Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers: Then and Now, We Continue to Serve see more
Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers: Then and Now, We Continue to Serve — a conversation convened as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Pictured: “Gül” in Turkish, “rose” in English. Margo Jones served as a Volunteer in the village of Asagisayak, then in the city of Bolu.
On September 25, 2021, Jodi Hammer hosted a panel of Volunteers who have been evacuated from the countries where they were serving — in the 1960s and in 2020. Hammer was a Volunteer in Ecuador 1994–97 and serves as Career Support Specialist at National Peace Corps Association. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation. Watch the full conversation here.
I decided in high school that I wanted to go into the Peace Corps. My parents were not thrilled. I was invited to Turkey. I graduated from college and went into training at Portland State. Turkish was my fifth language. At a university in Ankara, we spent a month learning more Turkish. I was a rural community development worker, and I went out into my village near the Black Sea at the end of August 1966.
Asagisayak: Villagers where Margo Jones served as a Volunteer. Photo by Margo Jones
The village had no running water. We went to the well in the morning at 5:30, a social event with the women. We did not have toilet facilities. For food we had no refrigeration. We went to a market once a week, and you bought what you could eat.
I initially bought a few canned things. When I opened them, they had worms, so I threw them out. We had one big oven and baked bread once a week.
Where she called home: In Turkey, Margo Jones’ landlady with her son. Photo by Margo Jones
I got a driver and seven days a week went to villages and taught girls basic healthcare. I got an infection in one of my fingers, and they wanted to amputate. I said, “No, I came in with ten, I’m leaving with ten.” I had menstrual problems. But what brought me down was amoebic dysentery. They decided to evacuate me in March 1967. On my flight, a Peace Corps doctor accompanied me back to the East Coast.
Many we had not talked to in 50-some years. They were all willing to come back and do it again.
Three weeks later, the Peace Corps asked if I’d like to go train for India. I said, I’m still sick. They sent me to a doctor at George Washington University Hospital. I was still seeing him for a year.
I felt Peace Corps was the best experience I’ve ever had. Financially, it was a problem. We were paid $150 a month in Turkey; that wasn’t enough to live on. I bought a bed but had to return it before I left, because I hadn’t fully paid for it. Then we were paid $150 per month at home. That didn’t go far with renting an apartment in Washington, D.C. My mom helped; she understood a little better than my dad why I was doing this.
I loved the commercial that said: Is the glass half empty? Or is the glass half full? The Peace Corps person believes it’s always half full. In February 2021, I set out to find the 35 people in our group. In September, my site mate and I hosted a Zoom meeting; of the 30 people still alive, 17 participated. Many we had not talked to in 50-some years. They were all willing to come back and do it again.
Photo: Ron and pet rabbit devour a book. Courtesy Ron Bloch
In 1966, when I graduated from college, I had a choice between the U.S. Army and Peace Corps. I chose the Peace Corps. We went to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish, and I was sent to Venezuela. There were 400 Volunteers there.
I was assigned to work in the high-rise slums of Caracas — some 80 buildings, and 5,000 people in my building alone. I got involved in community development. I was there 18 months out of 24.
Congress was debating whether military service and Peace Corps service should be equal. I was a test case; it went all the way to the presidential board, and I was drafted.
I became a first lieutenant; the army, in their wisdom, assigned me to South Korea in charge of tactical nuclear weapons. All that taught me a lot about flexibility, resilience, and humor.
High-rises in Caracas — where Ron Bloch served with the Peace Corps before the Army cut his service short and sent him to Korea. Photo by Ron Bloch.
I had a career in recruiting and outplacement career management, so I’ve offered a service to returned Volunteers reviewing résumés. I’ve helped over 4,000 so far. I keep, in my office, postcards they have sent from around the world — the only thing I ask for.
We share some sad news from December 28, 2021: Ron Bloch passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He dedicated literally thousands of hours to supporting fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. We’re tremendously grateful for his work and care, and he will be deeply missed.
I was part of group 54. I arrived in August 2019 and was teaching in Mohyliv-Podilskyi in south-central Ukraine. I was evacuated because of COVID-19 in March 2020. The evacuation process itself was about four days in Kyiv, trying to figure out when we’d be able to find a flight back to the United States. Countries were shutting down airports.
When all that happened, I was just getting into a groove, feeling connected with my community, students, and colleagues. I was in Kharkiv when I found out about evacuation; I texted my host family: I’m leaving. I’m sorry. I don’t know if guilt is the right word for what I was feeling; it was frustrating and upsetting.
I arrived in Ohio, and the next day things went into a full shutdown. Everyone was experiencing culture shock in the U.S. I struggled with the economic tailspin. I was sitting in my quarantine hotel, thinking, What am I going to do? We were watching opportunities shut down.
Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association did a good job hosting lots of virtual events, providing résumé help. Some graduate schools extended their application deadlines. I ended up going to grad school in international relations at University of Chicago. I wrote my thesis on Euromaidan and Ukrainian civil society. I am also involved in the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, trying to continue those connections between the U.S. and Ukraine.
I work as a senior programs associate for Venture for America. Being able to communicate about things that are very difficult, dealing with people who have different cultural norms — that helped a lot when I was job searching. I would also say rely on the Peace Corps network. My friends were the best.
Guyana 2017–19; South Africa 2020
I was inspired by my mother to serve in the Peace Corps; she was a Volunteer in Botswana 2010–12. After serving in Guyana, I applied to go to South Africa and arrived January 2020. I was just at the end of pre-service training when the evacuation happened. It was about 36 hours from when we found out until we were on a plane.
I did have quite a bit of culture shock coming back — especially because of a scarcity mindset in the U.S. Compared to where I had been, there was abundance. We have running water, electricity, I have a flush toilet. I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury. It was very confusing.
I did have quite a bit of culture shock coming back — especially because of a scarcity mindset in the U.S. Compared to where I had been, there was abundance. It was very confusing.
Peace Corps did a lot of outreach about volunteer and employment opportunities. The organization I’m supporting, as a crisis counselor for survivors of sexual assault, I found through that outreach. But after I closed my service in Guyana, I had a real struggle with mental and emotional health. Resources Peace Corps had were completely insufficient and hard to access. I’m in Oakland, California; there were a lot of providers on the list they provided. No one I called knew how they ended up on that list, and they wouldn’t take the Peace Corps insurance. I contacted Peace Corps; the response was dismissive. We hope you figure it out. I hope that changes in RPCV healthcare include a boost in mental health support and reevaluating that list of providers.
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 17, 2022.
Where are we going? Where have we gone? Some answers lie within the pages of this magazine. see more
Sixty years of Peace Corps. Volunteers returning to service. And a first for this magazine.
Illustration by Tim O’Brien
By Steven Boyd Saum
A year ago the cover of WorldView bore the image of a dove encaged by a COVID-like molecule and asked: “What’s the role of Peace Corps now?” It’s a question we’re still seeking to answer. There were then, as now, no Volunteers in the field — though staff in posts across the globe were sustaining connections with communities. And tens of thousands of returned Volunteers, whether they had been abruptly evacuated because of the pandemic or had served decades before in countries where Peace Corps programs no longer existed, were working as best they knew how to nurture the flame of peace and friendship in a dark time.
A snapshot — from an ad that ran four decades ago: Statue of Liberty, arm pointed toward an exit stage right, and a suggestion for how to make America a better place: Leave the country. Only part of the journey, that. “Maybe it’s not just what you do in the Peace Corps that counts. But what you do when you get back.”
If you return stateside, that is. Get back. Because, of course, central to the imperative for launching this audacious Peace Corps mission 60 years ago was the fact that this nation needed to do better when it came to understanding people and communities around the world: speaking languages, listening, and grasping on a truly human level how the best of intentions — not to mention policies conceived in cynicism or indifference to suffering — might exact a terrible cost. And that understanding should inform the work of diplomats and those who serve as hands-on workers and leaders alike in diplomacy and education, alleviating poverty and bolstering public health, and so much more.
GET BACK. A phrase zipping around the zeitgeist these days, and not only thanks to an epic Beatles documentary. Get back to a sense of common purpose, a sense that service might unite us and enable us to better address the most daunting problems facing our planet. That’s one of the conversations taking place in this edition.
Get back to a sense of common purpose, a sense that service might unite us and enable us to better address the most daunting problems facing our planet.
So is this: Peace Corps Volunteers are about to get back into service in countries around the world. Whatever title they carry, related to education or the environment or public health, all will have a role to play when it comes to fighting COVID-19. After the unprecedented evacuation, everything will be different. But the work of Volunteers and Peace Corps staff in battling smallpox and Ebola and HIV/AIDS over the decades means this is not entirely uncharted territory. And the person-to-person connections that define the Peace Corps experience couldn’t be more important.
