Coming Full Circle in Eugene
By Jonathan Pearson on Sunday, April 14th, 2013
[Whenever the opportunity arises, staff of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) tries to reach out and connect with the greater Peace Corps community. NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson will be making his way across thirteen states over a three-week period beginning April 12th. From informal conversations over coffee to meetings and workshops with NPCA member groups, more than twenty stops are planned in large cities and small communities. Click here to get all the details on where he's stopping.]
Several years ago, Elke Richers of Eugene, Oregon attended a gathering of the West Cascade Peace Corps Association, and came away committed to joining the Peace Corps.
On Friday evening, recently Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) Elke Richers came back to the group’s bi-monthly potluck gathering to share her experiences as a Youth Development volunteer in the Central Andes Ancash region of Peru.
Along with being wonderful promoters, advisors and mentors, another great trait about RPCVs is they are an interested and engaged audience. You’ll often hear just-returned Volunteers lament that many of their other acquaintances demonstrate only passing interest in their experience.
That wasn’t the case on this night in Eugene, where Elke addressed about 30 members of the local Peace Corps community, including at least one applicant. ”Outside of my family, they are the most sincerely engaged individuals. I think what’s really special about the RPCV community is the common understanding.”
The engagement was in evidence during the question and answer period. Along with the inquiries about food, housing and living conditions, Elke also fielded questions about language, community life, geography and cultural aspects of the Quechua people with whom she served. There was conversation about the rural/urban divide within Peru, the role of women in society, and attitudes and program support for the disabled. And, there were questions about the operations of the Peace Corps, from programming and work assignments, to health and safety measures, to current paperwork and reporting requirements.
Elke gave an overview of projects incorporated into her assignment. Sex education and HIV prevention workshops. Community recycling. And – one of her most memorable days – when her high school students put on a puppet show, using entertainment to educate younger students on matters ranging from proper hygiene practices, to protecting the environment, to addressing domestic violence.
As her RPCV audience knows so well, the work of Volunteers is only part of the Peace Corps experience. While showing photos and video of some of the people she met, Elke had the slightest pause to collect her emotions. ”I learned to make friends in a place where I (at first) wondered if I’d ever make a friend,” said Elke. ”I did make those friendships…and I think about those people a lot.”
Coffee and desert consumed, nearly every attendee stopped to thank Elke for her presentation as they departed. She also made plans with earlier serving Peru RPCVs from the area for a future get-together.
Back in Eugene, Elke has a new, expanding circle of friends. ”In a way it is a testament not just to the Peace Corps, but to the people who served,” she said. ”These people are aware and engaged in the world.”
Washington state, Montana, Idaho and more! There’s a lot of upcoming stops during our spring road trip. Follow this link for all the details.