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  • Steven Saum posted an article
    One year after evacuation from the Philippines: A Peace Corps Volunteer on the trauma of leaving see more

    One year after being evacuated from the Philippines, a Peace Corps Volunteer faces the trauma of leaving, the country he returned to, and a question that’s impossible to answer.

    By Rok Locksley

    Work and friendship: Rok Locksley, left, with Ban-Ban Nicolas. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley

     

    The last day of my Peace Corps service was Friday, March 13, 2020. Together with my wife, Genevieve, I was serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. We had gotten up early to enjoy the sunrise on what we knew would be our last day on the island that had become our home.

    My counterpart was Ban-Ban Nicolas, with whom I was collaborating on marine conservation efforts on an island near Cebu. I called him Ban2x. And over the course of service, we developed a deep friendship. 

    Ban2x arrived at our host family’s house early in the morning in his family car. He would shuttle us to the seaport. Airports had already shuttered. He knew we were on the last boat off the island, and he wanted to make sure we got to the port safely. 

    We loaded our bags into his car, and he promised to look after our things, to check in on our dogs and our house. At this point we thought we were just being consolidated: all Volunteers gathered together temporarily. On the drive, Ban2x and I made promises to keep each other updated and what the estimates were for returning after consolidation — we were speaking in that awkward way that you do when you have so much you want to say but lack the words or ability to properly express how much you value the other person. 

     

    As I made my way onto the bridge to the boat that would carry me literally and figuratively out to sea, I turned for one last look at my friend and said, “It’s not goodbye, just until we see each other again.” 

     

    We got out of the car and I could see tears welling up in his eyes. I could feel them in mine. We lingered until the last possible minute. As I made my way onto the bridge to the boat that would carry me literally and figuratively out to sea, I turned for one last look at my friend and said, “It’s not goodbye, just until we see each other again.” 

    I got on the boat, found a seat, and sat down gingerly. Everything was moving in a surreal way. At first I thought it was the rocking waves, but then I started to feel my world crashing around me. There was everything we had left behind: our project, our year-old dogs who had cried and tried to squirm under the fence to get in the car as we drove away. My host family, with tears in their eyes. My coworkers, their faces grimaced in shock when I told them the day before that I had to leave. 

    I began the journey back to the United States, but I would not be returning home. My home was in the Philippines. 

     

    Where do we go from here? Photo by Rok Locksley

     

    At sea

    The boat carried us to a larger island where we met up with other Peace Corps Volunteers. We managed to catch the last boat off of that island, and we sat there on the top deck of a ferry, rocking in the sea, surrounded by tourists trying to figure out if they should stay or go. As for us 30 Volunteers, we were shell-shocked and broken, leaving through no choice of our own. We didn’t really talk. What was there to say?

    About two hours into the five-hour ferry trip, our phones chirped and pinged and vibrated at the same time with an alert. It was an ominous sound, and it carried a message that changed our lives. The director of the Peace Corps had declared the evacuation of all Volunteers. That is how we found out that our service was over: On a boat, rocking in the sea, carrying what random items we had shoved into our backpacks in a state of trauma. Some of us cried. Some tried to call their families. Some stared off across the waves, trying to soak up the last of the Philippines. Most, like me, were simply in shock. And desperately trying to figure out what to do next.

    Back in the States, we could not go to my parents’ house or my wife’s parents’ house, because of COVID-19. I knew that the evacuation route would take us through numerous airports, and I was sure I was getting exposed. The risk was not worth it to my family; health and age put them in the at-risk population. My grandparents’ house was out. My uncles and aunts had young kids. We literally had nowhere to go. 

    I timidly reached out to a few people, inquiring about whether it might perhaps be possible maybe that … They made it clear, gently but firmly, that they did not want to risk the fact that I might be bringing the virus, especially coming from Southeast Asia. I understood. 

    We had given up ties in the States to join the Peace Corps. We had no house, no car, no job waiting. All that was waiting for us stateside: the terrifying horror of the unknown. Unknown if we had the virus. Unknown where we would sleep when we landed. Unknown where we could get health care or insurance or a job or food or winter clothes. Aside from what we carried, what possessions we owned were in a storage unit. And I was not sure how I was going to make the next payment on that.

    As I was making calls from the boat and, later, from a hotel, trying to figure out where exactly we should attempt to fly to in the United States, a fellow Volunteer overheard my struggle. His family had a summer cabin in the Midwest. It wasn’t summer. But he offered it as a place of landing to us and a few other evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers for the mandatory two-week quarantine. We had no option other than the Peace Corps reimbursement for staying in a hotel. We gratefully chose the EPCV cabin. 

     

    The Facebook group for evacuated Volunteers was one of the few places we didn’t have to explain to others why this transition was so difficult, why we all felt lost at sea.

     

    We ended up living there in quarantine from March until June. Three months of trying to make sense of what had happened — and was still happening around us. Three months of sleepless nights and tearful mornings. Three months of confusion, loss, and desperation. Three months of writing resumes and filling out applications. Three months of Zoom interviews and those awful hopes that come with searching for a job: of failing again and again. Three months of struggling alongside my fellow evacuees to find our new place in the pandemic world. Three months of every other American dealing with a new world and none of them understanding what had happened to us. The Facebook EPCV group was one of the few places we didn’t have to explain to others why this transition was so difficult, why we all felt lost at sea.

    I talked to Ban2x at least once a week. That helped a bit. In the EPCV cabin, we shared our struggles with one another and tried to help others as best we could. Mostly we sat staring into space, thinking about all that had been ripped away — and what we were supposed to do next. I cannot imagine what it was like for Volunteers who had chosen the lonely hotel room for mandatory quarantine. 

    After three months, with the warmth of summer finally arriving, there was a changing of our seasons, too: We started to get hired or accepted into graduate school. I was fortunate to receive a Peace Corps Fellowship. Some of us got federal jobs, thanks to non-completive eligibility that comes with status as a returned Volunteer. Without the support of the RPCV network, National Peace Corps Association’s meetings and seminars, and Jodi Hammer’s counsel and advice through the Global Reentry Program, I don’t think any of us would have made a good transition out of that cabin. 

     

    This is water. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley

     

    The problem with that question

    I have recently had a few Returned Peace Corps Volunteers ask me what the hardest part about the evacuation was. The problem with the question is its premise; it makes it seem like the evacuation is over. For me it is not. 

    I am building a place that is starting to feel like home again in Illinois. And we did manage to get one of our dogs to the States in the fall. (The rest were poisoned, we found out later). I have school to focus on, but the evacuation is not an easily packaged life event. It was trauma and I am still experiencing it, working through it, processing it. 

    Every time I talk to Ban2x, I am filled with conflict about abandoning my work and my friends. I question whether I should have stayed on my island — which has had fewer cases than my neighborhood here in Illinois. Did we make the right choice to return to the United States? I still find myself trying to discern a morally correct answer to this question.

    The reason that we have adopted the signifier EPCVs rather RPCVs is because we all came back at the same time to a nightmare version of America that was nothing like what we had left. This was not the place often dreamed of in our desperate moments of homesickness. This was a foreign land to us. The restaurants closed, the markets eerily empty, wide eyes of fear peeking over new masks — and other faces with self-assured smirks.

    There is also this strange aspect to coming back with more than 5,000 other Americans: The people I was competing with for jobs were my friends and fellow EPCVs. The person’s spot I took for my graduate program was a fellow evacuee. For every one of us who got a federal job or fellowship, that meant another EPCV did not. I don’t mean that in the abstract. I mean it literally. We would have Zoom meetings with members of our cohort and find out we were all in the final round for the same job. Only one of us could get it.

    I had previously met a few people who had lost their homes due to fire or other circumstances beyond their control. People who have walked out of a strange airport in a strange land without any idea of what to do next — but carrying a hope that life would get better. People who have relied on the charity and goodwill of others to survive. A year later these experiences are much less hypothetical and much more real. It helps me to understand their situation and seek out guidance from them. 

    Today, on the year anniversary of our evacuation, I had a conversation with my counterpart and best friend, Ban2x. Over the past year, we have kept in contact every week, updating each other on our lives, hopes, and dreams — all the while following up on the final steps of our project, which is finally almost at fruition. Ban2x and his wife go for regular rides on the bicycles that we left behind. They send photos over Messenger of their rides and adventures to some of our favorite spots. I get photos of gatherings in the community, and it is awesome to see folks in my community wearing clothes we left behind and using the items that didn’t make it into our suitcases in that frantic final morning packing session. A few months ago, Ban2x tried to send some of the more precious items to us, but international shipping costs during the pandemic made it effectively prohibitive. They were handed out or given away to our friends and co-workers.

     

    The hardest part is that we are still going through it. Some of us are still waiting to return to service.

     

    When we talk, Ban2x and I, each of us is searching for words trying to fill in those things are that are still left unsaid. We wonder when this will end, and what the world will look like when it does. He stays healthy and, because of the island’s precautions, the pandemic is less of a threat there than I feel here with my mandatory in-person classes. We plan for the theoretical reunion that might take place in the next few years. I talk about all the spots and things I want to share with him in America. He tells me about the changes in our community and celebrations I have missed. Ban2x, always the optimist, smiles and says things that would translate to something along the lines of “When the time is right” or “When fortune favors us.” 

    We laugh a bit more in recent weeks, but sometimes my laughs are a bit hollow. I know that I can’t just jump on a plane and visit anytime I want. And I can’t bring him here for a visit. I know it will be a few years before restrictions are lifted enough to allow us to visit our home again. Until then, despite the temporary roof over my head, my heart still feels homeless. I still feel like I am adrift on the sea, packed in with all the other EPCVs rocking in a boat with no port, and wondering what happens next.

    That is what it is like to have been evacuated during the pandemic. Generally, my experience is too much go through just to answer the question “What was the hardest part?” The gap is too wide. The cut is still too deep. And although it is healing, it is a long way from being a faded memory. 

    Maybe the closest I can come to answering my fellow RPCVs’ questions about evacuation is this: The hardest part is that we are still going through it. Some of us are still waiting to return to service.
     


    SHARE YOUR STORY

    Are you a Volunteer who was evacuated because of COVID-19? Are you part of the Peace Corps community with a story to tell? Let us know: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org


    READ MORE

    Rok Locksley’s tribute to Ban2x in WorldView magazine, and evacuation stories of  dozens of Peace Corps Volunteers from around the world.

    “How can we transform this moment in Peace Corps history?” Rok Locksley takes part in a discussion with other evacuated Volunteers as part of the Global Ideas Summit Peace Corps Connect to the Future.


    Rok Locksley served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Moldova from 2005–08. He then worked as a Recruiter for Peace Corps 2009–16 and went back for a second tour with his partner, Genevieve, in the Philippines 2018–20. Locksley is currently a Peace Corps Fellow at Western Illinois University. He intends to return to his island at the first possible opportunity.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Sixty Years of Peace Corps see more

    Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other missives: Readers respond to the stories in words and images in the Spring 2021 edition of WorldView. We’re happy to continue the conversation here and on all those nifty social media platforms. One way to write us: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org

     

    Sixty Years of Peace Corps


    Thanks for another great issue! Glad you included “If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…,” which we heard in March, and then lots of other good stories such as “Once More, with Feeling” in Moldova and “Triage, Respite, and Isolation” at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Glad, too, to be able to read on paper! Hoping for some in-person meetings in D.C. in September.

