Senegal Reunion, “A random collection of crazy idealistic kids…”
By Guest Contributor on Friday, August 24th, 2012
“A random collection of crazy idealistic kids who believed in something…”
Guest contributor: Joyce Neu
Forty years ago, we landed in Dakar, Senegal to start our Peace Corps experience. This past week, more than 25 of these Peace Corps Senegal Volunteers (1972-74), together with partners, spouses, and children, reunited on August 9 -12 at Carey Peck and Lita Albuquerque’s home in Malibu, California. We celebrate our lives, both ordinary and extraordinary, but all deeply influenced by the Peace Corps experience and with enduring bonds to each other and to a more peaceful and just world. We have all brought the Peace Corps back home in many different ways.
“As many have expressed in various ways the story is how Peace Corps brought together a random collection of crazy idealistic kids – young and old – who believed in something and continue to believe in something despite the reality of the world they came home to live in over the next 40 years. These friends have lived sometimes fascinating, sometimes ordinary lives. But lives that were, I believe, anchored in their Peace Corps experience… [It] is still instrumental in the way we have lived our lives, in the way we regard the world, in the way we understand issues of economic and political justice, in the way we accept diversity, tolerate the possibility of different perspectives, and cope daily and compassionately with the messy world we live in. There is also a bond that binds RSVPs together in the cause of a more peaceful resolution to the world’s woes. To me it is amazing that after 40 years, and walking so many different roads, we meet again to celebrate together. Because we are and always will be at heart a peace corps.” –Tim Rake, RPCV Senegal 1972-74
Meet some of the Senegal RPCVs…
Working globally, Alan Silverman worked for 35 years for UNICEF and then UNAIDS and traveled to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe. He had never been on an airplane before the Peace Corps and now he has had the privilege of seeing more of the world than most people. Marti Thomson earned a PhD after the Peace Corps and worked in the field of International Education in Iran, Sudan, and East Asia for 30 years including 20 years with the Department of State. She spent 25 years in East Asia and raised her three daughters there who are now global citizens. Born and raised in New Hampshire, Paul Pitarys has been all over the world since the Peace Corps. He has lived and taught in Saudi Arabia and in Thailand, where he currently lives having recently retired from a lifelong career as an educator.
George Scharffenberger’s 40 year career in global development has taken him to 50 countries. He is now the program director for a new Masters in Development Practice degree program at UC Berkeley. George has also raised two globally-oriented children, both of whom are currently exploring future career opportunities — one in South Africa and the other Europe. For Joyce Neu, it was in the Peace Corps that she developed an interest in negotiations. With a PhD in linguistics on the language of negotiation, she has spent more than 20 years traveling to do work in international conflict resolution and peacemaking with The Carter Center, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, and the United Nations.
The RPCVs coming to Malibu include Kathleen Ingley and Howie Seftel. They met in the Peace Corps – as Kathleen says, “Peace Corps brought together two people who would otherwise never have met, a New Yorker and a small-town Michigan girl, a romance that has lasted 40 years.” After teaching in Iran, Howie and Kathleen settled in Albuquerque, where Kathleen is a journalist and Howie’s “international palate” led him to a career as restaurant reviewer. They have two daughters with “an itch for travel, adventure, and service — one of whom was in Americorps.”
Barbara Hatch says that the Peace Corps led her to teach kids from Iran, the US Virgin Islands, and Phoenix, where she now lives. Barbara has published 8 books of interviews with over 480 military veterans conducted by 200 students — teaching them to listen to others, to accept differences, and to make a difference in history, just as we tried to do in Senegal. For Susan Goldberg Basiri, from Framingham, MA, the flight to Senegal was also her first time on a plane. After Peace Corps and an MA degree, she taught ESL to students of OPEC nations and Russian refugees, followed by two years as an ESL teacher trainer in an Indochinese refugee camp in the Philippines. For the past 27 years, she has been teaching English Language Arts in a middle school in the Boston area where she gives annual presentations of her Peace Corps experiences to her seventh grade team of students and teachers. With support from several of his RPCV colleagues, Carey Peck was the Democratic nominee twice for Congress from California and has since managed after school programs for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He also holds two world skydiving records.
Ed Sullivan from Massachusetts went to law school and held several positions in State government – as Assistant District Attorney, Assistant Attorney General in the Government Bureau in Defensive Appellate Litigation, and as Deputy General Counsel for the Department of Public Health. Ed also served as issues coordinator for the Carey Peck for Congress campaign.
Malcolm Versel made the Peace Corps circle complete when, in the early 2000s, this former volunteer was tapped to be the Peace Corps Director in Senegal. Following his years as Director, he and his family stayed in Senegal where he now works on corporate social responsibility. Malcolm will be traveling to Malibu with his family to join us for the reunion.
Dr. Susan Locke, Professor of Psychology at Baruch College, was contracted by the Peace Corps to work with us during our training and has become a part of our RPCV family.
“My work with the Peace Corps began just as I was ending a four-year clinical [psychiatry and neurology] internship in Veterans Administration Hospitals. I had a close-up view of young veterans [your age] who had just returned from Vietnam. Then, there were the Peace Corps volunteers… On the surface, one might not have imagined two more disparate groups. What was more striking to me were the similarities. First, the life-long spiritual bond, forged by shared and deeply affecting experience. Second, an awareness that one traveled in the service of another country, yet one in so many ways was the primary beneficiary of that service. Third, a life-long sense of mission… I am so proud and pleased to have shared the last 40 years with all of you.”