“I Love My Gram and Poland”
By Jonathan Pearson on Sunday, July 10th, 2011
(At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival) Jacqueline Derebesy clearly has had an impact on her family – especially granddaughter Nicole, who placed a tribute on the message board in the R P C Village honoring her “Gram”, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Poland.
As day eight of the ten-day Smithsonian Folklife Festival drew to a close, approximately 4,000 messages had been posted on spaces set aside for every country of Peace Corps service over the past fifty years.
Admist 50th anniversary congratulations and attempts to re-connect with other volunteers, there were many messages that reflect the width and depth of the Peace Corps experience.
Some messages were simple greetings in languages of the world. ”Yebo!” wrote Jon Putnam (Swaziland 96-97). ”Salam”, from Jen Mason (Morocco 99-01). “Ahoj”, added Diane Henker (Slovakia 95-97). Others wrote more detailed messages reflecting the magnificent language proficiency many volunteers retain.
“Peace…and Foufou!” wrote Marianne Manheim (Guinea 99-02), noting another staple of the Peace Corps experience…food. Kathryn Welter (Moldova 05-07) recalled on the wall “The fresh fruit was always so good.”
RPCVs and former staff also reflected on how Peace Corps changed their lives. For Doug and Kathy Karsting (Solomon Islands 85-88), “We learned about the dignity of humility and awareness that children are to be treasured by all people.” Melissa Dentch (Jamaica 09-11 summed up her Peace Corps experience this way: ”3 goals…2 years…1 love.”
Perhaps the most moving messages came from those – like granddaughter Nicole – whose lives have been touched by Peace Corps Volunteers. Darak Erwth fondly remembered Ellen Olsen (Micronesia 02-05) on the message board. ”You’re the best teacher I ever had. Thanks to the Peace Corps.”
From Beverly Seiden: ”Many thanks to the Kyrgyz Nationals for Jon’s (RPCV Jonathan Seiden, 08-10) safety and life changing experience and their hospitality to me during my visit.”
Rosanne Niforos wrote a message to her friend Elizabeth “Lizzie” Green, currently serving in Paraguay. ”I’m at a festival in DC that has a Peace Corps booth. Of course it made me think of you and miss you! I am so proud of everything you are doing and can’t wait to hear all about it.”
Kristina Nguyen is completing her first year of service in Cameroon. On the message board, friend Brittany Burton wrote “She inspired me to want to join.”
And from the Melle family to Laura Melle, 30 days into her Peace Corps service in Mozambique. ”We love you and are so very proud of you!”
As the Folklife Festival enters its final days, there are messages in the R P C Village
thanking the Smithsonian for their amazing program which has helped bring the world home to tens of thousands of U.S. citizens.
Here at the NPCA, we’re pumped up by a number of people who left messages similar to Christina Machion (Chile 96-98): ”Looking forward to seeing everyone in September!”
Messages written at the Folklife Festival are to be archived by the Smithsonian. The Festival runs through July 11th.