October Featured Advocates: Peace Corps Iran Association
By Jessica Agostinelli on Monday, October 7th, 2013
As Negar talked about life in Iran during a panel discussion during Peace Corps Connect-Boston this past June, she mentioned her upcoming U.S. wedding. A graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Negar was engaged to be married to an American colleague. However, she noted her parents would be unable to attend, as poor US-Iran relations made it too difficult for them to obtain visas.
Learning of this misfortune, the dozens of Iran RPCVs attending the gathering sprang into action. They drafted a petition asking the U.S. State Department to reverse its decision and gathered as many signatures as they could before encouraging Negar to re-apply for the visas. Copies of the petition of support were forwarded to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Secretary of State John Kerry and other State Department officials. A second attempt was successful for Negar’s mother, who was able to join her daughter at the August 17th wedding in western Massachusetts.
During and since their service, Iran Peace Corps Volunteers are aware of political struggles in their host country. Despite the recent phone conversation between President Obama and Iran’s new president, there are no formal diplomatic relations between the two nations.
However, at the same time, eased travel restrictions and increased enrollment of Iranian students at American universities tell a different story. Jackie Spurlock, the president of the Peace Corps Iran Association, explains this dichotomy: “Iran RPCVs experience much frustration and helplessness at the ongoing tension between the governments of our two countries, the misinformation and bias in media coverage, and the misunderstanding and distrust toward the Iranian people on the part of Americans. However, Iran RPCVs do mostly agree that the problem is not between the people of the two countries. The Iranian people…tend to view Americans positively, and they come from a long, illustrious, and proud history and culture.”
The quick thinking and resourcefulness of the Iran RPCVs at the Boston gathering is an inspiring example of advocacy work. “When Iran RPCVs heard Negar’s story…they immediately sensed an opportunity to perhaps effect a change, however small,” said Spurlock. “The initial reaction was immense empathy for Negar’s situation, followed by an unleashing of brainstorming and problem-solving that quickly changed into determined action. Iran RPCVs want to be of service, but on a world scale the situation is overwhelming. A family of humans caught in the crossfire though, presented an opportunity to engage and act.”
As many who served in the Peace Corps can attest, change often comes in a series of small steps. And, while we sometimes don’t bring change to the world, there’s much we can do to change the lives of individuals.
Our congratulations to the Peace Corps Iran Association for its dynamic advocacy in support of understanding and friendship. Equally important, our congratulations to Negar Pourshadi, new husband Matthew Goulet, and their families. We wish them happiness and hope they will be able to continue to gather together in years to come.