Jonathan Pearson posted an articleOur February advocate of the month is a newcomer from North Carolina see more
Dozens of NPCA advocacy “veterans” are organizing activities in conjunction with the 13th annual National Days of Action in Support of the Peace Corps. As exciting as that is, it is equally exciting that many new advocates are similarly stepping forward to help mobilize activities in their local communities. This includes Kathryn “Kate” Gavaghan (Botswana 1986 – 1987) of Wake Forest, North Carolina, our featured advocate for the month of February.
“I think it is more important than ever that RPCVs talk with their representatives,” says Kate. “(Peace Corps) Volunteers’ daily interactions with citizens in developing countries present the best of our culture and values. We are a quiet but powerful antidote to much of the distrust and anxiety people feel in the world today. It’s vitally important that our representatives understand that.”
With this in mind, Kate has scheduled a meeting with the district director of her congressman, Representative George Holding. She says it was easy to schedule a district office meeting. “Representatives and their staff have a well-established process in place for meeting with constituents. They make time for this and value the effort we make to connect with them.”
As with all the 30 district office meetings currently being organized during the Days of Action, NPCA will provide organizers with key background materials and talking points. As she prepares for her March 7th meeting, Kate will be bringing an uplifting message to her member of Congress. “All of us as RPCVs know what a positive impact Peace Corps makes, both at home and abroad. Meeting with my representative is just one way I can keep him aware of Peace Corps issues, it’s ongoing relevance, and its great cost/benefit ratio.”
Charlotte Rohrer posted an articleOur featured advocate wanted to join the Peace Corps when interning at NPCA. Now, she's on her way! see more
By Megan Gilmore
Back in November, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) collaborated with the Service Year Alliance to promote “Let Us Serve”, a nationwide call-in advocacy effort to prioritize service opportunities in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. Our thanks to everyone who participated in this campaign, through which both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps alumni teamed up to provide personal testimony on the importance of service.
Among the many callers was Danna Kasom, our featured advocate for the month of December, whose upcoming Peace Corps placement will fulfill her goal of serving our nation both at home and abroad. It was a placement that required passion, patience and persistence.
From Service to Advocacy
Danna’s commitment to service began in 2014 while working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Processing Service Center in Maryland, as a Disaster Survivor Assistance Specialist with AmeriCorps. Having grown up in the Detroit area, Kasom felt a personal connection to her work as she found herself registering citizens for federal aid who were effected by the August 2014 Detroit flood. She never anticipated how her service would lead her on a path towards advocacy.
In her position, Kasom oversaw the lengthy and oftentimes ineffective federal aid process for those whose homes and businesses had been devastated by flooding. She recalls how FEMA was slow to react to the need for working furnaces and winter supplies for those living in Detroit, “Considering…the time it took to get a damaged furnace replaced, and the time of year the disaster was declared in such a state like Michigan...left many Detroiters without heat for the months of October, November, and December.”
Discontent with how FEMA handled the disaster, Danna felt responsible to do more for her hometown. “I was unsatisfied and curious with the way something was being handled and reached out to a policy maker at FEMA Headquarters to seek answers.” Instances like this kick-started Kasom’s interests in advocacy.
Another reason for her interest in advocacy? Despite her strong credentials, Danna was among thousands of Peace Corps applicants who - despite being qualified for service - were not selected because of limited funding. That didn't stop her from trying, and that's what brought her to Washington.
Before an internship with NPCA's advocacy program, Danna spent time interning on Capitol Hill for the offices of congressmen Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Sam Johnson (R-TX). She is no stranger to how advocacy works and how even one person’s voice has the capacity to influence legislation. Danna’s participation during NPCA's National Day of Action last March perfectly exemplifies this. “I was delighted to hear that Congressman Benishek, whom I had previously interned for, had signed the Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter. In the meeting, I had explained the importance of the Peace Corps to the community of my alma mater, Michigan Tech.” This marked the first time Congressman Benishek ever signed a Peace Corps funding letter and represents a prime example of successful advocacy in action.
Why Advocacy Matters
Danna says advocacy efforts to support organizations like Peace Corps are crucial because they not only invest in young adults’ futures, but also provide a person-to-person cultural exchange that fosters diplomacy and understanding. Since national service programs like Peace Corps have become increasingly competitive due to the highest number of applications in decades, this results in more qualified individuals being sent to serve. Advocacy to increase funding for the Peace Corps lends to this competitiveness and allows more competent people to promote peace, cultural understanding, and meet the development needs of host countries. At the same time, advocacy to expand service opportunities helps to make sure that thousands of qualified Peace Corps applicants are not turned away due to insufficient funds.
Danna advocates for Peace Corps and other national service programs because they “are investments in our country’s efforts to address our differences instead of exploit them." She says citizen advocacy presents solid opportunities for people to experience what "making a difference" entails.
There and Back Again
Danna’s transition from service to advocacy has led her back to her desire to serve others. This February, she will join the Peace Corps in Madagascar as a Community Health Advisor. We wish her the best of luck and our thanks for making organizations like Peace Corps the best they can be!
Support NPCA's advocacy efforts in 2017! Donate now to help shape the future.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleDo NPCA advocates make a difference? You need to read about these two first timers to Capitol Hill. see more
Many among the estimated 230 National Peace Corps Association advocates who participated in our Peace Corps 55th Anniversary advocacy day had no previous experience in the world of Capitol Hill citizen-lobbying. Among them were our October Advocates of the Month, the Ashland, Oregon husband and wife team of Asifa Kanji and David Drury.
For David and Asifa, their Peace Corps experiences were recent and extensive, serving first as 27-month Volunteers in Mali from 2011 - 12 and later signing on as Peace Corps Response Volunteers in both Ghana and South Africa.
Capitol Hill? That was another story.
