Helene Dudley Receives 2013 Lillian Carter Award
By Erica Burman on Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Yesterday, Helene Ballmann Dudley (Colombia 1968-60, Slovakia 1997-99) received the Peace Corps’ Lillian Carter award at a ceremony at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga. The award is given biennially by the Peace Corps to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who has “served in Peace Corps as a senior (age 50+) and shown a demonstrated commitment to the Peace Corps’ Third Goal: to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” It is named after Lillian Carter — President Jimmy Carter’s mother, and the grandmother of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Jason Carter (South Africa). “Miss Lillian,” as she was fondly known, served in India from 1966-68, having entered the Peace Corps when she was 68 years old.
Helene is a former board member of the National Peace Corps Association and has been deeply committed to Third Goal activities in South Florida, where she lives. She served as president of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida (RPCVSF) from 2004-2007 and continues to be an active board member. She also established the The Colombia Project, a micro-credit program that supports the Colombian community by connecting them with local grassroots organizations.
NPCA board vice chair Patricia Wand (Colombia 1963-65) was honored to serve on the review committee and said that it “was was inspiring to read all the nominations.” She attended the ceremony on behalf the National Peace Corps Association.
In an email after the ceremony, Helene wrote, “Thanks to Friends of Colombia and NPCA for their support over the years with the Ruppe Award, FOC donations and publicity through both organizations.” [Read a stories about Helene's efforts here and here.]
Following are Helene’s remarks from the ceremony:
A high school friend who is here today said ”The Carter family is an American treasure.” I agree and am extremely honored to receive an award named for Miss Lillian, an advocate for human and civil rights and volunteerism before serving in the Peace Corps. And it is also a great honor to receive that award from the former President, a true statesman, who, I believe exemplifies the best of America through his untiring work for world peace and human rights at home and abroad. We are all better off for the efforts of Miss Lillian and President Carter who often took courageous stands to do the right thing and who have well understood that if we want peace, we must work for justice.
I would like to extend a special recognition to the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida. I would not be receiving this award if they had not taken a risk to allow our group of former Colombia Volunteers to use their good name and credentials to set up a micro loan program back in 2000. While the average loan of $225 is small by U.S. standards, it is a significant resource for families with no access to traditional loans. IT provides an opportunity to increase family income and send children to school and even to college. As one loan recipient noted ‘ without programs such as ours, only the rich have access to credit in Colombia.’ To me, The Colombia Project is a beautiful example of the ongoing connection that Volunteers feel to their country of service. After 13 years, and over 1100 microloans, and with the assistance of new Volunteers in Colombia, we are now focused on a multi-year effort in conjunction with Rotary clubs, to transfer program responsibility to Colombia, in true Peace Corps fashion.
At its best, I believe the Returned Volunteer community functions like the South Florida group did for The Colombia Project and like Peace Corps did for us when we were Volunteers — by giving us credibility and supporting our individual efforts to advance core values of honesty, fairness, compassion and responsibility in order to make the world a better place, both at home and abroad. When I was president of the South Florida group, we created or expanded programs put forth by our members to serve South Florida’s immigrant community, to support education in Haiti, promote service learning in area schools and to support and promote fair trade to name a few. Peace Corps service gives us a broader human perspective and our home communities would be better off if returned peace corps volunteers were heard more forcefully through our words and actions.
When I was a Peace Corps trainee back in the 1960’s, we were admonished by several social activists to stay home and fix America first. I am glad I ignored that advice, since Peace Corps allowed me to step outside and see my country more objectively and as a result to better appreciate the importance of our political structure by introducing me to life in countries where the public good was not well served by the courts, law enforcement, government regulations and tax structure.
Peace Corps is just as relevant now as when President Kennedy made his initial call to service which is why I applied again at the age of 50 to go first briefly to Albania and then Slovakia as a Small Business volunteer. While we obsess on walls, and weapons and security systems to keep us safe, I believe strongly that the real path to security and peace is in building bridges of understanding, an enduring aspect of Peace Corps service. Peace Corps’ mission to promote world peace and friendship is still needed today, not only overseas, but also here in America.
Now is the time for the 210,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to answer that 60s call of the social activists and Miss Lillian and bring what we have learned back home to help America. As my generation lives out the retirement years, I hope that more of us will follow the Carter family’s example of civic engagement, social activism and volunteerism.
Bringing it back home involves helping Americans better understand our role in the world and better appreciate the realities of life in the developing world. The myth is that America suffers at the hands of the unappreciative throngs who abuse our generosity. On the contrary, what I have experienced is hospitality, caring and generosity from people with scarce resources. I can still picture the native Albanian Peace Corps staff helping the volunteers board evacuation helicopters as their own country slipped into chaos, even though the US Embassy closure left them with no apparent means of collecting their last paychecks. Often the media portrays the worst in people and in society. But most Peace Corps Volunteers tend to experience the love and humanity of our host country nationals. People struggling for a living and for freedom around the world still see America as a beacon of hope. That is not an empty phrase. People I met in Albania, Colombia and Slovakia worked tirelessly to replicate the U.S. model in the hopes of building a better society for themselves.
We owe it to them and to ourselves to roll up our sleeves, help to elect good representatives, lobby elected officials on behalf of just causes so they hear from someone other than self-interest groups, take a stand against hatred and bigotry like Miss Lillian did in her day. Dollars we donate are less important than how we spend our consumer dollars – spend a little extra to buy fair trade and products that respect the environment, subscribe to newspapers and magazines that report the news accurately even if we don’t have time to read everything, put our money in responsible banks that invests in small businesses and home owners. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, RESULTS, League of Women Voters, Rotary and other effective organizations. WE owe it to ourselves and our children and to those around the world who look to us for guidance and inspiration to make our country the best it can be.
Thank you… Thank you to my Peace Corps family for being here today. And thank you to Peace Corps and the Carter Center for making this award possible.
Congratulations, Helene, on this well-deserved honor.