Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleRecommendations for how to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world. see more
After all Peace Corps Volunteers were withdrawn from around the world in March 2020, an unprecedented community-driven effort has charted a course for how to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Washington, D.C. (November 13, 2020) — Amid a time of unprecedented crisis for the Peace Corps and our nation as a whole, the Peace Corps community has come together to chart a way forward: with specific, actionable steps that will help reimagine and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world. Those steps are outlined in “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a report months in the making and made public today.
The report itself was prepared by a special National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) advisory council drawn from the broad Peace Corps community inside and outside the United States. It provides specific and actionable recommendations for multiple stakeholders: policymakers in the Peace Corps agency and the federal Executive Branch’s leadership; the United States Congress; and the Peace Corps community, particularly National Peace Corps Association.
The report comes at an inflection point for the Peace Corps, which was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Its mission of building world peace and friendship has motivated more than 240,000 Americans to volunteer in nearly every corner of the world. Peace Corps sets the gold standard for service, and its brand is a cultural icon with near universal recognition. But this year that service came to a halt.
In the spring of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peace Corps evacuated all of its roughly 7,300 Volunteers from service around the globe. They came home to a country hit by pandemic and economic maelstrom, and soon one convulsed by protests against racial injustice.
“We heard loud and clear from the community that the Peace Corps needs to change and adapt if we want it to endure,” said Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. “That’s from Volunteers who have served across the decades and around the world, and from people who live in communities where the Peace Corps has worked.”
For the first time in the nearly 60-year history of the agency, no Peace Corps Volunteers are serving overseas. This abrupt interruption of Peace Corps service has dramatically altered the lives of the Volunteers, and it has profoundly disrupted the work and relationships in communities where they were serving. The global evacuation of Volunteers also brought to the fore some longstanding challenges for the agency and the broader Peace Corps community. All this called for an unparalleled response.
Harnessing the experience, commitment, and innovative ideas of the Peace Corps community, in July National Peace Corps Association convened a series of national community discussions and a global ideas summit to ask some far-reaching questions about the future of Peace Corps in a changed world. The conversations tackled two key questions. First, whether the Peace Corps as an agency should continue to exist; on that count, the response was a resounding “yes.” And second, when the Peace Corps returns to the field, what should it look like? The responses to this second question yielded the far-reaching report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.”
“We heard loud and clear from the community that the Peace Corps needs to change and adapt if we want it to endure,” said Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. “That’s from Volunteers who have served across the decades and around the world, and from people who live in communities where the Peace Corps has worked. They’ve offered big ideas in conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as recruitment and recalibrating programs, including critical health support. They’ve looked hard at the three goals of the Peace Corps agency, as well as policies, funding, and how Peace Corps communicates.”
“Peace Corps should reflect the fullness of America and provide the country’s best and truest face to the world,” the report notes. “It should return to the field better, bolder, more inclusive, and more effective.”
Three Cross-Cutting Themes
Each of the eight chapters of the report can stand alone with its own unique set of recommendations. But during the community conversations, it was made clear that three primary themes cut across the entirety of the issues Peace Corps faces:
The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism. The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact. The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers.
- Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change. The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken. This report shows the way.
This moment of international crisis and domestic change has provided a period of critical reflection to restructure, retool, renew commitment, and get things right. The Peace Corps must meet the challenge of this moment. And once more it can lead the way. “Peace Corps should reflect the fullness of America and provide the country’s best and truest face to the world,” the report notes. “It should return to the field better, bolder, more inclusive, and more effective.”
The Peace Corps agency has reported that partner nations have all asked for the return of Volunteers as soon as conditions permit. A small number of Volunteers are scheduled to return in early 2021. The first will be Cambodia and Saint Lucia, in January 2021, as Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen revealed on November 12 at a program hosted by The Commonwealth Club of California.
The act of Volunteers returning — or their arrival in countries for new programs — will signal that a country can engage internationally in a post-pandemic world.
The report takes as a touchstone some remarks by diplomat Kul Chandra Gautam at NPCA’s global ideas summit. Gautam was born and raised in Nepal, and as a student he was taught by Peace Corps teachers. His career has included serving as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. “Our increasingly interconnected world demands global solidarity, not charity, to solve global problems that transcend national borders like the specter of war, terrorism, racism, climate change, and pandemics like COVID-19,” he said. “I sincerely believe that the Peace Corps can be a great organization dedicated to promote such global solidarity at the people-to-people level.”
And here is a handy URL to share: bit.ly/peace-corps-connect-report
Listen Up: A special podcast diving into “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” with Marieme Foote, Chic Dambach, Joel Rubin, and host Dan Baker.
Story updated November 20, 2020.
Steven Boyd Saum is Director of Strategic Communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96. For questions and interviews with Glenn Blumhorst, members of the report advisory council or steering committee, or former Peace Corps directors about this report, please contact email@example.com or (202) 934-1532.
About National Peace Corps Association (NPCA)
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is a mission-driven social impact organization that encourages and celebrates lifelong commitment to Peace Corps ideals. NPCA supports a united and vibrant Peace Corps community, including current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers, current and former staff, host country nationals, family and friends in efforts to create a better world. NPCA exists to fulfill three specific goals:
- Help the Peace Corps be the best it can be
- Empower members and affiliate groups to thrive
- Amplify the Peace Corps community’s global social impact
In 2019 NPCA marked its 40th anniversary with a vibrant community of over 240,000 individuals and more than 180 affiliate groups. The affiliate groups are organized by city and region, country of service, places of employment, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and around causes such as environmental action and work with refugees.
Communications Intern 2 posted an articleEvacuated Volunteers and one with half a century of leadership experience in conversation see more
Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers and one with half a century of leadership experience in conversation. The big question: How can we transform this moment in Peace Corps history?
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. Four Volunteers joined NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst in conversation to discuss their experiences — and tackle some questions about how the believe Peace Corps — and the Peace Corps community — needs to change. Here’s the discussion — with video highlights throughout. And a video of the full conversation.
Marieme Foote, Evacuated RPCV | Benin 2018–20
Rok Locksley, Evacuated RPCV | Philippines 2018–20
Juana Bordas | RPCV Chile 1966–68
In conversation with
Glenn Blumhorst, President & CEO, NPCA | RPCV Guatemala 1988–91
Marieme Foote: I'm a second generation Peace Corps Volunteer who was evacuated due to COVID-19 from Benin, where I served in the agricultural field from 2019-2020. First, as others have done before me today, I would like to start off by sharing condolences: Congressmen John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were giants during the Civil Rights Movement and should continue to serve as an inspiration for our current conversation. Congressman John Lewis said, "Never be afraid to make some noise and get in trouble, necessary trouble."
If you want NPCA and the Peace Corps to move into a better future, we need to push for radical shifts in order to continue to push the envelope. If not, we risk losing Peace Corps to time.
So to start off, I will also introduce some of the panelists that I've worked with. When we returned from getting evacuated, we formed a group with Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and we created a report that received over 450 responses on the experiences of evacuated Volunteers. And we’ve used this report to advocate to Congress on behalf of volunteers for PUA, healthcare, and other different topics.
I'm joined by Rok Locksley. Rok volunteered in the Philippines as a coral reef preservation Volunteer from 2018 to 2020. He also served in Moldova from 2005 to 2008, and was a Peace Corps recruiter from 2009 to 2016. And we're also joined by Juana Bordas.
Juana Bordas: Intergenerational leadership is a key thing in all communities of people of color. I'm Juana, and I served in the Peace Corps way back in the ’60s, 1964 to ’66. And I've had an illustrious career since, we might say. It's been 54 years since I was in the Peace Corps. So I do want to share all of the things that have kind of happened since then that were based on my decision, which is a decision all of us made: We made a decision to serve and to and to put our lives in the service of humanity. And I think that's what makes people powerful, has made me powerful, and Peace Corps powerful. I've spent my career building organizations for communities of color, particularly Latinos and Latina women, and also doing work in race and equity and trying to build the compassionate, good society.
Glenn Blumhorst: First I just want to say thank you so much, Marieme. This panel is something I was really looking forward to. As we kind of started talking about this, it seemed like the right way to do this was just to say: This is your panel discussion and make it what you want, and put together something to reflect on all these big ideas that we have — and your thoughts as the next generation of Peace Corps Volunteers. I'm glad you invited me to be a part of the conversation, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your reflections. The questions you put together are really important — not just for you, but for all of us. And I'm looking forward to hearing your answers. This is directed to everyone for a brief response. As we envision the reentry process for Volunteers, what do you think are the most important things to consider when supporting Volunteers in the future post service?
WATCH: Rok Locksley — Lessons from Reentry
Difficulty Upon Reentry
Rok Locksley: I'll take that one. I served in ’05-’08 and then I served again in ’18 to ’20, so I was evacuated. But the first time that I finished my service, I came back into the 2008 economic depression. I started doing a lot of research, especially when I went to work for the agency. (Thank you, Jody Olson, for helping me get a job, back when we had an RPCV Career Center, to make all that happen!) Peace Corps has known for a very long time that returned Volunteers have had more difficulty upon reentry, rather than going into service. In fact, the Peace Corps like itself termed “reentry” in a paper in the ’90s. They took it from the NASA program, because reentry is recognized as a very difficult process — as difficult as as leaving the earth.
There was a paper written in the ’90s called "Psychological and Readjustment Problems Associated with Emergency Evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers." That really nailed down what some of the problems were. This is where we started to see that Peace Corps, recognizing through its own surveys and own research, that Volunteers were having trouble with reentry to start with — but then evacuated Volunteers were seeing double the amount of difficulties.
So, 265 Volunteers were evacuated from Liberia, Philippines, and Yemen. The evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers coined the term that this was a "crisis of reentry." Fifty-one percent of all RPCVs found reentry very difficult, and that was the highest difficulty rating on the survey. All evacuees from this 1990s survey got a debriefing conference as part of Close of Service (COS), and that's how they got these surveys. Basically, the stats are: 30 percent of RPCVs experienced some sort of depression, where 60 percent of evacuated Volunteers experience depression. Then we see the stats doubling: 30 percent for a feeling of disorientation; 12 percent for periods of crying; 39 percent for a difficult transition back; 26 percent difficulty making decisions; 15 percent reported avoidance of thinking about Peace Corps as an experience; and 12 percent reported disturbing dreams. Take all those percentages and double them, and that's generally what evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers have been dealing with.
We are given three months of training to integrate into a community. At best we're given a three-day Close of Service conference to readjust to the States, but then no real support from the agency when we land.
We are given three months of training to integrate into a community. At best we're given a three-day COS conference to readjust to the States, but then no real support from the agency when we land. And especially with the discontinuation of RPCV Career Center, pretty much all we have is our RPCV groups and NPCA to help us make this transition. What we need to do is really provide a landing pad for RPCVs — because we know it's difficult. The agency knows it's difficult. And I think there are two ways to do this.