The couple didn't know exactly what to expect when they signed up to take part. "As first-timers, Asifa and I were a little nervous about it all", said David. "How are you supposed to act around a Senator or Congressperson? What do you say? We didn't want to be an embarrassment to Peace Corps."
That, they were not! And, as Asifa noted, "Whoever would have thought (advocating on the Hill) would be the highlight of my Peace Corps Connect experience."
David and Asifa studied the NPCA briefing papers the night before, and gathered at a church on the morning of advocacy day, joining four other Oregonians who also had little or no advocacy experience. With this in mind, NPCA bolstered the group by connecting them with Pat Wand, a former NPCA Board member and long-time Capitol Hill advocate who had previously lived in Oregon. The first stop was a constituent coffee where the group had a few minutes meeting junior Senator Jeff Merkley, followed by additional time with his staff to make the case for increased Peace Corps funding and better health care support for Volunteers and RPCVs with service-related illnesses or injuries.
Wand got the group started with both of the group's Senate meetings. But then it was time for Team Oregon to split up and meet with their respective members of the House of Representatives. "Oh my, we are on our own!" thought Asifa. "Suddenly, it was my turn to speak to my Republican representative."
In this case, the meeting (pictured above) was with Congressman Greg Walden, a key member of the House Republican leadership. Asifa shared her story of being an immigrant to this country, and how her decision to become a U.S. citizen was very much due to her desire to serve in the Peace Corps. "I have to tell you, I have never been so proud to say I was an American as when I was in the Peace Corps."
Upon sharing she was originally from Tanzania, Congressman Walden noted he had recently visited that country on a congressional delegation (CODEL) with RPCV Congressman and Peace Corps champion Sam Farr. He pulled out his i-phone, shared photos and talked about his CODEL trip.
With a strong connection made, David and Asifa got to the business at hand. As Asifa recalls, "After that it wasn't hard to look him in the eye and with a big smile ask him to co-sponsor H.R. 6037 (Peace Corps health legislation). My husband, who knew that Rep. Walden had worked hard to improve the medical services military vets get, was quick to add that PCVs have served their country too and deserve better care for medical conditions related to their service. The congressman was on board. Wow."
Congressman Walden became one of the first co-sponsors of the legislation. and there is no doubt it was due to the efforts of Asifa and David! The meeting had more than a passing impact, as RPCV Congressman John Garamendi shared the story of being approached later that day on the House floor by Congressman Walden, who wanted to tell him about the meeting with his RPCV constituents.
David was generous in his praise of the NPCA for a successful first-time advocacy experience. "We couldn't have done it without the fantastic support provided by the NPCA staff and advocacy volunteers...The NPCA staff did all the heavy lifting, setting up appointments, providing briefing sheets, and heading up each state delegation with an experienced person who showed us how it should be done. They worked their tushes off* to make us look good. And once you've done it, you see how satisfying and fun advocacy can be."
We are very proud of our advocates of the month for their highly significant and successful participation on Capitol Hill.
NPCA can continue congressional outreach only with your support. Donate now to the Community Fund to advocate for a bigger, better Peace Corps.
Charlotte Rohrer posted an articleCarol Freeman is Featured NPCA advocate for August see more
Close to 200 dedicated individuals are already registered for Capitol Hill Advocacy Day on September 22nd, part of the National Peace Corps Association's (NPCA) annual Peace Corps Connect Conference. One of these amazing individuals - Carol Freeman of Minneapolis - is our featured NPCA advocate for the month of August.
Carol decided to apply to the Peace Corps when a recruiter came to her college. She served as an education trainer in the Philippines in the mid 1960's, working with elementary school teachers in the Teaching English as a Second Language program.
Wanting to make the most of her time in the Peace Corps, Carol remembers working very hard to get closer to her hosts. She decided to live in a small hut near the school, and with the school’s help, found two girls to help her throughout her service. As an expression of thanks to these two young women, Carol decided to help pay their way through high school. They both went on to college thanks to her financial support. On a visit to her host country many years later, she was able to see the impact her help made.
From Service to Advocacy
Carol says her Peace Corps experience forever changed her life. "Volunteers are forever remembered by the students, colleagues, and citizens of the places where they worked and lived for two years.” Her passion for the Peace Corps recently led her to become a citizen advocate with the NPCA. In recent years she participated in the Capitol Hill portion of our annual National Day of Action in March. She's also organized district office meetings back in Minneapolis with her elected representatives.
And, Carol is registered to be with us on Capitol Hill this September 22nd to bring a powerful, collective voice to make sure our elected leaders know the importance of ensuring the future of the Peace Corps.
Carol remembers being nervous during her first visit to Capitol Hill, but has a message for others who might be new to advocacy. "We were well trained and a small team of us went together. We met mostly with staff members assigned to Peace Corps issues though we were excited to meet directly with one or two Senators and Representatives." By her second year, Carol felt like an experienced advocate. And, she saw results. “After seeing the many legislative successes in the past couple years, we can each feel that we played a part and see this work is important.”
Carol also goes the extra mile in another way. A member of our Shriver's Circle, Carol is a strong financial contributor to the NPCA, and made a dedicated donation to help support our 55th anniversary Capitol Hill advocacy day. Every year, she sees the NPCA expanding projects of service to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, including job information, skill building for further service abroad, or travel abroad. "NPCA needs resources for these new projects and for current ones. I see the Advocacy Day work as key to keeping strong support for NPCA and for the Peace Corps."
Carol stresses the importance of Advocacy Day and urges others to join her. “If [everyone] could come to Advocacy Day in large numbers, we would make a strong message that more people be accepted in Peace Corps”.
Now, it's up to you. Join our August featured advocate and the rest of our dedicated advocates on September 22nd, for a day of skill-building, networking, legislative impact and fun!