May Featured Advocate – Barbara Lences
By Jonathan Pearson on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
For Barbara Lences, her most recent effort as an advocate in support of the Peace Corps began at 4:00 in the morning. That’s when the Princeton, New Jersey resident got up on April 27th and got moving in order to catch an Amtrak train to Union Station in Washington, DC.
Arriving in Washington a little before 9:00 AM, Barbara spent the remainder of the day volunteering with the National Peace Corps Association and sharing her Peace Corps experience with staff of eight Senate and House lawmakers who serve on the Appropriations Committee, the key body which makes important decisions on funding for all federal programs, including the Peace Corps.
“As we set up meetings with offices of congressional appropriators, we reached out to our March 1st Capitol Hill advocates who had recently returned from Peace Corps service so they could provide staff with a fresh perspective,” said NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson. “We even reached out to some of those advocates from out of town, thinking they might know a fellow RPCV in the DC area who might be able to participate. But when Barbara expressed a willingness to come down and join us, we were thrilled with her participation.”
In sharing her experience (which concluded in late 2011), Barbara said for her post in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, there is still much to be done to overcome decades of neglect and discrimination under apartheid. Her work as a teacher was rewarding and inspiring. She noted how the South African children have a hunger for education, and how her work ethic and commitment to regular and after school activities caused her counterparts to follow her lead. As a 50+ volunteer, she sadly noted that the devastation of AIDS on South African life expectancy made her one of the elders in her community. And, she touched upon the power of language, noting that two of her Peace Corps colleagues who became particularly fluent in Setswana, were highly regarded “mini-ambassadors” throughout the region.
As is often the case with Peace Corps Volunteers, they spend part of their time breaking down perceptions based on our export of pop culture. In Barbara’s case, that included explaining to people that no, she did not have a personal relationship with singer Beyonce!
While it is critical for our advocacy efforts to include the perspectives of all RPCVs, the added involvement of recently returned volunteers is a vital contribution to help bring current experiences to the forefront. Our thanks to Barbara Lences – and many others like her – for adding their voice!
Is your lawmaker on the Appropriations Committee? Follow this link to find out. Time is running short but it is not too late to contact them and urge them to support $400 million for the Peace Corps.