The first is that we have to flood the world with our stories. We have to talk about return on investment on Volunteers, and how do we measure that. But our greatest return on investment is the stories of Peace Corps Volunteers. So, if you don't have the fact that you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in your staff file at work, put it in there. When I was interviewing people [as a recruiter], the most common response to my question "How did you hear about Peace Corps?" was: a teacher, my parents, or I had a friend that served, my uncle or aunt served. So people were coming to us not because of our recruitment efforts, commercials, or radio spots; they were coming to us because of one-on-one connections that they'd had with people who shared these very beautiful, very intimate stories.
Our stories are really our greatest resource. We need to be sharing those at all opportunities. That's so that we can both inspire people into service, and then when they return, they know to look for RPCV groups who can help them find jobs and help them make this transition, so we can start to minimize that trauma.
WATCH: Juana Bordas — Peace Corps taught us leadership
Peace Corps Taught Us Leadership
Juana Bordas: I would take a little bit of a different perspective, I think. What I do today is I teach leadership, and I learned it in the Peace Corps. Futurists say there are two trends, two shifts, that we're going through. One is to become a global community, which we do by being in the Peace Corps. The second one is to create the inclusive, diverse, and equitable society. In other words, we're moving towards a multicultural society and world. The young millennials and the generation after them are already there. And I think we reframe the Peace Corps as something that taught us leadership, that made us global citizens, that made us inclusive and able to relate and embrace people of all cultures and ethnic groups and ages and generations, etc.
In the ’90s, I worked with National Peace Corps Association to do a leadership program for Peace Corps Volunteers that were re-entering. But I've been listening some, and I think one of the things that's so important is for us to empower ourselves to understand — because when I came back from the Peace Corps, I went to get my first job, and I had this portfolio because I had been doing micro-enterprise work with women way back then. I had all this stuff, and I go to get interviewed, and the guy stops me and he says, "I'm really sorry, but we only hire people that have a master's degree in social work." This was the state of Wisconsin. Well, this was absolutely bizarre to me. I'm the first person in my family to graduate from college. My mother had a fifth-grade education. I thought this was ridiculous. And I had just come back from the Third World where I thought I had made a contribution. So I slammed my papers on the floor, and I said, "You don't understand. I was born to be a social worker. I was born to do this." And he looks at me and he says, "We can go down to the University of Wisconsin, we'll help you get a master's degree if you'll come back to work for us."
“Guess what? I’m a global citizen. I’ve made contributions across this globe. I’m inclusive. I love culture. I’m here to build this new world that's coming.”
Now, I understand I had certain privilege there for the first time in my life, because I am Latina and I was able to speak Spanish, etc. But I had that sense of empowerment that I got through the Peace Corps. And I invite everyone just to stop for a minute to realize that, yes, it's difficult to come back, particularly under these circumstances. But I think the most important thing we can do as Peace Corps Volunteers is to have that banner that says: "Guess what? I'm a global citizen. I've made contributions across this globe. I'm inclusive. I love culture. I'm here to build this new world that's coming."
Especially today, with our problems in foreign policy, with our problems with the current administration, the work we need to do in the future is absolutely more critical. The other thing I'd like to say is that I've been at this for over 50 years. So it's not, I'm coming back from the Peace Corps and what I'm going to do. It's our lifelong commitment to building peace in the world.
Marieme Foote: I think that what we've all realized, even when we created the WCAPS report: Facebook and social media was definitely huge for us, in terms of bridging those connections. In the future, looking at ways that we can formalize those places where we can get information — a lot of RPCVs were offering help, therapy sessions, all types of help. If you're not on Facebook, you wouldn't know; or if you're not in these specific chats, you wouldn't know. So figuring out how can we get all of this information to all of these groups of Volunteers that need it — I think is definitely something that will be important when considering reentry for the future.
What does the future recruitment process look like?
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you all. It's really great how a community comes together like that organically and helps, and that's what we saw emerge during the evacuation: when the group started forming and talking amongst themselves, and then also speaking with us and helping share with us what their needs and expectations were from the community, from NPCA, and from Peace Corps. So, thank you. Shifting a little bit to recruitment now, the question here is: How were you recruited? What does the future recruitment process need to look like? We've heard some ideas earlier today, but from your perspectives, what would it look like? There is another question that's really mostly for Juana: How can Peace Corps focus its efforts to recruit members who may be experiencing the crab syndrome? I think we'll kick it over to Rok first, if you don't mind, and then go from there.
Rok Locksley: I think, you know, it goes back to the question that was brought up earlier on one of the report outs: Where's the "peace" in Peace Corps, right? For me, peace is not like harmony and no conflict. It is absolutely a place of conflict, difficult questions, expanding our comfort zones, learning about other people and our world that we exist in — those are all peaceful things. What breaks the peace is when we have a disagreement that leads to some sort of violence. So I think that Peace Corps having healthy conversations about how they're going to recruit in the future — the question I was asked a lot as a recruiter was, “What is the Peace Corpse?” Right? So my thing is, like, let's not be the Peace Corpse, because that's not good! We're definitely the Peace Corps, right?
Let’s not be the Peace Corpse, because that’s not good! We’re definitely the Peace Corps, right?
I remember as a recruiter 10 years ago, when we first started our big initiative with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and start increasing our diversity numbers. I was sitting around in a conference room with a bunch of other recruiters; most of us were white, and there was one Black recruiter. And we were talking about strategies of: How do we recruit Black people? Or how do we recruit persons of color and Latino community members? How do we recruit these? How do we talk to these people? And then we were saying, We need to get this Black recruiter to come with us on campus to talk to the Divine Nine, or to talk to the different university groups. And he looks at us and he says, That is like — I recruit on white universities, right? You don't need to be a certain race or color to go recruit these people. But that, it was such an enlightening moment for me — and such a moment where I realized: Even in the Peace Corps, even working as a recruiter, my privileges, and my blinders are so on. Here is this guy — he was laughing at us, like, this is so ridiculous. And that was 10 years ago, when we first started doing it. So recruitment has a long way to go. And it's full of these difficult conversations and lots of apologies.
Glenn Blumhorst: Marieme, you're a child of a Peace Corps Volunteer yourself. Can you share a little bit from that perspective?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — How will Peace Corps and NPCA shift?
Marieme Foote: For me, it's like Peace Corps has always been something that I've always considered as something that I would do, because my father served in Peace Corps in Ethiopia and in Eritrea. I'm one of the few that has that connection, I think. And the fact that there were lower numbers of Volunteers that are people of color, that are Black, Latina — they don't have that kind of connection as other white Volunteers might have. So it's really important to also see how that could affect recruitment.
The other question that I have in terms of recruitment is looking overall at the mission of Peace Corps. When Peace Corps was first created, it was an exciting thing. It was something that was radical, really. And as we go forward and the population in the U.S. changes and a new generation comes about — they're dual national, they're all types of different backgrounds. They also have different expectations, and what they want to do and what they want to be a part of. They're questioning neocolonialism. They're having a lot of questions about Peace Corps overall. So how will Peace Corps and NPCA shift? I know even questions about joining NPCA; a lot of Volunteers that I know that are Black or Asian, or people of color, don't feel like NPCA or Peace Corps is for them. So, how do we expand that discussion and make them also feel like they are a part of this as well? You know, even for me, without the work with WCAPS, I'm not sure if I would have been as involved with NPCA. So I feel like that is a concern that I have, at least for recruitment and getting people involved with NPCA and Peace Corps.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you so much, Marieme. I really appreciate that, because I do believe that it's incumbent upon us to help create a more inclusive and welcoming community here on the part of NPCA for the Peace Corps, the greater Peace Corps community. Juana, did you have anything to add about the question specifically for you related to crab syndrome?
Juana Bordas: Yeah, but I also wanted to go back to some of the discussion I was listening to, to talk about coalition building and partnerships, particularly with communities of color. Because I think the association itself, for example, the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities that serves Hispanic-serving organizations, or the NAACP or some of the other organizations and in our communities that serve people of color — because it's through those organizations, not only can you learn and exchange and grow your power base and your numbers, but it also gives you an entree into into young — well, they don't have to be young, but into people of color that want to serve in this way. The other thing I would like to say about it is that servant leadership — and leadership as service and as social change — are absolutely pivotal in communities of color.
Leadership as service and as social change are absolutely pivotal in communities of color.
When I joined the Peace Corps, I actually joined the year that John F. Kennedy was killed. There was this tremendous upheaval in our communities about what we could do to support this vision that he had: about young people going and learning about the world and contributing. Today we have similar kinds of reasons for us to be able to go global and to try to help and work with communities. Of course, we all know we learn more than we get.
The crab syndrome, for people that don't know what it is: It's when when you grow up marginalized when you grow up in a society that does not validate your people, your history, your background, who you are, your incredible contributions to this country — you develop what's called the psychology of oppression. In other words, you begin to internalize the negative messages that society has put forth. And that's why identity building and learning our history — we have Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, and all of that, because you have to integrate that into the American fabric if we're truly going to have a multicultural society. Where it comes in with the Peace Corps — well, first of all, I want to say that if you have that sense of ... All I wanted to do when I graduated from college was to give back, because I've been given so much. I'm an immigrant. I came here, I became educated. And so I had that sense of service, which I think is pivotal in communities of color. That's how we've gotten where we are, is to collaborate to help one another, and to serve.
This whole idea of service is a key thing for communities of color. Growing up, I didn't know I was smart; how could I know I was smart if I didn't know the language when I entered school? If I didn't understand the system? (And I do now, by the way.) So you begin to think everybody in your community is not smart — because I didn't have professors, teachers, Congresspeople. So that's the crab syndrome. What can I do? And am I good enough? Are my people not capable of doing it? Identity building becomes really important.
There are so many issues in communities of color that we're kind of caught in the crossfire. So the Peace Corps, in order to be able to really attract leaders in communities of color — for example, DACA students, which would be another political thing, but they're brilliant young people that are dealing with so many issues, and when they come to school, they are so talented. But then they’ve got to deal with immigration in this country. They've got to deal with homelessness. They have to deal with low-income wages, they have to deal with the cost of college education for kids. Somehow the Peace Corps has to be relevant to the many dynamic, critical issues that we face — and connect.
What I learned in Chile I was able to bring back and help start a center for Latina women that had a business center; that followed the micro-enterprise principles I worked on in Peace Corps. So it's that weaving together of the needs and challenges in communities of color. It's building those partnerships. It's making the Peace Corps relevant, and an experience that you can bring back to enrich your own community. And at the same time, for Anglos that come back from the Peace Corps, you need to join organizations and become multicultural yourself so that we can start building those bridges across communities and and fulfill our Third Goal.
What will future generations need?
Glenn Blumhorst: Absolutely, thank you so much, Juana. We've touched a lot here already on diversity and inclusion. But let's drill down on that a little bit more. For each of you, how will diversity and inclusion impact the Peace Corps in the future? And in that, what will the future generation need? How can you answer that?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — How do we not just recruit but retain Volunteers of color?
