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  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Founder and U.S. executive director of Global Seed Savers see more

    Global Seed Savers has trained more than 5,000 Filipino farmers in seed saving, established three seed libraries, and is building a movement across the country to restore the traditional practice of saving seed and building seed sovereignty.

    By NPCA Staff

     

    National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service: Sherry Manning. 

    The Shriver Award is presented annually by NPCA to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who continue to make a sustained and distinguished contribution to humanitarian causes at home or abroad, or who are innovative social entrepreneurs who bring about significant long-term change. The award is named in honor of the first Peace Corps Director, Sargent Shriver, whose energy and commitment were instrumental in the launch of the Peace Corps.

    Sherry Manning is the founder and U.S. executive director of Global Seed Savers, an international nongovernmental organization committed to building hunger free and healthy communities with access to farmer produced seeds and food. Global Seed Savers has trained more than 5,000 Filipino farmers in seed saving, established three seed libraries, and is building a movement across the country to restore the traditional practice of saving seed and building seed sovereignty.

    Sherry Manning’s work in the Philippines began 15 years ago, in 2006, when she served as Peace Corps Volunteer in the town of Tublay in Benguet Province. Global Seed Savers’ work has grown exponentially since this time; however the foundation of her story in the Philippines and continued work will always be about deep relationships to the land, people, and places of her second home, the Philippines.

     

     

    Global Seed Savers web page

    Photo courtesy Global Seed Savers

     

    The award was presented on September 24 at Peace Corps Connect, a 60th anniversary conference for the Peace Corps community. Announcing the award was Teddy Shriver, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru 2011–13 and is deputy director of Best Buddies International — and grandson of Sargent Shriver. 

     

    Connections and relationships: people, the land, seeds 

    “So much has happened, evolved, and grown since my days as a PCV 15 years ago in Tublay, Benguet,” Sherry Manning says. “But one thing has remained the center point of our on-going work at Global Seed Savers: authentic, deep, and meaningful connections and relationships to people, the land, seed, and our collective sustenance!”

    In her acceptance speech, Manning noted: “It takes many hands and hearts for our work to flourish and it is an honor to be building this organization with our dedicated and growing team of local Filipino leadership, our boards, our community partners, and most importantly the resilient and passionate FARMERS we learn from and work side by side with to build a more food and seed sovereign world! This Award is for them and their tireless work to feed their families and communities despite tremendous struggles!”

     

    Global Seed Savers statistics

    Photo courtesy Global Seed Savers

     

    Sherry Manning holds a master’s in environmental and natural resource law from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a B.A. in government from the University of Redlands in Southern California. Sherry is also a daughter, sister, and very proud auntie or Anta (as her nearly 6-year-old nephew calls her)! She has always been passionate about ending injustices, spending quality time in the natural places she advocates for, and building deep and meaningful relationships within her community. When not working for Global Seed Savers and serving on various nonprofit boards, Sherry can be found playing in the beautiful Colorado Mountains hiking, fly fishing, camping, and more.


    Nominations for the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service are accepted year-round. To nominate an individual, please download the Shriver Award nomination packet, and submit all nomination materials to vp@peacecorpsconnect.org

     September 25, 2021
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A remembrance of Paul Johnson see more

    A remembrance of Paul Johnson

    By Jake Arce

     

    Paul Johnson understood what it means to tend the earth. He was a farmer and a state and national leader in the movement to conserve soil and water. As chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, he led the agency to produce a national report card on the state of America’s private lands. He called it “A Geography of Hope.”

    Johnson joined the Peace Corps in 1962, serving in one of the first groups in Ghana. After returning to the United States in 1964, he completed studies in natural development, earning a master’s in forestry at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources. He married an RPCV from the Philippines, Patricia Joslyn, in 1965; they later traveled together to teach in Ghana’s School of Forestry and started a family abroad. 

     

    “The foundation of our farm’s productivity is our soil, a complex, living system that, although largely unrecognized as important in our national environmental policies, is in fact the basis of all life.”

