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Carol Spahn

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    After a send-off from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, they headed for Zambia and the Dominican Republic. see more

    After a send-off from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at the White House, Volunteers headed for Zambia and the Dominican Republic in March. Here are the 24 countries they will be returning to first. More are being added this spring.

     

    By NPCA Staff

    Photo courtesy Peace Corps Zambia

     

    Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were brought home from service overseas because of COVID-19, Volunteers are returning to posts around the world. On March 14, the first group of Volunteers arrived in Zambia. On March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic — the second group to return to service.

    Over the past two years, Peace Corps Zambia staff have supported projects from rural aquaculture and reforestation to education and public health. Volunteers will work in those fields and others, including food security and HIV treatment and prevention. They will also support efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations. In the Dominican Republic, Volunteers will focus on supporting communities in efforts to overcome the educational and economic shocks caused by COVID-19.

    The news that Volunteers will be returning to two dozen countries in 2022 was confirmed on March 3 at a special event hosted by the agency, “The Peace Corps Reimagined: A Keynote Address and Forum.” Carol Spahn, who has been serving as CEO of the Peace Corps, gave the roll call of posts that had met rigorous new criteria for health and safety, and for which invitations were out for Volunteers to return to service. They are: Belize, Benin, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Mexico, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia.

     

    White House send-off: In March, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden with Volunteers preparing to return to service in Zambia and the Dominican Republic. Photo by Erin Scott / The White House

     

    The Associated Press published a story about Volunteers’ return to service that was picked up around the globe. They spoke with Campbell Martin, a recent graduate of UCLA soon heading to The Gambia to work in education — at a time when all Volunteers will also be contributing to COVID-19 relief efforts. When Martin got the news, “I was absolutely ecstatic,” he said. “This has been a dream of mine ever since I finished high school.”

    NBC News published a story recapping key points of the forum as well. Among the returning Volunteers they spoke with is Olivia Diaz, who is returning to Zambia to work on reforestation and community conservation and, as she said, to “deepen roots of connection.”

     

    The first 24: Volunteers are slated to return to all of these countries in 2022, with more being added throughout the spring. Graphic courtesy Peace Corps

     

    The two years in which there have been no Volunteers serving overseas have been far from idle. In addition to work by staff around the world, the agency launched a Virtual Service Pilot, which is ongoing. Last year, more than 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers partnered with FEMA to support community vaccination efforts in the U.S. For its part, National Peace Corps Association supported evacuated Volunteers’ projects in communities around the world through its community fund. NPCA also convened conversations that shaped the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” with an array of recommendations for how to reimagine and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world.

    Judging from what Carol Spahn shared about the agency’s strategic plan on March 3, the recommendations in the NPCA-published report have shaped thinking and steered the agency toward a focus on accountability, equity, and transparency. “This is not the same Peace Corps you know from 10 or 20 — or even two years ago,” Spahn said. “We have preserved the enduring ‘magic’ that brings us together again and again — after all these years — to support an agency and a mission we love and care about while fundamentally changing the pieces that make us better.”

     

    READ MORE: From the Peace Corps agency, an inside look at Volunteers returning to service in Zambia.

    • william epstein I did not receive notices of the recent comments until today. Is the dialogue between members being controlled...undercut? Perhaps those of us who are disenchanted with the highhanded behavior... see more I did not receive notices of the recent comments until today. Is the dialogue between members being controlled...undercut? Perhaps those of us who are disenchanted with the highhanded behavior of the NPCA junta should begin to share our concerns with our reps in Washington. Lobbying is not rare skill of the privileged; most can take to it right away. Actually those without prominent positions in weak orgs get a better hearing than those orgs when we present ourselves as concerned citizens rather than experts. I am a very concerned citizen about the crap being dished out by the junta.
      2 months ago
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way. see more

    Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way.

     

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

    This is a hopeful time for the Peace Corps: On March 14, a group of Volunteers arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. Just over a week later, on March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic. They are the first to return to service overseas since March 2020, when Volunteers were evacuated from around the globe because of COVID-19. The contributions of Volunteers serving in Zambia will include partnering with communities to focus on food security and education, along with partnering on efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations.