Marieme Foote: We're looking at stats for Peace Corps. You see diversity — at least the rates of Volunteers that are serving from different backgrounds — are going up and up. However, there isn't really any support in place for a lot of them. And we're also seeing that ET [early termination] rates for those volunteers of color are significantly higher than their white counterparts. So these are the questions that we really we need to be looking at and saying, Why is this the case? It's not just about recruitment. It's about how do we also retain these volunteers? How do we keep them interested? How do we get them involved with NPCA? And how do we do all of that?
Right now, there's great work that Volunteers are doing. I know that there are letters that Volunteers have written to their country offices on racism and discrimination that are going around in the community. Volunteers of color are creating group chats — WhatsApp chats, Facebook groups. They have all of these resources, but they're not compiled in one place. So it's hard for volunteers to have access to all of these things. And it's important for us as well. So I'm thinking about creating seminars, creating spaces for these Volunteers to meet each other, to meet other people who are older, other RPCVs who are working in different types of fields, so that they can get also motivated and feel like Peace Corps and NPCA are for them. So pushing for that, I think and holding NPCA and Peace Corps accountable for that, is something that we all have to do and be responsible for. Which is why it's also so important for Volunteers to get organized and actually advocate — and push these institutions.
Glenn Blumhorst: A great point, Marieme, thank you so much. Because that's what we are — a community-driven organization. And all we do, it should respond to the community and the expectations that you set for us. We're going to move on to the next question — penultimate question. What are the potential barriers you see to joining the Peace Corps or NPCA? How can that impact future Volunteers? So, Rok, do you want to start it off with that one?
WATCH: Rok Locksley — “For me to clear medical cost $6,000.”
Rok Locksley: There's a lot of barriers. For me, personally coming in at 40 years old, for me to clear medical cost $6,000. At the point I had quit my job to join Peace Corps. So I was unemployed and pretty much homeless. I was one backpacking through different countries, but I had no home of record in the United States. So getting back to the States and having to rely on other services, because I had no medical insurance: It was a $6,000 that we just put on our credit cards and then paid off with our readjustment allowance. So that's a major barrier. I know I'm older, I've had some medical issues, but the costs involved with the medical application alone is is prohibitive.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you, Rok. I think that's something we don't think much about — the cost involved for many individuals, particularly if we're not young and as healthy as we were before. Thank you for bringing that perspective to this. Let me ask just for one another person maybe to chime in on that question, and then we'll move to the last question.
Juana Bordas: Well, if I had had to pay $6,000 for medical, I wouldn't have been in the Peace Corps. You know, I had no money. Now students are graduating with debt. So, again, going back to leadership and communities of color, we need to dedicate ourselves to public change, public policy change. This cannot be — that people have to pay. When I found out that happened, because two of my Latino friends joined, I was shocked that it — and that it took so long, because the process wasn't like that in the past. And I think some of these barriers are just ways to not expand the Peace Corps to where it should be at this time, in this multicultural age.
Financial barriers are one of the most significant things that we need to look at — to remove them so that anybody and everybody who wants to serve can, regardless of their economic situation.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you Juana. Financial barriers are, I think, one of the most significant things that we need to look at — to remove them so that anybody and everybody who wants to serve can, regardless of their economic situation. The question we want to ask all of you is: What do you envision the future Peace Corps Volunteer values to be?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — “If we really, really do care about Peace Corps … we also have to be open to changing Peace Corps.”
Marieme Foote: If you look at the next generation, you see even the Black Lives Matter movement, you saw, at least when I went, you saw a huge amount of the next generation there present. And they're calling for change. They're calling for accountability, and all of these things. And if Peace Corps and NPCA and these organizations don't shift, they won't exist.
If Peace Corps and NPCA don’t shift, they won’t exist.
So, if we really, really do care about Peace Corps, we want Peace Corps to exist and to continue, and we care about the mission, we also have to be open to changing Peace Corps and making these radical changes — or also we'll not exist, because the next generation won't accept it. Even when I was joining Peace Corps, I had a lot of questions from my friends: “Why are you joining this organization? You know, there's not a lot of people of color there. It's mostly white people.” There was a lot of just preconceived ideas of what my Peace Corps experience would be. And there was a lot of fear of joining it, and being a part of a neocolonialist [enterprise] — and so if Peace Corps really does want to exist, I think that it does need to shift from the foundation in terms of its mission statement and what it does — and how it does it — is my opinion.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thanks, Marieme, that's a really powerful statement. And I take that to heart, because I think you're absolutely right: If we don't shift, we will not exist. And that's food for thought, very important for us.
WATCH: Rok Locksley — “If Peace Corps wants to remain this cutting edge social justice thing, it cannot remain reactive, as it has been.”
Rok Locksley: OK Peace Corps, the first groups were Kennedy's kids, right? Shriver's kids. And if Kennedy was building Camelot, then Peace Corps is his Excalibur. It was the best thing that was created, and it was on the edge of social justice and change. Now, we know like it's sort of steeped in neocolonialism, white savior complex, those sort of things. But you know, most people didn't have those terminologies back then. But if Peace Corps wants to remain this cutting edge social justice thing, it cannot remain reactive, as it has been. It can't just wait for and prepare for the worst case scenario and be quiet. And during our evacuation, that's all the EPCVs have experienced, is quietness. Our main source of our cutting edge Excalibur has been Facebook. I mean, we need the agency; we want to support you. This thing has hurt us. We gave our lives to this organization, and our hearts are in it. And we believe in social justice and change. So I just want to see Peace Corps return to its roots of being this cutting edge of social justice and change. And I think embracing that would lead to a revolutionary new wave of applicants whose hearts are full, who are young and active and ready to serve — and really, really get to the core of the agency, which is world peace and friendship.
If Kennedy was building Camelot, then Peace Corps is his Excalibur. It was the best thing that was created, and it was on the edge of social justice and change.
Glenn Blumhorst: Juana, I'm going to ask if you have any last words of wisdom or wisdom for us.
Juana Bordas: I just want to say is that we are the association. We are the Peace Corps. You know, I served on the board of NPCA for six years, I developed the leadership program for the association. We want to continue engaging; it's not somebody doing it for us. It's each one of us making that long-term commitment. I want to say it for everybody who's been out in the demonstrations, who's been out there trying to make this change: Keep it up. Because as an elder, I did that in the ’60s. You know, I did that for women, for the Vietnam War, for civil rights, and then there weren't that many people marching.
My last thing is: We have to do this. It's a lifelong commitment. It's up to each one of us. The Peace Corps has prepared us to be leaders in this new global and international and multicultural age. So I would like to see us say, Yes, each one of us is going to step up our commitment. Yes, each one of us decides we're going to do this, we're going to reach out to other communities, we're going to join organizations that aren't white, if we're white; we're going to join different organizations from different perspectives. And we're going to keep this going. And I think it does take an advocacy commitment for all of us to do our part in creating the future.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you so much, Juana. That's a great way to end this conversation. I want to thank especially the evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers for organizing this panel, and inviting Juana and myself to be a part of it as well. I've really enjoyed getting to know all of you over the last several weeks and working with you and a number of other evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers. This has just really been a highlight for me. Though I am pained with the way that your service was interrupted and you had to come home, I'm just really amazed at how you have rallied around as a community and supported each other and helped drive the conversations that we're having today. So thank you all so much.
Story updated November 9, 2020.
Peace Corps Volunteers are Needed at Home Now — and in a new National Service Program: The Week in ReviewA national service program and legislation to benefit Peace Corps — and hurt it. see more
A national service program seems to be an idea whose time has come. Legislation to benefit Peace Corps — and to take back $88 million. Stories of evacuation and service at home. And Twitter shout-outs.
By NPCA Staff
Here are some top stories (and a couple of Tweets) on the Peace Corps community across the United States — and around the world. We include a sampling of opinion pieces and coverage from states and communities that are home to some of the 7,300 evacuated Volunteers — and nearly a quarter million Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Stay up to date throughout the week with our Flipboard stories, subscribe to the National Peace Corps Association newsletter, and follow us on social media.
The Washington Post | Editorial: The U.S. needs an army of workers to reopen. These senators have an idea for getting it.
May 7, 2020
“We need an army of workers to reopen the country,” begins an editorial from the Washington Post last week. “The good news is, a group of senators has an idea for where to find one.” The editorial was republished across the country, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to the Santa Fe New Mexican to the West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette. The gist: “Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), and several colleagues introduced legislation this week to pay for 750,000 national service positions over the next three years… The bill would prioritize Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright and other fellowship recipients, as well as, crucially, the many Americans this crisis has left unemployed…Standing up a ready-to-go cadre of Americans who can be deployed anywhere across the country would be instrumental in serving areas where staffing is relatively scarce and sickness is spreading — not only now but also in the many months ahead.”
The New York Times | Columnist David Brooks: “We Need National Service. Now.”
The formative moment for a new generation
May 7, 2020
The column by David Brooks calls for turning this moment of national crisis into a transformative one. “There’s a good bill winding its way through the Senate to do precisely that, led by Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware.” That’s the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, introduced in April, which calls for expanding national service programs to help meet the need for as many as 300,000 new workers for contact tracing, testing, and other COVID-19 relief efforts. Peace Corps Volunteers get priority. "The Coons bill is an excellent start. But it needs to be bigger and bipartisan.” Brooks advocates for service year fellowships and notes: “There’s no reason this shouldn’t happen. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans support voluntary national service … And as we all know, the benefits of the program accrue not only to those being served but also to those doing the serving. What would it mean to the future social cohesion of this country if a large part of the rising generation had a common experience of shared sacrifice? What would it mean to our future politics if young people from Berkeley spent a year working side by side with young people from Boise, Birmingham and Baton Rouge?”
What we’ll note: For the past 59 years, Peace Corps Volunteers have been answering that very question.
Press Release from Senator Chris Van Hollen | Bicameral Legislation to Significantly Expand National Service in Response to Coronavirus Crisis
With momentum building to utilize national service programs during the pandemic, “UNITE Act” calls for increased AmeriCorps recruitment, expansion of a deployable FEMA force.
May 8, 2020
The latest release from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Sen. Edward Markey, and Rep. Dean Phillips calls for the swift passage of the UNITE Act — and underscores just how critical a role evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers can play during this domestic crisis.
Sen. Van Hollen: “Our national service organizations provide vital assistance to communities across our country and the globe. With a wide array of skills and experience, the volunteers with Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other service organizations are uniquely equipped to help our country battle the coronavirus. We should be doing everything in our power to enlist these men and women – and others who are eager to volunteer – in these efforts.”
Sen. Blumenthal: “We must expand the ability of mission-driven Americans from service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps to serve our country at this time of unprecedented crisis. From public health expertise to extensive experience working in vulnerable communities, these individuals have the invaluable skills to help our country rise to the immense challenges this pandemic has made us face.”
Rep. Phillips: “The Peace Corps represents the very best in American leadership on a global stage, with volunteers serving alongside communities in their fight against sickness, hunger, and economic insecurity. They are ready now to fight for the health of the American people. The United States must have a whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic that not only employs those who have lost their jobs or who’ve become underemployed, but also delivers relief to understaffed frontline workers.”
