Orrin Luc posted an articleUpdates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more
News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Jamie Hopkins, who served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1996–98, leads the Eagan Community Foundation in Minnesota and spearheaded a three-day film festival in support of Ukraine in April and May. Krista Kinnard (Ecuador 2010–21) has been named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Rob Schmitz (China 1996–98) had a stint as guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show. Tommy Vinh Bui (Kazakhstan 2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his Los Angeles community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share news about more awards, medals, and director roles.
Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
Rob Schmitz (1996–98) became a guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show in late April. As NPR’s Central Europe Correspondent, Schmitz covers the human stories of a vast region, such as Germany’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic. Before reporting on Europe, Schmitz worked as a foreign correspondent covering China and its economic rise and increasing global influence for a decade. He also authored the award-winning book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road which profiles the lives of individuals residing along a single street in the heart of Shanghai. During his first week as guest host, Schmitz talked with a Shanghai resident who discussed her experience with Shanghai’s zero-COVID strategy and the recent pandemic restrictions. Listen here.
Lane Bunkers (1989–91) took on responsibilities as of Peace Corps Country Director of Costa Rica in March. Bunkers steps into this new position a year before Peace Corps Costa Rica’s 60th anniversary and amidst the first wave of Volunteers returning to service overseas. In his director’s welcome, Bunkers wrote, “In Costa Rica, the pandemic impacted the social, economic, and political environment, as it did throughout the world. The country’s recovery will take time, and Peace Corps is well-positioned to support the communities where our Volunteers serve.” He brings an extensive career in leadership and international development, including three years serving as Peace Corps program and training officer in Romania and in the Eastern Caribbean. Prior to his new role, Bunkers worked for Catholic Relief Services for more than two decades. While there he oversaw a $25 million annual budget invested in initiatives ranging from water and food aid for drought-stricken regions to improving educational outcomes for malnourished children.
Krista Kinnard (2010–2012) was named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since starting her role as DOL’s chief of emerging technologies in 2021, Kinnard has focused on ways to use artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning to reduce the time employees spend on repetitive tasks. She also collaborated with the department to establish a technology incubator, inviting DOL staff to propose ideas that could benefit agencies and the public. Before working at DOL, Kinnard was the director of the U.S. General Service Administration’s Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence. Her data-driven expertise sharpened during her Peace Corps service where she was able to apply her quantitative skills to real-world problems. Afterward, she pursued a master’s in data analytics and public policy before building AI and machine learning tools for federal clients as a data scientist at IBM.
Dr. Nadine Rogers, who serves as country director for Peace Corps Guyana, is a 2022 recipient of the Global Achievement Award from the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association. “This well-deserved and extraordinary accomplishment highlights her incredible contributions in the international arena," says Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn. Dr. Rogers has almost 30 years of experience in management, health policy implementation, science administration, and education and communications across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously served as a foreign service officer at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator under the U.S. State Department, and for 10 years she worked at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, handling scientific review of multi-million dollar research grant applications focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and services in populations at risk-for or addicted to drugs, both domestically and internationally. She has served the U.S. government across the globe, including in Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, and in the Caribbean.
Tommy Vinh Bui (2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week in April for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bui was working as a Los Angeles Teen and Adult Services Librarian when the pandemic shut down libraries. With a love for his community and a penchant for service, he sprang into action seeking ways to help such as donating blood to the Red Cross to help with the blood shortage; delivering convalescent plasma to hospitals around and outside of Los Angeles; assisting Project Roomkey — an initiative started by the California Department of Social Services, providing shelter for unhoused people recovering from or exposed to COVID-19 — in its efforts to help vulnerable people get off the streets and find resources. As part of the last cohort to serve in Kazakhstan, Bui’s Peace Corps service began in March 2011. He served as a community development and education Volunteer until he was evacuated in November of that same year and credits his experience as a major contributor to his personal and professional growth.
Josh Josa (2010–12) is a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.
Travis Wohlrab (2013–15) received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for developing a livestream production capability and supporting agency communications programs. This medal recognizes those who significantly improve NASA’s day-to-day operations. Wohlrab is the engagement officer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he has worked since the end of his Peace Corps service. During the onset of COVID-19, Wohlrab used his video production expertise to produce livestream events — such as Town Halls and public outreach events — which were crucial to helping the center continue to disseminate information and operate as it had before the pandemic.