Which is one more reason we’re heartened that this fall, WorldView brought home top honors in the FOLIO Awards, honoring magazine editorial and design excellence. The aforementioned cover of the Fall 2020 edition, illustrated by David Plunkert, earned an OZZIE design award for best cover. And, in an award that recognizes the work of dozens of contributors, WorldView earned an EDDIE award for editorial excellence for a series of articles in the Summer 2020 edition. Telling the stories of Peace Corps Volunteers who were evacuated from around the world in 2020, the series captures the experiences of Volunteers and the communities in which they were serving, and the unfinished business left behind.
These awards mark the first time that this magazine — published for the Peace Corps community for more than three decades — has earned such recognition. The awards, presented on October 14 at the FOLIO gala in New York City, have honored top work in publishing for more than a quarter century and draw competition from across the United States and internationally. It’s rewarding to see outstanding work recognized. Even more important is amplifying the voices of the Peace Corps community in this unprecedented time.
SO HERE WE ARE, with this special 60th anniversary edition. Even before the pandemic hit, it hardly seemed appropriate to serve up a self-congratulatory feast of nostalgia. Too much is happening, and too much on the line.
Let’s end, then, with beginnings: the cover of this magazine. An iconic portrait of John F. Kennedy from illustrator Tim O’Brien. Six decades after this Peace Corps endeavor took flight, we ask: Where are we going? Where have we gone?
Some answers lie within the print and digital pages of this magazine. So many more have yet to be written.
This note appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
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. Write him.
A film chronicling the work by Response Volunteers fighting COVID-19 in the U.S. in 2021 see more
On December 2 the agency premiered a film chronicling the work by Peace Corps Response Volunteers in 2021 to help fight COVID-19 in the United States.
By NPCA Staff
In 2021, for the second time in the agency’s 60-year history, Peace Corps Response Volunteers deployed in the U.S., at the request of FEMA, to support vaccination efforts.
We shared stories from some of those Volunteers in the Summer 2021 edition of WorldView. On December 2, the Peace Corps premiered a documentary, “Peace Corps Response to COVID,” following Volunteers through their three-month journey as they used skills honed during their Peace Corps service to help communities in need here at home. “The Peace Corps network is always prepared to meet the moment,” said Acting Director Carol Spahn, “whether that’s here at home or with our partner communities around the world.”
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Invitations have been sent for Volunteers to return to five countries see more
Eight posts have met criteria for Volunteers to return. Invitations are out for five: Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Zambia. And the agency is recruiting returned Volunteers for the Virtual Service Pilot.
Colombia mural: one of the countries to for which Peace Corps has sent out invitations for Volunteers to return in 2022. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
By NPCA Staff
It’s the news that thousands of us have been waiting to hear since March 2020: The Peace Corps has begun issuing invitations for Volunteers to return to service overseas. Eight posts have met the agency’s criteria when it comes to “robust health, safety, and security standards that must be met prior to Volunteers returning to countries of service.” And invitations have begun going out for Volunteers, both new and returning, to serve in Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Zambia. More invitations are forthcoming.
Volunteers have been invited to serve beginning in late January to March, “so long as conditions allow,” the agency notes. “As part of the Peace Corps’ return to service, all Volunteers will be expected to contribute to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. In addition, Volunteers will be required to accept the additional risks associated with volunteering during a pandemic and comply with agency standards for mitigating these risks, wherever possible.”
“Regardless of sector, every Volunteer will be involved in mobilizing for vaccination response, overcoming vaccine hesitancy, recovering educational gains that were lost … We are very inspired to get out and be part of the solution as we recover from the isolation and the impact of COVID-19.”
—Carol Spahn, Acting Director of the Peace Corps
In a conversation hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California on December 2 — the same day Peace Corps announced the news on its website — Acting Director Carol Spahn underscored that COVID-19 “has impacted each and every country we serve. So regardless of sector, every Volunteer will be involved in mobilizing for vaccination response, overcoming vaccine hesitancy, recovering educational gains that were lost … We are very inspired to get out and be part of the solution as we recover from the isolation and the impact of COVID-19.”
As country director for Peace Corps in Malawi, Spahn has seen “the real importance of Volunteers’ contributions at the last mile” when it comes to controlling HIV/AIDS — a scourge that has been with us 40 years now. Likewise, Spahn cited Volunteers’ historic work to help end smallpox in Ethiopia and Afghanistan, part of global efforts that led to the eradication of smallpox more than four decades ago.
Green field: flag of Zambia, one of the posts Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited to return to in 2022. The nation first hoisted this flag in 1964. Since Volunteers first arrived in 1994, more than 2,400 have served. Photo by Mykhailo Polenok/Alamy
Virtual Volunteering Positions Are Open, Too
The agency is seeking participants for a new and expanded round of the Virtual Service Pilot program as well. Partners from 28 countries and more than 230 returned Volunteers have participated since October 2020. The new round is open to any Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who is prepared to spend 5 to 15 hours per week working with a host country partner.
This story appears in the 60th anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated December 19, 2021 at 2 PM Eastern.
Steven Saum posted an articleSome moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today see more
Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today. Plus a year-by-year look at countries where Peace Corps programs began.
Researched by Ellery Pollard, Emi Krishnamurthy, Sarah Steindl, Nathalie Vadnais, and Orrin Luc
At right: the 10th-anniversary Peace Corps stamp, issued in 1972. Image courtesy Peace Corps
As part of the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps in 2021, WorldView magazine has published a series of timelines tracking Peace Corps’ beginnings — and we’ve traced the 25-year history of Peace Corps Response. Explore more here:
Annotation: Changing World | The Globe in 1961, the year the Peace Corps was founded
1961: Towering Task Edition | A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged
Peace Corps Response: Snapshots from the First Quarter Century | In 2021 Peace Corps Response marked a quarter century since its founding. Some moments that have defined it.
“Dove of Peace” by Howard Jessor, on the cover of Foreign Service Journal, December 1963 edition. The publication is literally on press, in November 1963, when news breaks that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association
In Greensboro, North Carolina, four Black college students sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and are denied service. A six-month protest results in desegregation of the lunch counter by summer.
Nations gaining independence from Britain and France include Nigeria, Cameroon, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Madagascar, Benin, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Togo, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Mauritania.
“How many of you are willing?” JFK’s campaign speech at the University of Michigan presents the idea of the Peace Corps.
In a speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, John F. Kennedy uses the term “Peace Corps” and calls for revitalizing U.S. global engagement.
JFK at the Cow Palace. Photo courtesy OpenSFHistory.org
John F. Kennedy inaugurated as president. He declares, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Sargent Shriver outlines steps to forming the Peace Corps in a memo to JFK. Central are ideas put forth in “The Towering Task,” a memo by William Josephson and Warren Wiggins.
Executive Order 10924 establishes the Peace Corps. Sargent Shriver is appointed its first director on March 4.
Bay of Pigs invasion
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin training for Colombia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Ghana.
Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom.
Berlin Wall erected overnight.
Sargent Shriver leads the first groups of Peace Corps Volunteers to the Rose Garden for a send-off by President Kennedy.
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives at Accra Airport in Ghana.
Peace Corps Act signed into law by President Kennedy, creating the Peace Corps as an independent agency with a mission to “promote world peace and friendship.”
Newsweek magazine cover: “Peace Corps in Action: Ira Gwin”
In Colombia, a plane crash in the jungle kills more than 30 people — including Larry Radley and David Crozier, the first Peace Corps Volunteers to die during service.
There are 2,816 Volunteers in the field.
Nations gaining independence from Britain, France, and Belgium: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda
Cuban Missile Crisis
Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps appear on the cover of Time.
At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech.
President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas.
Kenya gains independence from Great Britain.
In State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson announces a “War on Poverty” in the U.S.
Mr. Ed the talking horse wants to join the Peace Corps.
Freedom Summer voter registration drive
While still directing the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver begins serving as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Establishes Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents, and Legal Services for the Poor.
Malcolm X assassinated in New York.
The Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights begins — is met with brutal force by police.
LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah overthrown by a military coup.
Sargent Shriver steps down as Peace Corps director. LBJ appoints Jack Vaughn director.
15,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving — the highest number yet. That record still holds.
Guyana, Botswana, and Lesotho gain independence from Great Britain.
Lillian Carter, mother of future president Jimmy Carter, departs for Peace Corps service at the age of 68 as a public health Volunteer in India.
“Volunteers to America” Peace Corps initiative brings people from other countries — including Argentina, Ghana, Nepal, the Philippines, Iran, and Israel — to serve in impoverished areas in the United States. The program lasts until 1971, when it is defunded by Congress.
Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam.
Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis.
Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles.
Soviet Union leads Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends and end the “Prague Spring.”
Joseph Blatchford appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
June 28–July 3
Apollo 11 moon landing
Now we are ten: Released in 1972, this poster by artist Patrick Koeller wins a competition for a design marking the first decade of the Peace Corps. Courtesy West Michigan Graphic Design Archives
First Earth Day
President Nixon orders U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia.
Members of Ohio National Guard fire into crowd of demonstrators at Kent State University; four are killed, nine wounded.
Twelve members of a group calling themselves the Committee of Returned Volunteers enter the fourth-floor offices of the Peace Corps and seal off a wing. They occupy offices for several days and hang a Viet Cong flag through the window.
Greenpeace founded in Canada.
The Pentagon Papers, a study by the U.S. Department of Defense about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, are published in The New York Times.
Executive Order 11603: President Nixon folds the Peace Corps into a new federal volunteer agency, ACTION. Kevin O’Donnell is appointed Peace Corps director.
The first Peace Corps stamp is issued in the U.S.
Police arrest burglars in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Evidence will link the break-in to Nixon’s reelection campaign.
Donald Hess appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
U.S. Supreme Court issues 7–2 decision in Roe v. Wade, ruling that states cannot completely bar a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy.
Nick Craw appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
Endangered Species Act signed into law.
President Nixon resigns.
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie deposed following a Marxist military coup.
First Returned Peace Corps Volunteers elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (Dominican Republic 1966–68) and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (Ethiopia 1962–64).
John Dellenback appointed Peace Corps director by President Ford.
Saigon falls to communist troops from North Vietnam. Mozambique and Comoros gain independence from Portugal and France.
The Concorde takes flight — first supersonic commercial air travel.
The United States celebrates its bicentennial.
Apple II computer, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 introduced, beginning the personal computer craze.
South African activist Steve Biko dies after suffering a massive head injury in police custody.
Carolyn Robertson Payton appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter. She is the first woman and first Black American to serve in that role.
Iranian Revolution begins. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran will be stormed in November 1979.
Rainbow (Gay Pride) flag created by Gilbert Baker.
Peace Corps closes its post in Afghanistan. In December, Soviet troops invade the country.
National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV) founded. It will evolve into National Peace Corps Association.
Richard F. Celeste appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter.
Executive Order 12137: President Carter grants the Peace Corps full autonomy.
The dove at 25: In 1987, this Peace Corps logo adorns a budget presentation to Congress. Volunteers partner with communities to address problems that include “hunger and malnutrition, infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy and limited educational opportunities, inadequate health care, and declining natural resources.” Image courtesy Peace Corps
World Health Assembly declares that smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.
As Peace Corps marks its 20th anniversary, the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers hosts the first national Peace Corps conference in Washington, D.C.
Loret Miller Ruppe appointed Peace Corps director by President Reagan. She serves eight years, more than any other director before or since.
First case of AIDS identified. In U.S. it is initially called “gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).”
Belize gains independence from Great Britain.
Legislation grants Peace Corps its independence as an agency.
Mexico tells the U.S. it can no longer service its $80 billion debt. Brazil, Argentina, and virtually every other country in Latin America is unable to pay back loans, triggering a regional economic crisis.
The Internet is born when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) adopts the standard TCP/IP protocol of the World Wide Web.
Peace Corps establishes the Small Project Assistance (SPA) program.
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh.
In Bhopal, India, 30 tons of methylisocyanate, an industrial gas used to make pesticide, are released at a Union Carbide plant, killing some 15,000 people.
Loret Miller Ruppe signs a letter of agreement establishing the Coverdell Fellows Program with founder Dr. Beryl Levinger (Colombia 1967–69).
For the first time in Peace Corps history, more women than men begin service as Volunteers.
Letter home: In 1986, Tuvalu commemorates the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. Volunteers began serving in the Pacific island nation in 1977. Courtesy PeaceCorpsOnline.org
Lillian Carter Award established to honor those over the age of 50 who have served and advanced the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. Lillian’s son, President Jimmy Carter, calls the award “a wonderful celebration of what is best about the Peace Corps — offering up some of America’s best to the world, and bringing the world home to other Americans.”
Reactor 4 at Chernobyl explodes in Ukrainian S.S.R. — worst nuclear disaster ever in terms of casualties and cost.
Wole Soyinka of Nigeria becomes the first African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.
The number of Peace Corps Volunteers serving drops to new low: 5,219. Government mistrust and aftermath of the Vietnam War take their toll.
The Peace Corps and its 120,000 current and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are honored with the Beyond War Award for their commitment to nonviolence.
Black Monday on the U.S. stock market. Dow plummets 508 points, more than 22 percent.
Barbara Jo White (Dominican Republic 1987–89) creates the World Map Project, which has been replicated by Peace Corps Volunteers in countries around the world.
Coffee bearing the Fair Trade label is introduced.
Paul D. Coverdell appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Coverdell establishes World Wise Schools program (WWS) to connect American educators in classrooms with Peace Corps Volunteers.
Berlin Wall falls. On November 17, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia leads to end of communism there. That same date, in El Salvador, a military hit squad murders six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter.
Civil war begins in Liberia, pitting Charles M. Taylor against former subordinate Prince Johnson. Fighting lasts until 1996.
You’ve got mail: In 1993, Fiji celebrates the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in communities there. Courtesy David Downes
Poland’s ruling communist party votes to dissolve. In ensuing elections, Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity Movement and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wins the presidency.
Nelson Mandela freed from prison in South Africa after 27 years.
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin serving in Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
Iraq invades Kuwait.
LGBT RPCV formed in Washington, D.C.
First Gulf War begins, with a U.S.-led coalition driving invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
First website appears on World Wide Web.
Elaine Chao appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Soviet Union dissolves.
Former Peace Corps medical officer Mae Jemison travels into space on Shuttle Endeavor. She is first Black American woman in space.
Terrorists detonate a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center, killing 6, wounding more than 100, and causing more than 50,000 people to evacuate.
Following a referendum, Eritrea breaks away from Ethiopia to become an independent nation.
AmeriCorps established by the National and Community Service Trust Act, creating a “domestic Peace Corps.”
Carol Bellamy (Guatemala 1963–65) sworn in as Peace Corps director. She is the first Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to hold the post.
European Union becomes reality.
A new constitution takes effect in South Africa, officially ending the apartheid system.
Domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols park a truck bomb beneath the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At least 168 people are killed in the explosion, including 19 children in a childcare center located in the building.
Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania create Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
Mark D. Gearan appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
Peace Corps sends three Volunteers to Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis — a step toward creation of Crisis Corps.
Crisis Corps officially launched at a Rose Garden ceremony to send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on short-term, high-impact assignments.
Scientists in Scotland clone Dolly the Sheep — the first cloning of a mammal.
Kofi A. Annan becomes Secretary General of the U.N. He is the first sub-Saharan African to hold the post.
First cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives in South Africa.
In Menlo Park, California, grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin launch search engine Google.
NATO airstrikes begin against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, aimed at halting actions by Slobodan Milošević’s government against ethnic Albanians, and forcing it to withdraw from Kosovo.
First commercial camera phone introduced.
Mark L. Schneider (El Salvador 1966–68) appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
“A Common Mission: Peace Corps and Foreign Service” is the theme of the October 2008 edition of Foreign Service Journal, with cover illustration by Philippe Béha /i2iart.com. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association
International Space Station opens.
It is estimated that some 36 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus.
High Atlas Foundation established in Morocco by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to further sustainable development.
Terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Peace Corps recruiting office in Building 6 of WTC is destroyed when the Twin Towers collapse. Volunteers will be evacuated from Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
A U.S.-led coalition begins a bombing campaign against Afghanistan and later begins a ground offensive.
Gaddi H. Vasquez appointed Peace Corps director by President George W. Bush. He is the first Hispanic American to serve as director.
The Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
U.S. invades Iraq; second Gulf War begins.
Sequence mapping of the human genome is completed.
The Peace Corps commits an additional 1,000 Volunteers to fight HIV/AIDS.
The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience project is introduced at the National Peace Corps Association Group Leaders annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Disputed parliamentary elections in nation of Georgia lead to the Rose Revolution.
Disputed presidential elections in Ukraine lead to the Orange Revolution.
A massive earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggers a tsunami, killing more than 200,000. Peace Corps Response Volunteers assist with relief efforts in several nations.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath, Peace Corps Response Volunteers are deployed domestically for the first time to assist with relief efforts.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becomes the first African woman to lead an African nation when she is elected president of Liberia.
Atlas Corps founded to bring individuals on service fellowships to the U.S., earning reputation as a “reverse Peace Corps.”