Press Release from Senator Jeff Duncan | Duncan introduces WUHAN Rescissions Act
Our take: Legislation would jeopardize funds that provided for health and safety of more than 7,300 evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers amid global pandemic.
May 4, 2020
File this under news you need to know — to take action to stop it. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) introduced H.R. 6657, the Working Under Humanity’s Actual Needs (WUHAN) Rescissions Act, which calls for eliminating more than $27 billion from the CARES Act legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by Congress and signed by President Trump in late March. Included in the new legislation is the proposed return of the $88 million appropriated for Peace Corps which covered evacuation and initial support costs for 7,300 volunteers. Read Representative Duncan's press release here. And read more about the co-sponsors — and how you can share your concern over this bill — here.
The Wall Street Journal | Eight Graduates Plan for an Uncertain World
Many of those leaving college this spring have had plans changed by the coronavirus. Members of the Class of 2020 speak about what’s next.
May 9, 2020
In story about young Americans facing uncertainty amid the coronavirus crisis, journalist Kathryn Dill profiles future Peace Corps Volunteer Colton Denton. A first-generation college grad, he hails from Phoenix, is finishing studies at Knox College in Illinois, and has been accepted for a Peace Corps assignment in Ukraine. Training has been postponed from August until September 30 — but may be delayed further. Graduation ceremonies have been postponed, too. “I just hope that it’ll happen before I leave for Peace Corps,” he says, ”assuming that still pulls through.”
The Hill | Opinion: During this historic time, remember to value public service
May 8, 2020
Dr. Joe Heck and Michael M. Crow start with the fact that we’re seeing how critical public service professionals are at a time of crisis. They make the case for a public service corps program across the country. Heck is chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Michael M. Crow is the president of Arizona State University (ASU). They offer ASU’s Public Service Academy as a model — graduating its first cohort last year, including Turner Hubby, a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to Ukraine teaching English as a second language.
Center for Strategic and International Studies | Blog: A Covid-19 Response Corps Can Help Stop the Pandemic
Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers could be readily mobilized.
May 5, 2020
Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) make the case for Peace Corps Volunteers playing a key role in COVID-19 response now. The authors are members of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security. Key takeaway one: "Volunteers have received training in — and many have up to two years’ work experience in — a variety of relevant issue areas, including water and sanitation, hygiene, and maternal and child health. They have experience integrating themselves into local communities, serving as community health workers, peer educators, and teachers. They could be quickly recruited into the CRC and put to work supporting the Covid-19 response across the country."
Key takeaway two: "We know that state and local health authorities are clamoring for such a workforce to combat coronavirus."
KRCR television news | Rep. Huffman and others call for prioritizing national service in future COVID-19 relief
Peace Corps volunteers should be mobilized into domestic programs and projects.
Northern California television station KRCR highlights the efforts of Reps. Jared Huffman, John B. Larson, and Dean Phillips to get House leadership to focus on national service priorities to aid in recovery efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Included: Peace Corps Volunteers should be mobilized into domestic programs and projects. From the letter: “The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and its volunteers are on the front lines of the recovery effort, providing disaster assistance, educational opportunities, meal support and much more … Investing in the CNCS and reimagining the service of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are investments in the continued rebuilding of the nation.”
WDEL newsradio | A badly needed workforce
Legislation seeks to expand AmeriCorps to provide contact tracing, testing for pandemic response.
May 5, 2020
Coverage of legislation that Sen. Chris Coons introduced in April: “We know that we have a ready pool of returned Peace Corps volunteers, of current year AmeriCorps members, and hundreds of thousands of Americans, who have applied to be AmeriCorps members, but we haven't had the number of funded slots for them.”
Public Service Twitter Shout-outs | House Foreign Affairs Committee
May 9, 2020
To wrap up Public Service Recognition Week (May 3-9), the House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted out thanks to Peace Corps Volunteers in a pair of posts.
“The U.S. is always lucky to have dedicated public servants but especially now, during the #COVID19 pandemic. This #PublicServiceRecognitionWeek we recognize the @StateDept, @USAID, @PeaceCorps and frontline personnel working through this crisis to make the world a better place.”
“And to @PeaceCorps volunteers who have been brought back home during this unprecedented time: thank you for your hard work. Though it was cut short, your commitment to service left an impact on your host community. #PSRW2020”
In the Twitter Zeitgeist | Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
May 4, 2020
Entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban kicked off a conversation on Twitter May 3 calling for more national involvement in contact tracing and caring for people during the coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Ed Markey joined in to share that he and Sen. Chris Van Hollen had introduced the UNITE Act to “test, trace, and assist the vulnerable.” Cuban’s response: Agree we need to expand @AmeriCorps, @PeaceCorps and other volunteer organizations. But in order for this to work there has to be someone in charge of a coordinated federal Public Health Covid response that can drive a solution driven plan. Patchwork legislation doesn't work.”
Kansas, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Nationwide | Stories of evacuation, community service, and recruiting RPCVs for jobs
The Masks Now Coalition is a grassroots movement of over 11,000 nationwide volunteers in every state, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. who are working to help protect frontline workers and healthcare professionals through sewing and donating masks to organizations in need. They’ve teamed up with the group Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Serving at Home — with RPCVs making masks and, in the case of evacuated Volunteer Julie Wang, putting to work her skills as a graphic designer.
Hope and host family: a snapshot from Benin. Photo courtesy Hope Woodard
Two weeks after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Hope Woodard headed for Benin with Peace Corps. She had to evacuate nine months later. “In America, before COVID-19, we had everything at our fingertips,” she says. “I think that this moment, although it has caused a lot of hurt for some people, has allowed people to recalibrate what is important to them.”
“Peace Corps experience shortened due to COVID-19” | Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas
Mohri Exline served as the community and organizational development Volunteer in Albania when she got the fateful call: “I was called on a Thursday night and told to pack because we were being evacuated. The next morning they called and said they would be there at 9 a.m. to get me.”
Takeaway: The departments of Housing and Urban Development and Homeland Security are actively recruiting returned Peace Corps volunteers. Agencies are hosting virtual jobs fairs and recruitment webinars to find new talent.
Stay up to date with the latest news about Peace Corps and COVID-19 global evacuation each day through our Flipboard stories. Here you’ll find a selection of stories from around the world about evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers, efforts to help them here at home, and how they’re helping the United States tackle the COVID-19 pandemic through community service, work as contact tracers, serving on the front lines in medicine, and more.
Peace Corps Response Volunteers Will Partner with FEMA at Vaccination Centers Across the United StatesEvacuated Volunteers will put their skills and experience to work at home in a time of crisis see more
Evacuated Volunteers will put their skills and experience to work at home helping during the pandemic.
By Glenn Blumhorst
This week we received very welcome and timely news: Peace Corps Response Volunteers will be deployed to work with FEMA, to assist at vaccination centers across the United States. Not since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have Response Volunteers been deployed domestically.
From the early days of the pandemic, we’ve seen members of the Peace Corps community step up to help communities across the United States — as contact tracers, working with food banks, making masks, as part of NPCA’s Emergency Response Network in Washington State, and so much more.
For the past year we’ve supported national legislation that has tried to jump-start formal involvement of returned Volunteers throughout communities here at home. Now it’s happening.
For the past year we’ve supported national legislation that has tried to jump-start formal involvement of returned Volunteers throughout communities here at home. We made the case that Volunteers who were evacuated from around the world in March 2020 can and should be given opportunities to bring their skills and experience to serve at home. That’s exactly what is happening now. As the end of the pandemic is within sight, it’s heartening that Response Volunteers can help at this critical time.
Those eligible to serve as part of the partnership with FEMA include returned Volunteers evacuated from their overseas posts in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the release from the Peace Corps agency notes:
Volunteers will work at federally supported Community Vaccination Centers (CVCs) across the country. The agency will soon begin recruiting for this special domestic deployment. Assignments will focus on urgent needs as identified by FEMA, and on communities that have been traditionally underserved. Volunteers will be assigned to language support, administrative, logistical, and other work that supports vaccination centers’ operations. It is anticipated that Peace Corps Volunteers will be deployed into the field by mid-May.
Peace Corps Response, which was originally established as Crisis Corps 25 years ago with a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden, is well positioned to help address the COVID crisis domestically. And in a very timely initiative undertaken two years ago, Peace Corps Response launched the Advancing Health Professionals program, to improve health care education and strengthen health systems on a societal level in resource-limited areas. This is the kind of program that can help lead the way as Volunteers begin to return to the field internationally — to work with communities to address their immediate needs.
Resilience, commitment, and a sense of working in solidarity with communities defines the Peace Corps experience. We need that more than ever.
Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association.
One year after evacuation from the Philippines: A Peace Corps Volunteer on the trauma of leaving see more
One year after being evacuated from the Philippines, a Peace Corps Volunteer faces the trauma of leaving, the country he returned to, and a question that’s impossible to answer.
By Rok Locksley
Work and friendship: Rok Locksley, left, with Ban-Ban Nicolas. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley
The last day of my Peace Corps service was Friday, March 13, 2020. Together with my wife, Genevieve, I was serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. We had gotten up early to enjoy the sunrise on what we knew would be our last day on the island that had become our home.
My counterpart was Ban-Ban Nicolas, with whom I was collaborating on marine conservation efforts on an island near Cebu. I called him Ban2x. And over the course of service, we developed a deep friendship.
Ban2x arrived at our host family’s house early in the morning in his family car. He would shuttle us to the seaport. Airports had already shuttered. He knew we were on the last boat off the island, and he wanted to make sure we got to the port safely.
We loaded our bags into his car, and he promised to look after our things, to check in on our dogs and our house. At this point we thought we were just being consolidated: all Volunteers gathered together temporarily. On the drive, Ban2x and I made promises to keep each other updated and what the estimates were for returning after consolidation — we were speaking in that awkward way that you do when you have so much you want to say but lack the words or ability to properly express how much you value the other person.
As I made my way onto the bridge to the boat that would carry me literally and figuratively out to sea, I turned for one last look at my friend and said, “It’s not goodbye, just until we see each other again.”
We got out of the car and I could see tears welling up in his eyes. I could feel them in mine. We lingered until the last possible minute. As I made my way onto the bridge to the boat that would carry me literally and figuratively out to sea, I turned for one last look at my friend and said, “It’s not goodbye, just until we see each other again.”
I got on the boat, found a seat, and sat down gingerly. Everything was moving in a surreal way. At first I thought it was the rocking waves, but then I started to feel my world crashing around me. There was everything we had left behind: our project, our year-old dogs who had cried and tried to squirm under the fence to get in the car as we drove away. My host family, with tears in their eyes. My coworkers, their faces grimaced in shock when I told them the day before that I had to leave.
I began the journey back to the United States, but I would not be returning home. My home was in the Philippines.
Where do we go from here? Photo by Rok Locksley
The boat carried us to a larger island where we met up with other Peace Corps Volunteers. We managed to catch the last boat off of that island, and we sat there on the top deck of a ferry, rocking in the sea, surrounded by tourists trying to figure out if they should stay or go. As for us 30 Volunteers, we were shell-shocked and broken, leaving through no choice of our own. We didn’t really talk. What was there to say?
