By Jonathan Pearson on Friday, April 26th, 2013
It’s a universal social reflex. When we meet someone for the first time, we search for markers in the course of conversation to build connectivity.
Service as a Peace Corps Volunteer is one such connection that builds an immediate, strong bond. And whenever we get together at a Peace Corps gathering, our first reflex is to potentially deepen that connection by asking the question.
You know the question.
“So, where and when did you serve in the Peace Corps?”
Which brings us to our recent National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) road trip stop in Missoula Montana.
More than 30 attended the potluck gathering of the Western Montana Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). Among those in attendance were Brytten Steed and Shannon and Russ Parsons.
Brytten, Shannon and Russ shared the story of how they first met, at a similar Missoula potluck gathering several years ago.
Upon meeting…they asked the question, only to find they all served as Volunteers in Ecuador. That prompted the next question. ”Where in Ecuador did you serve?” Upon learning they all served in the northwestern part of the country, they decided to go really local, although they each knew the remote village where they served would not be known by the other.
It was very, very much to their surprise to learn that here in Missoula, Brytten, Shannon and Russ had all served in the tiny village of Santa Marianitas.
This amazing coincidence allowed them to become friends and connect on an even more personal level. Soon after meeting, the Parsons invited Brytten and her husband over for dinner, where Shannon and Russ got to see images of villagers when they were several years younger, and share stories about the village and people they knew.
The connection only got better and deeper when they realized the grassroots development connection they shared through their Peace Corps service.
One of Brytten’s achievements during her service from 1990-92 was to help bring electricity to the village.
Russ and Shannon arrived in 1995. Russ proudly recalled how electricity in the village allowed Shannon to help start a women’s group that began to produce high quality products (including jewelry, candleholders and napkin rings) for some of the high quality markets in more urban parts of Ecuador.
Fifteen years later, the Santa Marianitas women’s group still exists. The income generated over the years allowed the group to buy some land and build a workshop where they continue producing handmade products that help to sustain the community.
The moral of this story? If you are invited to attend a Peace Corps potluck or other social gathering, go! You never know who you may end up meeting.