    We’re thankful for the Volunteers who are helping lead the way, with the support of the Peace Corps community. And we’re deeply grateful for the work that Peace Corps Zambia staff have continued to do during the pandemic — work emblematic of the commitment Peace Corps staff around the world have shown during this unprecedented time.

     

    Returning to Zambia: Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19, in March the first cohort returned to begin service overseas. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Lusaka 

     

    Invitations are out for Volunteers to return to some 30 countries in 2022. Among those who will be serving are Volunteers who were evacuated in 2020, trainees who never had the chance to serve, and new Volunteers. Crucially, they are all returning as part of an agency that has listened to — and acted on — ideas and recommendations from the Peace Corps community for how to ensure that we’re shaping a Peace Corps that better meets the needs of a changed world. Those recommendations came out of conversations that National Peace Corps Association convened and drew together in the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” We’re seeing big steps in the Peace Corps being more intentional in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion; working with a deeper awareness of what makes for ethical storytelling; and better ensuring Volunteer safety and security.

     

    Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.

     

    At the same time, while we are buoyed by the fact that Volunteers are returning to work around the world building the person-to-person relationships in communities where they serve, we must not diminish the scale of the tragedy we are witnessing in Ukraine. More than 10 million people have fled their homes in the face of an invasion and war  they did not provoke and did not want. Across this country and in Europe, thousands of returned Volunteers are working to help Ukrainians in harm’s way.

    Thank you to all of you who are doing what you can in this moment of crisis: from the Friends of Moldova working to provide food, shelter, and transportation to refugees — to the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine putting together first-aid kits, leading advocacy efforts to support Ukraine, and so much more. Since the beginning of the war, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.

     

    Donate to the Friends of Moldova Ukraine Refugee Effort.

     

    At a time like this it’s important to underscore a truth we know: The mission of building peace and friendship is the work of a lifetime.

    That’s a message we need to drive home to Congress right now. With your support, let’s get Congress to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act this year. It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in 20 years. Along with instituting further necessary reforms, it will ensure that as Volunteers return to the field it is with the support of a better and stronger Peace Corps.

     

     

    President Biden will formally nominate Carol Spahn to lead the Peace Corps at a critical time. 

    It is becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a new era — one that desperately needs those committed to Peace Corps ideals. With that in mind, I am heartened by the news we received in early April that President Biden intends to nominate Carol Spahn to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps. A returned Volunteer herself (Romania 1994–96), she began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency for the past 14 months, one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history.

    We have been honored to work with Carol and her strong leadership team over the past year on collaborative efforts to navigate this difficult period of planning for the Peace Corps’ new future. We have full confidence in her commitment to return Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner and offer the next generation of Volunteers a better, stronger Peace Corps ready to meet the global challenges we confront. The continuity of this work is key. We are calling on the Senate to swiftly bring forth this nomination for consideration and bipartisan confirmation.


    Glenn Blumhorst is president and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91. Write him: president@peacecorpsconnect.org

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    NPCA wholeheartedly supports the nomination of Carol Spahn. see more

    Today National Peace Corps Association sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee supporting Carol Spahn’s nomination to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps. Here’s what we said. And here’s how you can help ensure a better and stronger Peace Corps for the future.

     

    By Jonathan Pearson

    Photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

    In April President Biden officially nominated Carol Spahn to serve as Director of the Peace Corps. She began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency through one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history. In the weeks ahead, Spahn is expected to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing. While we’re waiting for the date of the hearing to be announced, NPCA sent a letter to the committee supporting Spahn’s nomination.

     

    “NPCA has been honored to work with CEO Spahn and her strong leadership team during the past 18 months,” we write. “We have full confidence in her commitment to the continued redeployment of Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner, and are confident that the next generation of Volunteers will experience a better, stronger Peace Corps prepared to meet new global challenges.”

     

    “NPCA has been honored to work with CEO Spahn and her strong leadership team during the past 18 months,” we write. “We have full confidence in her commitment to the continued redeployment of Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner, and are confident that the next generation of Volunteers will experience a better, stronger Peace Corps prepared to meet new global challenges.” 

