50th Peace Corps Anniversary in Seattle
By Guest Contributor on Monday, November 14th, 2011
SEAPAX (Seattle Area Peace Corps Association) marked the 50th in a very special way on March 20, 2011, at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library (SPL), located in downtown Seattle. The event entitled “Peace Corps: 50 Years of Promoting Service and Global Understanding,” which drew a crowd of over 200 people to the new Seattle landmark designed by Rem Koolhaus, had been over a year in the planning. After mulling over ideas on how SEAPAX could create a meaningful commemoration give the group’s equally limited resources and member base, then-President Joana Ramos (Brazil) decided to approach SPL, which offers meeting rooms available to community groups. She was delighted to learn, after an initial meeting in January 2010 with top SPL management that the library was enthused about doing much more than offering a room, but was interested in partnering with SEAPAX to create a major event in their flagship location.
With a project proposal deadline of early fall, an idea grew to create a program with a 3rd Goal focus, with a dual approach. A SEAPAX 50th Committee was convened and decided that we wanted to highlight the ongoing commitments of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) to civic life at home and abroad, while ensuring that the program was not just about us. Our other major goal was to raise awareness of the importance of the public library in educating the public about the world, and in providing the resources and support for New Americans from around the globe to succeed in life, school, and work. SPL liked the idea, and assigned Valerie Wonder, the ESL & Literacy Program Manager – who just so happened to be an RPCV (Benin) –to work with us.
Much effort is necessary of course to put on an event of major dimensions, and it was very gratifying to see the 50th Committee grow in strength over the months, drawing RPCVs of all ages, from all decades of Peace Corps. Our final program included a recruitment workshop with focus on those over 40; a panel on global education recognizing the role of RPCV teachers in help to create this field; a group discussion of a novel about present-day global migrations; and a facilitated reflection on “Peace Corps in Perspective” and the agency’s role in the world today. Attendance had to be capped at the latter; we aim to continue the discussion at future program meetings. Another positive outcome was the creation of an ongoing SEAPAX International Book Club. We enjoyed refreshments and socializing too, and were honored by the participation of Congressman Jim McDermott, who had served as a Peace Corps psychiatrist in Africa. In honor of the occasion, SEAPAX made a donation, through its Small Grants program, of $500 to the Seattle Public Library Foundation to purchase ESL curriculum and training materials for the library system. This gift was especially appreciated due to the major budget cuts to the popular program .
We also planned to have a smaller event to coincide with the national 50th fall events in the other Washington. But we learned from the host World Affairs Council, that Seattle had been selected to host a delegation from the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program the following week. We quickly changed gears and were able to offer some traditional Peace Corps hospitality to the visitors from 23 countries (many with PC ties themselves) and more than twice that number of RPCVs, on Oct. 1. It was especially meaningful that the potluck dinner was hosted by Jim (Nigeria) and Joanne (El Salvador) Dufour , RPCVs who were active, respectively, in the formation of the NCRPCVs and Global TeachNet. SEAPAX looks forward to building on the interest generated by the 50th to engage in bringing the world back home in meaningful ways.
Joana Ramos (Brazil 73-75) contributed this post. She served as Chair of the SEAPAX 50th PC Anniversary Committee.