    Peace,

    Angene Wilson

    Liberia 1962–64

     

    While we’re not able to gather for Peace Corps Connect in person in September, some affiliate groups representing individual countries of service are holding their own reunions. And a wreath-laying ceremony will take place in person at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. More info, including a schedule for the conference and registration: bit.ly/peace-corps-connect-2021 —Ed.

     


    US capitol with red and blue stripes in skyLegislation for a Changed World

    Much thanks to NPCA for drawing our attention to the current effort to reauthorize the Peace Corps Act (H.R. 1456). This important legislation has been introduced by John Garamendi (D-CA; Ethiopia 1966–68) and co-sponsored by Garret Graves (R-LA). It has been decades since the Peace Corps’ organic legislation was last comprehensively reviewed and updated in 1999. The world has changed a lot since then, and the Peace Corps Act needs to be updated to keep up with those changes.

    Between the two of us (father and daughter) we have extensive Peace Corps experience, including two tours as Volunteers, five years of work in Peace Corps Recruitment, Peace Corps Employee Union work, and currently one of us is a Peace Corps Response candidate. Our work with the Peace Corps has given us insight into the deficiencies of the current law governing the Peace Corps. We desperately need an airing of any systemic problems so that reasonable solutions can be implemented. This effort will make the program more efficient and effective in the 21st century.

    So … consider the baton passed! NPCA has alerted the Peace Corps community to the reauthorization effort. It is now incumbent upon us to contact our congressional representatives and encourage its passage. If you are reading this letter, stop now and go do it! What are you waiting for?

    Aaron King

    Ghana 1981–83

     

    Natasha King

    Morocco 2017–19

     


    Vaccine Distribution

    I served in Ghana in the mid-’70s and have followed President Biden in his COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. He was asked if he would consider sending the vaccine overseas once we got the virus under control and we accumulated a surplus. The president’s response was quick in the affirmative, since we are aware that it is a global pandemic. I would like to suggest that the priority list for countries receiving our surplus should be countries that currently host Peace Corps Volunteers. It would be beneficial to both the host countries and the Volunteers.

    As a side note, my daughter was also a Volunteer. She served in Botswana 2008–10.

    Leebrick Nakama

    Ghana 1976–78

     


    stopwatch“If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…”

    I’d say: 1) We know you support Peace Corps; thank you. 2) Please double the budget. 3) Lead retooling, re-entry, and re-engagement into host nations with public health efforts at the forefront.

    Nate Engle

    Madagascar 2004–06

    via LinkedIn

     

    What is the cost of public benefit/value and global net welfare gain via supranational peace in the long run? That’s just one reason I’m proud not only to have served in the Peace Corps, but to be an American. Many nations make allies to go to war. The U.S. decidedly makes allies to not go to war, while also promoting friendship across borders.

    Jesse Fowler

    Mexico 2020

    via LinkedIn

     

    If I had three minutes I would tell the president to definitely not expand the Peace Corps. Typical of government and organizations: If it’s working, let’s just expand it until it’s dysfunctional. Rather, put more young and old people to work in this country and keep the international portion selective and efficient.

    Jerry Wager

    Guyana 1967–69

     


    Peace Corps Connect to the Future

    Peace Corps Connect to the Future

    I read through your whole Winter 2021 publication and do want to tell you how much I appreciated it. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with all of your  proposals for the future of Peace Corps; there is definitely a generation gap. 

    I am now 95 years old (and was obviously an “older” Volunteer), yet I still feel very much in tune with the concept and the actual organization. I served in the Dominican Republic 1987–89 in rural development, and before the electronic age. Yet, as I read the stories of the various recent Volunteers, their experiences don’t seem so different from mine.

    Thank you for keeping us returned Volunteers informed.

    Rose-Marie Ullman

    Dominican Republic 1987–89

     

    Thank you for amplifying the discussion of diversity in the Peace Corps community. That spurred our minimally-diverse TCP Global team to look beyond the ranks of RPCVs. Not too surprising, adding two Kenyan Americans and one representative each from Uganda, Nigeria, Niger, and Nepal helps all of us to better address the different challenges and opportunities in different regions. Their presence on the team serves as a welcome sign for site administrators to offer their own suggestions for improving service, much as Colombia Project administrators helped to perfect our model over the first seven years in Colombia. We are still a work in progress and are fortunate to have natives of five countries we serve helping us chart the course ahead.  

    Helene Dudley

    Co-Executive Director, TCP Global

    Colombia 1968–70, Slovak Republic 1997–99 

     


    Corrections: Politics, and that would be March 2021

    Our Spring 2021 roundup of returned Volunteers serving in state government (page 47 in print) should have included one who recently made the move from the hospital to the capitol in Wisconsin: Sara Rodriguez was elected to the state legislature in 2020. She served with the Peace Corps in Samoa 1997–99, as a health education Volunteer focused on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. She has worked as a nurse, in epidemiology with the CDC, and as a healthcare executive. 

    In print, “What Lies Ahead for the Peace Corps” (page 15) contained a slip of the year in the intro: Carol Spahn’s remarks were given at the Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2021, not 2020. 

     

    WRITE US: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Learning and teaching through the Advancing Health Professionals program see more

    Dallas Smith

    Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia (2017–19) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Malawi (2019–20)

     

    As told to Emi Krishnamurthy

     

    Photo: Baobab tree — used for food and medicine. Photo by Dallas Smith

     

    While earning my Doctor of Pharmacy in the States, I spent a month in India learning about what’s known as traditional and complementary medicine. Then, in Cambodia, I saw it utilized to heal people, using local culture and expertise. I brought that perspective into Malawi, but I took it one step further: I know it works, but why? How do we make it better? What are the side effects? How do we make it more clinically relevant so that we can employ it in a better way?

     

    In Malawi I learned from experts knowledge that has been passed along generations. My advice for Response Volunteers is to be a humble and open learner.

     

    In Malawi I learned from experts knowledge that has been passed along generations. My advice for Response Volunteers is to be a humble and open learner. With that in mind, the Advancing Health Professionals program provides a venue for pharmacists to pass along their knowledge, skills, resources, and connections to countries that are developing the pharmacy profession — especially the clinical aspect. 

     

    Students in a medicinal garden in MalawiStudents in a medicinal garden in Malawi. Photo by Dallas Smith

     

    At the beginning of the pandemic, the University of Malawi College of Medicine had a big hand-sanitizer production project to prepare for when COVID might hit Malawi. When we got evacuated, the College of Medicine transitioned to online learning, and I’ve been teaching virtually since then.

    This was hard for a lot of health professionals; it felt like we were abandoning our colleagues. That feeling drove me to serve where I could; June to December 2020, we were in Arlington, Virginia, and I started volunteering with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps at COVID-19 testing sites. When the vaccine came out, I helped with rollout as a senior point of dispensing (POD) director.

    The coolest part was working with such a diverse crew of community members to tackle both the testing and the vaccination with limited resources. We set up sites at gymnasiums, community centers, park benches, and homeless shelters. We had retired schoolteachers, retired nurses; we had actors, pharmacists, physicians, a dental hygienist. We were all working our butts off to end the pandemic. I can’t tell you how many amazing 65-year-old retired nurses volunteered their time to vaccinate for 12 hours a day, even when they were at risk. They wanted to end this pandemic. They weren’t going to let the possibility of contracting this disease stop them from their duty to health equity.

    I also got to work with half a dozen other RPCVs. We used some of the languages we picked up from our Peace Corps services. Now I am working in Atlanta with the Epidemic Intelligence Service, which is a CDC disease detective program. 

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 02, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    She brought literacy expertise to work in Belize. And has volunteered with FEMA to combat COVID-19. see more

    Judith Jones

    Peace Corps Response

    Volunteer in Belize (2018–20) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer with FEMA in Oregon, United States (2021)

     

    As told to Sarah Steindl

     

    Photo: Teacher and student at work in Belize. Photo courtesy Judith Jones

     

    My Peace Corps journey was a little bit different. I originally applied to be a two-year Volunteer in Jamaica, and I got rejected for medical reasons. I appealed, and I lost that decision. I was devastated because this was something that I really wanted to do in my retirement. Then out of the blue, a month later, a friend who works for USAID wrote me about the literacy support specialist position in Belize for Peace Corps Response: “I think you’d like this.” I looked at it and thought, My gosh, this was written for me! I’ve taught children and adults for 30 years, worked as an ESL teacher and literacy coach. I applied at the beginning of February 2019. They told me toward the end of April that I was going, with five weeks to get ready.

    In Belize we worked with the Ministry of Education. We worked with second-grade teachers to help develop their skills in teaching reading. Belize is a place where they are still using very traditional teaching methods. We had to meet them where they were at. We gave them workshops and courses, and we went on-site in classrooms to help implement strategies: working with a small group of students, designing activities to improve reading levels. 

    We found kids in second grade who couldn’t spell their name, didn’t know the complete alphabet, the sounds that letters make, or how to spell simple words. By second grade, most children should know these things. But classrooms don’t have books. I wanted to get more books in the classroom, but it was important that the teachers take on those projects. My country director, Tracey Hébert-Seck, was a big proponent of not doing things for them, but doing things with them, and teaching them to do it on their own. 

     

    Judith Jones watching teacher and students in Belize

    Literacy at the forefront — and Judith Jones in the background, observing a teacher work with her intervention group of students in Belize. Photo courtesy Judith Jones

     

     

    I think there need to be more 50-plus Volunteers and staff. There need to be more Black and brown Volunteers and staff, more variety in sexuality and gender. Peace Corps needs to reflect America. I don’t see that in recruiting. I don’t see that in staff. It’s hard to get into Peace Corps if you’re 50-plus or 60-plus. To go through the craziness of the medical clearance process, you have to spend so much money — so how are you going to get Volunteers from a lower socioeconomic area? It really needs to be made easier and more diverse. We should be able to participate. 

     

    With Response, I got to do something closer to the work that I love doing. I want to continue to put literacy at the forefront of education. Literacy will improve countries, economies, and social situations. 

     

    With Response, I got to do something closer to the work that I love doing. I want to continue to put literacy at the forefront of education. Literacy will improve countries, economies, and social situations. 

    I enjoy doing this job I’m in right now, supporting the vaccination effort with FEMA. The Oregon Health Authority has been a fantastic counterpart. And it’s interesting working with all these young people. But that’s very different from what Peace Corps Response usually is; typically Volunteers are more mature and used to working. We learned from each other. It was invaluable. 

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 12, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Peace Corps Takes Steps to Return to Service Overseas see more

    The Peace Corps announced on June 30 that it was a step closer to returning Volunteers to overseas service — starting with Belize.