    Read NPCA’s letter below. Then, write to your Senators and ask them to confirm Carol Spahn to lead the Peace Corps.

     


    June 23, 2022

     

    The Honorable Robert Menendez (D-NJ) 
    Chairman

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    423 Dirksen Senate Office Building

    Washington, D.C. 20510-6225

     

    The Honorable James Risch (R-ID)
    Ranking Member

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    423 Dirksen Senate Office Building

    Washington, D.C. 20510-6225

     

    Dear Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Risch,

    We write to express National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) wholehearted support of the nomination of Carol Spahn to become the twenty-first Director of the Peace Corps. We urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move swiftly to support this nomination and work for full Senate confirmation of Chief Executive Officer Spahn as soon as possible.

    NPCA has been honored to work with CEO Spahn and her strong leadership team during the past 18 months. This has been an incredibly challenging time of planning for the Peace Corps’ future in the face of a global pandemic. During this time, we have been deeply impressed by CEO Spahn’s leadership and collaboration with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) community. We have full confidence in her commitment to the continued redeployment of Volunteers to the field (which began this past March) in a responsible manner. We are confident that her leadership, coupled with passage of significant Peace Corps reauthorization legislation before Congress, will ensure that the next generation of Volunteers will experience a better, stronger Peace Corps prepared to meet new global challenges.

    Because of her leadership during arguably the most difficult period in the Peace Corps’ history, we believe President Biden was wise in putting forth this nomination. While our nation — and particularly the world — are not fully free of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is hope that the number of Peace Corps Volunteers returning to service will steadily grow through 2022 and 2023.

    As CEO Spahn noted last fall during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), the work of these redeployed volunteers will include addressing the pandemic. “The pandemic has set back years of development progress and produced unprecedented challenges. It has also underscored our world’s profound interdependence and shared future. Recovery will require international cooperation not only at the government level, but also at the community level. And that is where the Peace Corps as a trusted community partner will return to service in new and time tested ways.”

    CEO Spahn has also demonstrated robust leadership on key policy and management issues that are as necessary as they are challenging. Her request last fall to the Sexual Assault Advisory Council to review and update recommendations of the past five years, the public posting of that report, and her outreach to the Peace Corps community to share its concerns and proposals proves her strong commitment to the issue. It is this type of transparency, which she is guiding, that will help support survivors and lower the risks of sexual violence.

    Similarly, the Peace Corps is receiving praise for its efforts to advance intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within its ranks. During that same HFAC hearing, Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks praised recent agency work in this regard, saying “I understand also that the Peace Corps has instituted this robust program that you've talked about in your opening statement, intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and that you've been leading these efforts. You know, and you probably, from my examination, are ahead of a lot of other agencies”.

    The issues outlined above and many more critical to the Peace Corps community were included in NPCA’s Peace Corps Connect to the Future report (November 2020), which reflected a series of community conversations and town hall meetings with more than 1,000 RPCVs about the future of the Peace Corps. We have been very pleased with the way CEO Spahn has embraced the report and its recommendations, many of which have been implemented over the past year.

    Lastly, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Romania 1994–96), former Country Director, and Chief of Operations for Peace Corps’ Southern and Eastern Africa region, we at NPCA believe that Carol Spahn possesses the background, dedication, and proven track record to move the Peace Corps forward. We respectfully request that your committee move her nomination swiftly to the full Senate for its consideration and ultimate confirmation.

     

    Sincerely,

    Kim Herman
    Interim President & CEO
    National Peace Corps Association

     

    Jed Meline
    Interim Chair – Board of Directors
    National Peace Corps Association
                                                           

     


    MORE: Read the letter as a PDF here. 

     

    Write Your Senators to Support the Nomination

     

    Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him here.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Acting Director Carol Spahn on the state of the Peace Corps in 2021. see more

    No Volunteers in the field. Battling COVID-19 — and the global rollout of virtual volunteering. Remarks and Q&A with Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.

     

    Pictured: In Morocco, partners and volunteer participants team up as part of the Virtual Service Pilot — which has fostered collaboration on projects around the world since October 2020. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Morocco.