Lowell Hurst (1976–78) received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, along with his wife Wendy, from the Pajaro Valley Chamber Of Commerce and Agriculture. Hurst has dedicated his life to education, public service, and volunteerism starting with his Peace Corps service — followed by the more than three decades he spent teaching science and horticulture at Watsonville High School. In 1989, he was elected to the Watsonville City Council, served on the body for three stints over three decades, and served three mayoral terms, retiring from the political arena after his final term.
Heather Laird was appointed the new medical director of Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades (VIM) in April. She first got involved with VIM by serving as a volunteer nurse practitioner in 2013, while working at her full-time job in telemedicine. Laird shifted away from telemedicine to work with patients in person at Mosaic Medical — a community-founded health center focused on making high-quality healthcare available to Central Oregonians, regardless of life circumstances. Inspired by her Peace Corps experience, which allowed her to learn technical skills that would help her community, Laird pursued a master’s in environmental and occupational health sciences at University of Washington before attending University of California, San Francisco, and obtaining a degree to become an adult nurse practitioner. “I am looking forward to harnessing my experience and education to help the underserved in Central Oregon through my role at Volunteers in Medicine,” Laird said.
In April and May, Jamie Hopkins (1996–98), who serves as executive director of the Eagan Community Foundation, spearheaded the Twin Cities Ukrainian Film Series. “It’s important for me to tell people about Ukraine,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been trying to do that for 25 years, and for the first time people are really anxious to learn.” Together with the Emagine Theaters, the foundation put on a three-day film fundraiser to benefit a variety of needs in Ukraine, including funding for filmmakers documenting the current war and community foundations in the areas hardest hit. “I want to make sure that opportunity exists today to do that (make Ukrainian films) in the future,” Hopkins said. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Hopkins served as a teacher trainer in the town of Ukrainka in the Kyiv Region — something she describes as “most rewarding experience of my life.” Hopkins has served as the Eagan Community Foundation’s executive director since 2016. She originally joined the foundation as a board member in 2013.
Orrin Luc posted an articleEvacuated Peace Corps Volunteers: Then and Now, We Continue to Serve see more
Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers: Then and Now, We Continue to Serve — a conversation convened as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Pictured: “Gül” in Turkish, “rose” in English. Margo Jones served as a Volunteer in the village of Asagisayak, then in the city of Bolu. Photo by Ken St. Louis
On September 25, 2021, Jodi Hammer hosted a panel of Volunteers who have been evacuated from the countries where they were serving — in the 1960s and in 2020. Hammer was a Volunteer in Ecuador 1994–97 and serves as Career Support Specialist at National Peace Corps Association. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation. Watch the full conversation here.
I decided in high school that I wanted to go into the Peace Corps. My parents were not thrilled. I was invited to Turkey. I graduated from college and went into training at Portland State. Turkish was my fifth language. At a university in Ankara, we spent a month learning more Turkish. I was a rural community development worker, and I went out into my village near the Black Sea at the end of August 1966.
Asagisayak: Villagers where Margo Jones served as a Volunteer. Photo by Todd Boressoff
The village had no running water. We went to the well in the morning at 5:30, a social event with the women. We did not have toilet facilities. For food we had no refrigeration. We went to a market once a week, and you bought what you could eat.
I initially bought a few canned things. When I opened them, they had worms, so I threw them out. We had one big oven and baked bread once a week.
Where she called home: In Turkey, Margo Jones’ landlady with her son. Photo by Todd Boressoff
I got a driver and seven days a week went to villages and taught girls basic healthcare. I got an infection in one of my fingers, and they wanted to amputate. I said, “No, I came in with ten, I’m leaving with ten.” I had menstrual problems. But what brought me down was amoebic dysentery. They decided to evacuate me in March 1967. On my flight, a Peace Corps doctor accompanied me back to the East Coast.
Many we had not talked to in 50-some years. They were all willing to come back and do it again.
Three weeks later, the Peace Corps asked if I’d like to go train for India. I said, I’m still sick. They sent me to a doctor at George Washington University Hospital. I was still seeing him for a year.
I felt Peace Corps was the best experience I’ve ever had. Financially, it was a problem. We were paid $150 a month in Turkey; that wasn’t enough to live on. I bought a bed but had to return it before I left, because I hadn’t fully paid for it. Then we were paid $150 per month at home. That didn’t go far with renting an apartment in Washington, D.C. My mom helped; she understood a little better than my dad why I was doing this.