     

    They settled in Iowa in the 1980s. Of his land there Johnson once wrote, “The foundation of our farm’s productivity is our soil, a complex, living system that, although largely unrecognized as important in our national environmental policies, is in fact the basis of all life. If we farm our soil well, its productivity will be sustained by recycling what was once living into new life.”  

    He was elected to the Iowa State House of Representatives and served three terms. He co-wrote the Iowa Groundwater Protection Act to stop contamination from surface pollutants and underground tanks. He garnered bipartisan support for progressive action on the environment and crafted Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program, funding parks, trails, and wildlife enhancement. 

    He also knew what was not enough. Speaking to the Des Moines Register in 2000, he said: “A land comprised of wilderness islands at one extreme and urban islands at the other, with vast food and fiber factories in between, does not constitute a geography of hope.” He died in February at age 79.

     

     

     

     

  • Brian Sekelsky posted an article
    Paul Thompson continues his 40-year streak of cross-country ski marathons to help promote awareness see more

    Paul Thompson continues his 40-year streak of cross-country ski marathons to help promote awareness and raise funds for combating climate change.

    Release
     

    Some Peace Corps Volunteers’ ideas of changing the world end after service, but Minnesotan Paul Thompson left Malaysian Borneo in 1973 with a lifelong mission to save the planet.

    In late February, Thompson, 72, will join the Birkebeiner cross-country ski race for the 40th time, in hopes of raising $40,000 to combat climate change and help unify the country. He has already raised $11,000 towards his total goal. The funds will be split between four nonprofit groups: three fighting climate change, and one reducing political polarization.

    “Climate change is now beginning to overwhelm the lives of the people most at risk from poverty,” Thompson said. “This is the time for all of us to step up and try to address the challenges we face. We need to work together to solve these problems.”

    After joining Peace Corps in 1971 in Malaysian Borneo, Thompson taught biology and health science. When he returned to the United States, he became a licensed teacher, then taught elementary math and reading in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He retired from teaching in 2008. Throughout those years, he has worked to protect the environment, and beat hunger and poverty.

     

    Beginning with borrowed skis

    This year’s 55-kilometer Birkebeiner race won’t mark Thompson’s first foray into pairing the effort with fundraising for a cause. On races in previous decades, he has raised thousands of dollars for many nonprofits aiming to combat poverty, hunger, and various refugee crises. The long list includes The Hunger Project, American Refugee Committee, and others. 

    Thompson is also no stranger to charitable work. In 1981, he worked on youth recreation programs in Somalian refugee camps, then returned to Minnesota and worked for Save the Children on educational outreach and fundraising until 1987. In 1989, he was recognized with the Sargent Shriver Humanitarian Service Award, an annual honor for returned Peace Corps Volunteers with distinguished humanitarian service.

    In 1979, Thompson’s first Birkebeiner began as an impromptu adventure on borrowed skis with his brother. The following year, he began asking for pledges to beat hunger. Since then, he has only missed the race in 1990, following the birth of his son. The race was canceled in 2000 and 2017 because of lack of snow.

     

    “My sport is now on life support due to global warming, but even worse, so is the planet.”

     

    “Every skier has seen firsthand the impact of climate change,” Thompson said. “My sport is now on life support due to global warming, but even worse, so is the planet.”

    This year, he has a theme of fours in his fundraising efforts. Forty years of Birkebeiner races means $40,000 for four nonprofits. There are also bonuses for select donations with a four amongst the digits. For instance, a $40 contribution wins you the online Green House game. The four non-profits include:

    • Citizens Climate Lobby, which focuses on national policies to address climate change;

    • Returned Peace Corps Volunteers for Environmental Action (RPCVs4EA), which advocates for action and sustainable practices to protect the planet;

    • Cool Planet Skiers, founded by Thompson to encourage outdoor athletes to care for the environment;

    • Braver Angels, which aims to restore civic trust and dialogue between the left and right.