     

    By NPCA Staff

    Photography by Emily Gale. Pictured here: BRO club members, hijinks, and a freshly painted world map in 2019

     

    The Peace Corps announced on June 30 that it was a step closer to returning Volunteers to overseas service — starting with Belize. With a set of health, safety, and security criteria met for the post, Volunteers could arrive as early as this fall. At the request of the government of Belize, Volunteers will engage in literacy work, helping schools recover following disruptions to the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Following 15 months of global isolation, tireless work by our staff around the world, and incredible patience from our applicants and host country partners, the Peace Corps is moving forward in the process of returning to our overseas posts,” said Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn. “The Peace Corps is advancing with an abundance of caution, flexibility, and pragmatism, but also with so much hope about all the important work that is ahead of us.”

    As waves of the pandemic have swept the U.S. and the world, Peace Corps preparations have included ensuring that every post meet a comprehensive list of internal and external factors — including updating emergency action plans, ensuring availability of reliable transportation routes in and out of the country, confirming the local medical care capacity, and identifying medical evacuation locations. Also crucial: ensuring that the timing of return is safe, respectful of culture and on-the-ground conditions, supportive of a host country’s urgent needs, and compliant with local laws, regulations, and protocols. The Peace Corps anticipates additional country-specific invitations in the upcoming months.

     

    Shoolgirls in Belize with world map painting

    Mapping Their World: GLOW and BRO clubs in Belize finished this project in 2019, working with Peace Corps Volunteer Emily Gale. By the end of 2021, the country hopes to see Volunteers return. Photo by Emily Gale

     

    Controlling COVID

    With a coast on the Caribbean and located between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is just under 8,800 square miles in size — about the same size as Massachusetts — and has a population of about 405,000. Of the 23 countries in North and South America, Belize was the last to report a case of COVID-19. Cases peaked there in December 2020. As we go to press, case incidence is about 13 percent of the maximum; about 26 percent of the population has been vaccinated. There have been some 14,700 infections and 344 deaths from the virus. When arriving, travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test regardless of vaccination status.

    “We are grateful that our government’s consistent efforts to mitigate COVID-19 in Belize have been able to bear fruit in this way, and that the Peace Corps Volunteers will soon be able to return,” said Dian Maheia, who leads Belize’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology. “We are more excited to know that we will be the first country across the world to receive Volunteers again.”

    Prior to the global evacuation of Volunteers in March 2020, Peace Corps Belize was one of the longest continuously running Peace Corps programs in the region. Since 1962, more than 2,000 Volunteers and Peace Corps Response Volunteers have served in communities, with a recent focus on education and rural and family health.

     

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    The second time in history that Peace Corps Volunteers have been deployed in the United States. see more

    Beginnings. Good sense. And the second time in history that Peace Corps Volunteers have been deployed in the United States.

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo from 1994: A Rwandan refugee camp in eastern Zaire. Photo courtesy CDC

     

    Here’s an instructive but heart-wrenching place to start, if we want to tell the big story at the center of this edition of WorldView. It’s one of crisis and response: April 1994. A plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi is shot down over Kigali. The assassination ignites events that lead to horrific genocide in Rwanda. Over 100 days, 800,000 people are killed. More than 2 million flee to neighboring countries as refugees; another 1.5 million are internally displaced.

    Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Berry and his then-wife, Carol, were in Rwanda at the time. Carol was working with a human rights group; John was directing training efforts for micro-enterprise development. They were evacuated as the nightmare began to unfold. 

    Back in California, John and Carol were watching news reports on the genocide when they saw a local reporter interview another returned Volunteer, Steven Smith, who was in Zaire — where many Rwandan refugees had fled. Smith was recruiting returned Volunteers to help Rwanda. John called him. And Smith reached out to National Peace Corps Association President Chic Dambach. As WorldView editor emeritus David Arnold wrote in this magazine, “They set in motion grassroots initiatives that became known as the RPCV Rwanda Project.” They also found funding to build NPCA’s Emergency Response Network — “names, contacts, and résumés of hundreds of RPCVs willing to turn their cross-cultural experiences, language, and skill sets to the Rwanda crisis.”

    And they brought together returned Volunteers to work with refugees on the ground.

     

    NOT LONG AFTER, in 1995, Mark Gearan was sworn in as Peace Corps director. He took a page from the Emergency Response Network playbook and launched Crisis Corps, a new Peace Corps program to harness the skills and cross-cultural experience and care returned Volunteers might bring to crisis situations. The program was formally inaugurated in June 1996 at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Among those present for the occasion: Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, and his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as longtime Peace Corps champion Senator Harris Wofford.

     

    “The real gift of the Peace Corps is the gift of the human heart, pulsing with the spirit of civic responsibility that is the core of America’s character. It is forever an antidote to cynicism, a living challenge to intolerance, an enduring promise that the future can be better and that people can live richer lives if we have the faith and strength and compassion and good sense to work together.” 

     

    At that ceremony, President Bill Clinton observed a truth we know well. “The dedicated service of Peace Corps Volunteers does not end when their two-year tour is over,” he said. “So let us always remember that the truest measure of the Peace Corps’ greatness has been more than its impact on development. The real gift of the Peace Corps is the gift of the human heart, pulsing with the spirit of civic responsibility that is the core of America’s character. It is forever an antidote to cynicism, a living challenge to intolerance, an enduring promise that the future can be better and that people can live richer lives if we have the faith and strength and compassion and good sense to work together.” 

     

    AND WHAT OF THAT — compassion and good sense and working together? In 2021, for the second time in history, Peace Corps Response Volunteers have been deployed domestically. The first time was in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. When Response Volunteers were recruited this past spring, there were more people offering to serve than there were slots available. It seemed that the pandemic was winding down. Just a few months back — but a long time ago. More recently, when one group of Response Volunteers was working with vaccination outreach efforts in underserved communities in Oregon, the sense of this is about over couldn’t have been further from reality. As a reporter for NBC News who had spent time with the Volunteers observed, ICUs in the state were virtually at capacity.

     

    NBC reporter talks with Peace Corps Volunteer

    Peace Corps Response Volunteer Judith Jones talks with NBC News reporter Maura Barrett. Jones was evacuated from Belize in March 2020 and in 2021 has been part of the second domestic deployment of Peace Corps Volunteers. 

     

    So, in service around the country amid this pandemic, we find one answer to another question we ask in this edition: What does it mean to serve now? A question that bears asking as Peace Corps Response marks its 25-year anniversary and the Peace Corps celebrates 60 years. And a question that, for this edition, we put to Mark Gearan in his recent capacity as one of the leaders for the congressionally mandated National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Over several years, that bipartisan commission endeavored, for the first time in the nation’s history, to gain a comprehensive view of what it means to serve — and what the needs and as of yet untapped opportunities are. They sought to answer, in concrete terms: How can we get to 1 million Americans serving every year?

    Sixty years ago, the Peace Corps took wing fueled by JFK’s exhortation “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” In helping to define and inspire service for a new generation, and in reaching a scale this country has never seen, the ideas and the ideals that have shaped Peace Corps have something to bring to the table. Read on.

     

    DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: David Arnold’s 2013 story on Rwanda and the NPCA Emergency Response Network.


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.

     September 12, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    She was serving as a health advisor in Malawi. Evacuated to the U.S., she has helped fight COVID-19. see more

    Vishakha Wavde

    Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi (2018–20) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer with FEMA in United States (2021)

     

    As told to Emi Krishnamurthy

     

    Photo: Vishakha Wavde has worked in community outreach efforts with FEMA in the U.S. Photo by Eli Wittum

     

    I have been in the health sector my whole life. I’ve been a physical therapist in Chicago since emigrating to the U.S. from India 27 years ago. In 2020, after being evacuated from Malawi, where I served as a community health advisor, I continued as a physical therapist until I found the opportunity to work with FEMA and the Peace Corps for the COVID vaccination rollout.

    Before my service, I didn’t know where Malawi was on a map. My first friend in Malawi was Jean Kaponda. When I arrived, she took me under her wing — she showed me the marketplace and schools, introduced me to people. We started going to church together and I joined the choir, where every Sunday we would sing in the local language, Chichewa. The pastor lived next door to me; his kids and I would sit outside to play Scrabble. I love to cook. I would make fudge, cookies, cornbread, zucchini bread, mango bread, pumpkin bread, and I’d share those with people in the village. These little things made me feel like I was part of the community. 

     

    Vishakha Wavde holding maize sack in village in Malawi

    Story on a maize sack: In Malawi, Vishakha Wavde teaches malaria prevention to kids. Photo courtesy Vishakha Wavde

     

    In Malawi I set up bed nets and built hand-washing stations for local households. Those projects brought me close to a lot of community members — I was literally stepping in and out of every house in the village. I also did a lot of Grassroot Soccer, which helped educate high school kids about HIV causes and prevention through soccer drills. I worked with a group of women through the SOLID program, which helps teach how to run a business and be financially independent. As I was about to start an agriculture, environment, and health initiative, COVID hit and I was called back.

    To be honest, I really didn’t think COVID was that serious; we were untouched by what was happening. When on March 14 the news arrived that we needed to pack our bags and head to the capital, I was under the impression that I would be there a few days and then things would get better. I packed one suitcase, left the rest of my belongings. When our flight took off from Malawi, a part of me just broke away. I didn’t get to say goodbye — to my neighbors, the woman who would draw water for me, the pastor who lived next door, the grandmother whom I always chatted with, even my counterparts. It was so abrupt. I was numb for a long time.

     

    Even though I still love being a physical therapist, I never believed that I could apply my skills toward some other path outside of my educational background. This journey has brought me to consider what more I can do.

     

    We’ve gotten back into our lives here, but it was a hard breakup. So when I saw a position to help with vaccination rollout, I didn’t hesitate. In Virginia, where our team is working now, we are trying to get the word out about the vaccination clinics we have set up in grocery stores, churches, community halls, and fire departments. The program is a collaboration between FEMA and the Peace Corps, which has thus far been very successful. FEMA’s background is disaster-geared, so they know how to work with the systems and authorities in an area. The Peace Corps knows how to engage in a community and reach out to people, share stories, and connect. The continents, countries, culture, and languages differed, but the biggest thing was that I was serving humankind.

    At the start of my service, I had been in physical therapy for 25 years. One of my biggest lessons from the Peace Corps is that I am capable of doing much more than I think. Even though I still love being a physical therapist, I never believed that I could apply my skills toward some other path outside of my educational background. This journey has brought me to consider what more I can do.

     

    Vishakha Wavde is featured on the cover of the Summer 2021 edition of WorldView. This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 13, 2021
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A time to honor the past — and commit to a different future see more

    A time to honor the past — and commit to a different future

    By Glenn Blumhorst

    Illustration by Richard Borge
     

     

    HERE’S A FAMILIAR CELEBRATORY REFRAIN: On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the Peace Corps with the mission of building world peace and friendship. In honor of that beginning, every spring is a time for us to recognize the ways that the Peace Corps has made an impact — in individual lives and in communities around the globe. 

