News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Kit Evans-Ford (pictured), who served as a Volunteer in St. Kitts & Nevis 2007–08, was awarded the 2022 Tom Locke Innovative Leader Award for her efforts to provide refuge and support for women healing from sexual violence. Hoang Thai Tao (Mozambique 2011–13) spoke at the 2022 Peace Corps Thought Leaders Forum in July, sharing his perspective on harnessing emerging technology trends to maximize social impact and economic development. Internationally acclaimed photographer Alissa Everett (Senegal 1995–97) has produced a digital catalog of her latest exhibition, Covering Beauty, which seeks to capture “moments of unexpected beauty” within places of conflict. We share news about more awards, honors, books, and new roles from the White House to The New York Times.
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Jennifer Rochon (1992–94) was confirmed to a seat in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She is the first judge nominated by President Biden to the district to be confirmed and fits with his track record of appointing judges with varied professional backgrounds. Prior to her nomination, Rochon had served as the Girl Scouts of America general counsel since 2013. She brings to the new role 13 years of experience as a litigation partner for Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where she handled antitrust cases and false advertising disputes. When describing how her previous work has prepared her, Rochan says, “Judges have an important role in society in terms of making sure people get a full and fair process. As a litigator, I experienced that in advocating for my clients, but I always thought it would be fantastic to be able to be in a position to make sure people receive that type of process.”
Hoor Qureshi (2019–20) was promoted from staff assistant to Chief of Staff for the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy — a department that manages the President’s online communications across social media, digital influencers, and creative production. Being a 2019 Mercer University graduate who double-majored in global health studies and global development studies, Qureshi joined the Peace Corps, where she taught life skills and career guidance to Botswana’s youth. When it comes to her preparation for the Peace Corps, she credits her professors in the Department of International and Global Studies with whom she took many trips abroad to South Africa, Dubai, and Japan. That international travel during her undergraduate experience shaped her perspective of the world. Prior to working with the Office of Digital Strategy, Qureshi was an online community organizer for a couple political campaigns — including President Biden’s 2020 campaign — cultivating relationships with and distributing information to online communities.
John Thorndike (1967–68) recently published his biographical novel, The World Against Her Skin: A Son’s Novel. The book tells the story of Thorndike’s mother, exploring her life, struggles, and marriages while taking on delicate subjects such as addiction and sexual abuse. This book follows the heels of his award-winning memoir The Last of His Mind, in which he discusses the heart-wrenching fight his father — former managing editor of Life magazine — fought against Alzheimer’s, losing his ability to think, speak, and write.
Megan McCrea (2007–09) has been hired by The New York Times as senior staff editor of its Special Sections wing of the Print Hub. A Brooklyn-based journalist, she has worked as an editor at Via and Sunset magazines and has written about travel, people, arts and culture, and food and drink for more than a decade. As an editor, she has shaped written pieces exploring topics such as the evolution of Oakland and the best-kept secrets in Yellowstone. McCrea’s Peace Corps experience informed her writing, motivating her to co-author Other Places Publishing’s guidebook to her country of service, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. Her stories have appeared in publications such as Better Homes & Gardens, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Condé Nast Traveler.
Justin Bibee (2012–14) is among the forty 2022 honorees celebrated by the Providence Business News, which select based on career success and involvement within their communities. Bibee is a refugee resettlement case manager.
Liz Fanning (1993–95) received the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Awards in May. Every five years, Peace Corps presents the JFK Service Awards to honor members of the Peace Corps network whose contributions go above and beyond for the agency and America every day. Fanning is the Founder and Executive Director of CorpsAfrica, which she launched in 2011 to give emerging leaders in Africa the same opportunities she had to learn, grow, and make an impact. She has worked for a wide range of nonprofit organizations during her career, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Schoolhouse Supplies, and the Near East Foundation.
Hoang Thai Tao (2011–13) spoke at the 2022 Peace Corps Thought Leaders Forum — among professionals in the fields of international development and technology who shared their perspectives on leveraging emerging technology trends to maximize social impact and economic development. The panel also discussed how Peace Corps Volunteers can contribute to this endeavor.
Ron Ranson (1964–66), a lecturer in the University of California San Diego’s theatre and dance department for more than two decades, produced the documentary Tattooed Trucks of Nepal — Horn Please. Ranson’s 40-minute documentary pays tribute to the quirky tradition that finds Nepali truckers going to great, creative lengths to turn their vehicles into rolling pieces of uplifting art. His exploration began after he was intrigued by an article in a Nepali newspaper about truck and bus painting. He worked with Nepali filmmakers Sudarson Karki and Dhawa Gyanjen Tsumba, who also collaborated with him on an earlier film project, The Prayer Flags of Nepal. Tattooed Trucks of Nepal has won numerous awards, including for Ranson’s voice-over narration as well as the film’s editing, cinematography, and music. In 2021, the film won Best Documentary honors at multiple festivals, including the Cannes World Film Festival and the New Wave Film Festival in London.
Jenn Rowley (2014–16) and Joe Daniels (2013–15) recently trained Nicaraguan contractors to make the famous Peace Corps improved wood ovens with Sister Communities of San Ramon, Nicaragua. Vented to the outside, these eco-friendly ovens keep smoke and other residue from polluting the air inside buildings. Rowley and Daniels met during their Volunteer service, both assigned to the department of Matagalpa. Five years later, Daniels called Rowley inviting her to help train contractors on how to make these wooden stoves, to which she immediately agreed. With previous experience building 18 eco-friendly stoves as an environmental Volunteer, Daniels was familiar with these projects, through which families would purchase 20 percent of the materials while volunteers helped procure the rest of the locally sourced materials. By the end of their stay in Nicaragua, Rowley and Daniels worked with local contractors to build six ovens with 14 additional ovens in the process of being completed.