The International Astronomical Union demotes Pluto to the status of dwarf planet.
Ronald A. Tschetter (India 1966–68) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Apple debuts the iPhone.
Peace Corps Prep program inaugurated at select U.S. colleges.
Crisis Corps is renamed Peace Corps Response — a name that better captures the broad range of assignments Volunteers are undertaking.
Peace Corps returns to Liberia after an absence of nearly two decades.
Barack Obama inaugurated president. National Peace Corps Association leads returned Volunteers in the inaugural parade.
After leaving Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Peace Corps Volunteers return to begin working in secondary education and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Kate Puzey, a Volunteer in Benin, is murdered after reporting the sexual abuse of girls within her community by a Peace Corps staff member.
Joseph Acaba (Dominican Republic 1994–96) becomes first returned Volunteer to serve as a NASA astronaut, making his first trip to space aboard Shuttle Discovery.
Aaron S. Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Fiftieth anniversary project, launched thanks to a letter from Congressman John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68) to Librarian of Congress James Billington. Among those thanked: Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962–64) of Peace Corps Writers. Courtesy Library of Congress
Total number of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served surpasses 200,000.
National Peace Corps Association introduces new logo.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti, killing some 200,000.
Explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig kills 11 people and spills more than 3 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
Peace Corps HQ begins presenting the Franklin H. Williams Award, named for an early agency leader. Established by the New York recruiting office in 1999, the award recognizes ethnically diverse returned Volunteers committed to promoting understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. The agency reopens programs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.
ABC news program “20/20” airs “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed,” telling the story of Kate Puzey.
Peace Corps releases 50th-anniversary commemorative print by artist Shepard Fairey.
President Obama signs the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act into law.
CorpsAfrica is launched by RPCV Liz Fanning to give young Africans the opportunity to work with communities in a Peace Corps–style program.
Egypt’s first competitive presidential election. Mohamed Morsi wins. After months of protests, he is overthrown in a coup in July 2013.
RPCV and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens killed in attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Volunteer Nick Castle dies in China after failing to receive adequate medical care; his parents call for Peace Corps reform and begin advocacy work that continues to this day.
Peace Corps approves assignments for same-sex partners.
Nelson Mandela dies.
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. Russia seizes Crimea and then backs separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Western Samoa 1982–83) appointed Peace Corps director by President Obama.
Ebola sweeps across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, eventually killing 11,000 people. Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers in August. Peace Corps staff in Guinea step up to play an instrumental role in contact tracing and training.
Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announce Let Girls Learn, an initiative to expand access to education for girls around the world. Peace Corps begins a close collaboration with the First Lady to address barriers to education for girls.
U.S. Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage is legal.
Peace Corps receives 23,000 applications during the fiscal year, breaking 40-year record.
Terror attacks in Paris kill 130, wound 494. ISIS claims responsibility.
Peace Corps logo gets a makeover, alongside a refreshed brand platform and new website.
#MeToo movement gains prominence after widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Volunteer Bernice Heiderman, serving in Comoros, dies due to undiagnosed malaria. As her story is told, it raises hard questions about how Volunteer illness is handled during service.
Dr. Josephine (Jody) K. Olsen (Tunisia 1966–68) is sworn in as Peace Corps director.
President Trump signs the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act into law. Key provisions: strengthening criteria for hiring overseas medical officers, and supporting Volunteers victimized by sexual assault or other forms of violence.
National Peace Corps Association marks its 40th anniversary.
“A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” documentary premieres at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Peace Corps announces the “graduation” of the program in China.
World Health Organization declares COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unprecedented decision, all Peace Corps Volunteers are evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19.
Killing of George Floyd sparks national and then global protests against racial injustice.
Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen announces Peace Corps program to launch in Viet Nam in 2022.
National Peace Corps Association hosts town halls and ideas summit as part of Peace Corps Connect to the Future. This results in a report on how to reimagine, retool, and reshape the Peace Corps for a changed world.
Peace Corps launches Virtual Service Pilot program for evacuated Volunteers to continue working with countries where they were serving.
A violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol attempts to stop the certification of the presidential election.
Carol Spahn (Romania 1994–96) assumes responsibilities as acting director of the Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68). It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades.
Peace Corps deploys Response Volunteers with FEMA at community vaccination centers to fight COVID-19 — only the second time they have served domestically. Staff who continue to serve at posts around the world also partner in efforts to fight COVID-19.
Last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, after two decades of fighting.
NPCA hosts 60th-anniversary Peace Corps Connect. The theme: “Mobilizing for a Lifetime of Service and Impact.”
Volunteers are invited to return to service in five countries.
Peace Corps Place, new headquarters for National Peace Corps Association, to open in Truxton Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C., providing a home for the Peace Corps community with a café and event space.
PEACE CORPS BEGINNINGS: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY
And year by year — beginning in August 1961, and looking toward plans in 2022.
1961 | Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania)
1962 | Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Malaysia, Nepal, Niger, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela
1963 | Costa Rica, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Malawi, Morocco, Panama, Uruguay
1964 | Kenya, Uganda
1966 | Botswana, Chad, Grenada, Guyana, Republic of Korea, Libya, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau, Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis
1967 | Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Dominica, The Gambia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Samoa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga
1968 | Barbados, Benin, Fiji, Nicaragua
1969 | Mauritius, Swaziland (now Eswatini)
1970 | Malta, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo)
1971 | Mali, Solomon Islands
1972 | Central African Republic (CAR)
1973 | Oman, Yemen
1974 | Bahrain, Kiribati, Montserrat, Seychelles
1975 | Rwanda
1977 | Tuvalu
1980 | Anguilla, Turks and Caicos
1981 | Papua New Guinea
1982 | Cook Islands, Haiti
1983 | Burundi
1984 | Sudan
1986 | Marshall Islands
1988 | Cape Verde, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau
1990 | Czechoslovakia (now Czechia and Slovakia), Hungary, Namibia, Poland, São Tomé and Príncipe, Vanuatu
1991 | Bulgaria, Republic of the Congo, Mongolia, Romania, Zimbabwe
1992 | Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
1993 | China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Moldova, Turkmenistan
1994 | Niue, Zambia
1995 | Eritrea, Suriname
1996 | Macedonia (now North Macedonia)
1997 | Jordan, South Africa
1998 | Bangladesh, Mozambique
2000 | Bosnia and Herzegovina
2001 | Georgia
2002 | Timor-Leste
2003 | Azerbaijan
2004 | Mexico
2007 | Cambodia
2014 | Kosovo
2016 | Myanmar
2020 | Montenegro
2022 | Viet Nam
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 12, 2022 at 8:45 a.m. to correct spelling.
Comments or suggestions? Write us. | Story updated December 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM.
Acting Director Carol Spahn on the state of the Peace Corps in 2021. see more
No Volunteers in the field. Battling COVID-19 — and the global rollout of virtual volunteering. Remarks and Q&A with Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Pictured: In Morocco, partners and volunteer participants team up as part of the Virtual Service Pilot — which has fostered collaboration on projects around the world since October 2020. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Morocco.
Carol Spahn has served as acting director of the Peace Corps since January 2021. She previously served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 and later as country director for Malawi and chief of operations for the Africa region. She spoke on September 23, 2021, as part of the opening evening of Peace Corps Connect 2021. The Q&A was moderated by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Below is an edited version of their conversation. Watch the entire conversation here.
Carol Spahn: I can think of nothing more important than being here today with the Peace Corps family. It is such a gift to be part of this community that continues to show up years and decades later, to be with each other and to work together to make the world a better place, to make the agency the best that it can be. We value you. We are listening, we are here with you. And we really thank you for your support. I know that most of you have a burning question on your minds, which is: When will Volunteers get back out into service? I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the enormity of the pandemic’s impacts on health, safety, and well-being around the world, as well as the disproportionate impact that it has had on many of the countries where Volunteers served. We are all anxious to get out there and be a part of the solution. Finding the balance between the health and safety of our Volunteers in our communities has been one of the biggest challenges of my time as acting director.
When we first evacuated Volunteers in March 2020 — in itself an amazing feat; we evacuated almost 7,000 Volunteers in just eight days — we thought we would turn around and get Volunteers back into service three or four months later, after COVID passed. We got to work putting procedures in place, setting up expedited applications, and working hard to make sure that we were ready. As we were gearing up to get Volunteers back into service, we hit the second wave of the pandemic. So we pulled back.
When I took this position in January 2021, we thought, We will get Volunteers vaccinated, and we will be able to get them right back out into service. Then the delta variant hit. At this time, we recognize that COVID will be with us for some time. None of us expected to be having this conversation still, 18 months after the evacuation of Volunteers.