    But this year is different. And an unprecedented time in so many ways.

    One year ago, March brought the global evacuation of Volunteers from communities where they were serving. Communities were bereft, Volunteers heartbroken. Thousands in the Peace Corps community came together in an unparalleled response, assisting evacuated Volunteers in ways big and small. Some of those evacuees were able to help communities across the United States reeling from the pandemic; they began serving as contact tracers, working with food banks, making masks, or later deploying as part of NPCA’s Emergency Response Network in Washington State — and so much more. This May, many begin serving domestically as Peace Corps Response Volunteers, assisting at FEMA community vaccination centers.

    Here at National Peace Corps Association, we rapidly launched the Global Reentry Program one year ago — at the outset to focus on the immediate needs of evacuated Volunteers. The program has expanded to provide broader, more robust support for returned Volunteers — such as counseling, mentorship, career advice, and more.

     

    Future tense

    Last summer we convened a series of town halls and a Global Ideas Summit to ask deep and searching questions about the relevance of Peace Corps in a world profoundly altered by COVID-19—and the systemic inequities the pandemic underscored. Drawing on decades of experience and commitment, members of the community offered concrete ways we might reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world. 

    The report distilled from those conversations, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” has provided a road map. Recently it helped shape the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades: the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. John Garamendi to the House of Representatives on March 1. Garamendi served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia. This legislation calls for important reforms, including addressing better healthcare and providing protection for whistleblowers in the Peace Corps. And it calls for the increase in funding that will be necessary for the Peace Corps to help lead the way in reengaging with a world profoundly changed by COVID-19.

    This legislation is one of the concrete ways that the report is yielding results. Several working groups focused on implementing the report—through Congress, the Peace Corps community, affiliate groups, and more — continue their efforts. And in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine, Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn speaks of how the report is already informing work at the agency.

     

    A time of reckoning

    In more ways than one, last year also began a time of reckoning for our nation. And it’s far from over. COVID-19 continues to exact a terrible price, even as vaccines are deployed in the United States. Globally, more than 3 million have died. We continue to witness the crushing toll of systemic racism: in terms of healthcare and economic opportunity, and with people of color being victims of hate crimes, as well as far too often violence at the hands of police. The murder of George Floyd last May was a catalyst for protests across the country and the world. Let us hope that the conviction of his murderer is a step forward on the journey toward justice.

     

    “Empower the people,” Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya reminded us last summer. “That’s the main aim of the Peace Corps.” 

     

    “Empower the people,” Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya reminded us last summer. “That’s the main aim of the Peace Corps.”  

    Here at home, as part of our commitment to service, we have asked members of the Peace Corps community to take a stand to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We renew those calls for reform.

    We know that equity and justice are works in progress. That intentionality matters. That service continues in the communities we call home. And as we look toward the future, we know that it is a sense of solidarity, not charity, that must be the compass by which we steer the Peace Corps. 

    In this anniversary year, thank you to all who have served. Thank you to the people and communities around the world who have undertaken this work together. And thank you for being willing to show the commitment that we all must in the ongoing work of building peace and friendship. It’s work that’s far from finished.

     


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He welcomes your comments: president@peacecorpsconnect.org 


    This story appears in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine. Sign up for a print subscription by joining National Peace Corps Association. You can also download the WorldView App for free here: worldviewmagazine.org

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Evacuation, some Peace Corps history, and #apush4peace see more

    Evacuation, some Peace Corps history, and #apush4peace

    When Coronavirus Unmapped the Peace Corps' Journey
    Jeffrey Aubuchon (92252 Press)

     

    Reviewed by Jake Arce and Steven Boyd Saum

     

    In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the unprecedented global evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers. Jeffrey Aubuchon brings together stories of some evacuees chronicled in WorldView: Chelsea Bajek, who was working with a women’s group in Vanuatu; Jim Damico, evacuated from teaching in Nepal; Benjamin Rietmann, yanked from his work with farmers and young entrepreneurs in Dominican Republic; and Stacie Scott, who left behind the community she was serving as a health volunteer in Mozambique.

    Aubuchon follows in greater depth two Southern California high school sweethearts, Jacqueline Moore-DesLauriers and Dylan Thompson, who served together in Morocco. In Sefrou (pop. 80,000), on the outskirts of Fez, they taught English classes and hosted a STEMpowerment workshop for girls at the local dar chabab (youth center). They established a girls’ volleyball team that played its first game on March 5. Ten days later, Peace Corps announced its global evacuation.

     

    “Never in the last 40 years has the Association’s mission been more vital.”

     

    The book also serves up some context for 2020 — when each week seemed like a year unto itself. And National Peace Corps Association gets more than a passing nod — particularly its crucial work advocating for evacuated Volunteers, which helped secure additional benefits for them and $88 million in supplemental funding for Peace Corps. “Never in the last 40 years has the Association’s mission been more vital,” Aubuchon writes. “Indeed, on March 16, 2020, NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst released a statement not only voicing support for all of the EPCVs, but also outlining a national plan to coordinate support for these evacuees among the Peace Corps, the NPCA, and the RPCV community itself.”

    Aubuchon served as a Volunteer in Morocco 2007–09. “I walked my own Peace Corps journey in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Casablanca bombings of 2003,” he writes. He applied for and received grant funding to help build four libraries. In fall 2019, he was teaching a course in Advanced Placement U.S. History at a high school in central Massachusetts. A lesson in Cold War history led students to do more than merely talk about global problems; they founded a youth venture — and began raising funds to support Peace Corps Volunteers’ projects. Taking the acronym for the class, APUSH, they hasthtagged their effort #apush4peace. They convinced community members to put up $1,000 in seed funding — and then, through fundraising, more than tripled that, “allowing them to help a PCV in Zambia build a hospital clinic ward and help another build a library in Mozambique.”

     

    Paama Custom Arts Festival: Traditional basket weaving on Vanuatu. Chelsea Bajek worked with these women to launch a business project. Photo by Chelsea Bajek

     

    One of those APUSH students, Olivia Wells, takes over the closing chapter of the book. She observes: “Few people know that there are ways to help educate adolescents in Eswatini (Swaziland) about HIV/AIDS, or to help local farmers in Malawi construct an irrigation system to decrease water erosion on their farmland.”

    This is a project that’s meant to give back; one dollar from each copy sold goes to Kiva.org to support microfinance projects, and another dollar goes to support National Peace Corps Association. 

    As for the stories of the Volunteers who were evacuated: Those journeys continue beyond the pages of the book. For example, Jim Damico, a three-time Volunteer, didn’t wait for Peace Corps to return to Nepal. He went back on his own in January 2021 and has been mentoring teachers. Chelsea Bajek, who was serving in Vanuatu, had successfully applied for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant to purchase equipment and materials for skill-building workshops at the Paama Women’s Handicraft Center. But those funds were cut off when Bajek was evacuated. Thanks to crowdsourcing and NPCA’s Community Fund, in 2021 that project was fully funded and will, Bajek reports, increase opportunities for women’s economic development and empowerment. 

     

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    The skateboarding project and learning to paddle together. see more

    Nobody wanted it to happen this way. 
Evacuation stories and the unfinished business of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
     

    The Philippines | Diane Glover

    Home: Valdosta, Georgia

    When Diane Glover arrived in the Philippines in July 2018, it was a sort of homecoming — to the country where she was born and left at age 11. She was raised by her older sister in Washington state and Georgia. “So many people invested in my success,” she says. Returning that investment seemed natural; empowering girls is something she cares about deeply — especially survivors of sexual violence. 

    She was a youth development Volunteer in Tacloban City on the island of Leyte. She worked with dozens of street children. One effort was the “skateboarding project,” which rented out skateboards — but not for money. The goal was to get kids into the community office and help them learn. Every minute they participated in reading, writing, or gardening bought a minute of skateboarding. The work taught Glover patience: “I can’t necessarily say, ‘I transformed six lives today.’ Most of the time our success — we don’t see that until down the road.”

     

    “I can’t necessarily say, ‘I transformed six lives today.’ Most of the time our success — we don’t see that until down the road.”


    Investing in their success: Diane Glover, left, with kids in Tacloban City. Photo by Diane Glover


    With six months left, she was worried about cutting it close with the terms of a grant. There was another project proposal — and wouldn’t it be good to extend for a third year? Then came the email.

    The islands of the Philippines are scattered over hundreds of miles; evacuation was decentralized. Peace Corps staff flew from Manila to Cebu City to ensure that Volunteers consolidating there got home safely. “They just wanted to support their Volunteers till the very end.”

    Crisis brought home a new lesson: Stop worrying about grants and project deadlines. “The evacuation has given us a snap of realization: Your relationship is your success—the relationship that you create in your community.” Yet suddenly that was gone. 

     


    The Philippines | Rok Locksley

    Home: Chicago, Illinois


    Volunteer Rok Locksley, left, supported Nibarie Nicolas in his projects focused on marine resources. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley 

     

    I met Nibarie Nicolas just before our swearing-in
ceremony in Manila. I knew him as Ban2x (Ban-Ban). He’s mid-twenties, full of energy, curiosity, and infectious joy. He had recently been hired as fisheries technician for the Municipal Office of San Jose in the Visayas region. He was responsible for local marine resources, programs, and events. He was passionate about working with local fisherfolk. And he was assigned to be my counterpart.

    I served as a Volunteer in Moldova (2005–08) and worked as a recruiter for Peace Corps before my wife, Genevieve, and I went back as Volunteers in Philippines. I supported Ban2x in his projects: developing a guardhouse for our marine sanctuary, programs for fisherfolk, agro-tourism events, and education about marine resources. 

    Within minutes of us meeting, Ban2x asked if I liked dragonboating. I had a vague familiarity; I’m an avid whitewater kayaker. He had assembled a dragonboat team from the fisherfolk communities; he was drummer and captain. They had never paddled before as a team, but they spent days and nights on the water in canoes they call sakayans, fishing the Tañon Strait. They borrowed a boat for their first race and blew the competition out of the water. 

    Dragonboating became a major part of my life. After a day in the office working on marine policies or presentations, Ban2x and I headed to practice. We paddled until sunset, then sat on the beach and watched stars reclaim the sky. We shared thoughts and dreams and life lessons. We ended each night with traditional goodbyes in Binisayan: “Kitakits”—which isn’t so much “goodbye” as “Until we see each other again.” 

     

    Genevieve became fast friends with Ban2x’s grandmother. We attended birthday parties and fiestas with his family. He took time to walk me through basic introductions, made sure I knew how to dress for various occasions, who to thank. While he was tasked with protection of the park, he had never donned SCUBA gear to see it underwater. So I arranged for him to get his diving certifications. Our first dive we saw lobsters, turtles, sharks, and stunning coral formations. When we surfaced, I saw the wonder in his eyes. 

    We created plans for coastal resource management and a marine protected area. We had big ideas for 2020. As January ended and news of the virus spread, we intensified our work. February rolled in fast. March, I could see the writing on the wall. I tried to wrap up projects and spoke with Ban2x at length about what needed to happen professionally if Genevieve and I left.

