A Very Special Global House Party
By Guest Contributor on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
Brent Hines is a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Armenia, currently in Washington, D.C. on medical evacuation. This is his account of attending a very special NCPA Global House Party to celebrate the Peace Corps’ 50th “birthday” yesterday.
Last night I DID Washington, D.C. You know that cliche capital city experience you imagine some people must have all the time, those house parties with politicians and capital bigwigs where people are discussing world crises over shrimp and champagne.
That was me last night. But not as I had planned it in my dreams. Better.
The last few days I have been bored to tears. Minus a few highlights, I have spent the majority of my time watching TV and wishing for some khorovats with my Armenian friends. I have been sending out S.O.S.’s to anyone I know here: “SAVE ME FROM HOTEL ENNUI!”
Yesterday however, huzzah! A break in the monotony (which turned out to be not just a break, but a full blown Night To Remember). It started with a necessary trip to get some paperwork from Peace Corps Headquarters. I took a bus with two other med-evacs here from Peace Corps Honduras. One of them wanted a Peace Corps sticker for her computer, and we were pointed towards the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) across the street.
This is a tiny office full of hustle and bustle. You can see it all crammed in there, every single resource they can get their hands on, resources they plan to use in their mission to connect Returned Volunteers to each other and keep their commitment to service alive. They believe fully that while those two years serving communities abroad can and has deeply impacted the countries served, that type of service can and should still be changing communities–and returned volunteers have the heart and the hands to keep it up.
The three of us medevacs were talking with the NPCA Advocacy Coordinator Jonathan Pearson about the National Day of Action coming up on Thursday. While talking with him about the need for a robust and independent Peace Corps, NPCA president Kevin Quigley came around the corner and invited the three of us to a House Party he’d be attending later as part of the Global House Parties movement honoring the 50th. Without hesitation we accepted and ended up waiting in the front of the office.
We talked with a few people there who asked about our party plans, and when we told them we were going with Kevin I saw their jaws drop a little. “Really?”
After a few “really’s” I realized that maybe I was under-dressed, because this was going to be a pretty great gathering. I was wearing black sweat pants over my knee brace, a t-shirt and gray hoodie, and Toms.
I asked Kevin about my appearance. “Come as you are,” he said, “Isn’t that what we say in Peace Corps?”
We arrived at the home of Don and Kae Dakin, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in the very first group to go to Kenya in 1964, and before I knew it I was upstairs eating hors d’oevres and sipping white wine. Congressman Sam Farr of California (Colombia 64-66) was on TV talking about the importance of Peace Corps, and I was hobbling among people wearing suits and fancy blouses and having conversations about their roles in institutes and think tanks.
I couldn’t crutch around for too long without huffing and puffing, so Mrs. Dakin set me up on the couch with a stool for my leg in the living room where not much later the entire party gathered. Kevin asked us to introduce ourselves, and I sat thinking, “Why am I not writing these names down!?” So many heads of so many organizations doing such great work around the world. Everyone in some way was connected to Peace Corps and most had been Volunteers or staff overseas.
While there were plenty of big names, the night seemed to culminate around two very important men. Harris Wofford is 84 years old, a former senator from Pennsylvania, and a very kind man. He talked to us last night about the time he spent with Sargent Shriver dreaming up the Peace Corps. He was there, right there in the room, helping Shriver and the rest of his team draw up the documents that would make their way to the oval office and would eventually carry the signature of President Kennedy himself. These documents talked about a kind of humble and peaceful service to those in need all over the world, and with Kennedy’s signature 50 years ago, those ideas became a critical part of the USA’s highest ideals. (Read Harris Wofford’s March 1 post to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation blog, “Big, Bold and Fast: A Little Peace Corps History on Its 50th Anniversary“.)
The NPCA took the opportunity last night on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps to present an award to Congressman Farr who had made his way straight from Congress to the Dakin’s house. For years now, Farr has been Peace Corps’ biggest champion on Capitol Hill. The Congressman talked about the deep conviction he felt during his service in Colombia and how that conviction to serve and promote peace has carried him along and inspired his life’s work. He talked about the profound change the Peace Corps program has brought as Americans and host country friends and colleagues have worked together. He talked about those relationships, relationships that are not just a metaphor for peace, but which serve as real building blocks for harmony between countries. He challenged us to help the Peace Corps by promoting these goals of international friendship and mutual help and by telling our congressmen and senators that we want Peace Corps to continue to grow so that more countries can be served and more American citizens can be world citizens and bring their experiences and commitment to service to their communities here at home.
I left last night honored to be in a room with people who have given their professional lives to
promoting service and peace. I was honored to hear their stories of service in places like Kenya, Micronesia, Paraguay and Ethiopia. And I am thankful for people like Sam Farr and the staff at NPCA who are working to keep Peace Corps and the ideal of service as a critical piece of the American story.