We are evaluating every country individually. We have seen how they’ve handled the pandemic — and multiple waves — in their own communities. We are assessing their health systems as well as other factors, like medical evacuation hubs, and the availability and stability of those hubs. We have several countries that are making it through our very rigorous process. We are hopeful that we will be able to get some Volunteers out toward the beginning of 2022. But we know that the pandemic does continue to throw us curveballs. We will get Volunteers out as soon as it is safe to do so.
When I think about this time, I think about what cultural anthropologists call a liminal experience. This is a disorienting period when things are neither here nor there, when things have been so disrupted that we are forced to think about things differently. And this is not just Peace Corps. This is happening around the world.
We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.
But when I think about Peace Corps’ role in the world and our rich history, there are so many examples of how Peace Corps has helped to rebuild countries following civil war, disasters; how we came in after apartheid, after the end of the Cold War, and much more. We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.
Peace Corps Volunteers know how to listen first, to see what’s possible, to inspire collaboration, to challenge the status quo, and to handle uncertainty. We withstand adversity, we learn through hardship, we adapt to changing circumstances, we innovate, we partner, we fail, and we come back again, until the problem has been solved. In fact, we demand to be challenged, to have our beliefs questioned, to ask hard questions, and to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And we make lifelong friends around the world along the way.
I’ve been so inspired during this time to see how the broad Peace Corps community has stepped up, surrounded by so many of you — and so many staff members — whose very nature it is to raise your hand, to jump off the sidelines, to approach obstacles, and to get in there and solve problems. I am grateful to the 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers who closed their service in August after contributing to the domestic whole-of-government efforts to reach underserved communities with critical health information and access. The stories from this partnership with FEMA, only the second time that Peace Corps has deployed domestically in our history, have been amazing.
Evacuated from Ukraine in March 2020, Kevin Lawson served as a Response Volunteer in 2021 in the U.S. to battle COVID-19. Photo by Meghan White / Peace Corps
We have Volunteers who reached out to a homeless community in Oregon. The people there did not want to go to the vaccination site. So what does a Volunteer do? They went back to the vaccination site and brought the doctors and nurses to the people. We have Volunteers who used Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages to reach people — to build trust and connections in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S.
Likewise, I’m profoundly grateful to our 240 Virtual Service Pilot participants. Through this engagement, you’ve challenged the status quo and demonstrated that, through technology, we can realize impact and that partnerships can be sustained. Participants serving virtually in Nepal are supporting government health and agricultural workers to combat growing food insecurity and economic hardship attributable to COVID-19. Virtual service participants in the Eastern Caribbean have developed a blended learning program, and they’re training teachers across four countries to use digital and online learning to help students return to learning and recover from educational disruptions. This virtual service program can tear down barriers to service, both for volunteers who can’t serve overseas and for communities that, for health safety or other logistical reasons, can’t host volunteers in person.
For the latest round of this pilot, we have returned Volunteers from every decade — the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and beyond — returning to their country of service virtually, to support them during this time. It is such an amazing tribute to the legacy of Peace Corps, and the real commitment that is not just those two years when a Volunteer serves, but that really extends a lifetime.
In the community of Mantasoa in Madagascar, Peace Corps staff helped launch a vaccination campaign. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the tremendous work being done by our staff around the world. Since the global evacuation, our staff have been working tirelessly to keep advancing Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship. The working partnerships that have emerged organically during this time are remarkable.
In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16. In Timor Leste, staff have been partners to the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and have translated COVID-19 information and guidelines into Tetum and nine other local languages, promoting equitable access to health information throughout the country.
In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16.
Almost every single post around the world is directly contributing at this time to the objectives of the United States’ COVID-19 global response and recovery framework. Technology has been key during this time, not only for the virtual service, but also for our staff. In North Macedonia, after completing our eight-week course developer certificate practicum, our staff partnered with the Ministry of Education and delivered workshops to all 25,000 educators from 1,000 public schools in the country so that they could educate their students virtually. Meanwhile, our global agency has poured time and attention into strengthening our systems.
This time without Volunteers in the field has given us a unique opportunity to make strategic improvements. And I would encourage all to sign up for “Inside Peace Corps,” a newsletter we’re putting out that pulls back the curtain so that you can see improvements that we are making. There are too many to list at this time, but I do want to raise a couple.
First, keeping equity at the heart of our work, we continue to ramp up our intercultural competence, diversity, equity and inclusion practice. We have gained invaluable insights from our RPCV community through the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report through our barrier analysis in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have implemented unconscious bias training for all staff around the world. We will be requiring this training for Volunteers before they go out into service. We are approving a new position that will focus on retention, looking at Volunteers in the pipeline to ensure that we understand what the barriers are for our Volunteers of color, our applicants of color who are applying to the Peace Corps, and that we are at a place to remove those barriers.
We also have a new programming, training, and evaluation system that looks at core competencies — and among those are ICDE&I competencies, through which we are intentionally building accountability to our host countries. These will be used globally, and Volunteers will all be evaluated on a standardized set of ICDE&I competencies, which set clear levels of how Volunteers are expected to master technical skills and demonstrate the agency’s values through their assignments.
There is so much that is going on in this space. You will see a lot of it in our strategic plan when that is released. [It was released December 3. —Ed.] One of the big ideas we were asked to consider in the 2020 “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was around ethical storytelling. We’ve taken this recommendation seriously and are developing an ethical storytelling toolkit for staff, Volunteers, and RPCVs. That will equip us all with the awareness and communication tools necessary to keep our host communities at the heart of our storytelling. Through this work, we aspire to achieve a more ethical and equitable storytelling standard that extends across all of the Peace Corps network, and ensures that Peace Corps members have a sense of belonging and that we are honoring identity throughout.
Finally, I know that many of you have deep concerns about our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program. We are committed to strengthening this program and have been taking a long, hard look at where it can be improved. We’ve taken several actions already that are aimed to reinforce this system, and that also respect the rights, the privacy, and the needs of any Volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault. I am very proud of the advances that the agency has made in this space. And I’m very personally committed and accountable for this work.
I want to end by quoting from a speech that President Biden gave at the U.N. General Assembly. He said, “There is a clear and urgent choice we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures. And whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come.”
This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change.
This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change. But we can create a Peace Corps that transcends the experience we all know and love to create a new and improved Peace Corps, one that encompasses the diverse, equitable, and inclusive vision we have — a vision of an agency that is able to respond quickly to shifting realities, and utilize a variety of creative tools and modalities to combat some of the greatest threats of our lifetime.
We are all inextricably linked to that legacy.
Questions from the community: diversity, virtual service, reducing the risk of sexual assault, and more
Glenn Blumhorst: You mentioned the Peace Corps Connect to the Future summit and report and specific things the agency is implementing, such as ethical storytelling. Are there other recommendations that stand out and that you have been working to implement?
Spahn: It is a report I go back to frequently. As we went through our strategic planning process, it was one of many inputs we factored in. Giving priority to hiring people of color: We will have specific goals and objectives around that, and implementing systems for how to do outreach more intentionally into different communities, both for staff and for Volunteers. We would love to engage the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in helping us do that. There are recommendations about providing financial assistance. We are looking to pilot programming this year to see how we can support Volunteers who might not be able to pay upfront costs of medical clearance. Is there a way we can provide vouchers or other financial support so they do not need to carry costs until they can be reimbursed? We have been partnering with AARP for how to recruit all kinds of diversity into Peace Corps.
Blumhorst: The report was shared with of Congress. Some reforms and improvements and provisions that emanated from that report are in H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, introduced by Congressman Garamendi.
The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place.
Spahn: The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place. The bill really does have a lot of provisions that are very supportive of our Volunteers and our community.
Blumhorst: You touched on a topic that’s one that we really want to lean in on, and listen in on — sexual assault risk reduction and response. What is the status of the congressionally-mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council that is charged with assessing Peace Corps’ efforts to address sexual assault and offer best practices?
Spahn: The council has been meeting since May, several times a month. We’ve asked them to look back over the last five years at recommendations of the council, assess where we are, and see what is relevant from those prior recommendations: where we still have work to do, what are the most important things going forward. They will be preparing a report for us before the end of the year, and we will make that report public. [The report was released in November. — Ed.] I want to thank those advisory council members. Those are unpaid positions — people who care deeply about Peace Corps — and we put a big task in front of them this year. We have also put out a call for proposals and will be having a review of the overall structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program to make sure it is structured in the best way, that we are a continuously learning organization. There is no entity that can say, We have the best way to really meet sexual assault survivors where they are. We are all learning, we’re all growing, and we are committed to listening, improving, and putting systems in place so we can be the best that we can be.