     

    “When we surfaced, I saw the wonder in his eyes.” Photo by Rok Locksley 

     

    The first week in March we went on lockdown. I talked with Ban2x about evacuation. He wasn’t worried. Peace Corps evacuated us in 2019 to Manila when a typhoon came close. We returned a week later. When we got the call for consolidation in mid-March, I knew it would be the end of my service. I asked Ban2x to come over.

    He arrived in his usual chipper demeanor. We talked on the porch, then I brought him into the house and started pointing out things he could take, what to give to the fisherfolk. After I showed him our bicycles, it registered on his face that we were truly leaving.

     

    I firmly believe that one-to-one relationships built at a grassroots level between people who are fundamentally different is the best pathway to world peace. But I forgot how much it hurts to leave your friends. 

     

    When people talk about Peace Corps, they are quick to mention Volunteers and service. Maybe they get around to speaking about the three goals or cultural exchange. Most people forget about the actual mission of the agency: world peace and friendship. I firmly believe that one-to-one relationships built at a grassroots level between people who are fundamentally different is the best pathway to world peace. But I forgot how much it hurts to leave your friends. 

    Ban2x showed up at our house early the next day. He brought his family car to shuttle us to the seaport. We were on the last boat out. We loaded our bags. He pledged to look after our dog. We hung around the port until the last possible minute. Then I grabbed my dragonboat paddle and turned for one last look at my best friend. “It’s not goodbye,” I said, “just until we see each other again.”
     


     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

     

    Another idea: Support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Address by the Director of the Peace Corps to Peace Corps Connect to the Future see more

    Address by the Director of the Peace Corps to the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future

    By Jody Olsen

     

    On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen to speak. She was introduced by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Her remarks come a week after Peace Corps signed a historic agreement for launching a program with Viet Nam in 2022. And they come as the COVID-19 pandemic makes the future for all international work uncertain.

    Here is a transcript and video of the introduction and her remarks.


    Introduction

     

    Glenn Blumhorst: I just want to say today, it's just such an honor and a privilege to have Director Olsen with us. I know she has a busy schedule, she has a lot going on. And she's very busy trying to get Volunteers back into the field as soon as possible — as soon as the conditions permit. But she's been really in tune with the community, I would say, attentive to the needs and expectations of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who were evacuated, and she has certainly paid attention to what's going on in our community and in our country. 

    So it's really a pleasure for me to introduce her today. She's going to share a few words with us. The 20th, director of the Peace Corps, Jody Olsen, who was sworn in in March 2018, started her service with the Peace Corps community as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tunisia in 1966 to 68. She has held multiple leadership positions at the Peace Corps, including headquarters and in the field. She was once the Acting Director of the Peace Corps, the Deputy Director, she has been a chief of staff. She has been a regional director, and she has been a country director in Togo. But let me say: Those are certainly strong credentials for somebody to be the current Peace Corps Director. 

    I know Jody personally, and I know her very well, and her values and her commitments. And I have to say, there's no better person for the job right now than Jody Olsen. I know that Jody cares deeply about the Peace Corps itself, about Peace Corps Volunteers. And when it came to make the evacuation — or the decision to evacuate the Volunteers, and evacuate the Volunteers, I trusted Jody. I knew that she was doing what she felt was in the best interest of the agency and the Peace Corps Volunteers themselves. They all arrived home safe and sound. And their lives interrupted back home weren't the same, but she handled that situation like no one of us would ever would have wanted to have to had to do. I'm so grateful for having her at the helm of the Peace Corps itself. And I'm very grateful for her two decades of service to the Peace Corps community. So I'm proud and honored and privileged to introduce my colleague and friend, and our esteemed Director of the Peace Corps. Dr. Josephine "Jody" Olsen.

     

     

    Peace Corps Today

     

    Watch: Jody Olsen’s remarks at Peace Corps Connect to the Future

     

    Jody Olsen: It's a real pleasure to be here, even virtually, thank you all so much. A special thank you to Glenn, a longtime friend, colleague, and a person I admire, as well as everyone at the National Peace Corps Association. Thank you, thank you for all you do. Thank you for all your support — everything that you do.

    I also want to note, at this moment, as we just took a moment of silence — that many years ago, I was lucky enough to hear Nelson Mandela speak and even shake his hand. I didn't want to do anything with my hand for quite a while afterward. I was so proud of that moment. But what I remember from that moment was his entire speech was about hope, was about the future, and about what can be accomplished. He never appeared angry. He always appeared strong and hopeful that entire evening. And knowing his background, I carried that, and I have tried to carry that with me ever since.

    When I was in college, I happened to be standing on Constitution Avenue, as people moved forward for the March on Washington in August 1963, which included Congressman Lewis — very young at that time. That march, that afternoon, so affected me. And as I've had the pleasure of reading and seeing and hearing and understanding Congressman Lewis's journey, his leadership that he has given this country, I too, feel very sad at this moment and want to make sure that I honor a national icon and national leader for all of us.

    I want to begin — oh, first, I do want to thank Katie Long! That was so wonderful, what you sang, and I might just say, Katie, that you probably said better than I'm going to say — a lot of what I'm feeling right at the moment. And I'm hoping that the future and the excitement you had, that reference to the future that you, Glenn, also had, that I can continue to carry that with me as I speak for a few minutes this afternoon. I want to thank NPCA, the board, the staff, and members, for all you do to support the Peace Corps mission and goals, and the incredible support you give Peace Corps and your fellow RPCVs during this very challenging time. You note, as you see, the title is Peace Corps Today. Now there's a reason for this title. I want to say "Peace Corps Future," "Peace Corps Going Forward," because this is about the future. And I'm going to be talking about our plans for returning to our global presence. But I have to refer to them as our global future plans exist today: Saturday, July 18. Why do I give a date for this? Even as we're largely in charge of our process for returning, we're not in charge of the virus. It dictates the time. It dictates the place. And in this global pandemic, our time, its time, its place — changes every day.

     

    Even as we're largely in charge of our process for returning, we're not in charge of the virus. It dictates the time. It dictates the place.

     

    So when you listen, we're hoping this is what we can be over this coming year. But this is as of Saturday, July 18th. To the recently evacuated Returned Volunteers who may be here today, and I know that several of you are, I am here for you. We're here for you. As I have talked with many of you, I know that I can't fully appreciate what you have been going through in having to leave your communities with almost no notice, to a return that you hadn't planned. As I have said before, that fateful day, March 15th, just four and a half months ago — that decision to evacuate all Volunteers was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life. And I think you can understand in that, I have been part of Peace Corps, Peace Corps has been part of me — for now over 54 years. I'm grateful for your service. And we are grateful to NPCA and all the affiliate groups, and all of our partners in service, who have stepped up and supported and continue to support our Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The Peace Corps mission is still as relevant today as it was 59 years ago.

    The idea of Peace Corps — that idea that Volunteers could serve their country for the cause of peace by living and working in other countries — struck a chord with thousands in the early ’60s. And I confess —myself included — 1964 was when I first heard about Peace Corps. And that enthusiasm continues today. We must work together to ensure that the mission continues into the future, that Volunteers return to the field when safely possible. While the mission remains relevant today, the world has changed. We've already been talking about that. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only highlighted racial and social economic inequities in our countries — in our country — but in countries abroad as well, including all current Peace Corps countries of service. The pandemic has also highlighted global interconnectedness, and with it an increased need for people who can effectively and sensitively navigate cross-cultural difference to build joy and equitable systems and sustainable peace.

    This need speaks directly to our continued relevance, and why we must return to our countries of service as soon as it is safe to do so. We take these few months, this few months of pause in our in-field service, as an opportunity to build into our plans, a strong, self-aware, and equitable environment for all staff and Volunteers. Peace Corps' focused goal, which is fully supported by Congress — let me say that again, which is fully supported by Congress — is to return to a full global presence as soon as we possibly can.

    Much uncertainty remains here at home and abroad about when and where we will be able to begin reestablishing our operations overseas. Still a question. I repeat: We don't control the disease or its course, but we do control our process to getting overseas. We have some of the brightest and most committed people on our team working hard to plan for reentry to the field that is strong and sustainable, while assuring the wellbeing of Volunteers, staff, and communities. We have developed a comprehensive, two-part process whereby posts work alongside offices at Peace Corps Headquarters to plan for reentry and to prepare to receive Volunteers. Our host country staff are in place in our 61 countries with critical responsibilities towards our return. Our return begins with an external review process, which assesses a wide range of external factors, both domestic and international, including medical, security, administrative, and logistical criteria that must be just right for us to consider a reentry to a specific country.

     

    The pandemic has also highlighted global interconnectedness, and with it an increased need for people who can effectively and sensitively navigate cross-cultural difference to build joy and equitable systems and sustainable peace.

     

    When a country meets these external review criteria, Peace Corps notifies Congress — an important step — that we are initiating a planning for reentry process, and this triggers the internal review. Our internal review is an exhaustive process by which a post prepares for every part of supporting Peace Corps Volunteers, staff, and communities. It involves everything from our host families to our counterparts, to transportation in country, to precautions in the workplace, and to know how to treat a COVID case if it should arise. There are a multitude of checks and balances in this system because we cannot risk anyone.

    The Office of Safety and Security, Health Services, Global Operations, and Regions will each thoroughly review and approve each post's individual plans. The Peace Corps is already working in close partnership with our host country governments, local communities, and in-country stakeholders to ensure that the timing of our return is safe and according to each country's local conditions and requirements. And no two countries are similar.

    Multiple mitigation measures will assure that we're respectful of our host country's management of the pandemic, including testing for all Volunteers prior to departure — and a 14-day mandatory quarantine once they arrive. All posts will have an emergency response plan, with detailed guidance on responding to any COVID-19 emergencies that arise. Posts are very eager to welcome Volunteers again for service. We hear this every day. And they are fully engaged in this detailed planning process. We will provide reorientation and training on how to operate in a different environment. And there will be more training and preparation for Volunteers and for staff to manage the different challenges of service during COVID-19. Until the pandemic is fully under control, we must operate in a different manner than we have before. And Glenn alluded to that earlier. And the challenges of Volunteer service are going to differ.

    This is about assuring our host governments that we are keeping Volunteers and their host families, counterparts, and communities healthy and safe. As you can guess, a lot of uncertainty remains. We face returning to countries where life, public education, health, agriculture, and food processing, distribution, and other systems and people have been impacted by COVID-19. In addition, and most importantly, people all over the world have been observing, and even participating in racial justice and equity protests, particularly those in the United States. We are navigating a world that is in transition. Simultaneously, each of us as individuals — and so much within myself — we are transitioning in our own personal connection to the issues of race, social justice, and inequality. Given this time to focus and to grow, we will return to our posts with renewed eyes, renewed clarity of what to serve means, and renewed expectations of ourselves. The agency is responding. We are responding. We're taking steps. We're building into and making central to our return to operations a workforce that is representative of the diversity of America by uncovering and removing barriers to equal opportunity for multiple groups, including Black invitees, Volunteers, and employees.