     

    Carol Spahn has served as acting director of the Peace Corps since January 2021. She previously served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 and later as country director for Malawi and chief of operations for the Africa region. She spoke on September 23, 2021, as part of the opening evening of Peace Corps Connect 2021. The Q&A was moderated by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Below is an edited version of their conversation. Watch the entire conversation here.  


    Carol Spahn: I can think of nothing more important than being here today with the Peace Corps family. It is such a gift to be part of this community that continues to show up years and decades later, to be with each other and to work together to make the world a better place, to make the agency the best that it can be. We value you. We are listening, we are here with you. And we really thank you for your support. I know that most of you have a burning question on your minds, which is: When will Volunteers get back out into service? I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the enormity of the pandemic’s impacts on health, safety, and well-being around the world, as well as the disproportionate impact that it has had on many of the countries where Volunteers served. We are all anxious to get out there and be a part of the solution. Finding the balance between the health and safety of our Volunteers in our communities has been one of the biggest challenges of my time as acting director.

    When we first evacuated Volunteers in March 2020 — in itself an amazing feat; we evacuated almost 7,000 Volunteers in just eight days — we thought we would turn around and get Volunteers back into service three or four months later, after COVID passed. We got to work putting procedures in place, setting up expedited applications, and working hard to make sure that we were ready. As we were gearing up to get Volunteers back into service, we hit the second wave of the pandemic. So we pulled back.

    When I took this position in January 2021, we thought, We will get Volunteers vaccinated, and we will be able to get them right back out into service. Then the delta variant hit. At this time, we recognize that COVID will be with us for some time. None of us expected to be having this conversation still, 18 months after the evacuation of Volunteers.

    We are evaluating every country individually. We have seen how they’ve handled the pandemic — and multiple waves — in their own communities. We are assessing their health systems as well as other factors, like medical evacuation hubs, and the availability and stability of those hubs. We have several countries that are making it through our very rigorous process. We are hopeful that we will be able to get some Volunteers out toward the beginning of 2022. But we know that the pandemic does continue to throw us curveballs. We will get Volunteers out as soon as it is safe to do so.

    When I think about this time, I think about what cultural anthropologists call a liminal experience. This is a disorienting period when things are neither here nor there, when things have been so disrupted that we are forced to think about things differently. And this is not just Peace Corps. This is happening around the world.

     

    We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.

     

    But when I think about Peace Corps’ role in the world and our rich history, there are so many examples of how Peace Corps has helped to rebuild countries following civil war, disasters; how we came in after apartheid, after the end of the Cold War, and much more. We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.

    Peace Corps Volunteers know how to listen first, to see what’s possible, to inspire collaboration, to challenge the status quo, and to handle uncertainty. We withstand adversity, we learn through hardship, we adapt to changing circumstances, we innovate, we partner, we fail, and we come back again, until the problem has been solved. In fact, we demand to be challenged, to have our beliefs questioned, to ask hard questions, and to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And we make lifelong friends around the world along the way.

    I’ve been so inspired during this time to see how the broad Peace Corps community has stepped up, surrounded by so many of you — and so many staff members — whose very nature it is to raise your hand, to jump off the sidelines, to approach obstacles, and to get in there and solve problems. I am grateful to the 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers who closed their service in August after contributing to the domestic whole-of-government efforts to reach underserved communities with critical health information and access. The stories from this partnership with FEMA, only the second time that Peace Corps has deployed domestically in our history, have been amazing.  

     

    Evacuated from Ukraine in March 2020, Kevin Lawson served as a Response Volunteer in 2021 in the U.S. to battle COVID-19. Photo by Meghan White / Peace Corps

     

    We have Volunteers who reached out to a homeless community in Oregon. The people there did not want to go to the vaccination site. So what does a Volunteer do? They went back to the vaccination site and brought the doctors and nurses to the people. We have Volunteers who used Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages to reach people — to build trust and connections in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S.