About two hours into the five-hour ferry trip, our phones chirped and pinged and vibrated at the same time with an alert. It was an ominous sound, and it carried a message that changed our lives. The director of the Peace Corps had declared the evacuation of all Volunteers. That is how we found out that our service was over: On a boat, rocking in the sea, carrying what random items we had shoved into our backpacks in a state of trauma. Some of us cried. Some tried to call their families. Some stared off across the waves, trying to soak up the last of the Philippines. Most, like me, were simply in shock. And desperately trying to figure out what to do next.
Back in the States, we could not go to my parents’ house or my wife’s parents’ house, because of COVID-19. I knew that the evacuation route would take us through numerous airports, and I was sure I was getting exposed. The risk was not worth it to my family; health and age put them in the at-risk population. My grandparents’ house was out. My uncles and aunts had young kids. We literally had nowhere to go.
I timidly reached out to a few people, inquiring about whether it might perhaps be possible maybe that … They made it clear, gently but firmly, that they did not want to risk the fact that I might be bringing the virus, especially coming from Southeast Asia. I understood.
We had given up ties in the States to join the Peace Corps. We had no house, no car, no job waiting. All that was waiting for us stateside: the terrifying horror of the unknown. Unknown if we had the virus. Unknown where we would sleep when we landed. Unknown where we could get health care or insurance or a job or food or winter clothes. Aside from what we carried, what possessions we owned were in a storage unit. And I was not sure how I was going to make the next payment on that.
As I was making calls from the boat and, later, from a hotel, trying to figure out where exactly we should attempt to fly to in the United States, a fellow Volunteer overheard my struggle. His family had a summer cabin in the Midwest. It wasn’t summer. But he offered it as a place of landing to us and a few other evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers for the mandatory two-week quarantine. We had no option other than the Peace Corps reimbursement for staying in a hotel. We gratefully chose the EPCV cabin.
The Facebook group for evacuated Volunteers was one of the few places we didn’t have to explain to others why this transition was so difficult, why we all felt lost at sea.
We ended up living there in quarantine from March until June. Three months of trying to make sense of what had happened — and was still happening around us. Three months of sleepless nights and tearful mornings. Three months of confusion, loss, and desperation. Three months of writing resumes and filling out applications. Three months of Zoom interviews and those awful hopes that come with searching for a job: of failing again and again. Three months of struggling alongside my fellow evacuees to find our new place in the pandemic world. Three months of every other American dealing with a new world and none of them understanding what had happened to us. The Facebook EPCV group was one of the few places we didn’t have to explain to others why this transition was so difficult, why we all felt lost at sea.
I talked to Ban2x at least once a week. That helped a bit. In the EPCV cabin, we shared our struggles with one another and tried to help others as best we could. Mostly we sat staring into space, thinking about all that had been ripped away — and what we were supposed to do next. I cannot imagine what it was like for Volunteers who had chosen the lonely hotel room for mandatory quarantine.
After three months, with the warmth of summer finally arriving, there was a changing of our seasons, too: We started to get hired or accepted into graduate school. I was fortunate to receive a Peace Corps Fellowship. Some of us got federal jobs, thanks to non-completive eligibility that comes with status as a returned Volunteer. Without the support of the RPCV network, National Peace Corps Association’s meetings and seminars, and Jodi Hammer’s counsel and advice through the Global Reentry Program, I don’t think any of us would have made a good transition out of that cabin.
This is water. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley
The problem with that question
I have recently had a few Returned Peace Corps Volunteers ask me what the hardest part about the evacuation was. The problem with the question is its premise; it makes it seem like the evacuation is over. For me it is not.
I am building a place that is starting to feel like home again in Illinois. And we did manage to get one of our dogs to the States in the fall. (The rest were poisoned, we found out later). I have school to focus on, but the evacuation is not an easily packaged life event. It was trauma and I am still experiencing it, working through it, processing it.
Every time I talk to Ban2x, I am filled with conflict about abandoning my work and my friends. I question whether I should have stayed on my island — which has had fewer cases than my neighborhood here in Illinois. Did we make the right choice to return to the United States? I still find myself trying to discern a morally correct answer to this question.
The reason that we have adopted the signifier EPCVs rather RPCVs is because we all came back at the same time to a nightmare version of America that was nothing like what we had left. This was not the place often dreamed of in our desperate moments of homesickness. This was a foreign land to us. The restaurants closed, the markets eerily empty, wide eyes of fear peeking over new masks — and other faces with self-assured smirks.
There is also this strange aspect to coming back with more than 5,000 other Americans: The people I was competing with for jobs were my friends and fellow EPCVs. The person’s spot I took for my graduate program was a fellow evacuee. For every one of us who got a federal job or fellowship, that meant another EPCV did not. I don’t mean that in the abstract. I mean it literally. We would have Zoom meetings with members of our cohort and find out we were all in the final round for the same job. Only one of us could get it.
I had previously met a few people who had lost their homes due to fire or other circumstances beyond their control. People who have walked out of a strange airport in a strange land without any idea of what to do next — but carrying a hope that life would get better. People who have relied on the charity and goodwill of others to survive. A year later these experiences are much less hypothetical and much more real. It helps me to understand their situation and seek out guidance from them.
Today, on the year anniversary of our evacuation, I had a conversation with my counterpart and best friend, Ban2x. Over the past year, we have kept in contact every week, updating each other on our lives, hopes, and dreams — all the while following up on the final steps of our project, which is finally almost at fruition. Ban2x and his wife go for regular rides on the bicycles that we left behind. They send photos over Messenger of their rides and adventures to some of our favorite spots. I get photos of gatherings in the community, and it is awesome to see folks in my community wearing clothes we left behind and using the items that didn’t make it into our suitcases in that frantic final morning packing session. A few months ago, Ban2x tried to send some of the more precious items to us, but international shipping costs during the pandemic made it effectively prohibitive. They were handed out or given away to our friends and co-workers.
The hardest part is that we are still going through it. Some of us are still waiting to return to service.
When we talk, Ban2x and I, each of us is searching for words trying to fill in those things are that are still left unsaid. We wonder when this will end, and what the world will look like when it does. He stays healthy and, because of the island’s precautions, the pandemic is less of a threat there than I feel here with my mandatory in-person classes. We plan for the theoretical reunion that might take place in the next few years. I talk about all the spots and things I want to share with him in America. He tells me about the changes in our community and celebrations I have missed. Ban2x, always the optimist, smiles and says things that would translate to something along the lines of “When the time is right” or “When fortune favors us.”
We laugh a bit more in recent weeks, but sometimes my laughs are a bit hollow. I know that I can’t just jump on a plane and visit anytime I want. And I can’t bring him here for a visit. I know it will be a few years before restrictions are lifted enough to allow us to visit our home again. Until then, despite the temporary roof over my head, my heart still feels homeless. I still feel like I am adrift on the sea, packed in with all the other EPCVs rocking in a boat with no port, and wondering what happens next.
That is what it is like to have been evacuated during the pandemic. Generally, my experience is too much go through just to answer the question “What was the hardest part?” The gap is too wide. The cut is still too deep. And although it is healing, it is a long way from being a faded memory.
Maybe the closest I can come to answering my fellow RPCVs’ questions about evacuation is this: The hardest part is that we are still going through it. Some of us are still waiting to return to service.
SHARE YOUR STORY
Are you a Volunteer who was evacuated because of COVID-19? Are you part of the Peace Corps community with a story to tell? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rok Locksley’s tribute to Ban2x in WorldView magazine, and evacuation stories of dozens of Peace Corps Volunteers from around the world.
“How can we transform this moment in Peace Corps history?” Rok Locksley takes part in a discussion with other evacuated Volunteers as part of the Global Ideas Summit Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
Rok Locksley served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Moldova from 2005–08. He then worked as a Recruiter for Peace Corps 2009–16 and went back for a second tour with his partner, Genevieve, in the Philippines 2018–20. Locksley is currently a Peace Corps Fellow at Western Illinois University. He intends to return to his island at the first possible opportunity.
Communities and Volunteers still feel the trauma. An open letter to the Peace Corps community. see more
Communities and Volunteers feel the trauma of this disruption. But the pandemic has underscored even more profoundly that we need to foster global solidarity and understanding. An open letter to the Peace Corps community.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Nepal farewell: Training to become Volunteers, Rachel Ramsey, left, and Elyse Paré had to evacuate instead. Photo by Eddie De La Fuente
Around the world in recent days, we have been marking a truly somber anniversary: It was just over a year ago that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For the Peace Corps community, the burgeoning health crisis led to something unprecedented as well: On March 15, 2020, the decision to evacuate all Peace Corps Volunteers from across the globe.
All told, some 7,300 Volunteers were evacuated from more than 60 countries. Sometimes with just hours’ notice, they were told they needed to pack and leave.
Communities were bereft; Volunteers were heartbroken, stunned. At the same time, so many rose to the occasion — communities and returned Volunteers alike, reaching out in solidarity in a time of need. Here at National Peace Corps Association, we quickly brought online the Global Reentry Program to assist this surge of Volunteers — who were coming home to a country hit by pandemic and economic turmoil. And soon, too, it was a country wracked by protests against racial injustice.
It’s important to pause and acknowledge the enormity of this disruption.
On this day, it’s important to pause and acknowledge the enormity of this disruption. For those who are part of the Peace Corps community, I would encourage you to reach out to evacuated Volunteers and communities where they were serving. As the 240,000 of us who have served realize, the Peace Corps is profoundly about personal interactions and connections, built up over weeks and months and years. Rupturing those connections because of a crisis is deeply traumatic.
Over the past year, many of the evacuated Volunteers have kept in touch with people in the communities where they were serving. At the same time, many evacuated Volunteers have moved on to jobs or graduate school, many with fellowships provided to returned Volunteers. Some are hoping to return to Peace Corps service as soon as possible. And in fact, on their own, a few have returned to the countries where they were serving, though not with the Peace Corps. Scores more have taken part in the first two rounds of virtual volunteering, through a program the Peace Corps launched in the fall, supporting projects in communities where evacuated Volunteers had lived.
NPCA’s Global Reentry program continues to work with many evacuated Volunteers, and it is envisioned to become a truly robust resource for the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, providing guidance, advice, and support in tumultuous times. It’s one more way to build connections at a time we so desperately need them.
Amid pandemic: celebration, legislation, and a road map for the future
At the beginning of March, people and organizations around the world celebrated the establishment of the Peace Corps by an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961. We heard congratulations from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the Ambassador of Colombia to the United States. We heard from the State of Colorado and the city of Madison, Wisconsin. We heard from governors and senators and representatives across the country. We heard congratulations from Ghana and Germany, Fiji and Korea. The anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps is a time to recognize the powerful impact of service in communities — and how that has been felt across countries and generations.
Even more important, it’s a time to look to the future and to ask: How will the Peace Corps work in a changed world? And, as the United States reengages with communities and nations outside its borders, how can the Peace Corps help lead the way?
The report and the team at NPCA have also helped inform the most important piece of Peace Corps legislation in years.