Blumhorst: We recognize the role of staff in the field, preparing the way for Volunteers to return. Meanwhile, tell us about virtual volunteering. What have you learned from current programs?
Spahn: It has shown tremendous promise for how Volunteers can stay engaged long after service, supporting communities in a variety of ways. The beauty of virtual service is that there might be people who can’t clear medically who would still have an option to serve. We might have people with very specific skills a country is looking for, who might not be able to leave home for two years — but could contribute in other ways. We have regions that can’t be reached due to safety and security issues. We saw this with Paraguay — an ecotourism organization and national park site Volunteers were not able to reach for a variety of reasons. There is now a virtual Volunteer helping through radio programming and other ways to support environmental programs.
Will it ever replace the two-year Volunteers and that on-the-ground connection? No. That is where the magic of Peace Corps happens, in living and working together side by side for an extended period of time. But will it be a terrific supplement, using all of the tools that we have at our disposal? Absolutely.
The hardest part is that balancing act — knowing the need at this pivotal time in history… knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and how to do that safely.
The hardest part is really that balancing act — knowing what the need is that’s out there at this pivotal time in history, part of a global pandemic, the likes of which we will hopefully never see again in our lifetime; and knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and struggling through the details to make sure that we can do that safely. That has been the biggest challenge. One of the biggest barriers has been stable access to medical evacuation hubs. We’re setting up backup options and agreements. We’re all here for the mission of Peace Corps, to be out in communities and supporting world peace and friendship. The highs have been seeing innovation and how people have stepped up in many ways: what staff in the field are doing in the absence of Volunteers, and staff at headquarters buckling down to get systems in place so that when we’re ready, we really are the best that we can be.
Blumhorst: How does the agency play a role in helping RPCVs have a lifetime of service and impact?
Spahn: I love the theme of this conference, and have seen in so many ways how RPCVs have stepped up. I want to give a special shout-out to Friends of Tonga, who are a 2021 Library of Congress honoree for best practices for their virtual read-aloud program. As Peace Corps, we are looking to engage with RPCVs and through National Peace Corps Association, to really expand and understand the impact. I encourage everyone to complete the survey that NPCA put out, so that we can really understand that and help support it longer term. Our ethical storytelling kit will be a great tool. And we will be looking to work with RPCVs getting out into underrepresented communities around the United States to really elevate awareness of the Peace Corps.
A perspective from Guatemala — at the NPCA global ideas summit July 18, 2020 see more
A host country perspective from Guatemala. Remarks from the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Luis Argueta
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Luis Argueta — film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission.
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
We are at an unprecedented situation worldwide because of this pandemic. It is a perfect time to ask some very basic questions about humanity in general and about the Peace Corps in particular.
From what I have seen here in Guatemala, the pandemic has revealed the vast differences between a small group of people who have a lot and the large majority who have very little. It has also revealed in its stark nakedness the structural deficiencies of states like Guatemala, where the economic disparities are tremendous. But also where the neglect of the large population for many, many years has caused the current critical situation where, for over 50 years, people's basic needs like education — and today, it's obvious health — have been not addressed.
Watch: Luis Argueta’s remarks at Peace Corps Connect to the Future
The response in Guatemala has been to create hospitals and to augment the number of beds that can be occupied by people who are ill with the COVID-19. That looks like a great solution. But in a system where we don't have basic access to minimal healthcare, this is not the solution.
By addressing this particular need, and by the Peace Corps focusing on the basic health needs of rural communities, we can start focusing on the future. Because when you need to go to a hospital to treat a minor illness that could be treated by a local health post — when there’s not even a clinic in the rural areas — I think we would be serving the communities in a very different way.
The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege.
Something that I have been particularly focusing my work on for the past 12-plus years is migration. And these structural deficiencies — these major differences in the country — have provoked what, to me, is one of the most crucial issues of our times: forced displacement, forced migration and asylum seeking.
The current situation is not making those things better. And even if borders today are closed, once they open — and we hope that will be sooner than later — people will be forced again to leave their homes. So, again, what is the Peace Corps to do at a time like this? I think it is to go and work at the very basic community level and helping better these conditions that are making it impossible for people to stay at home and be with their family and prosper and be healthy.
I don't think that this is a time to be shy about our common links and our historical connections. The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege. And it is to the betterment of everybody we self-reflect on our position in these communities.
At the same time that we self-reflect on our role and our privileges, and the privileges of Volunteers, we should look at the historical ties between the host countries and the U.S. It is a time of many contradictions.
Guatemalan immigrants, and immigrants from many other countries, are today in the U.S. working — and are considered, in many instances, essential workers. However, they also are risking being detained and deported. They're also suffering the effects of the pandemic in larger numbers, as are other minorities and more vulnerable populations in the U.S. We must recognize this.
We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world.
We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world, because of very unfortunate isolationist policies.
So at the same time that we're reaching out to host countries — and hopefully, we will be receiving many more Peace Corps volunteers in the future — they're not issuing visas for my fellow Guatemalans to travel to the U.S. There is the threat of cutting visas even for exchange students who pay full tuition at U.S. universities, let alone temporary workers who go pick the crops in the fields of the U.S. So we must be conscious of these contradictions. And we must relearn the history between our countries.
One of the privileges that we should look at is the fact that, as the pandemic was declared, Peace Corps Volunteers were sent home. Fortunately, they were able to go home and are now with their families. However, this took them away from a place where they had committed to work — and where people without that privilege, that choice, had to remain in a more vulnerable position.
Definitely to me, this is a time of meditation, of self-reflection, and self-analysis — and, as hard as it might seem, to look forward to the future with hope. I wish everybody the best now and in the days to come.
Luis Argueta of Guatemala is a film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission. He is the 2019 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
In a time of global crisis, Lex Rieffel explores new ways forward for Peace Corps. see more
COVID-19 upended systems. Now we’re focused on structural racism like never before. So how can Peace Corps help this nation live up to its ideals?
By Lex Rieffel
Illustration by Sandra Dionsi / Theispot
The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted at the beginning of this year massively disrupted behavior that has for a long time been taken for granted — between people and between nations. Then in May the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under the knee of a policeman sparked unprecedented demonstrations around the world to end systemic racial discrimination and improve social justice.
Years will pass before new patterns of home life and work life become normal and before international relations achieve new forms of openness and interaction. Policies, programs, projects, and institutions will have to be adapted to meet this new reality. It will not be easy. It will require political will not seen since World War II, and a reckoning with racism that precedes the founding of the United States.
As it prepares to celebrate in 2021 its 60th year of working to make the world a better place, the Peace Corps, too, will have to change. Even the three goals announced at its founding will need to be reconsidered:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Perhaps the focus should be less on training and more on meeting global challenges like climate change and conflict.
MY PEACE CORPS GROUP, India XVI, served in the mid-1960s. This was the heyday of the Peace Corps. It had blossomed to become a vibrant agency in less than ten years, with almost 16,000 Volunteers serving in scores of countries. Then the Vietnam War and President Nixon crippled both the supply of volunteers and the demand from host countries, reducing the number of serving Volunteers to under 5,000 in the early 1980s.
A passionate campaign in that decade produced enough bipartisan support in the Congress to stop the decline in the number of Volunteers and begin a slow buildup. However, three successive presidents — Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama — failed to achieve their election campaign pledges to double the number of serving Volunteers from the levels they had inherited; Clinton inherited some 5,400, Obama just over 7,000 — about the number now. There was insufficient support in the Congress for a bigger Peace Corps budget to overcome the opposition of a vocal minority. Voters seemed convinced that U.S. national security depended more on putting boots on the ground overseas than sneakers on the ground.
Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress has strengthened during the Trump Presidency. A bill was introduced in the House last year to defund the Peace Corps and attracted more than 100 votes. It’s easy to imagine the Peace Corps being defunded in a second Trump Administration. But it’s also possible to imagine a stronger Peace Corps emerging under a new president.
Revolutionary and Inclusive
Wearing my economist hat, here is my best guess about the supply and demand for Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of who is elected in November.
It seems likely that more American men and women will be interested in joining the Peace Corps in the coming years because higher education and the job market in the USA have been so greatly disrupted. Even before the pandemic arrived, the job market was being reshaped by artificial intelligence, robotics, and other factors. The “normal” pattern of getting a full-time job with benefits was no longer the default option for many graduates. The gig economy was expanding visibly.
The pandemic has delivered a body blow to higher education that will almost certainly lead to dramatic changes. Already we see far more high school graduates exploring gap year options. More fundamentally, financial constraints are likely to reduce residential enrollment substantially for several years. College dropouts and people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, regardless of their age, may find the Peace Corps and other forms of public service to be appealing options.