     

    We are navigating a world that is in transition. Simultaneously, each of us as individuals — and so much within myself — we are transitioning in our own personal connection to the issues of race, social justice, and inequality.

     

    These efforts to date have included, but are not limited to, intentional holding of very difficult dialogues throughout the agency globally. Dialogues that are continuing almost daily today and will continue going forward. We have projects that reduce work and service barriers for both staff and Volunteers. We're assessing and strengthening diversity recruitment and strengthening diversity pipelines through new and expanded partnerships, many of which are already coming forward and with which were already engaged. A new agency-wide taskforce on diversity and inclusion in the agency will track our internal progress toward equity and diversity as we return to service, enhancing communication about non-competitive eligibility in the federal government as an opportunity to leverage U.S. government efforts to increase diversity across all federal agencies.

    Our taskforce on diversity and inclusion has been charged with leveraging the agency data and all recommendations received to date — from the field, from staff, and I know for many of you as RPCVs — so that we craft and subsequently implement concrete and meaningful strategies for change.

    As we face this uncertain world, one thing that is not uncertain is our relevance today. The Peace Corps mission of world peace and friendship has never been more important. And Peace Corps has never been more relevant than it is today.

    This begins with how we partner with our countries wherever we serve, and how we earn their trust in returning to service safely — safely for our Volunteers, safely for our staff, and safely for the host country residents and our host country counterparts. As we move towards our 60th anniversary, which begins in October, and navigate these uncertainties, we also pause to celebrate all our Volunteers who have contributed over these past 59 years — and to celebrate the new opportunities and service that lie ahead for all of us.

    Just this last week, we signed the implementing agreement between the Peace Corps and the Ministry of Education and Training of Viet Nam to officially established the Peace Corps program in English education in Viet Nam. This has been many years in the making, and a joyful moment for so many people. This historic moment, which also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. Viet Nam will be our 143rd country to host Peace Corps Volunteers since the agency was founded. And as I was in Viet Nam in December, I appreciated their excitement. And in fact, it was three of the English teachers that I was spending time with when I talked about Volunteers living with host families — three of the teachers raised their hands and said: "Can I be a host mom? Can I be a host mom?" And I thought whichever country wherever we are, wherever we're going to be, "Can I be a host mom?" — that's what friendship is. That's what families are. The next step in partnership and in cross-cultural exchange and capacity building. This next step will benefit the people of both countries for generations and further demonstrate our relevance today. We are a global organization that can have a significant impact on global challenges. Addressing these global challenges starts with maintaining our focus on getting Volunteers back into the field. That is who we are. However, as I've noted, we're not going back to the field the same as we were before. We're going to go back better. For 59 1/2 years, Peace Corps sought assurances from countries where we serve, that our Volunteers will be safe. We must now be prepared to assure the same countries that we have taken the steps necessary for everyone to be safe.

    More than ever before, we and our country counterparts, we and our country leaders in each of our countries, are true partners. Returning better also relies on implementing the improvements that I have highlighted with respect to how we recruit, train, and support the Volunteers that represent us. Peace Corps Volunteers should represent the best of all of us in all our diversity — that best represents us as Americans. Going back — and how we go back — is so important, not just to the countries where we serve, but it is important to the entire world. Because the entire world is watching us. They're waiting. They want to see. We're going back.

     

    We will be humble. We will be better. And we will be stronger for what we have been through together.

     

    As we go back, we will be humble. We will be humble. We will be better. And we will be stronger for what we have been through together. The Peace Corps mission of world peace and friendship is as relevant today as it was in 1961, as I said before. We must work together to ensure that the mission continues into the future, that Volunteers returned to the field when safely possible, and that we take this pause and in the field service as an opportunity to build into our plans a stronger and more equitable environment for all staff and Volunteers. So what is our call to action? What is it for all of us — for me, the agency, our countries, our posts, returning Volunteers — what is it? Our continued relevance and ability to carry our mission only holds true as long as we are able to continually grow and challenge ourselves to set the standard for community development.

    Challenge our action. Our continued relevance requires that we become increasingly diverse and inclusive. But our work doesn't stop there. A diverse and inclusive community requires nurturing learning, and requires us to face challenges by participation in these very difficult dialogues: that we must evolve our models of service, our training and support, to meet these challenges. Ultimately, the people we serve in more than 61 countries abroad at deserve and expect nothing less. There are no easy answers. Boy, I can say — there are no easy answers! And the process will be neither quick nor simple. But I truly believe that our Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, our incredible staff, and the Peace Corps family — we are all up to this challenge. We are staying strong — and we stay a leader in our mission of world peace and friendship.

    I'm here for you all. I'm here for Peace Corps. I'm here for the mission. I am here for going back: better, stronger, more diverse, more equitable. So we can be proud for our next 60 years as we begin our 60th year. Thank you all. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your help. And thank you for being strong. I'll turn it back to Glenn.


    Read more: “Our Peace Corps Evacuation Journey,” chronicling what Olsen calls the toughest decision she ever made — to evacuate all Peace Corps Volunteers globally in March 2020. The essay appears in the Summer 2020 edition of WorldView magazine.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    A national service program and legislation to benefit Peace Corps — and hurt it. see more

    A national service program seems to be an idea whose time has come. Legislation to benefit Peace Corps — and to take back $88 million. Stories of evacuation and service at home. And Twitter shout-outs.

    By NPCA Staff
     

    Here are some top stories (and a couple of Tweets) on the Peace Corps community across the United States — and around the world. We include a sampling of opinion pieces and coverage from states and communities that are home to some of the 7,300 evacuated Volunteers — and nearly a quarter million Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Stay up to date throughout the week with our Flipboard stories, subscribe to the National Peace Corps Association newsletter, and follow us on social media. 


    The Washington Post | Editorial: The U.S. needs an army of workers to reopen. These senators have an idea for getting it.

    May 7, 2020


    “We need an army of workers to reopen the country,” begins an editorial from the Washington Post last week. “The good news is, a group of senators has an idea for where to find one.” The editorial was republished across the country, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to the Santa Fe New Mexican to the West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette. The gist: “Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), and several colleagues introduced legislation this week to pay for 750,000 national service positions over the next three years… The bill would prioritize Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright and other fellowship recipients, as well as, crucially, the many Americans this crisis has left unemployed…Standing up a ready-to-go cadre of Americans who can be deployed anywhere across the country would be instrumental in serving areas where staffing is relatively scarce and sickness is spreading — not only now but also in the many months ahead.”

     


    The New York Times | Columnist David Brooks: “We Need National Service. Now.”

    The formative moment for a new generation

    May 7, 2020


    The column by David Brooks calls for turning this moment of national crisis into a transformative one. “There’s a good bill winding its way through the Senate to do precisely that, led by Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware.” That’s the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, introduced in April, which calls for expanding national service programs to help meet the need for as many as 300,000 new workers for contact tracing, testing, and other COVID-19 relief efforts. Peace Corps Volunteers get priority. "The Coons bill is an excellent start. But it needs to be bigger and bipartisan.” Brooks advocates for service year fellowships and notes: “There’s no reason this shouldn’t happen. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans support voluntary national service … And as we all know, the benefits of the program accrue not only to those being served but also to those doing the serving. What would it mean to the future social cohesion of this country if a large part of the rising generation had a common experience of shared sacrifice? What would it mean to our future politics if young people from Berkeley spent a year working side by side with young people from Boise, Birmingham and Baton Rouge?

    What we’ll note: For the past 59 years, Peace Corps Volunteers have been answering that very question.


     

    Press Release from Senator Chris Van Hollen | Bicameral Legislation to Significantly Expand National Service in Response to Coronavirus Crisis

    With momentum building to utilize national service programs during the pandemic, “UNITE Act” calls for increased AmeriCorps recruitment, expansion of a deployable FEMA force.
    May 8, 2020


    The latest release from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Sen. Edward Markey, and Rep. Dean Phillips calls for the swift passage of the UNITE Act — and underscores just how critical a role evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers can play during this domestic crisis. 

    Sen. Van Hollen: “Our national service organizations provide vital assistance to communities across our country and the globe. With a wide array of skills and experience, the volunteers with Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other service organizations are uniquely equipped to help our country battle the coronavirus. We should be doing everything in our power to enlist these men and women – and others who are eager to volunteer – in these efforts.”

    Sen. Blumenthal: “We must expand the ability of mission-driven Americans from service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps to serve our country at this time of unprecedented crisis. From public health expertise to extensive experience working in vulnerable communities, these individuals have the invaluable skills to help our country rise to the immense challenges this pandemic has made us face.”

    Rep. Phillips: “The Peace Corps represents the very best in American leadership on a global stage, with volunteers serving alongside communities in their fight against sickness, hunger, and economic insecurity. They are ready now to fight for the health of the American people. The United States must have a whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic that not only employs those who have lost their jobs or who’ve become underemployed, but also delivers relief to understaffed frontline workers.”


     

    Press Release from Senator Jeff Duncan | Duncan introduces WUHAN Rescissions Act

    Our take: Legislation would jeopardize funds that provided for health and safety of more than 7,300 evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers amid global pandemic.
    May 4, 2020

    File this under news you need to know — to take action to stop it. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) introduced H.R. 6657, the Working Under Humanity’s Actual Needs (WUHAN) Rescissions Act, which calls for eliminating more than $27 billion from the  CARES Act legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by Congress and signed by President Trump in late March. Included in the new legislation is the proposed return of the $88 million appropriated for Peace Corps which covered evacuation and initial support costs for 7,300 volunteers. Read Representative Duncan's press release here. And read more about the co-sponsors — and how you can share your concern over this bill — here.


     

    The Wall Street Journal | Eight Graduates Plan for an Uncertain World

    Many of those leaving college this spring have had plans changed by the coronavirus. Members of the Class of 2020 speak about what’s next.
    May 9, 2020


    In story about young Americans facing uncertainty amid the coronavirus crisis, journalist Kathryn Dill profiles future Peace Corps Volunteer Colton Denton. A first-generation college grad, he hails from Phoenix, is finishing studies at Knox College in Illinois, and has been accepted for a Peace Corps assignment in Ukraine. Training has been postponed from August until September 30 — but may be delayed further. Graduation ceremonies have been postponed, too. “I just hope that it’ll happen before I leave for Peace Corps,” he says, ”assuming that still pulls through.”

     

      

    The Hill | Opinion: During this historic time, remember to value public service

    May 8, 2020

    Dr. Joe Heck and Michael M. Crow start with the fact that we’re seeing how critical public service professionals are at a time of crisis. They make the case for a public service corps program across the country. Heck is chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Michael M. Crow is the president of Arizona State University (ASU). They offer ASU’s Public Service Academy as a model — graduating its first cohort last year, including Turner Hubby, a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to Ukraine teaching English as a second language.