    Learn more and donate here.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    From Owls of the Eastern Ice by biologist Jonathan Slaght see more

    From Owls of the Eastern Ice

    By Jonathan Slaght

    Photo: Blakiston’s Fish Owl chick in Primorye, Russia. Photo by Jonathan Slaght

     

    A revelatory tale from biologist Jonathan Slaght. Among the many accolades for Owls of the Eastern Ice: It was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Times of London best nature book of the year. It appeared on numerous best books of the year lists, from NPR to the Wall Street Journal. 

    Slaght was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia’s Far East 1999–2002. 

     

    I SAW MY FIRST Blakiston’s fish owl in the Russian province of Primorye, a coastal talon of land hooking south into the belly of Northeast Asia. This is a remote corner of the world, not far from where Russia, China, and North Korea meet in a tangle of mountains and barbed wire. On a hike in the forest there in 2000, a companion and I unexpectedly flushed an enormous and panicked bird. Taking to the air with labored flaps, it hooted its displeasure, then landed for a moment in the bare canopy perhaps a dozen meters above our heads. This disheveled mass of wood-chip brown regarded us warily with electric-yellow eyes. We were uncertain at first which bird, actually, we’d come across. It was clearly an owl, but bigger than any I’d seen, about the size of an eagle but fluffier and more portly, with enormous ear tufts. Backlit by the hazy gray of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree. Having decided that we were a threat, the creature pivoted to escape, crashing through the trees as its two-meter wingspan clipped the lattice of branches. Flakes of displaced bark spiraled down as the bird flew out of sight.

     

    Backlit by the hazy gray of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree.

     

    I’d been coming to Primorye for five years at this point. I’d spent most of my early life in cities, and my vision of the world was dominated by human-crafted landscapes. Then, flying from Moscow the summer I was nineteen, accompanying my father on a business trip, I saw the sun glinting off a sea of rolling green mountains: lush, thick, and unbroken. Dramatic ridges rose high, then drooped into low valleys, waves that scrolled past for kilometer after kilometer as I watched, transfixed. I saw no villages, no roads, and no people. This was Primorye. I fell in love. 

     

    ”Jonathan Slaght has the best author photograph I’ve ever seen,” wrote Helen Macdonald for The Guardian. Behold author and owl. Photo by Sergey Avdeyuk.

     

    After that initial short visit, I returned to Primorye for six months of study as an undergraduate and then spent three years there in the Peace Corps. I was only a casual bird-watcher at first; it was a hobby I’d picked up in college. Each trip to Russia’s Far East, however, fueled my fascination with Primorye’s wildness. I became more interested and more focused on its birds. In the Peace Corps I befriended local ornithologists, further developed my Russian-language skills, and spent countless hours of my free time tagging along with them to learn birdsongs and assist on various research projects. This was when I saw my first fish owl and realized my pastime could become a profession.

     

    A female fish owl near the village of Vetka. Pairs of fish owls vocalize in duets — a low-frequency sound that penetrates deep forest. Photo by Sergey Sermach.

     

    I’d known about fish owls for almost as long as I’d known about Primorye. For me, fish owls were like a beautiful thought I couldn’t quite articulate. They evoked the same wondrous longing as some distant place I’d always wanted to visit but didn’t really know much about. I pondered fish owls and felt cool from the canopy shadows they hid in and smelled moss clinging to riverside stones. 

    Immediately after scaring off the owl, I scanned through my dog-eared field guide, but no species seemed to fit. The fish owl painted there reminded me more of a dour trash can than the defiant, floppy goblin we’d just seen, and neither matched the fish owl in my mind. I didn’t have to guess too long about what species I’d spotted, though: I’d taken photos. My grainy shots eventually made their way to an ornithologist in Vladivostok named Sergey Surmach, the only person working with fish owls in the region. It turned out that no scientist had seen a Blakiston’s fish owl so far south in a hundred years, and my photographs were evidence that this rare, reclusive species still persisted.

     

    Gone fishing: fish owl at work. Photo by Sergey Gafitskii.


    From Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght. Copyright © 2020 by Jonathan Slaght. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.