Last year the Peace Corps community came together in a series of town halls and a Global Ideas Summit to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps. The fruits of those intensive discussions were the community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” which provides a roadmap for change. As the Peace Corps agency continues to assemble its new leadership team and tackles strategic planning, that report provides guidance.
The report and the team at NPCA have also helped inform the most important piece of Peace Corps legislation in years. Two weeks ago, on Monday, March 1, Rep. John Garamendi, who served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia, introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. National Peace Corps Association worked with Rep. Garamendi’s office to help understand and address key priorities expressed by the Peace Corps community.The legislation calls for important reforms, including issues addressing better healthcare and protection for whistleblowers in the Peace Corps. And it takes seriously an increase in funding that will be necessary for the Peace Corps to help lead the way in reengaging with a world profoundly changed by COVID-19.
Let’s approach the work ahead with a sense of solidarity, not charity — and an awareness of both the privilege we have and the responsibility we share.
Along with the celebratory news stories from around the world, there have been a couple of opinion pieces that have raised the question as to whether the Peace Corps should continue to exist — including one in the Chicago Tribune, to which we responded. In fact, we asked the Peace Corps community that very question last summer, as we convened town halls and our Global Ideas Summit. We took as a touchstone words we heard from people in countries including Nepal, Guatemala, and Kenya: the work of Peace Corps is more important than ever, with a clear sense of solidarity, not charity; with an awareness of the privilege we have and the responsibility we share to our fellow citizens of the world; and the understanding that we can empower communities by working together. That holds true in whatever community we call home.
Unfinished Business: Read the stories from dozens of Volunteers who were evacuated in March 2020 — what they left behind in their communities, and the unfinished business they have — and Peace Corps has — around the world.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Write him at email@example.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep Peace Corps volunteer programs paused. see more
Last fall, Peace Corps announced that, barring unforeseen changes, Volunteers would begin returning to the field as early as January 2021: to Saint Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean, to Cambodia, and to Rwanda. Volunteers would also be given priority regarding the vaccine.
Then came new waves of the pandemic in regions across the United States and in a number of other countries, with whole nations going into lockdown. And rollout of the vaccine has been frustratingly slow.
By December, it was clear: No Volunteers would be heading out in January. As we go to press, a number of programs scheduled for departure in the first half of 2021 have been significantly delayed.
Jody Olsen stepped down as Director of the Peace Corps on January 20. see more
She led the Peace Corps Agency since 2018 — and through the unprecedented global evacuation of all Volunteers from countries where they were serving.
By NPCA Staff
On January 20, Jody Olsen stepped down from her post as Director of the Peace Corps to make way for a new team to be appointed by the Biden administration. Taking on the leadership role for the time being is Carol Spahn, who had been serving as chief of operations for Africa.
Olsen was sworn in as director in March 2018. The challenges she and the agency faced in the past year were unprecedented: In March 2020, as COVID-19 swept around the world, Olsen made what she described as “the most difficult decision of my life” — to evacuate all Peace Corps Volunteers from their posts. The pandemic and protests against racial injustice, and a focus on how systemic racism has affected U.S. institutions, including Peace Corps, created what many have seen as a moment of reckoning for the Peace Corps community. Then came a campaign to deny the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“The transition from one Executive branch administration to the next is a hallmark of our constitutional democracy,” Olsen wrote in announcing her departure. Her decades-long connection to Peace Corps began with her serving as a Volunteer in Tunisia (1966–68). She served as country director in Togo (1977–81), then as a regional director, as chief of staff, and as deputy director (2002–09).
In a tumultuous time, Olsen guided the agency and thousands of Volunteers through rough political, societal, and global challenges. National Peace Corps Association has invited members of the Peace Corps community to send her a message of thanks, gratitude, or remembrance by January 31. Messages from across the Peace Corps community will be compiled and shared with her in thanks for her service.
Acting Director Carol Spahn
Carol Spahn carries the title of acting director. She has over 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment. Spahn served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania (1994–96) and country director in Malawi (2014–19). With the scale of tasks before the new administration, it will likely be some months before a new director is appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Read more about her and additional appointments to the agency here.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleUpdated: House Unanimously Passes Act to Carry Forward Work on Peace Corps Commemorative. Senators Call for Bipartisan Support. Funding for the Peace Corps Agency Still Uncertain.A victory for the Peace Corps community. And urgent action needed for funding. see more
Legislation introduced by Joseph Kennedy III will enable a project years in the making to be seen through to completion. Senators Portman and Shaheen call on their colleagues to pass the bill as well. But funding for the Peace Corps Agency is still at risk for 2021, with the Senate having put forth a $51 million cut.
By Jonathan Pearson
After Dominican Republic Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, one of the first pieces of legislation he introduced and passed provided congressional authorization for the creation of a Peace Corps Commemorative in Washington, D.C.On the afternoon of December 17, 2020 in the closing days of his fourth – and final – term in the House of Representatives, one of Congressman Kennedy’s final accomplishments included securing House passage of a time extension that will allow work on the commemorative to move forward without interruption.
The Peace Corps Commemorative Work Extension Act (H.R. 7460) passed unanimously on a voice vote. Final passage of the legislation still needs Senate approval and a presidential signature to become law.
The Senate sponsors of companion legislation, Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued a press release after the House vote paying tribute to Peace Corps Volunteers and calling upon the Senate to pass the bill as well. “For more than 50 years, the Peace Corps has served as a powerful vehicle for volunteers who wish to use their talents to carry America’s humanitarian values to other parts of the world,” said Senator Portman. “I am pleased that this legislation was approved by the House today, and I urge my Senate colleagues to support it so that it can head to the President’s desk for his signature.”
Watch: “A lasting tribute” — Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) pay tribute to the service of Peace Corps Volunteers over 60 years and ask for passage of the bill.
The Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation has made great progress on this project, with design selection, site selection near the National Mall, and unanimous approval by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in September on the revised design concept.
Rendering of Peace Corps Commemorative at Peace Corps Park. Courtesy of Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation.
“A lasting tribute to the legacy of the Peace Corps”
Congressman Kennedy’s departure marks the end of an era. Since 1947, a Kennedy has had a seat in Congress with only two brief interruptions. The first, Joe Kennedy’s great uncle John F. Kennedy, created the Peace Corps by executive order in March 1961.
Speaking on the House floor, Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) noted that it is fitting for the Peace Corps Commemorative legislation to be sponsored by President Kennedy’s grand-nephew. Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) said the commemorative will serve as a “lasting tribute to the legacy of the Peace Corps.”
On December 9, Joe Kennedy delivered his farewell remarks to the House and spoke of how it is the task of each generation to expand the meaning of “we” in the phrase “We the people,” the opening words of the U.S. Constitution. “Our future is big and bright,” Kennedy said, “bit it will take everything — and everyone — to reach it.”
“Today the House unanimously passed a seven-year Commemorative authorization extension, among Rep. Kennedy’s final bills before ending his House term," said Roger Lewis, President of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation. “Americans who have served as Volunteers, worked for the Peace Corps or share Peace Corps ideals and values, are profoundly grateful for Rep. Kennedy’s steadfast commitment to and support of the Peace Corps and its historic mission.”
Peace Corps Funding Under Threat
As the 116th Congress races to a close, Peace Corps-related activities in need of congressional action include advocating for full funding for the agency in 2021.
The current deadline for Congress to complete its work on a Fiscal Year 2021 spending plan is midnight Friday, December 18. There are signs Congress might pass another continuing resolution to extend that deadline into the weekend and possibly early next week. Among the many items at stake is Peace Corps’ budget. While the House recommended level funding of $410.5 million, the Senate put forth a $359 million allocation – a $51 million cut.
Make your voices heard with your lawmakers to urge them to support level funding for Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Redeployment and Evacuees
High on the congressional priority list for passage each year is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Included in the 4,500 page document that has passed both chambers is reporting requirements pertaining to Peace Corps redeployment and Volunteers who were evacuated earlier in 2020.
Introduced by Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN), the legislation calls for a report to Congress from Peace Corps three months after bill passage on efforts of the agency to:
- Provide an update on offering a redeployed Peace Corps assignment to all evacuees who wish to continue service;
- Obtain approval from countries of service to allow the return of Peace Corps Volunteers;
- Provide adequate health and safety measures including COVID-19 contingency plans; and
- Identify any need for additional appropriations or new statutory authorities and the changes in global conditions that would be necessary to achieve the goal of safely enrolling 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers during the one-year period beginning on the date on which Peace Corps operations resume.
President Trump has indicated that he will veto the NDAA on issues not related to Peace Corps. The president has until December 23 to do so. Congress is contemplating strategies to overturn the veto should it be issued.
Last Updated December 18, 2020 at 4 PM. Watch this story for updates.
Unprecedented Times. Powerful stuff. Stories that brought tears. see more
I’m writing to congratulate and thank you for the current issue of WorldView. It’s the most powerful thing in print I’ve seen from Peace Corps since I received my acceptance letter in 1969. Congrats to everyone involved on a mammoth job so very well done.
Most remarkable WorldView ever, both the quality of the product and the effort it took to gather and edit the stories. What we may have is the substance for a book, proceeds from which would fund NPCA services and support to returning Volunteers. Two quotes (both from the stories from China): “A lot of my students had never seen or interacted with a foreigner. For them, the experience is transformational” and, “To assume that the Chinese government and people are the same is a fallacy.”
I wept my way through reading WorldView. The evacuation stories both broke my heart and raised my spirit. I could not help but imagine myself being torn away from my community, friends, counterparts, programs, and much more, had I had to leave Paraguay (where I served) within 24 hours. Unbearable thought for me and yet excruciatingly real for 6,892 Volunteers. Their stories were beautiful and so painful. I was buoyed up with an affirmation that Peace Corps is still making its unique contributions worldwide. Not just in the countries where Volunteers serve, but also in the Volunteers themselves. Peace Corps must survive this global pandemic. We need it now more than ever.
Congratulations on the rapid launching of your Global Reentry program. NPCA has risen to the challenges of today in so many fabulous ways. Thank you for your leadership.
Engaging, thoughtful, and truly remarkable — I’ve read it in print cover to cover, and will read it again online. This one’s a keeper.
Peter de Groot
PCV Benin 1980–82
Peace Corps Trainer, Africa, 1983–92
Amazing with the stories from the country directors closing their sites. These stories bring a world of hurt thinking about what each had to go through to plan their departures, and the Volunteers having to say “goodbye.”
On behalf of our RPCV Gulf Coast Florida group: We were touched to read the heartrending stories of so many evacuated PCVs, and especially Missi Smith’s eloquent lament, “I’m Tired.”
For our signature project, we have dedicated ourselves to fundraising for and assisting the African American community in the heart of Sarasota called Newtown, through its grassroots organization, Newtown Alive. African American residents played a major role in the development of Sarasota. Black labor cleared snake-infested land for real estate developers, laid railroad ties, harvested celery, helped plant golf courses, and labored in the homes of Sarasota’s power brokers — cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. The men and women fought for equal rights, triumphed over Jim Crow segregation, KKK intimidation, and vigilante violence. Today, a diverse group of historians, community scholars, and others have united to present the dramatic history of strivers who refused to give up. More: rpcvgcf.peacecorpsconnect.org
Leita Kaldi Davis
Lillian Carter Award Recipient 2017
We need to find ways to make the Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better, bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention.