     

    Center for Strategic and International Studies | Blog: A Covid-19 Response Corps Can Help Stop the Pandemic

    Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers could be readily mobilized.
    May 5, 2020

     

    Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) make the case for Peace Corps Volunteers playing a key role in COVID-19 response now. The authors are members of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security. Key takeaway one: "Volunteers have received training in — and many have up to two years’ work experience in — a variety of relevant issue areas, including water and sanitation, hygiene, and maternal and child health. They have experience integrating themselves into local communities, serving as community health workers, peer educators, and teachers. They could be quickly recruited into the CRC and put to work supporting the Covid-19 response across the country."

    Key takeaway two: "We know that state and local health authorities are clamoring for such a workforce to combat coronavirus." 


     

    KRCR television news | Rep. Huffman and others call for prioritizing national service in future COVID-19 relief

    Peace Corps volunteers should be mobilized into domestic programs and projects.


    Northern California television station KRCR highlights the efforts of Reps. Jared Huffman, John B. Larson, and Dean Phillips to get House leadership to focus on national service priorities to aid in recovery efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Included: Peace Corps Volunteers should be mobilized into domestic programs and projects. From the letter: “The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and its volunteers are on the front lines of the recovery effort, providing disaster assistance, educational opportunities, meal support and much more … Investing in the CNCS and reimagining the service of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are investments in the continued rebuilding of the nation.”


     

    WDEL newsradio | A badly needed workforce

    Legislation seeks to expand AmeriCorps to provide contact tracing, testing for pandemic response.
    May 5, 2020

     

    Coverage of legislation that Sen. Chris Coons introduced in April: “We know that we have a ready pool of returned Peace Corps volunteers, of current year AmeriCorps members, and hundreds of thousands of Americans, who have applied to be AmeriCorps members, but we haven't had the number of funded slots for them.”

     

     

    Public Service Twitter Shout-outs | House Foreign Affairs Committee

    May 9, 2020
     

    To wrap up Public Service Recognition Week (May 3-9), the House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted out thanks to Peace Corps Volunteers in a pair of posts.

    “The U.S. is always lucky to have dedicated public servants but especially now, during the #COVID19 pandemic. This #PublicServiceRecognitionWeek we recognize the @StateDept, @USAID, @PeaceCorps and frontline personnel working through this crisis to make the world a better place.”

     

    “And to @PeaceCorps volunteers who have been brought back home during this unprecedented time: thank you for your hard work. Though it was cut short, your commitment to service left an impact on your host community. #PSRW2020

     

     

    In the Twitter Zeitgeist | Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

    May 4, 2020

    Entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban kicked off a conversation on Twitter May 3 calling for more national involvement in contact tracing and caring for people during the coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Ed Markey joined in to share that he and Sen. Chris Van Hollen had introduced the UNITE Act to “test, trace, and assist the vulnerable.” Cuban’s response: Agree we need to expand  @AmeriCorps, @PeaceCorps and other volunteer organizations. But in order for this to work there has to be someone in charge of a coordinated federal Public Health Covid response that can drive a  solution driven plan. Patchwork legislation doesn't work.”

     


    Kansas, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Nationwide | Stories of evacuation, community service, and recruiting RPCVs for jobs

     

     

    “Masks Now Coalition Partners with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Serving at Home” | Masks Now Coalition

    The Masks Now Coalition is a grassroots movement of over 11,000 nationwide volunteers in every state, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. who are working to help protect frontline workers and healthcare professionals through sewing and donating masks to organizations in need. They’ve teamed up with the group Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Serving at Home — with RPCVs making masks and, in the case of evacuated Volunteer Julie Wang, putting to work her skills as a graphic designer.


     

    Hope and host family: a snapshot from Benin. Photo courtesy Hope Woodard

      

    “Pandemic shortens Woodard’s Peace Corps mission” | Tullahoma News, Tennessee

    Two weeks after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Hope Woodard headed for Benin with Peace Corps. She had to evacuate nine months later. “In America, before COVID-19, we had everything at our fingertips,” she says. “I think that this moment, although it has caused a lot of hurt for some people, has allowed people to recalibrate what is important to them.”

     

    “Peace Corps experience shortened due to COVID-19” | Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas
    Mohri Exline served as the community and organizational development Volunteer in Albania when she got the fateful call: “I was called on a Thursday night and told to pack because we were being evacuated. The next morning they called and said they would be there at 9 a.m. to get me.”

     

    “The pandemic is forcing agencies to rethink their recruitment and onboarding strategies” | Federal News Network

    Takeaway: The departments of Housing and Urban Development and Homeland Security are actively recruiting returned Peace Corps volunteers. Agencies are hosting virtual jobs fairs and recruitment webinars to find new talent.

     


     

    Stay up to date with the latest news about Peace Corps and COVID-19 global evacuation each day through our Flipboard stories. Here you’ll find a selection of stories from around the world about evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers, efforts to help them here at home, and how they’re helping the United States tackle the COVID-19 pandemic through community service, work as contact tracers, serving on the front lines in medicine, and more.

    • Joanne Roll Do we have any information of what happened with this proposed legislation? It seems like an excellent idea, but did the gridlock in Congress prevented its passage? I also think that Mark Cuban's... see more Do we have any information of what happened with this proposed legislation? It seems like an excellent idea, but did the gridlock in Congress prevented its passage? I also think that Mark Cuban's comments were very important. Thank you.
      11 months ago
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    COVID-19 and how the Lord Baltimore Hotel served as a place of help in a time of need see more

    COVID-19 and the Lord Baltimore Hotel

    By Marik Moen

     

    IN SPRING 2020, the State of Maryland, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, transformed the Baltimore Convention Center into to the 250-bed University of Maryland Medical System Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital. I was living in Fairfax, Virginia, at the time but was looking for an opportunity to serve in the COVID response — an infectious disease disproportionately affecting populations who have experienced historic discrimination. You could say it was my gig. 

    I went to get oriented and do a few shifts. I heard some pejorative language being used to refer to people of Baltimore and knew just who could address this concern: Chuck Callahan, vice president for population health with the University of Maryland, who served in incident command leadership for the Convention Center Field Hospital. I reached out to him to share my concerns and see how I could further help the response. Within days the approach to orientation was amended. Also within days, Dr. Callahan called to ask if I would serve as director of nursing at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. 

     

    These were people who couldn’t safely isolate at home and who weren’t so sick they needed to be in the hospital.

     

    Amid the pandemic, the newly-badged Lord Baltimore Triage, Respite and Isolation Center (LBTC) was being set up to serve as a temporary residence for people diagnosed with COVID or suspected of having it. These were people who couldn’t safely isolate at home and who weren’t so sick they needed to be in the hospital. 

    It was a big decision. Normally I teach and do research or help to manage nurse-community health worker programs for people living with HIV. I’m an assistant professor of family community health at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Nursing. COVID was hitting the communities that I was most familiar with — but I wasn’t connected to those communities in Fairfax, where we had moved two years before. I was connected to those communities in Baltimore. Taking this on meant waylaying research and, for me initially, moving to Baltimore. My husband, Gregg Wilhelm, was within walking distance of work at George Mason University, and our daughters were in second and fourth grade. I would be putting us at risk and adding more turmoil to an already pandemic-changed life. I was worried. 

     

    We needed everybody: Marik Moen, third from left, served as director of nursing at the hotel transformed into the Lord Baltimore Triage, Respite and Isolation Center. Photo by Matthew P. D’Agostino / University of Maryland, Baltimore

     

     

    LAST MAY, when I came to the Lord Baltimore, it was maybe five days before we transferred people in — more than 50 residents from homeless shelters or congregate settings that had COVID outbreaks. Notably, the Lord Baltimore was the only hotel in the city that would accept any residents with COVID at the time. We had to figure out a plan: field a team of nurses, set up protocols. We had to answer questions like: What is the clinical aspect of it? How do you do health checks? What do public health and clinical guidelines say? How do we keep people safe? What is the security aspect? It meant working in multidisciplinary teams: the health department, the hotel, the University of Maryland Medical System. Not exactly streamlined — but we needed everybody.

     

    It meant working in multidisciplinary teams: the health department, the hotel, the University of Maryland Medical System. Not exactly streamlined — but we needed everybody.

     

    Then we launched. Overall, things went smoother than anticipated in chaotic times. Our Baltimore City Health Department colleagues had amazing experience doing this work on their own and led the way. Yet we’d quickly learn, Oh, wait, that doesn’t work, so we would work late into the night to revise the process — really building the ship as it was sailing for that first month — and even now, there’s constant quality improvement. Thankfully, we developed a strong core of personnel who are still with us today and carrying it through. (Oh, and by May 2020, I had uprooted my family, first to live at the Lord Baltimore Hotel with me, and then to resettle in Baltimore permanently. My husband eloquently describes our journey in the essay “Checking Out of Hotel COVID,” in Baltimore magazine.) 

    At the Lord Baltimore Triage Center, as with the epidemic, there’s disproportionate representation of the African American community, the Latinx community, and people with low incomes, mental health or substance use disorders. Those are identities and conditions. Yet the reasons for this impact are social determinants: multi-generational households or substandard housing, or people serving as essential workers who are not protected and can’t safely isolate. People in congregate living can’t distance. And people in substance use treatment often don’t have a stable home to go to after they leave recovery programs. Some are survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking. Some are students or parents who don’t have an extra room to shelter in, away from other family members. 

    With our health department colleagues, we were very intentional about setting up the Lord Baltimore to accommodate persons with these lived experiences on the outside so that they would feel welcome, safe, and comfortable. We established harm reduction and safety protocols and trainings and worked with many partners and institutions to assure these were implemented. The LBTC team includes nurses, clinical support technicians, nurse practitioners and doctors, social workers/case managers, logistics, security, cleaning/environmental services, kitchen/nutrition, and of course, the front desk and other hotel staff who make sure the facility is running and guests’ needs are attended to. I believe it is a testament to this approach that we have been able to serve over 2,000 residents since May 2020. 

    In addition, with the vaccine, LBTC leadership insisted that not just the healthcare staff but all frontline workers — security, cleaning crew, everybody — would get access at the same time. I’m proud to say that University of Maryland Medical System is following through on that.

     

    How many lives saved

    Every person who was in leadership position at the Lord Baltimore Triage, Respite and Isolation Center had international experience — a service project or even study abroad — that they referenced as we were building this thing. That says something.

    Outside the United States, I’ve worked in Rwanda and Haiti primarily, and briefly in other countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean — but my work in public health began with the Peace Corps in Gabon 1998–2001. That work was focused on community public health initiatives: increasing vaccination — which is eminently relevant — as well as educating people about diarrheal, respiratory, and sexually transmitted infections; HIV prevention; and reproductive health. With Peace Corps, you get out to your site, try to apply what you’ve learned, and you realize some of it just doesn’t fly; you have to adapt. So a little bit of the audacity of being willing to take this on — certainly I got that from the Peace Corps.

     

    The value of these respite and isolation hotels should be recognized and remunerated. The reasons that they need to exist in the first place should be admitted and addressed; the lack of adequate housing and income security is literally deadly for some people, especially under COVID-19.

