No doubt many members of the Peace Corps community lived out their own version of Groundhog Day at the start of service, with repeated days of sketchy health, “interesting” food and cultural missteps. For most it worked out in the end. And yes – as we witnessed at many stops during the trip – more than a few also found their true love!
Our August road trip had a Groundhog Day rhythm to it. Most every day began finding a spot with wifi to catch up on email and send the latest blog post. A mid-day drive to the next city for the next planned gathering. In the evening, preparing for the next day, the next city, the next event.
But unlike the movie, there was no desperate need to break free from the cycle. And that is because of the individuals and member groups who make up the NPCA and the greater Peace Corps community.
Our blog posts have only been able to scratch the surface of the service, the passion, the leadership and the caring demonstrated each day by those of us privileged to say “I served in the Peace Corps.”
“There’s a buzz out there.” In Peoria, Illinois that’s how Karen Mauldin-Curtis described the growing interest in the 50th anniversary at Western Illinois University, where she coordinates the Peace Corps Fellows program.
In Crestview Hills, Kentucky Kevin Talbert spoke of the profound reconnection to his Peace Corps past when he recently attended a reunion of his volunteer group which served in Tanzania. Kevin was one of many RPCVs who spoke of recent or future reunions.
The magic of connecting people was on display at many stops, not the least of which was at the My Soul Cafe on the south side of Chicago. Michelle Boone, Lee Losey and Karen Bozeman-Gross (wife of RPCV James Gross) came together on a Thursday afternoon and realized not only that they shared a Peace Corps experience, but discovered they all lived just a few blocks from each other.
Rwanda was one of dozens of countries where RPCVs are taking their next steps in changing the world. At a gathering in Athens Ohio, John Lorentz spoke of his poignant relationship with genocide survivor David Mwambari and of the documentary film he and his son are creating to tell the story of David’s efforts to build a school to honor lost relatives…a story not just about education but also about healing and reconciliation. A day earlier, 130 miles away in Yellow Springs, Southwestern Ohio RPCV group leader George Brose told of his recent work in Rwanda, employing his professional skills as a mediator to help address disputes and assist with Rwanda’s revitalization.
Back in Woodstock, Rich and Sue Eyre exemplify the generosity of the many hosts and organizers of local gatherings. Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery is an amazing extension of his commitment to service. Through the business, speaking fees and other special programs, Rich and Sue generate tens of thousands of dollars each year that they donate to global charities – including Heifer International and 2008 Shriver Award recipient Mano a Mano.
In a world that is too often overrun with troubles, members of the Peace Corps community are sustained by a deep well of optimism and the knowledge that small individual actions can change lives for the better. While much of this is inherent in who we are, it is also reinforced by our experiences as Peace Corps volunteers.
In Cincinnati, Vanuatu RPCVs Jasmine and Troy Frasier shared a favorite story of optimism and positive thinking that drives us, a story that demonstrates the universal nature of that spirit. One day, they saw a man walking down the street. As he approached, they looked down toward his feet and were saddened. “Oh,” they lamented, “You lost your shoe.”
“No,” the man exclaimed with a wide smile. “I found a shoe!”
August Road Trip By the Numbers
- 21 cities visited in 21 days
- Gatherings with 400 members of the Peace Corps community
- Eleven gatherings with NPCA member groups
- Two district office meetings with Senate appropriators on Peace Corps funding
- 2,000 pieces of NPCA and 50th anniversary materials posted and distributed in 30 cities across eight states