I loved the commercial that said: Is the glass half empty? Or is the glass half full? The Peace Corps person believes it’s always half full. In February 2021, I set out to find the 35 people in our group. In September, my site mate and I hosted a Zoom meeting; of the 30 people still alive, 17 participated. Many we had not talked to in 50-some years. They were all willing to come back and do it again.
Photo: Ron and pet rabbit devour a book. Courtesy Ron Bloch
In 1966, when I graduated from college, I had a choice between the U.S. Army and Peace Corps. I chose the Peace Corps. We went to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish, and I was sent to Venezuela. There were 400 Volunteers there.
I was assigned to work in the high-rise slums of Caracas — some 80 buildings, and 5,000 people in my building alone. I got involved in community development. I was there 18 months out of 24.
Congress was debating whether military service and Peace Corps service should be equal. I was a test case; it went all the way to the presidential board, and I was drafted.
I became a first lieutenant; the army, in their wisdom, assigned me to South Korea in charge of tactical nuclear weapons. All that taught me a lot about flexibility, resilience, and humor.
High-rises in Caracas — where Ron Bloch served with the Peace Corps before the Army cut his service short and sent him to Korea. Photo by Ron Bloch.
I had a career in recruiting and outplacement career management, so I’ve offered a service to returned Volunteers reviewing résumés. I’ve helped over 4,000 so far. I keep, in my office, postcards they have sent from around the world — the only thing I ask for.
WE SHARE SOME SAD NEWS from December 28, 2021: Ron Bloch passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He dedicated literally thousands of hours to supporting fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. We’re tremendously grateful for his work and care, and he will be deeply missed.
I was part of group 54. I arrived in August 2019 and was teaching in Mohyliv-Podilskyi in south-central Ukraine. I was evacuated because of COVID-19 in March 2020. The evacuation process itself was about four days in Kyiv, trying to figure out when we’d be able to find a flight back to the United States. Countries were shutting down airports.
When all that happened, I was just getting into a groove, feeling connected with my community, students, and colleagues. I was in Kharkiv when I found out about evacuation; I texted my host family: I’m leaving. I’m sorry. I don’t know if guilt is the right word for what I was feeling; it was frustrating and upsetting.
I arrived in Ohio, and the next day things went into a full shutdown. Everyone was experiencing culture shock in the U.S. I struggled with the economic tailspin. I was sitting in my quarantine hotel, thinking, What am I going to do? We were watching opportunities shut down.
Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association did a good job hosting lots of virtual events, providing résumé help. Some graduate schools extended their application deadlines. I ended up going to grad school in international relations at University of Chicago. I wrote my thesis on Euromaidan and Ukrainian civil society. I am also involved in the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, trying to continue those connections between the U.S. and Ukraine.
I work as a senior programs associate for Venture for America. Being able to communicate about things that are very difficult, dealing with people who have different cultural norms — that helped a lot when I was job searching. I would also say rely on the Peace Corps network. My friends were the best.
Guyana 2017–19; South Africa 2020
I was inspired by my mother to serve in the Peace Corps; she was a Volunteer in Botswana 2010–12. After serving in Guyana, I applied to go to South Africa and arrived January 2020. I was just at the end of pre-service training when the evacuation happened. It was about 36 hours from when we found out until we were on a plane.
I did have quite a bit of culture shock coming back — especially because of a scarcity mindset in the U.S. Compared to where I had been, there was abundance. We have running water, electricity, I have a flush toilet. I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury. It was very confusing.
I did have quite a bit of culture shock coming back — especially because of a scarcity mindset in the U.S. Compared to where I had been, there was abundance. It was very confusing.
Peace Corps did a lot of outreach about volunteer and employment opportunities. The organization I’m supporting, as a crisis counselor for survivors of sexual assault, I found through that outreach. But after I closed my service in Guyana, I had a real struggle with mental and emotional health. Resources Peace Corps had were completely insufficient and hard to access. I’m in Oakland, California; there were a lot of providers on the list they provided. No one I called knew how they ended up on that list, and they wouldn’t take the Peace Corps insurance. I contacted Peace Corps; the response was dismissive. We hope you figure it out. I hope that changes in RPCV healthcare include a boost in mental health support and reevaluating that list of providers.
Watch the full conversation here.
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 19, 2022, to correct photo credits.