    Likewise, I’m profoundly grateful to our 240 Virtual Service Pilot participants. Through this engagement, you’ve challenged the status quo and demonstrated that, through technology, we can realize impact and that partnerships can be sustained. Participants serving virtually in Nepal are supporting government health and agricultural workers to combat growing food insecurity and economic hardship attributable to COVID-19. Virtual service participants in the Eastern Caribbean have developed a blended learning program, and they’re training teachers across four countries to use digital and online learning to help students return to learning and recover from educational disruptions. This virtual service program can tear down barriers to service, both for volunteers who can’t serve overseas and for communities that, for health safety or other logistical reasons, can’t host volunteers in person.

    For the latest round of this pilot, we have returned Volunteers from every decade — the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and beyond — returning to their country of service virtually, to support them during this time. It is such an amazing tribute to the legacy of Peace Corps, and the real commitment that is not just those two years when a Volunteer serves, but that really extends a lifetime.

     

    In the community of Mantasoa in Madagascar, Peace Corps staff helped launch a vaccination campaign. Photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

    I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the tremendous work being done by our staff around the world. Since the global evacuation, our staff have been working tirelessly to keep advancing Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship. The working partnerships that have emerged organically during this time are remarkable.

    In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16. In Timor Leste, staff have been partners to the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and have translated COVID-19 information and guidelines into Tetum and nine other local languages, promoting equitable access to health information throughout the country.

     

    In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16.

     

    Almost every single post around the world is directly contributing at this time to the objectives of the United States’ COVID-19 global response and recovery framework. Technology has been key during this time, not only for the virtual service, but also for our staff. In North Macedonia, after completing our eight-week course developer certificate practicum, our staff partnered with the Ministry of Education and delivered workshops to all 25,000 educators from 1,000 public schools in the country so that they could educate their students virtually. Meanwhile, our global agency has poured time and attention into strengthening our systems.  

    This time without Volunteers in the field has given us a unique opportunity to make strategic improvements. And I would encourage all to sign up for “Inside Peace Corps,” a newsletter we’re putting out that pulls back the curtain so that you can see improvements that we are making. There are too many to list at this time, but I do want to raise a couple.

    First, keeping equity at the heart of our work, we continue to ramp up our intercultural competence, diversity, equity and inclusion practice. We have gained invaluable insights from our RPCV community through the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report through our barrier analysis in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have implemented unconscious bias training for all staff around the world. We will be requiring this training for Volunteers before they go out into service. We are approving a new position that will focus on retention, looking at Volunteers in the pipeline to ensure that we understand what the barriers are for our Volunteers of color, our applicants of color who are applying to the Peace Corps, and that we are at a place to remove those barriers.

    We also have a new programming, training, and evaluation system that looks at core competencies — and among those are ICDE&I competencies, through which we are intentionally building accountability to our host countries. These will be used globally, and Volunteers will all be evaluated on a standardized set of ICDE&I competencies, which set clear levels of how Volunteers are expected to master technical skills and demonstrate the agency’s values through their assignments.

    There is so much that is going on in this space. You will see a lot of it in our strategic plan when that is released. [It was released December 3. —Ed.] One of the big ideas we were asked to consider in the 2020 “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was around ethical storytelling. We’ve taken this recommendation seriously and are developing an ethical storytelling toolkit for staff, Volunteers, and RPCVs. That will equip us all with the awareness and communication tools necessary to keep our host communities at the heart of our storytelling. Through this work, we aspire to achieve a more ethical and equitable storytelling standard that extends across all of the Peace Corps network, and ensures that Peace Corps members have a sense of belonging and that we are honoring identity throughout.

    Finally, I know that many of you have deep concerns about our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program. We are committed to strengthening this program and have been taking a long, hard look at where it can be improved. We’ve taken several actions already that are aimed to reinforce this system, and that also respect the rights, the privacy, and the needs of any Volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault. I am very proud of the advances that the agency has made in this space. And I’m very personally committed and accountable for this work.

    I want to end by quoting from a speech that President Biden gave at the U.N. General Assembly. He said, “There is a clear and urgent choice we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures. And whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come.”

     

    This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change.

     

     

    This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change. But we can create a Peace Corps that transcends the experience we all know and love to create a new and improved Peace Corps, one that encompasses the diverse, equitable, and inclusive vision we have — a vision of an agency that is able to respond quickly to shifting realities, and utilize a variety of creative tools and modalities to combat some of the greatest threats of our lifetime.