Karla Yvette Sierra (2010–12, Response 2012–13) received the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Awards in May. Born in El Paso, Texas, to Mexican American parents, Sierra graduated from Colorado Christian University with a bachelor’s in business administration and a minor in computer information systems. Elected by her peers and professors, Sierra was appointed to serve as the Chi Beta Sigma president as well as the secretary for the student government association. Sierra volunteered with Westside Ministries as a youth counselor in inner city Denver. Shortly after completing her Master of Business Administration at the University of Texas at El Paso, she started working for Media News Group’s El Paso Times before being promoted to The Gazette in Colorado. Sierra served as a Volunteer in Panama for three years as a community economic development consultant focused on efforts to reduce poverty, increase awareness of HIV and AIDS, and assist in the implementation of sustainable projects that would benefit her Panamanian counterparts. Her Peace Corps experience serving the Hispanic community fuels her on-going work and civic engagement with Hispanic communities in the United States.
Roberto. M. “Ambet” Yangco, who has worked with Peace Corps staff in the Philippines since 2002, is a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Service Award. A social worker by training, he started his career as an HIV/AIDS outreach worker for Children’s Laboratory Foundation. He then served as a street educator in a shelter for street children and worked for World Vision as a community development officer. Twenty years ago, Yangco joined Peace Corps Philippines as a youth sector technical trainer. It wasn’t long before he moved up to regional program manager; then sector manager for Peace Corps’ Community, Youth, and Family Program; and now associate director for programming and training during the pandemic.
Carol Spahn (1994–96) was officially nominated by President Biden for the position of Director of the Peace Corps in April. She began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency since, during one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history. Prior to serving as acting director and now CEO of the Peace Corps, Spahn served as chief of operations in the Africa Region covering Eastern and Southern Africa, and before that, served a five-year term as country director of Peace Corps Malawi. Her Peace Corps roots extend back to her service as a small business advisor in Romania 1994–96. She has more than 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment including work with Women for Women International — which supports female survivors of war — and Accordia Global Health Foundation — which helps fight infectious disease in Africa. A date for a confirmation hearing on her nomination has not yet been scheduled.
ST. KITTS AND NEVIS
Kit Evans-Ford (2007–08) was awarded the 2022 Tom Locke Innovative Leader Award from the Wesleyan Investive — a national nonprofit that has invested in innovative spiritual leadership for 50 years. Evans-Ford is an adjunct professor in the department of theology at St. Ambrose University and an action outreach organizer for Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, which specializes in nonviolence training. As a survivor of and witness to sexual violence with 14 years of experience in nonviolence education, Evans-Ford also founded Argrow’s House of Healing and Hope, a social enterprise supporting the healing journey of female survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence. “This work is not easy. It is a lifetime commitment that takes a lot of energy and personal resources,” Evans-Ford said, after becoming one of four spiritual leaders to receive this year’s award. “To be blessed by this award is very affirming and lets me know this work is not in vain.”
Dr. Mamadou Diaw, who served with Peace Corps staff in Senegal 1993–2019, is a recipient of the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Award. Born in Dakar, he studied abroad and graduated in forestry sciences and natural resource management from the University of Florence and the Overseas Agronomic Institute of Florence. He joined the Peace Corps in 1993 as Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for Natural Resource Management. In that capacity, he managed agroforestry, environmental education, park and wildlife, and ecotourism projects. From 1996 to 2001, he served as the coordinator of the USAID funded Community Training Center Program. In 2008, he switched sectors, becoming Senior APCD Health and Environmental Education. He received a master’s degree in environmental health in 2014 from the University of Versailles, and a doctorate in community health from the University of Paris Saclay, at the age of 62. Dr. Diaw coached more than 1,000 Volunteers and several APCDs from the Africa region, notably supporting Peace Corps initiatives in the field of malaria and maternal and child health. He retired from Peace Corps toward the end of 2019 and is currently working as an independent consultant.
Alissa Everett (1995–97), a critically acclaimed photographer, has produced a digital catalog of her latest exhibition, Covering Beauty, which is on display for the 59th Venice Biennale as part of Personal Structures at the European Cultural Centre until November 2022. Covering Beauty draws upon work spanning Everett’s entire career — from the war in Iraq to the latest conflict in Ukraine, traveling with the International Organisation for Migration to capture humanitarian response efforts. “I would describe myself as a documentary photographer rather than conflict photographer,” Everett says. “What speaks to me the most are moments of unexpected beauty that happen in our daily lives, in both conflict and non-conflict zones.”
Genevieve de los Santos Evenhouse (2007–08; Guyana, 2008–09; Uganda, 2015–16,) was one of the five recipients of the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Awards for tirelessly embodying the spirit of service to help advance world peace and friendship. She grew up in the Philippines, then emigrated to the United States in 1997. Evenhouse pursued a career at the intersection of nursing, public service, and volunteerism, earning her doctor of nursing practice in 2020 — while continuing to serve as a full-time school nurse for the San Francisco Unified School District, where she has served since 2009.
Holly Rendle (1996–97) co-founded Books 4 Zambia, leveraging the connections made during her Peace Corps tour in the country to provide books to communities lacking these educational materials. She and her husband have sent supplies to the African country several times over the last two decades under the name Project Zambia.