Terrific — packed with timely, important news that helps put unprecedented issues impacting the Peace Corps into perspective. I hope all past and future Volunteers and staff will go through the magazine cover-to-cover. I especially like“Our Unprecedented Times,” tracing momentous events and decisions which have changed not only Peace Corps but also our nation and the entire world. And Lex Rieffel’s “The Peace Corps in the Post-Pandemic World,” while controversial, is worth pondering. I disagree with proposals to convert the Peace Corps into something other than an independent federal agency, but I agree we need to find ways to make the Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better, bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention. We must have more conversations about the ideals, relevance, and mission of the Peace Corps in a rapidly-changing world and make sure the Peace Corps truly reflects America’s diversity and has the resources it needs to get Volunteers back into the field as soon as it is safe to do so.
Michael H. Anderson
Board Member, Friends of Malaysia
Well written and edited — a pleasure to read, though my eyes fill with tears as I learn Volunteers’ stories of their emergency evacuations. That many returned Volunteers can continue to communicate with their colleagues and friends living in remote places is one benefit not afforded earlier Volunteers. Nevertheless, the bonds are immutable; after 40 years, I and a fellow RPCV returned to the sites where we trained and supervised healthcare providers and located many of them because of their long, successful careers. We only had to ask a few strangers who recognized faces in old photos. (See WorldView Spring 2018.)
I hope evacuated Volunteers are able to return to their work, if they so choose.
You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many.
As a longtime journalist, allow me to say that you’ve done a great job. The coverage of the withdrawal of Peace Corps from its posts was absolutely terrific. The text cover, a brilliant graphic touch, was only the beginning of a fascinating issue. You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many. These are terribly difficult times for us all, particularly painful for Peace Corps and the many new, reluctantly-made, RPCVs.
Fabulous edition! I’m sending my copy off to my granddaughter, who was considering joining. Here’s hoping she has the chance!!
Greetings from the Solomons. I am missing my WorldView mags due to no mail from the States for months. Glad to know there is an online edition. COVID19 has held up the reopening of the Peace Corps office for the Solomons this year and the bringing in of new PCVs in 2021.
Solomon Islands 1974–78
Reading stories of the evacuated Volunteers brought back memories of my service 50 years ago in the Philippines. The agricultural school where I was assigned is now a full-fledged university. Some current students are likely to be the grandchildren of students I taught while there. Best wishes for continuing Peace Corps ideals in the future.
Philippines Group 36
Some time ago, my daughter was notified that she is on a list for training for Guinea. She is diligently working on French. I hope this pandemic can be brought under control before many more months pass; she doesn’t want to miss this opportunity.
The issue of WorldView that tells the stores of the PCVs being recalled was absolutely fabulous.
Costa Rica 1964–66
What a work by dedicated individuals! I served in the first group to go to Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1963. Thank you to those who shared, captured the info, and created this issue.
Truly wonderful issue. Thanks for your hard work in writing and putting it together.
Fantastic! Thought provoking and meaningful, from the global evacuation to the pandemic to Black Lives Matter and the very future of the Peace Corps.
Powerful and well-written, this article by Missi Smith challenges us to take action, giving us a clear list of things we can actually do to move our society toward racial equality.
Ecuador 1970–74, Nicaragua 1974–75
It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join the Peace Corps and others to take action. Missi Smith’s essay, “I’m Tired,” is powerful. The statements from the PCVs who were evacuated testify to the incredible importance of the Peace Corps around the world, especially as global ambassadors. I have just now made contribution to the NPCA and will add it to my annual giving list. Keep up the good work! The return of Peace Corps to the wider world is in my prayers.
It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join the Peace Corps and others to take action.
I got my edition and immediately called my brother, the father of an evacuated 25-year-old volunteer from Botswana. I told him I would keep this edition as a keepsake for my nephew, saying it was historical and powerful and moving! If one can order second copies please let us know. We continue to support and pray for these Volunteers and communities!
Indeed, we’re happy to send more! Support from NPCA members and donors makes it possible for us to tell stories that matter.
A few questions: What kind of a journal has no place for readers’ responses — and simply takes current headlines and applies them to something entirely different? Do you really think there is systematic racism in this country and the Peace Corps is part of it?
James Eric Lane
Find all the stories mentioned here in the Summer 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.
STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.
Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleDr. Anthony Fauci Sends Words of Encouragement as NPCA Launches Emergency Response Network with Contact Tracers Helping During the PandemicIntroducing the NPCA Emergency Response Network see more
Welcomed by Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Peter Kilmarx from the National Institutes of Health, the first cohort of NPCA contact tracers is training to begin work in King County, Washington.
By Dan Baker
Renowned infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci offered words of encouragement and inspiration as the first cohort of the National Peace Corps Association Emergency Response Network began training as contact tracers on October 28. These inaugural members of the NPCA Emergency Response Network will work as contact tracers with the Department of Health of Seattle and King County, Washington.
“I am a longstanding admirer of your passion and dedication to a purpose greater than yourselves,” Dr. Fauci told the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. “I am profoundly grateful for your resilience and your adaptability that has enabled you to transfer your skills and commitment to this urgent need in our country to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control.”
“I am profoundly grateful for your resilience and your adaptability that has enabled you to transfer your skills and commitment to this urgent need in our country to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control.”
— Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH
Dr. Fauci serves has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with the National Institutes of Health since 1984. As he noted in his remarks, a number of returned Volunteers in this inaugural cohort of the Emergency Response Network were evacuated from the countries where they were serving in March as COVID-19 swept across the globe.
Watch Dr. Fauci’s full remarks here:
The idea of putting evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers to work as contact tracers to help during the pandemic is an idea NPCA has worked toward since March. One of the advocates for that has been Dr. Peter Kilmarx, who joined the event by Zoom. He serves as deputy director of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health. With decades of experience working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Kilmarx served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1980s in Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire.
“Today is an exciting milestone in the National Peace Corps Association’s efforts to engage RPCVs in the COVID-19 response,” Dr. Kilmarx told the returned Volunteers, “and an exciting day for those of you joining the historic global effort to control this pandemic … Done right, contact tracing is very effective. In New Zealand, contact tracers brought the average time from onset of illness to isolation from 7·2 days in March, to negative 2.7 days in April. That means that on average, cases were isolated 2.7 days before they fell ill, and local transmission in New Zealand dropped to zero.”
“If you ask me, ‘What makes a great contact tracer?’ I would say, ‘A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer,’ or anyone with that kind of resilience, cultural competence, and a spirit of service to the community.”
— Dr. Peter Kilmarx, NIH
Dr. Kilmarx also traced the efforts going back months to involve more returned Volunteers in contact tracing. ”If you ask me, ‘What makes a great contact tracer?’ I would say, ‘A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer,’ or anyone with that kind of resilience, cultural competence, and a spirit of service to the community.”
Watch Dr. Kilmarx’s full remarks here:
The NPCA Emergency Response Network's initial efforts in Seattle are being coordinated by John Berry, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger 1986–89 and has extensive experience in international development program design and management. Forum One, a full-service digital agency with RPCVs on staff, provided NPCA with digital strategy and design for this new program.
King County was the setting of the first significant COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, and the Department of Health has been a leader in the fight against the pandemic, so it is fitting that the Seattle area will be the first focus for NPCA’s response efforts. We continue to discuss similar partnerships with other health departments around the country, and we’re confident that others will see the value of working with RPCVs through this network.
Read more about the NPCA Emergency Response Network and opportunities for partnership here.
Dan Baker is the director of NPCA’s Global Reentry Program. Reach him at (202) 934-1534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the big ideas for Peace Corps and the Peace Corps community going forward? see more
Eight town halls and a global ideas summit to reimagine the Peace Corps for a changed world.
By Glenn Blumhorst
What are the big ideas for the Peace Corps, National Peace Corps Association, and the Peace Corps community going forward?
To answer that, in July we convened eight town halls and a global ideas summit that brought together thousands of members of the Peace Corps community. The reason: In March 2020, all Volunteers were evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19. They came home to a country in economic turmoil and with a worsening pandemic, and soon wracked by protests against racial injustice.
We heard loud and clear from the community that Peace Corps needs to change and adapt if we want it to endure. How? Areas we focused on ranged from diversity, equity, and inclusion to recruitment and recalibrating programs; from reexamining the three goals of Peace Corps to agency policies and funding; from helping Volunteers during readjustment at home to communication to, in, and about the Peace Corps community.
As this edition of WorldView goes live, we’re preparing to release a broad set of recommendations: for our community, including the agency, as well as policymakers and the American people. We’re approaching the work ahead of us with humility and awareness of what’s at stake. As a prelude to that, in the stories we’ve brought together for this feature package in WorldView, you hear voices from around the world and across generations, asking how we connect Peace Corps to the uncertain future we’re making.
Kul Chandra Gautam, Nepal | Peace Corps in a Post-COVID World
Luis Argueta, Guatemala | A Time to Reflect
Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said, Kenya | Empower People
Jody Olsen, Peace Corps Director | Peace Corps Today
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He welcomes your comments: email@example.com.
These stories also appear in the Fall 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.
STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.
Global evacuation — and friends and communities left behind see more
Photos from Nepal, Timor Lesté, Guinea, and Jamaica
Along with the dozens of stories we’ve shared from Peace Corps Volunteers evacuated from around the world, here are snapshots from more Volunteers. They capture the friendships and communities left behind. And they capture the heartbreak of leaving.
Nepal | Eddie De La Fuente
When Peace Corps announced the global evacuation, we were actually en route to visit our permanent sites a month early. I, and many of the other agriculture volunteers, never made it to our sites given the distance; I had just finished two all-day bus trips and was still another day-and-a-half away when we got the order to get back to Kathmandu ASAP.
We gathered at the Nepal Peace Corps headquarters and effectively had a close of service conference after only two months in the country, and only about four to five days away from being able to swear in as full Volunteers.
The Nepal Peace Corps staff was very compassionate though all of this; our Country Director and her partner even brought their brand new puppy and American candy to help comfort us.
We are, in my opinion, an extraordinarily cohesive and supportive group of people and I believe that these sentiments — as well as our continued, steady communication and mutual support — is truly exemplified in these photos.
Nepal welcomed us so readily and so fully that we were all absolutely heartbroken when we were told we were going home. I even had the good fortune to sit next to a gentleman on the final flight from Qatar to Nepal that served as an language instructor for Peace Corps back in the ‘70s!
This photo of the gentleman greeting was actually from our first night in Nepal. He was far from the only person that was unabashedly eager to meet us and get to know us — and for us to know them.
Nepal farewell: Training to become Volunteers, Rachel Ramsey, left, and Elyse Paré had to evacuate instead.