The biggest unknown on the supply side is how the current debate on national service will play out. Too few Americans are aware of the existence of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Mandated by the Congress in the authorizing legislation for FY2017, the Commission issued its final report in March 2020, and held its public rollout on June 25. Its recommendations represent “a revolutionary and inclusive approach to service for Americans.”
The National Commission found compelling reasons “to cultivate a widespread culture of service” in the United States. Its report states that bold action is required, not incremental change. Its recommendations begin with “comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten” and extend to making service-year opportunities so ubiquitous that “service becomes a rite of passage for millions of young adults.” If acted upon, the result will enhance national security and strengthen our democratic system.
The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031.
The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031. Among these, it calls for one million to be supported by federal funding, ten times the number currently supported. The Peace Corps is explicitly included in this vision, though the Commission does not recommend a specific number of Peace Corps Volunteers. It does explicitly call for an expansion of Peace Corps Response, making the program more accessible to older Americans and people with disabilities, with increased opportunities for “virtual” volunteering.
The pandemic could actually accelerate the idea of creating a voluntary national service norm, for women as well as men. Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced to scale up AmeriCorps and other domestic service programs. Experts and activists have called for establishing new programs for rapid employment of contact tracers and health workers to stop the pandemic in the USA. The ongoing demonstrations against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have brought forth proposals for new community-based service initiatives. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) created in the Great Depression of the 1930s has been cited as a model for a form of service program that could emerge to reduce the highest unemployment rate the country has seen in the past 75 years: 14.7 percent at the end of April and 13.3 percent at the end of May.
The Peace Corps budget is a tiny part of the federal budget. For example, its appropriation of $410.5 million for FY2020 was less than two-tenths of one percent of the Defense Department’s budget request for weapons procurement. It shouldn’t take much political will in the Congress to double or triple the Peace Corps’ budget if there is growing voter support for national service. The crucial question will then become how many of the men and women seeking a service opportunity will be attracted to living in a foreign country. A big part of the answer will depend on evolving perceptions of the health and security risks of working outside the USA. Quite possibly, fewer Americans will want to spend two years in some remote village in a country they couldn’t find on a map, even with a promise of reliable internet access. On the other hand, some of the recently repatriated Peace Corps volunteers are continuing their service online, and forms of virtual service internationally may become more feasible and attractive.
In short, the supply could conceivably be sufficient to produce a Peace Corps with as many as 100,000 volunteers serving abroad by 2031, but that must be considered a best-case outcome.
The demand from host countries, by contrast, may be insufficient to even maintain the pre-pandemic level of 7,000 volunteers in the field. There will be an early test of this demand: how many of the 60-odd countries hosting volunteers before the pandemic erupted will welcome them back. The process of renegotiating programs with these countries will undoubtedly be challenging.
Who needs the Peace Corps?
In the 1960s, the whole world — even countries in the Communist Bloc — looked up to the USA with envy because of its high standard of living, its rich culture (movies, theaters, museums, etc.), its outstanding universities, its technological advances (putting men on the moon), its fight for civil rights, its enduring democratic political system, its international leadership. Few countries still look up to the USA in this comprehensive way. Over the past two decades or more, we have squandered our position of preeminence.
It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration.
That’s just the beginning of the problem. The process of globalization led by the United States started slowing down with the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001 and halted with the Global Financial Crisis emanating from the USA in 2007–08. By 2015, globalization was unwinding. That was the year the refugee exodus from the Middle East quickly led most European countries to restrict immigration severely. Another big setback came with the Brexit vote in June 2016, followed a few months later by the election of President Trump on an anti-globalization platform. It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration. Climate change is likely to produce more border closing than border opening.
In short, in a world where most governments are preoccupied with addressing internal problems and in which internet access is penetrating into the far corners of the globe, few countries are likely to need Peace Corps volunteers or want them.
At the same time, the rise of China and other countries forces us to reconsider our national security in a world where the U.S. population of 330 million represents barely 4 percent of Earth’s total population of 7.7 billion. Military power cannot possibly be enough to maintain the respect of the rest of the world. To some extent, this power seems to have made the rest fear the USA more than admire it. In this case, America’s national security may depend greatly on how well the rest of the world understands the positive features of our country. Promoting that understanding just happens to be the second goal of the Peace Corps.
FROM A DEEPER DIVE into the risk of border-related conflict in the coming decades emerges an argument that a “whole world peace corps” is needed more than lots of separate national Peace Corps-like programs. Thus, the most ambitious approach to reinventing the Peace Corps might be to transform the existing UN Volunteer program into a World Peace Corps, with every country establishing an affiliate. The U.S. Peace Corps, for example, would be rebranded as “World Peace Corps - USA.”
By contrast, the least ambitious vision for the post-pandemic Peace Corps would be to re-establish its recent level of 7,000 serving volunteers, making the adjustments necessary to restore programs with previous host countries and find some new ones. This should be doable — though it’s important not to underestimate the complexities that will arise.
So, what is the most impactful and politically feasible approach that the large “Peace Corps family” should pursue? A time of crisis like today’s provides an ideal opportunity to assess and debate alternatives. For this reason, the National Peace Corps Association is convening a summit on July 18 to explore the future of Peace Corps — and the broader Peace Corps community.
Among options worth considering: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them.
There are a number of options worth considering between a World Peace Corps and reverting to the barely visible program of the past 40 years. Most important among them may be two-way service programs: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them. This was part of Sargent Shriver’s vision back in the 1960s, but it was a nonstarter with the U.S. Congress. Now we have to ask ourselves why any country negotiating with the Peace Corps would fail to insist on a two-way program.
The resistance, sadly, will be within the USA, despite the fact that there is an abundance of service work that men and women from foreign countries could usefully do here. Disaster relief is just one obvious area. Few Americans know that thousands of individuals in Ireland raised more than $3 million for the Navajo nation to help fight the pandemic. Firefighters have come from as far away as Australia to battle wildfires in California and other states.
Teaching is probably the most interesting area for two-way service. Think of the benefits of having at least one foreign teacher in every middle school and high school in the USA. They could teach foreign languages, geography, music, sports, and more. Their counterparts, Americans serving as volunteer teachers abroad, would do the same.
This could be the easiest way to build on the Third Goal of the Peace Corps in the post-pandemic world: helping Americans to better understand people in the rest of the world. It would also represent a strong step to counter allegations that the Peace Corps is a manifestation of “white saviorism.”
Such a two-way teaching program could be established within the State Department (like the Fulbright and the Humphrey programs) or under the Corporation for National and Community Service. But there is one glaring problem here.
Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress won’t go away in a post-Trump administration. A bigger, better, bolder Peace Corps in its current form as a federal agency may well be a political nonstarter even under a Democratic administration. If so, converting the Peace Corps from a U.S. government agency to an independent, private sector NGO might represent the best chance to build an international service program that continues to be “the best face of America overseas.”
With a nonpartisan board of trustees composed of eminent personalities, this NGO could be generously funded by individual donors, foundations, and corporations, as well as receiving core grants from the federal budget. Largely freed from government fetters, it could iterate toward an array of programs of international service that contribute materially to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Operating within this organization, the Peace Corps could remain the gold standard of international service.
Yet now we have a fresh challenge — which is also coming to terms with a very old problem. To remain the gold standard, the Peace Corps will have to become more diverse, more inclusive. The report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has noted that our existing federal service programs have primarily benefited people from better educated and higher income families. This is true about the Peace Corps as much as other programs.
I hope readers will not simply “stay tuned” for a report from the National Peace Corps Association following the July 18 summit. I hope they will weigh in with constructive comments. For sure, there will be no consensus on how the Peace Corps should evolve, but I believe that the members of the Peace Corps family — more than 200,000 strong — are in the best position to understand the challenges and find a sensible way forward.
Lex Rieffel (India 1965–67) is a nonresident fellow with the Stimson Center. He served two years of active duty in the U.S. Navy before joining the Peace Corps. He has been an economist with the Treasury Department and USAID, a senior advisor for the Institute of International Finance, and a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Steven Saum posted an articleA group to link evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers with the help they need see more
A group to link evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers with the help they need. Sometimes that’s just someone to listen — and hear.
By Steven Boyd Saum
The day after Peace Corps informed Volunteers around the globe that they were being evacuated, a new group took shape to help them: Returned Peace Corps COVID-19 Evacuation Support [Community-Generated] was launched by returned Volunteer Joshua Johnson. The group had 200 members within the first hour. By the end of the day on March 16 that number had grown to 2,000. Soon nearly 10,000 returned Volunteers and parents joined. And a dozen administrators began to chip in to manage it.
