Reunited! A Peace Corps / Libya Story
By Erica Burman on Friday, July 6th, 2012
4.8 seconds. That’s about how long it took National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) Vice President Anne Baker to facilitate the reconnection of Abdulhakim Ahmed Momen to Eric and Linda Mjolsnes, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who served in Libya from 1967 to 1969.
The story starts with RPCV Erin Mone-Marquez, who has been working in Libya as the Country Director for Save the Children since November 2011. On Friday, June 15 she wrote Anne the following email:
How are you? I wanted to reach out to you and see if you could guide me in a direction to possibly finding an RPCV. Yesterday at the end of a very LONG week a man stood out in our reception area. I greeted him. He was the father of one of our education officers. He asked me where I am from. I told him the U.S. He asked me if I knew what Peace Corps was (BIG SMILE). I told him I did, and that I was an RPCV.
He held my hands with tears in his eyes and said, ‘I learned English from two Peace Corps Volunteers. I am where I am because of them. They were evacuated when Gaddafi took over the country. Do you think you can help me find them?’ How could I not tell him I would try? He handed me his contact information….
So here I am, trying. Wanted to know if you can guide me to any RPCVs from Libya who served in 1967-1969. Hope you are well.
Anne replied. Did Erin have the names of the Volunteers? A few hours later Erin wrote back: “Linda and Eric.”
Anne checked the NPCA database. And sure enough, there was a “Linda” and an “Eric” who had served in Libya during that time frame. There was no email address but there was a phone number (their record was over ten years old). So Anne called and “had a wonderful 20-minute conversation with Eric, who was probably as disbelieving … that we could make the connection so quickly.” He gave his permission to Anne to share his email address with Erin and Abdulhakim (note: NPCA follows privacy guidelines and does not freely share information from our records without permission.)
Anne emailed Erin. “I just spoke with Eric. I’ll connect you directly shortly.”
Erin replied, “Are you kidding me??????”
She was thrilled: “THANK YOU! You have no idea how much it means to me that you were willing to help and did it so quickly. Libya is not an easy place these days and to accomplish something like this in such a short time has made my last two, tough, weeks all worth it.”
Abdulhakim Ahmed Momen, as it turns out, currently works as an executive at a major oil company and attributes his success to the English he was taught by Linda and Eric. His daughter works for Save the Children as an education field assistant; the other is a medical student. Erin asked for Abdulhakim’s phone number so that she could invite him back to the Save the Children office and tell him the news of the “connection made” in person.
When Erin informed Abdulhakim that she had been able to locate Linda and Eric, the smile on his face was “priceless.” He told Erin how Linda had been his 5th grade English teacher, and that he “holds [her] close to his heart for providing him the foundation of his English language.” He spoke with reverence and kindness about how Linda once approached him and his father in the local market, shook his hand, and congratulated him for the being the top student in her class.
As for Linda and Eric, who worked as educators in Bloomington, Indiana for the past 40 years, the reconnection with Adulhakim via email was equally moving. Wrote Linda, “As a teacher, you never know who you are affecting in a long term way. Your finding us has made me realize there may be more students who were helped in their future by our teaching in Bani Walid. When we left, because of the sad state of affairs between the U.S. and Libya, we were never able to make contact with anyone, and now to have you reconnect is most amazing.” The Mjolsnes and Abdulhakim are continuing to correspond, sharing photos and life updates.
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Closing the loop, Erin wrote to the Mjolsnes, “I am honored to be a part of such a beautiful connection. I love that in life you never know how you affect people in your work with ones acts of kindness. Forty plus years later, the seeds you planted have grown. Thank you both for your work as PCVs here in Libya.”
We at the National Peace Corps Association couldn’t with Erin agree more, and are thrilled that we were able to play a role in bringing Eric, Linda and Adulhakim back into contact. Stories like this underscore the power, value, and impact of the Peace Corps. This would not have been possible if Erin hadn’t reached out to NPCA, and the Mjolsnes not been in the National Peace Corps Association database.