    We are all inextricably linked to that legacy.

     

    Questions from the community: diversity, virtual service, reducing the risk of sexual assault, and more

    Glenn Blumhorst: You mentioned the Peace Corps Connect to the Future summit and report and specific things the agency is implementing, such as ethical storytelling. Are there other recommendations that stand out and that you have been working to implement?

     

    Spahn: It is a report I go back to frequently. As we went through our strategic planning process, it was one of many inputs we factored in. Giving priority to hiring people of color: We will have specific goals and objectives around that, and implementing systems for how to do outreach more intentionally into different communities, both for staff and for Volunteers. We would love to engage the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in helping us do that. There are recommendations about providing financial assistance. We are looking to pilot programming this year to see how we can support Volunteers who might not be able to pay upfront costs of medical clearance. Is there a way we can provide vouchers or other financial support so they do not need to carry costs until they can be reimbursed? We have been partnering with AARP for how to recruit all kinds of diversity into Peace Corps.

     

    Blumhorst: The report was shared with of Congress. Some reforms and improvements and provisions that emanated from that report are in H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, introduced by Congressman Garamendi.

     

    The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place.

     

    Spahn: The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place. The bill really does have a lot of provisions that are very supportive of our Volunteers and our community.

     

    Blumhorst: You touched on a topic that’s one that we really want to lean in on, and listen in on — sexual assault risk reduction and response. What is the status of the congressionally-mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council that is charged with assessing Peace Corps’ efforts to address sexual assault and offer best practices?

     

    Spahn: The council has been meeting since May, several times a month. We’ve asked them to look back over the last five years at recommendations of the council, assess where we are, and see what is relevant from those prior recommendations: where we still have work to do, what are the most important things going forward. They will be preparing a report for us before the end of the year, and we will make that report public. [The report was released in November. — Ed.] I want to thank those advisory council members. Those are unpaid positions — people who care deeply about Peace Corps — and we put a big task in front of them this year. We have also put out a call for proposals and will be having a review of the overall structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program to make sure it is structured in the best way, that we are a continuously learning organization. There is no entity that can say, We have the best way to really meet sexual assault survivors where they are. We are all learning, we’re all growing, and we are committed to listening, improving, and putting systems in place so we can be the best that we can be.  

     

    Blumhorst: We recognize the role of staff in the field, preparing the way for Volunteers to return. Meanwhile, tell us about virtual volunteering. What have you learned from current programs?

     

    Spahn: It has shown tremendous promise for how Volunteers can stay engaged long after service, supporting communities in a variety of ways. The beauty of virtual service is that there might be people who can’t clear medically who would still have an option to serve. We might have people with very specific skills a country is looking for, who might not be able to leave home for two years — but could contribute in other ways. We have regions that can’t be reached due to safety and security issues. We saw this with Paraguay — an ecotourism organization and national park site Volunteers were not able to reach for a variety of reasons. There is now a virtual Volunteer helping through radio programming and other ways to support environmental programs.

    Will it ever replace the two-year Volunteers and that on-the-ground connection? No. That is where the magic of Peace Corps happens, in living and working together side by side for an extended period of time. But will it be a terrific supplement, using all of the tools that we have at our disposal? Absolutely.

     

    The hardest part is that balancing act — knowing the need at this pivotal time in history… knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and how to do that safely.

     

    The hardest part is really that balancing act — knowing what the need is that’s out there at this pivotal time in history, part of a global pandemic, the likes of which we will hopefully never see again in our lifetime; and knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and struggling through the details to make sure that we can do that safely. That has been the biggest challenge. One of the biggest barriers has been stable access to medical evacuation hubs. We’re setting up backup options and agreements. We’re all here for the mission of Peace Corps, to be out in communities and supporting world peace and friendship. The highs have been seeing innovation and how people have stepped up in many ways: what staff in the field are doing in the absence of Volunteers, and staff at headquarters buckling down to get systems in place so that when we’re ready, we really are the best that we can be.

     

    Blumhorst: How does the agency play a role in helping RPCVs have a lifetime of service and impact?