There were outpourings of sympathy and dismay and immediate offers of help: A place to stay for self-quarantine in Boston or Tucson, Baltimore or Seattle, Central Pennsylvania or East Tennessee. A welcome home and a ride from the airport in Washington or Syracuse, Columbus or LAX (with free air hugs). A grocery run in New York. Questions about what’s the status of Volunteers evacuating from Ethiopia and Morocco, Indonesia and Panama.
Evacuations differed country by country, and so did instructions from country directors. So questions for the group were legion: about readjustment allowances and benefits, health insurance and reimbursement for those having to self-quarantine in a hotel. There were questions about pets: bringing cats and dogs back home. One wanted to know about transporting his machete. Amid economic meltdown, there were many questions about unemployment and would the evacuated Volunteers be eligible? After all, they were not technically “employees.”
What they were, per a new community-generated acronym: ERPCVs, for Evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Pin our hopes: The community offered places to stay and airport rides, financial help and comfort. Sometimes it was the little things, like lost and found—a Botswana pin scooped from an airport floor in Doha. Photo by Carrie Cowan Angell
There were differences in status: Some were initially placed on administrative hold. Ultimately, all were COS’d — a verbification of the acronym for “close of service.” That status unlocked benefits that otherwise would not have been available to Volunteers kept on hold. But it felt like a gut punch to many. And it led to this Washington Post headline: “The Peace Corps isn’t just bringing home 7,300 volunteers because of the coronavirus. It’s firing them.” Not exactly. But there was this: To formally COS, Volunteers needed medical checkups, which had to be done back home; nationally, non-critical medical appointments were on hiatus.
The Facebook group provided updates and advice; it steered members to the latest news and programs from National Peace Corps Association, as well as new policies rolled out by the Peace Corps agency. Group members have provided job help and resume reviews, interview tips and advice for grad school, opportunities for community service to help battle the pandemic here at home. It became a place to connect as many took to the streets to protest against racial injustice. In June it carried news that evacuated Volunteers could now apply for reinstatement or re-enrollment.
Joshua Johnson, who served as a Volunteer in The Gambia 2009–11, started the group with other RPCVs because they realized they didn’t need to wait for someone else to take action — they could help by bringing the community together and centralizing resources. “Leaving Peace Corps after months of preparation was difficult enough,” Johnson says. “I can only imagine what it is like to be so quickly pulled out of site.”
“Responding to an emergency situation by coming together as a community gets to the heart of Peace Corps values, and really is what we have trained for.” —Joshua Johnson
Joshua Johnson and family. Photo courtesty Joshua Johnson
And Johnson says the kindness he has witnessed has been inspiring. “In reality, responding to an emergency situation by coming together as a community gets to the heart of Peace Corps values, and really is what we have trained for. In the face of an uncertain situation, and with limited resources, we are able to use our creativity and resourcefulness to come together to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”
The group has also been a platform for ideas. “What has really given me the most hope is seeing how the evacuating Volunteers have responded to this,” Johnson says. “Yes, there have been many moments of grief or frustration shared, but I also see a lot of hope as Volunteers have found ingenious ways to continue their project work, and continue to connect with their communities.”
Tasha Prados (Peru 2011–13) contributed to this story.
Quick Take: Peace Corps Efforts to Help Evacuated Volunteers
Volunteer Ana Santos, evacuated from Rwanda
Providing evacuation and readjustment allowances, a wellness stipend, extended health insurance, health and quarantine instructions and resources, information and webinars for federal government job opportunities, job postings for other private sector positions, and graduate school options. Volunteers who were evacuated qualify for Non-Competitive Eligibility (or NCE), which makes it easier from them to join the federal workforce. They qualify for Coverdell Fellowships available for graduate school study. Volunteers who seek to return to their host countries or seek a new assignment will be given expedited consideration over the next year.
Nearly all evacuating Volunteers are finishing Virtual Completion of Service conferences, which provide training to assist Volunteers with their transition back to the United States and allow closure of activities in their countries of service. Courses through LearningSpace, the agency’s internal online learning management system, are already online, with more in the works to help returning Volunteers: prepare for employment; maintain health and well-being; understand COVID-19; and learn the future process for returning to service once circumstances allow.
Federal agency webinars: Thirty and counting to introduce the work of their agencies, especially as it relates to COVID-19 response. Many more have asked to host a webinar and/or present for a second and third time. Hundreds of evacuated Volunteers have participated in each of these events. The Office of Personnel Management has hosted eight sessions covering themes related to working in the federal government, showcasing opportunities available across the country, discussing how to prepare a successful federal resume and navigate USAJobs for their job search. Hundreds of evacuees have benefited. Bulletins that provide answers to pressing concerns and questions and direct Volunteers to an increasing number of resources available from the Peace Corps and other partners and sources, such as the National Peace Corps Association, RPCV Support Groups, Rotary International, universities offering tuition discounts, and hoteliers offering lodging discounts. New info posted daily.
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Communications Intern 2 posted an articleA perspective from Kenya. July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future. see more
A host country perspective from Kenya. Remarks from the July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said — volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels.
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
Hi everybody, I’m happy to be given this chance to share with you some experiences. I’ll talk about three episodes regarding the Peace Corps. Peace Corps came at the correct time when many countries just gained their independence; the young people who came as Volunteers were disciplined and they really interacted with the community.
People in Kenya knew very little about the United States. With the coming of the Peace Corps Volunteers, who worked mainly in rural areas, people came to know more. And that was during during the Cold War. Discussions took place, and people felt at home with the Volunteers — and the Volunteers themselves felt at home. Thus that aim of the Peace Corps was achieved immediately.
The majority of the Volunteers were teachers, and I'm happy to say that most of the people who went through those schools — special high schools — and because of the Peace Corps, they did well in school and they have really served the community. That's the main aim of the Peace Corps: to empower the people.
Watch: Remarks by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said from July 18
As the years went on, especially in other fields, what Peace Corps Volunteers did was marvelous. In technical terms, whether in agriculture or in otherwise empowering people, they did a good job. The policy of the American government was seen on the ground; to see and talk to people and exchange ideas is when you learn more about the country. And it came as a cultural exchange: We learned technical fields, and we learned more about American culture and American people.
After the Cold War came another era — the era of terrorism, which really affected the work done by Volunteers in several countries. In some countries, the Volunteers couldn't go too deep in some areas. And as things change, especially in Kenya, they had to be pulled out; that was very sad. That also interfered with the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers.
And now there is a reckoning because of this pandemic. I think this a big a big blow to the Peace Corps itself — especially in Kenya, because we were just planning to bring in new Peace Corps Volunteers. We were ready to receive them, after they were pulled out about seven years ago. They were coming back. And unfortunately, all of a sudden this pandemic came.
Now is a very difficult time, especially for the work of the Peace Corps — because the Peace Corps Volunteers work with communities and interact with communities. With this pandemic, we don't know how long it will take. So unfortunately, that interaction is no longer there. Because when people are living together and working together, they learn from each other — and they learn each other's culture, even how to prepare traditional dishes. We shall miss all that.
How can the Peace Corps change and work from outside the country they're supposed to be in? How can the Volunteers work? It's a big challenge. And I think this we have to look at very critically. I don't see Volunteers coming back to the countries in the near future. So I think the best thing is to plan and see how we can interact. What we are doing now through Zoom most these days — people have learned to communicate. People are working from home; is it possible to give some technical advice from home? That's one thing we should look at.
I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
How can we revive or continue with the work that Peace Corps Volunteers were doing? They have left, and I'm sure that local people that are trying to contact them to do some work; it's a continuous train which goes on.
How can we survive during this pandemic? We need to look at ourselves and bring our heads together and see how the work can be done. We have seen it at the national conference taking place. And is it possible, at least to some extent, to carry on with the work we are doing in the stations we were through Zoom?
The other issue is the American situation. Just recently people were really shocked when the [government] said that international students who are there had to come back. I'm very happy that decision was revised. Such decisions sometimes, unfortunately, affect ordinary people who have children there and who are starting their own family; they hope that they will get the education they need in America and then come back. So if all of a sudden they said that "No, because of this pandemic, you have to go back," it becomes difficult.
But also, if I can mention what has happened recently in the States — especially the brutality which is going on: That really affected so many people all over the world. I'm glad that things are being worked out, and I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
People are very sensitive, especially in terms of human rights; people are saying that especially that America, this democracy, is usually the first to talk about and harass other countries when there is abuse of human rights. And here people are looking at especially the security guys and themselves doing such things. As human beings, we should all learn to live with each other and respect each other — and work together.
Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya is a volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels. He is the 2013 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
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: firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Learning and teaching through the Advancing Health Professionals program see more
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 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.
She brought literacy expertise to work in Belize. And has volunteered with FEMA to combat COVID-19. see more
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.