Timor Lesté | Andre De Mello
Andre De Mello arrived in Timor-Lesté in late 2019 in the country’s tenth group of Peace Corps volunteers. After training, he settled in with a host family and started teaching. But his two-year commitment was not to be. Read more about his story here.
“This picture was taken after Sunday mass in the Grotto located by the church in Railaco. The person to my left, wearing the white-dotted blue shirt, is my host brother Adi Carvalho. The person to my right is the son of the Chefe de Suco (sort of like a community leader).”
Guinea | Colt Bradley
Home: Mooresville, North Carolina
He served as a Volunteer in Kankan, Guinea, where he taught math and chemistry and served as the head of the Peace Corps Guinea Media Team.
Walk on: Colt Bradley heading home during the dry season in Guinea, West Africa.
Transport for Volunteer Colt Bradley and other visitors to the islands from Conakry.
Jamaica | Kate Rapp
Students at Spring Garden Infant and Primary School, where Volunteer Kate Rapp worked with counterpart Lorraine Clarke.
We were evacuated from North Macedonia. So we set out to do work that reflects Peace Corps values at home.Founder of RPCVs Serving at Home chronicles work as a Volunteer — in North Macedonia and the U.S. see more
The founder of RPCVs Serving at Home chronicles her work as a Volunteer — and launching a network to support communities across the United States.
By Mia Richardson — as told to Cynthia Arata
I had wanted to serve in the Peace Corps since high school. I was really interested in the Cold War, and while learning about that time in history, I learned about the creation of the Peace Corps during John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Peace Corps fascinated me.
Originally I thought about going straight to graduate school after graduating from college, but I decided to put that on pause to pursue my dream of serving in the Peace Corps. I wanted to experience working in another country because of my career path — foreign service. Although being a Peace Corps Volunteer is different than being a diplomat, I knew I could learn and represent my country.
I was serving in North Macedonia in the Education sector. I was teaching English for students in second to ninth grade. I worked closely with another teacher focusing on improving English language instruction and student engagement.
I was located in the northwest region of North Macedonia, a country in the Balkan Peninsula, which had previously been Macedonia. The renaming of the country happened early on during my service. Around the time I arrived, the naming dispute was a popular topic of discussion having to do with the history between Macedonia and Greece. It was interesting to listen to different perspectives on such a complicated issue and learn about the history of the region where I was to serve. In January 2019 Macedonia became North Macedonia.
I lived quite close to the city of Tetovo in the small village of Zherovjan, which is home to less than 900 people. Albanians are the largest minority group in North Macedonia, and Zherovjan is an Albanian, mostly Muslim community. Because of where I was living, I was on a dual language track, learning Macedonian and Albanian.
March 2020: The Evacuation
On Tuesday, March 10, I finished teaching in the morning. That same day, in the afternoon, it was announced that schools were going to be closed for two weeks. So things were in limbo on Wednesday. By Thursday Peace Corps determined that we were raised a security level, and staff told us to pack our bags. However, Volunteers were questioning it, not knowing exactly what was going on, not thinking we really needed to pack. But on Friday we were told to prepare to leave the country. Then Saturday, we were instructed to get to the capital. We only had a few hours to grab our things, explain what was going on to our communities, and get to Skopje, where all of us volunteers were consolidated.
There was very little time to explain to my host family what was happening. I mainly didn’t want to scare them. At the time, volunteers thought the most likely scenario was that we would be put on an administrative hold. We assumed we would be able to return in a month or two.
“Peace Corps says I have to leave because they don’t want me to be a burden here,” was how I framed it to my host family. But at that point, North Macedonia had not started shutting down, so my host family was totally confused. It was so hard. I had to ask them to take me to the capital immediately.
As if that wasn’t painful enough, I did not have the chance to say anything to my students. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to tell them that I was leaving. I felt like I abandoned them without any explanation.
As if that wasn’t painful enough, I did not have the chance to say anything to my students. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to tell them that I was leaving. I felt like I abandoned them without any explanation.
I am trying to figure out of there is something I can do to get in contact with my students. I have thought about recording a video of myself explaining and saying goodbye. But since school shut down the students have been distance learning rather than having class, so I don’t know yet how to send something that they will all see.
I barely had the chance to communicate with my counterpart before leaving. She has two young children, and her husband works in another country, so she was preoccupied with trying to figure out what to do to keep her family safe — whether she and the kids would go or stay put. We only had a moment to just basically wish each other luck.
North Macedonia: Unfinished Business
Early on in my service, my counterpart and I applied for a Small Project Assistance grant to establish an English language resource closet at the school. The goal was to empower teachers to use more communicative activities in the classroom that make education more student-centered. We secured the grant, purchased resources for the school, and planned a training session for educators. The training, however, was scheduled to take place the week of the shutdown and the evacuation. I tried to see if there was a way to do the training online, but I didn’t have enough time to organize before I was pulled from my post. I feel good about getting new materials for the school so that some fun and creativity can be brought into the classroom, but there was no training for teachers on how to implement those materials. I really hope the work will go on. I hope my school will apply for another Volunteer, and students will advocate for continuing some of the work we started.
At the beginning of the school year I started a spelling bee club for fifth- and sixth-grade students. The club met once per week for the entire school year. We hosted a qualifier spelling bee at our school to determine who would go to the regional spelling bee in Tetovo. The students worked so hard every week. And two students qualified! I was planning on going with them to the city at the end of March for the regional tournament. But that didn’t happen. It’s one of the things I am most sad about because I know how hard my students worked all year long.
I had requested a shipment of new books for the school’s English language section in the library. Darien Book Aid, a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut that distributes books all over the world, emailed me right when I landed back in the U.S. asking me to confirm that I received the book shipment I requested. Thankfully the director of the school where I was teaching was able to pick them up from the post office.
My secondary project was helping to coordinate a local Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) club. GLOW provides great development and leadership experiences for youth. Recruitment for GLOW was going to start in March, and a number of PCVs were working as mentors for clubs all over the country. So much hard work went into planning events for the GLOW clubs, but when all of us PCVs were sent home, we left the girls hanging.
I felt that personally I was getting into the swing of things — I was finding my way. The timing of everything was difficult to accept.
Back Home: Continuing Service
When I got back to the U.S. I felt a little bit lost. I committed myself to the full 27 months of service, and I just didn’t feel like I completed that. So as soon as I got back I started looking for things I could do to continue serving. While I was quarantined, I started volunteering with a coalition called Masks NOW to donate masks to essential businesses.
I started an initiative called RPCVs Serving at Home with some other evacuated volunteers from North Macedonia. We rolled out the program to the rest of the RPCV community in April. The concept is three-fold: to connect the RPCV community, share volunteer opportunities in order to continue service, and reflect values of Peace Corps. We are determined to highlight the strength and impact of Peace Corps to our communities here in the U.S.
Since we began collecting data in early April, by the end of June 63 volunteers representing 24 states and 22 Peace Corps posts had logged over 2,000 hours of volunteer service. Participating RPCVs have donated nearly 700 fabric face masks, served over 400 hours at local food banks, and at least 16 volunteers donated blood or organized a local blood drive. Our goal is to log 10,000 hours of service by September, so we are working hard to spread the word and get as many RPCVs involved as possible. We believe this shows how much we as the Peace Corps community can do, and although we have dedicated ourselves to work abroad, right now our country needs us here at home.
Since being evacuated I have taken on an AmeriCorps VISTA position doing community outreach for the Youth Volunteer Corps in Kansas City. What I am doing is similar to my youth empowerment work with the GLOW club in North Macedonia. My mission is to create service and learning opportunities, so that through civic engagement and skill development, youth not only understand issues in their communities but also feel empowered to address those issues.
Continuing to serve youth in my home community, helping to provide programs that I would have benefited from when I was growing up, has given me a sense of closure to my Peace Corps service.
Cynthia Arata was serving as a Volunteer in Fiji when she was evacuated in March 2020. She lives in Napa, California.
Why are you going to the U.S.? colleagues asked. It’s worse there. see more
Rwanda | Ana Santos
Home: Atlanta, Georgia
Ana Santos had been serving as a Volunteer teaching English since September 2018. After hearing about the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Rwanda, Santos started packing that Sunday, before getting the official evacuation order on Monday. And she began the emotionally taxing and logistically challenging process of saying goodbye.
The government had banned large gatherings and had closed schools. Colleagues had returned to family homes; she couldn’t find many of her students. “I had to go to each of my teachers’ homes individually to greet them and tell them the news. They were as shocked and as upset as I was.”
“Peace Corps is one of the best ideas the United States has ever had.”
Santos coordinated with other nearby Volunteers to hire a bus for the long journey to the capital, Kigali. There they learned the Rwandan government would close the airport in 48 hours. Peace Corps arranged for a charter flight out.
“I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to serve and do my part to make the world a better place,” Santos says. “I was excited by the opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture, to work face-to-face with people who were change-makers in their community.” She had to leave, but she holds to this: “Peace Corps is one of the best ideas the United States has ever had.”
Rwanda | Diana Bender-Bier
Home: Washington, D.C. area
Nishimye kubamenya is how you say “Nice to meet you” in Kinyarwanda, the language Diana Bender-Bier began learning in September 2019. She worked in the Southern Province, teaching English to 4th and 5th graders, training teachers, leading an English club. She lived in a larger market town and walked 40 minutes each day to a smaller village and the school where she taught. Her litany of plans: in April, for grades 5 to 12, a full day of classes with another Volunteer and nearby doctor about safe sex, teen pregnancy, risks of HIV/AIDS. In May, a carnival to educate about malaria. In June, a speaking competition for students. Plans to apply for a grant for science lab materials and playground resources. Fundraising for more desks, since in classes of 70 to 100 kids, many had to sit on the floor.
She says she left her heart there. There’s a moment when we’re talking about her community and she says, “Religion is very big here.” She means there, only she’s not thinking of herself in the Washington, D.C. area but still in Rwanda.
“Most of my colleagues were very confused,” she says. “‘Why are you going there?’ they asked. ‘It’s worse there.’” And it was.
She got the email that she was being evacuated and had a couple days to say goodbye. Colleagues told her, Oh, she’s not coming back. “I kept saying, ‘No, I’m coming back. I’m coming back. It’s just temporary.’ Though I don’t know how long that is.”
There was something eerie about evacuating Rwanda, she says — an echo of 25 years before, on the eve of civil war, when Peace Corps and others left and the genocide began. One of her colleagues lost both parents. “I felt connected to the genocide in a different way, given my Jewish heritage,” Bender-Bier says. As for her departure for the States, “Most of my colleagues were very confused,” she says. “‘Why are you going there?’ they asked. ‘It’s worse there.’” And it was.
In Rockville, Maryland, during quarantine she was at her mother’s house while her mother stayed in Florida. With rooms to spare, Bender-Bier provided a home for other evacuated Volunteers.
—Steven Boyd Saum
Rwanda | Levi Rokey
Home: Washington, D.C. area
Baggage of evacuation: Levi Rokey left his community in Rwanda for a hotel room in Washington, D.C. Now he’s working on contact tracing to help his community at home.
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