     

    The City Health Department and the University of Maryland Medical System jumped in to meet the need of Baltimoreans and Marylanders because it was the right thing to do. While altruism is laudable, the value of these respite and isolation should be recognized and remunerated. With colleagues, I plan to describe the benefits of LBTC's interventions, including modeling the numbers of infections and hospitalizations and deaths potentially prevented by safely isolating 2,000 people, as well as estimating savings in medical costs. That said, the reasons that isolation hotels need to exist in the first place should be admitted and addressed; the lack of adequate housing and income security is literally deadly for some people, especially under COVID-19. 

     

    More important than healthcare

    In September I handed off the director role to Vanessa Augustin, a new grad of the University of Maryland School of Nursing’s healthcare leadership and management master’s program — and a nurse of Haitian descent. Vanessa was present from day one at Lord Baltimore, demonstrating leadership in action. I felt a special connection with her, given my work in Haiti, and was happy to facilitate a local but global transition.

    I came back to teaching and research, transitioning from a focus on HIV to how we address the social determinants of health that underlie HIV and other conditions, especially within the healthcare setting. Healthcare has finally come to realize that how people live really influences their health: income, employment, whether they have food and shelter. The evidence is established that those things have more of an impact on health than healthcare. But in terms of healthcare’s response, we are kind of throwing stuff at the wall, hoping it will stick. The way we ask questions and the interventions we take are not really evidence-based or informed from a patient perspective. I’m trying to develop the evidence around how we assess the needs and address them, with the patient perspective at the heart. My experience at LBTC influenced my commitment to this work, and the Peace Corps provided the spark that allowed me to believe I was even a little bit capable of taking it all on. 

     


    Marik Moen is an assistant professor of family and community health at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. Read more: bit.ly/triage-respite

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Ideas and resources for the Peace Corps community see more

    Ideas and resources for the Peace Corps community

    By James Rupert

    Photo: RPCV Mia Richardson donating blood. Courtesy RPCVs in Service at Home
     

    As evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers seek new jobs — and as all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers ask what we can do for our country — the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased America’s need for the commitment, experience, and skills we built in Peace Corps.

    Organizations across the country are hiring new crisis responders: thousands of paid contact tracers to work via phone and internet to suppress COVID’s spread. We need new public health workers — with and without medical or clinical skills. The range of need is vast: building online communication, keeping key facilities safe from the virus, empathetically engaging high-risk communities, and more. RPCVs, including teachers and development specialists, are needed to build stronger communities and help those most at risk: migrants, refugees, low-wage earners, the elderly, or disabled.

    Thousands of missions can be found in the blossoming “mutual aid” movement of neighborhood groups nationwide, or with AmeriCorps, including VISTA, or the Senior Corps. Virtually every state government has a volunteer service commission — a resource often overlooked.

    As COVID-19 upends our world and deepens its preexisting ills and inequities, how will Americans — and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in particular — respond? No matter how you may find yourself answering that call, we would like to hear your story; it can be helpful to the wider Peace Corps community. Write a brief note to National Peace Corps Association about your chosen mission, large or small, against COVID-19.

     


    Join Them: RPCVs Serving at Home

    RPCVs Serving at Home is a new effort led by evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers to help their communities in times of crisis. In the few weeks since they were founded by Volunteers who had been serving in North Macedonia, as of May 7 they’ve logged nearly 1,000 hours of community service and grown to more than 200 members. Scores of volunteers from almost every Peace Corps region are taking part, doing work in 19 states so far. Their goals: Help the community, stay engaged by doing meaningful work, and show the important presence of Peace Corps here at home. Check out their Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter for ideas and opportunities, and to help demonstrate the scale of commitment by the RPCV community during this critical time.

     

     

    Contact Tracing Jobs

    RPCVs, including recent evacuees, bring strong credentials for the rising number of these critical COVID-fighting jobs with state and federal public health units. Contact tracers (remotely) interview people infected with COVID-19 to identify anyone they might have encountered closely enough to have transmitted the virus. The job requires organizational, communications, and cross-cultural skills — plus initiative, patience, and empathy.
     

    • The nonprofit CDC Foundation (which mobilizes support for the Centers for Disease Control) is recruiting contact tracers nationwide to work with the CDC. (Use this link and search the page for “contact tracer.”) The foundation is seeking “excellent interpersonal skills … and ability to interact professionally with culturally diverse individuals during a time of crisis and distress.” See CDC info on contact tracing work here.
       
    • Government agencies are recruiting contact tracers to work in teams in “at-risk counties and states … Contact tracing is seen as an essential part of the public health strategy to keep coronavirus in check after the first wave recedes, and the economy reopens.” This job description says its contact tracers would use their own telephone and computer to work from home, maintaining daily contact with a remote supervisor.
       
    • State agencies are increasing efforts to recruit volunteers and paid staff for contact tracing. For example, as of May 17 the state of New Jersey is accepting registrations for volunteer and paid positions.

       

     

    Contact Tracing Training

    Johns Hopkins University has published an online course in contact tracing through Coursera. Enrollment is free and available here. The intro to the program notes: “The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented need for contact tracing across the country, requiring thousands of people to learn key skills quickly. The job qualifications for contact tracing positions differ throughout the country and the world, with some new positions open to individuals with a high school diploma or equivalent.”
     

     

     

    Public Health Jobs — With or Without Medical Skills

    Public health agencies and organizations are hiring for roles ranging from administration or organizing to medical and science specialties, to hospital health aides supporting veterans and their families.
     

    • The nonprofit CDC Foundation is recruiting medical and non-medical professionals nationwide. The 75 jobs listed as of May 1 include positions for program administrators, custodians, nurses, data analysts, epidemiologists, biologists and more.
       
    • The Centers for Disease Control is seeking “project representatives … for a program responsible for preventing the importation and spread of communicable diseases.” Locations from Anchorage, Alaska, to Newark, New Jersey, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, are listed at the link. The posting invites RPCVs to apply with their non-competitive eligibility, although it describes qualifications that might be slightly beyond those of PCV evacuees with no other professional experience. (It seeks a master’s degree or equivalent graduate work or experience.) This listing requires applications by May 15  —  but watch that space for further possibilities.
       
    • The USAjobs.gov website continues to post a huge list of varied jobs — from the highly specialized to non-specialized. It takes patience to go work through this long list (nearly 500 listed on May 1).

     

     Making masks at home: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Malin Serfis. Photo courtesy RPCVs Serving at Home

     

    Community Support: Teaching, Organizing, Crisis Response

    You can find most community support roles locally, but national directories can also help. VolunteerMatch lets you search among more than 100,000 local voluntary organizations for specific local missions — education, human rights, the environment, hunger, homelessness, women’s issues, fighting the ills of COVID-19 and more. A similarly massive, searchable database is at Points of Light. Read how COVID-19 is pushing many volunteer groups more to digital operations that you could help with. Then check the in-person and digital volunteer options below. 

    • Can you teach or mentor? Kids need you! Thousands of kids are dislocated, some in marginal home situations, and need tutors or mentors. Call your local school system about possibilities such as these in Fairfax, Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Check local/state associations of active or retired teachers (as in Illinois) for new COVID-19 response mentoring programs.
       
      • Help students through Mentor, a highly rated network that will even train you to start your own local mentoring program, or mentor online through iCouldBe. COVID-19 has multiplied the need for online academic coaches at Upchieve, a network that uses a digital platform to connect you to kids (notably from low-income neighborhoods) seeking help with a school assignment or ambitions for college.
         
      • Amid COVID-19, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America continue urgently to recruit mentors for kids in need — as do the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
         
    • Use your language skills! The nonprofit Creating Puentes needs Spanish and French speakers to help with COVID-19 response and community building. Tarjimly lets social welfare agencies and other service providers contact you for translation as they try to help clients speaking any of 80 languages. 
       
    • Staff peer-guidance and crisis hotlines. COVID’s pressures have escalated social and health problems — and the need for digital or telephone first responders on crisis hotlines for suicidality, domestic violence, child abuse, and other ills. The nonprofit tech accelerator Fast Forward lists groups that offer digital opportunities to help with peer guidance for people facing workplace, mental health, or other challenges.
       
    • Organize needed blood donations. Fears of COVID-19 have suppressed blood donations nationally. The American Red Cross can schedule you online to donate (at redcrossblood.org) — and the organization welcomes applicants to host blood drives in their communities or via social media. This role demands PCV-like skills in organizing logistics and recruiting donors; the Red Cross folks handle all actual blood collection and have adapted their procedures for COVID-19 conditions.
       
    • Build community. Search Idealist.org for hundreds of job and volunteer opportunities in your area. Join the growing movement of neighborhood “mutual aid” groups connecting neighbors who can lend a hand — with grocery runs or errands, for example — to those who need it. AARP and MutualAidHub offer guides to starting a group, and here is a guide to keeping safe from COVID-19.
       

     Helping at San Diego Food Bank: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Zac Norbović. Photo courtesy RPCVs Serving at Home

      

    Neighbors in Need: Refugees, Homeless, Prisoners, Elderly

    The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating patterns of inequity and injustice that have pushed many people to the margins of our wealthy society. The nation’s response must help those at the margins, and RPCVs have vital skills for that challenge.

    Finally, share and improve this list! As you seek your own next mission, check for independent evaluations of nonprofit groups through Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or GreatNonProfits.org.
     


    James Rupert is foreign affairs editor for U.S. Institute of Peace. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco (1980–82) and has been a correspondent and editor for the Washington Post, Newsday, and Bloomberg News. 

    Story updated May 17, 2020 1 p.m. to include information about registering for state agencies for work in contact tracing.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    In their own words: three Volunteers on how the Global Reentry Program has made a difference see more

    Three returned Peace Corps Volunteers talk about some of the tough aspects of readjusting to life after service — including being evacuated in 2020. And how the Global Reentry Program has made a difference.

    By Dan Baker

     

    It’s been just over a year since National Peace Corps Association launched the Global Reentry Program to support evacuated Volunteers in a time of crisis. “If you need help, reach out to an RPCV through the Global Reentry Program, and you will find it,” says Hugh McIvor, a Volunteer who was evacuated from Costa Rica. 

    He and fellow returned Volunteers Mariana Cubillos (Panama 2018–20) and Jennifer Gonzales (Namibia 2015–18) talk about how the Global Reentry Program has made a tremendous difference for them. 
     

     

     

    The program continues to grow and expand support for returned Volunteers with readjustment at home after service, providing resources to overcome challenges and take the next steps toward healthy lives and successful careers. 

    The Global Reentry Program now encompasses programs such as Peer Support Circles, the ”Jobs with Jodi“ podcast, professional development webinars, intensive “boot camps” for job-seekers, programs geared specifically to mid-career professionals, and a virtual career fair. 

    It’s the right thing to do for the Peace Corps community — and supporting returning Volunteers helps amplify the value of their service for years to come.

    Follow Global Reentry events on the NPCA calendar and by signing up for the monthly newsletter for details on new programs and offerings.

    Questions and ideas? Email us at reentry@peacecorpsconnect.org


    Dan Baker is Director of the Global Reentry Program.