WHY I GIVE: From Mongolia to the San Francisco Police. For Kenneth Syring, it’s about service.
Interview by Valerie Kurka
Kenneth Syring joined Peace Corps when Volunteers didn’t choose their destination. He was thrilled when Peace Corps asked him to go to Mongolia. That’s the country he had in mind when this Bakersfield, California native applied. He soon was teaching English and tackling human trafficking. Now he’s an investigator with the San Francisco Police Department. Their motto, in part: Oro en paz — “gold in peace.”
How did Peace Corps shape your path?
Peace Corps gave me a bug for service. I like to get my hands on a problem and work with it. I’ve always valued community improvement, helping others, leaving things better than I found them. I was an English teacher in a secondary school in eastern Mongolia 2006–08 with four other PCVs and other volunteers in the community. Human trafficking is a consistent and significant issue in Mongolia. Working with Save the Children, local police and leaders, and the Peace Corps country office, we started an anti-human trafficking awareness initiative. That helped Mongolians mitigate and prevent trafficking in the region.
My experience in Peace Corps drove my interest in studying anti-human trafficking in graduate school at the University of London. After working with international development nonprofits in Washington, D.C., I found an opportunity with the San Francisco Police — first as a patrol officer and then in the Crime Scene Investigation unit. I’ve been able to work on a number of issues that I encountered during Peace Corps service, including human trafficking.
I’ve been with SFPD more than seven years. I work with incredibly service-oriented people — and I’m one of five RPCVs! At a time when there is massive tension between communities and police, I see policing as a development opportunity — where police are members of the community.
Look toward the future: A young girl plays in western Mongolia. Photo by Kari Aun/Shutterstock
How did you become active in Returned Peace Corps Volunteer activities?
I moved to San Francisco and sought out connection with the Peace Corps Community through the Northern California Peace Corps Association. I’ve attended events and have donated to them, and I’ve been involved with NPCA affiliate group Friends of Mongolia.
You’ve made a generous gift to NPCA and are a member of the Shriver Circle of donors who give $1,000 annually. Why?
I knew about NPCA from reading World-View during Peace Corps service. I’m a big believer in the Third Goal, in the mission of NPCA, and what NPCA does for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and in advocating for Peace Corps. The way foreign policy is currently conducted, coupled with rising geopolitical instability, Peace Corps is absolutely needed. Helping people throughout the world learn about Americans — and Americans learn about others — that’s one of the most important things we can do.
Advice to your RPCV cohorts?
The majority of us consider our service in Peace Corps as a defining time in our lives — and in our sense of contribution to the world. A major reason I donate to NPCA is because I want to help advocate for continued opportunities for Americans to experience the world in this way. I want citizens of our partner nations to experience the best of what America represents—and to have an impact in a service that I deeply admire. I believe NPCA and its affiliates are the best vehicles that we have to focus our support for the Peace Corps’ mission in a meaningful way.
Mongolian sunset. Photo by Kenneth Syring
Spending a few years assisting with local development in a similar way as Peace Corps service is really helpful. I believe that the police are uniquely positioned to help develop the communities they serve. So I strongly encourage RPCVs to explore serving in this capacity for a few years—to infuse their community development and cross-cultural experience into the American policing mindset.
To volunteers just returning, looking to reconnect, or make a different kind of impact, I’d say: By virtue of being an RPCV and the way you see the world, you’re already making changes you might not even notice. A lot of people in mid-career search for a big accomplishment. Instead, just know we’ve been doing it all along. Our impact is cumulative since we started. Keep it up.
Valerie Kurka is NPCA development officer and served in Tanzania (2006–08). Talk to her about ideas for supporting NPCA programs: firstname.lastname@example.org.