Senegal 1 RPCV reflects on the 50th Anniversary in DC
By Guest Contributor on Sunday, November 6th, 2011
I had looked forward to the 50th Anniversary of the US Peace Corps Volunteer Program, 2011, having entered Peace Corps Volunteer training in late September of 1962 — when the new, fledgling PC program was about a year old. I applied and I was accepted for training late in the summer of 1962. I decided to leave my studies at Cornell University after my junior year to participate in the first athletic coaching program with the Peace Corps. It was a big jump, as there were no Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) at that time to ask about the program…it was too new, and none “had yet returned” from their 2-year tour of volunteer service.
I had never attended an “official” reunion of RPCVs…So, after nearly fifty years since my tour of early PCV service, it was an inviting and anticipated moment in my life to participate in PC’s 50th Anniversary. Travel in 2011 to Washington, D.C. was feasible and affordable, as I was now living within a five hours’ drive south of D.C., in Edenton, North Carolina, where I’m presently restoring a historic home. This was my moment — Heavy rains did not dampen my enthusiasm.
I had been able to do some preliminary online searching in regard to planned social and advocacy PC activities for that third week in September in DC, but also struggled to find reasonably priced accommodations for the four nights that I would be in Washington. Thanks to the National Peace Corps Association and PeaceCorps.gov websites, I was able to see calendars emerge in regard to planned events. This calendar and other lists were updated as we moved through September, and I was suprised to note that there was no actual social gathering planned or listed for Senegal, W. Africa RPCVs and Staff!
I was rather dismayed to learn this, as the Senegal 1 Project, dating from our arrival in Dakar in early February, 1963, just following that country’s independence, had continuing, uninterrupted Peace Corps projects there since my arrival those 48 years before. (Unlike many of Senegal’s West African neighboring countries Senegal had not suffered the horrible wars and other serious calamities that so many other African countries had experienced during the past four decades. Many of these same countries had early Peace Corps projects too, but often Peace Corps had to leave during these times of unrest, genocide and strife.)
How come no one has planned a Senegal social evening? Time seemed to have already expired, and I thought it may be too late to plan and expect Senegal RPCVs to attend a social function — even one of a simple nature — and affordable.
However, thanks to the the online resources already mentioned, I placed a notice stating that at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, at Harry’s Bar at the Hotel Harrington, there would be a party for Senegal RPCVs. (As I have never lived in DC, I was winging-it — flying on cyberspace instruments with my laptop — coming up with the oldest hotel in DC, and noticing they had a bar there…and it was down near the Smithsonian Mall.) I came up with a calendar event title, having been earlier a bit miffed that no one had planned an event for “us” — so called it the “Get (It) Together” gathering of Senegal RPCVs — and hoped some folks would show up. I wondered how it might go…
That evening of the 22nd, I made my way to Harry’s Bar, fingers crossed. And sure enough, by 8 p.m. and for the next three hours, about 40 Senegal RPCVs magically appeared. It was all very informal and loose, Harry’s Bar didn’t mind that I hadn’t rented the place, a few other RPCV’s from other host countries were also about the place, and we had a good time. We were fortunate that Chris Hedrick, a Senegal RPCV and now the PC Country Director was in DC, and found time to come and join us at the Senegal RPCV gathering!)
My old friend from that first Senegal project, Roosevelt Weaver, was also there…We had not seen each other for several decades and had been close friends and roomed together in training and also coached together when we initially arrived in Dakar in February, 1963. Roosevelt also stayed a third year in Senegal, before returning to the USA to begin graduate work at Harvard, then later a long career in education. (See his recent profile of Roosevelt in The Montclair Times.)
I too returned to the USA, in October, 1964, worked for about five months with PC/Washington in Volunteer Recruitment; then returned to Africa with an NGO, the International Rescue Committee, to direct their first African Refugee Project in what is now Botswana, 1965-66. This led me later to the Universite de Geneve and their Institut Africain de Geneve to complete a two-year program in African Studies. When I returned to the USA in 1968, I went to graduate school and also worked in universities for ten years and later for different nonprofits.
So, our “Get (It) Together” Senegal gathering was a very basic and “PC” kind of event. Affordable, informal, people just happy to meet and see each other, talk about the host country and our work there, things we have done to stay in touch with host country nationals and other PCVs (not easy, we all move around the world), projects linked to past projects, USA/Senegal, the many changes since 1963 in the training programs, new language training, even things and places that seem to have stayed the same after many years, the present scene in Senegal, the effects of internet communications, etc.
We are now planning an extraordinary, “2013 PC 50th Reunion in Senegal” — to commemorate the Senegal 1 Project’s arrival there in February, 1963 — and of course, all the PCV projects there since that time. Should be interesting…for me, for sure, as I have never found time to return there since my tour of PCV service nearly 50 years ago. I am sure, and with some planning, we can also do some useful, various Peace Corps project support prior to going there.
Again, thanks to the Internet the Peace Corps/Senegal website is one of those communication hubs where one can make continuing contact, as well as the “Yahoo groups” service for the “SeneGambia group.” And also, thanks to the PeaceCorpsConnect.org and PeaceCorp.gov websites as well.
Douglas Treado (Senegal 62-65) contributed this post.