     

    Spahn: I love the theme of this conference, and have seen in so many ways how RPCVs have stepped up. I want to give a special shout-out to Friends of Tonga, who are a 2021 Library of Congress honoree for best practices for their virtual read-aloud program. As Peace Corps, we are looking to engage with RPCVs and through National Peace Corps Association, to really expand and understand the impact. I encourage everyone to complete the survey that NPCA put out, so that we can really understand that and help support it longer term. Our ethical storytelling kit will be a great tool. And we will be looking to work with RPCVs getting out into underrepresented communities around the United States to really elevate awareness of the Peace Corps.

     

    Watch this entire conversation here.  

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    An in-depth work of investigative journalism by USA TODAY brings together deeply troubling stories. see more

    An in-depth work of investigative journalism by USA TODAY brings together deeply troubling stories of harm suffered by women who have been victims of sexual assault while serving as Volunteers. Peace Corps must do better.

     

    On April 23, USA TODAY published an in-depth investigative piece chronicling the experiences of multiple women who became victims of sexual assault while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. Their stories are devastating. And the statistics cited in the article about the prevalence of sexual assault are profoundly disturbing.

    Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn issued a statement the same day that the article appeared, outlining how the agency is addressing these very serious issues. All incidents chronicled in the story have been referred to the Peace Corps Inspector General for investigation. And Spahn made sure that returned Volunteers know they can reach out directly to the Inspector General, as well as to the agency. 

    “We owe it to these women to read their stories — and to truly hear what they are saying,” said NPCA Board of Directors Chair Maricarmen Smith-Martinez in a statement. “Those of us who have been victims of sexual assault know firsthand that it takes immense courage to come forward, especially given how the initial reports of these women were handled. And let us be unequivocal: There must be zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct within the ranks of Peace Corps staff. We owe it to all Volunteers — past, present, and future — as well as their families, to ensure that Peace Corps does better.”

     

    “We owe it to all Volunteers — past, present, and future — as well as their families, to ensure that Peace Corps does better.”

     

    In early March, at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, former Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet recounted once again how, while she served as a Volunteer in Western Samoa in the 1980s, she was a victim of repeated sexual assault by a Peace Corps staff member — and the agency failed to take action.

    Since then, some progress has been made. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act led to the establishment of a sexual assault advisory council in 2013. The Sam Farr/Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act, passed in 2018, includes strengthened criteria for hiring overseas doctors and medical support staff and outlines a number of critical requirements. Among them: evaluation of all medical staff for compliance with all relevant policies and guidelines; and designated staff at each post to serve victims of sexual assault.

    As NPCA’s Smith-Martinez noted, at this moment, when no Volunteers are in the field, there is an opportunity and a responsibility for Peace Corps to conduct a thorough review of the Farr/Castle law and other previously passed legislation to ensure full compliance in all aspects. “We are very concerned that this is not the case at this time,” she wrote.

    The agency is implementing a new Security Incident Management System to integrate systems for reporting and tracking sexual assaults and other crimes. That is part of the solution. Also part of the solution: whistleblower protection for Volunteers, included in the Peace Corps legislation introduced by Rep. John Garamendi in March. Emma Tremblay, who served as a Volunteer in Ecuador and is one of the women who share their heartbreaking stories in the USA TODAY piece, notes that passing this legislation is one way to show support for her and other Volunteers.

    But an agency in which sexual assault has metastasized in recent years has tremendous work to do. April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “This is not something that we should think about in the abstract,” writes Smith-Martinez. “Every victim of an assault — like the women who share their stories in this article — is a person whose life has been deeply harmed.” Smith-Martinez also underscores that “While this particular USA TODAY piece focuses on the stories of women who are white, Peace Corps and others must ensure that victims who are people of color receive full support throughout their service and afterward. Racial justice and equity demand it.”

    Note this as well: Kathy Buller is the Peace Corps’ inspector general. She is also executive chair of the legislation committee for the Council of the Inspector General on Integrity and Efficiency. Just days before the story appeared, she testified before Congress on the importance of the independence of the work done by inspectors general.


    This story originally appeared in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine.