Tiffany James 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)
Maggie Eckerson (pictured, Belize 2019–20), was awarded two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Sabra Ayres (Ukraine 1995–97) was named Chief Correspondent for Ukraine at The Associated Press (AP), leveraging nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies. Bridget Mulkerin (Senegal 2018–20) became the California Cone Corps Manager at American Forests, a nationwide nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. We share news about more awards, a newly published memoir, and new roles in USAID El Salvador, universities, and advocacy nonprofits.
Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
In August, Maggie Eckerson (2019–20) was awarded two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award because of her service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Eckerson was serving with the Peace Corps in Belize but had to leave when all Volunteers were brought home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She began serving with AmeriCorps in summer 2020, working in the National Civilian Community Corps program and then Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). For the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, one must contribute more than 4,000 hours of service in their lifetime. Eckerson was able to achieve this goal through her work in the AmeriCorps in her Independent Service Projects and the year she spent working with The Catholic University of America during her second year with the AmeriCorps. During her time with the Catholic University of America, Eckerson led a program mentoring middle school students to prepare them for college.
Chris Cushing (1981–84) was appointed the Mission Director to USAID El Salvador in August, overseeing bilateral and regional programs in Central America and Mexico. For nearly a decade, Cushing has served in several leadership roles within USAID, such as Mission Director in Ecuador as well as the Barbados-based USAID Eastern and Southern Caribbean Mission before assuming the same role at USAID Haiti from February 2020 to May 2022. Weeks after being sworn into his role in Haiti, Cushing rolled up his sleeves to work with the people of Haiti through the COVID pandemic shutdown, a president assassination, and a devastating earthquake that killed over 2,000 people. During the earthquake in 2021, Cushing coordinated the dispatch of search and rescue teams to communities in southern Haiti at the epicenter of the earthquake. “El Salvador, as we know, has its own significant challenges: a lack of economic opportunity coupled with significant violent crime, including some of the highest rates of femicide in the world,” said USAID Administrator Samantha Power during Cushing’s swearing-in ceremony in August. “[Cushing] has quite the task ahead of him, but I know he is up for it. His caring spirit and caretaker mindset bring reassurance and solace to those around him.”
Maryam Saifee (2000–02) became a Council on Foreign Relations life member in June. The Council on Foreign Relations is a prestigious membership, including over 5,000 prominent leaders in the foreign policy arena. For more than a decade, Saifee has worked with the U.S. Department of State. She is currently serving as a senior advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to embarking on her career within the U.S. Foreign Service, Saifee was a consultant for the Ford Foundation, designing outreach and recruitment strategy for senior staff in Ford’s human rights, asset-building, and reproductive rights portfolios. After completing her Peace Corps service in Jordan, she served with AmeriCorps and supported South Asian survivors of domestic violence. In 2016, Saifee published an opinion piece in The Guardian sharing her personal story as a survivor of female genital cutting.
Josh Josa (2010–12) was honored with 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.
Quintella Cobb (2019–20) took on a new role as Wellness Educator at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, beginning in September. She had been serving as a health promotion specialist at Tulane University. With the Peace Corps, Cobb served as an HIV/AIDS and Adolescent Health Volunteer. In March 2020, she and all other Volunteers were brought home because of COVID-19.
Katie Baird (1984–87) published a new memoir, Growing Mangos in the Desert, chronicling her Peace Corps service in a Mauritanian village during a catastrophic drought and the relationships and change she nurtured over the four decades that followed. Baird is a professor of economics at the University of Washington in Tacoma. With expertise in public economics and public policy, Baird worked for policy organizations in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts, before embarking on her career in academia. For three years, she was a public affairs columnist for The News Tribune in Tacoma.
Bridget Mulkerin (2018–20) became the California Cone Corps Manager at American Forests, a nationwide nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. Mulkerin’s responsibilities will involve building capacity of cone collection and creating resilient forests across California. Mulkerin served in Peace Corps Senegal, focusing on agroforestry. Her Peace Corps service fueled her interest in pursuing a master’s in international environmental policy from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “From a young age, I enjoyed exploring the woods behind my childhood home,” says Mulkerin when discussing why she is grateful for her job at American Forests. “As I got older, I appreciated the opportunities I had to travel and explore forests all over the world. Further understanding forest ecosystems and the services they provide for all life; I have been driven to protect them.”
Amy Runyon Harms (1997–2000) has been appointed Senior Vice President of Operations and Strategy at Inseparable — an advocacy nonprofit championing for mental health policies that help the U.S. heal and thrive. Harms brings to the role over 20 years of direct service, foundation, and advocacy experience, including directorial positions at The Gill Foundation, ProgressNow Colorado, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM). During her time with PPRM, Harms served as director of political outreach and focused on electing political supporters of pro-family planning policies, comprehensive sex education, and full access to women’s reproductive health care.
Mario Lopez-Rodriguez (2019–20) is completing a master’s in public health at Emory University. With the Peace Corps, he served as a community health extension officer in the village of Kidogozero. “My service as a Peace Corps volunteer helped define my passion for global health,” he said in a recent interview. “It allowed me the opportunity to learn, live and work with a community that I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise. It also taught me the importance of cultural humility and putting effort into learning about the communities I seek to serve.” Born in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in 1993, Lopez-Rodriguez emigrated to Tennessee with his family in 2000. He completed a bachelor’s in nursing at the University of Memphis.
Sabra Ayres (1995–97) was named Chief Correspondent for Ukraine at The Associated Press (AP) last month. In this new role, Ayres will manage and coordinate AP’s all-format coverage of Ukraine, including text, photography, and video storytelling. Ayres has nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies — with bylines from Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Europe and India. Ayres was the 2016 recipient of the Front Page Marie Colvin Award for Best Foreign Correspondence for her coverage of Ukraine and Europe’s migrant crisis. She also taught journalism at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul and worked as a visiting professor at the India Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore.
Communications Intern 2 posted an articleHe was the first Black American to serve as an aide to a Virginia governor. see more
William Robertson (1933–2021) was the first Black American to serve as an aide to a Virginia governor. He went on to serve five U.S. presidents and lead Peace Corps posts.
By Catherine Gardner
Photo of William Robertson courtesy University of Virginia Press
The first Black American to serve as an aide to a Virginia governor, William Robertson sought ways to enact change and transform systems. After earning degrees in education at Bluefield State College in West Virginia, he helped integrate a white school in Roanoke as a teacher, and was the first African American member of the Roanoke Jaycees civic organization.
When Linwood Holton, a Republican, was running for governor, he convinced Robertson, a well-known civic leader — and Democrat — to run for the House of Delegates. Holton’s goal, as The Roanoke Times recounted, was “take down the segregationist Byrd machine.” Holton won, Robertson lost. Then Holton called and asked Robertson to be part of his administration.
From state government, Robertson went on to serve five U.S. presidents in a variety of positions, from presidential committees to director of the Peace Corps in Kenya and the Seychelles. He also served as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. When he retired, he returned to teaching in Tampa, Florida, at an inner-city school. “You’ve done all these things, you’ve traveled all these places,” he said, “why not share it?”
He was at work on a memoir, Lifting Every Voice: My Journey from Segregated Roanoke to the Corridors of Power, when he died in June 2021 at age 88. It recounts challenges and hard-won victories over a lifetime. University of Virginia Press published the memoir earlier this year.
This remembrance appears in the Spring-Summer edition of WorldView magazine.
Catherine Gardner is an intern with WorldView. She is a student at Lafayette College.
Updates 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.
Understanding New Diasporas and Transnationality Through the Voices of African Immigrants to KentuckyUnderstanding identities through oral history interviews with 50 Africa-born immigrants in Kentucky see more
Voices of African Immigrants in Kentucky
Migration, Identity, and Transnationality
By Francis Musoni, Iddah Otieno, Angene Wilson, and Jack Wilson
University Press of Kentucky
Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum
The heart of this book is based on oral history interviews with nearly 50 Africa-born immigrants in Kentucky — of which there are now more than 22,000. From a former ambassador from The Gambia to a pharmacist from South Africa, from a restaurant owner from Guinea to a certified nursing assistant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, every immigrant has a unique and complex story of their life experiences and the decisions that led them to emigrate to the United States. The geography of stories reaches from Algeria to Zimbabwe, Somalia to Liberia, grouped together with stories of origins, opportunity, struggles, and success, and connecting two continents.
Within scholarship on migration and identity, this book “offers a refreshing step away from existing research on major urban centers that host large populations of African immigrants,” notes a review in the Journal of Southern History. “It is especially relevant to the study of ‘new African diasporas,’ which focuses on African diaspora communities who have arrived directly from Africa in recent decades and whose sense of history, race, and identity is understandably different from the many other African diaspora communities in the United States.” And at a time when migration continues to roil U.S. politics, the book also offers new insights into transnational identity. With that in mind, the final chapter takes as an epigraph an Igbo proverb from Chinua Achebe’s novel Arrow of God: “The world is like a Mask dancing. You do not see it well if you stand in one place.”
The project brought together Angene Wilson and Jack Wilson with historian Francis Musoni, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe and teaches the University of Kentucky; and Iddah Otieno, a professor of English and African Studies who teaches at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and is originally from Kenya.
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated May 2, 2022.
Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.
Communications Intern 2 posted an articleA perspective from Kenya. July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future. see more
A host country perspective from Kenya. Remarks from the July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said — volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels.
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
Hi everybody, I’m happy to be given this chance to share with you some experiences. I’ll talk about three episodes regarding the Peace Corps. Peace Corps came at the correct time when many countries just gained their independence; the young people who came as Volunteers were disciplined and they really interacted with the community.
People in Kenya knew very little about the United States. With the coming of the Peace Corps Volunteers, who worked mainly in rural areas, people came to know more. And that was during during the Cold War. Discussions took place, and people felt at home with the Volunteers — and the Volunteers themselves felt at home. Thus that aim of the Peace Corps was achieved immediately.
The majority of the Volunteers were teachers, and I'm happy to say that most of the people who went through those schools — special high schools — and because of the Peace Corps, they did well in school and they have really served the community. That's the main aim of the Peace Corps: to empower the people.
Watch: Remarks by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said from July 18
As the years went on, especially in other fields, what Peace Corps Volunteers did was marvelous. In technical terms, whether in agriculture or in otherwise empowering people, they did a good job. The policy of the American government was seen on the ground; to see and talk to people and exchange ideas is when you learn more about the country. And it came as a cultural exchange: We learned technical fields, and we learned more about American culture and American people.
After the Cold War came another era — the era of terrorism, which really affected the work done by Volunteers in several countries. In some countries, the Volunteers couldn't go too deep in some areas. And as things change, especially in Kenya, they had to be pulled out; that was very sad. That also interfered with the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers.
And now there is a reckoning because of this pandemic. I think this a big a big blow to the Peace Corps itself — especially in Kenya, because we were just planning to bring in new Peace Corps Volunteers. We were ready to receive them, after they were pulled out about seven years ago. They were coming back. And unfortunately, all of a sudden this pandemic came.
Now is a very difficult time, especially for the work of the Peace Corps — because the Peace Corps Volunteers work with communities and interact with communities. With this pandemic, we don't know how long it will take. So unfortunately, that interaction is no longer there. Because when people are living together and working together, they learn from each other — and they learn each other's culture, even how to prepare traditional dishes. We shall miss all that.
How can the Peace Corps change and work from outside the country they're supposed to be in? How can the Volunteers work? It's a big challenge. And I think this we have to look at very critically. I don't see Volunteers coming back to the countries in the near future. So I think the best thing is to plan and see how we can interact. What we are doing now through Zoom most these days — people have learned to communicate. People are working from home; is it possible to give some technical advice from home? That's one thing we should look at.
I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
How can we revive or continue with the work that Peace Corps Volunteers were doing? They have left, and I'm sure that local people that are trying to contact them to do some work; it's a continuous train which goes on.
How can we survive during this pandemic? We need to look at ourselves and bring our heads together and see how the work can be done. We have seen it at the national conference taking place. And is it possible, at least to some extent, to carry on with the work we are doing in the stations we were through Zoom?
The other issue is the American situation. Just recently people were really shocked when the [government] said that international students who are there had to come back. I'm very happy that decision was revised. Such decisions sometimes, unfortunately, affect ordinary people who have children there and who are starting their own family; they hope that they will get the education they need in America and then come back. So if all of a sudden they said that "No, because of this pandemic, you have to go back," it becomes difficult.
But also, if I can mention what has happened recently in the States — especially the brutality which is going on: That really affected so many people all over the world. I'm glad that things are being worked out, and I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
People are very sensitive, especially in terms of human rights; people are saying that especially that America, this democracy, is usually the first to talk about and harass other countries when there is abuse of human rights. And here people are looking at especially the security guys and themselves doing such things. As human beings, we should all learn to live with each other and respect each other — and work together.
Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya is a volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels. He is the 2013 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
A Haitian American Volunteer navigating the uncertainties of a time of crisis see more
Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya (2006–08) and Zambia (2008–09) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Haiti (2010)
As told to Ellery Pollard
Photo: Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake: Carlos Jean-Baptiste, in blue shirt, assisting with relief. Courtesy Carlos Jean-Baptiste
I identify as a first-generation Haitian American, born of an immigrant mother. I grew up in a community where my grade school was 50 percent first-generation American, so I experienced the world through these relationships. I was always aware of how big the world is. Peace Corps was a path to experience it firsthand, and it helped me understand the complexity of identities and how we have a responsibility to parse those identities — our own and those of people we live and work with.
When I arrived in Kenya as a Volunteer, I was petrified. But when my host father met me, he embraced me, and he said, “Today, my son, you were born in Africa, and your name is Makau.” To be embraced by a community, by someone who doesn’t know you, and to immediately feel a sense of belonging — that’s a very significant feeling.
While I was in Kenya, I was a behavior change communicator for Deaf audiences. It was a pilot program, and most of us who went were artists and graphic designers. The idea of being able to create visual media to communicate behavior change was promising and exciting. It was an amazing experience to get the chance to work with the Deaf community — people who see themselves as their own tribe, but who all represent different ethnic groups within Kenya.
I was in service for about 18 months before Peace Corps suspended the program due to civil unrest following the 2007 elections. Four of us went to Zambia and met with the country director. She asked if we were interested in doing a pilot there, which ended up being a great way to build something new and carry on from our previous service.
The earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010. I was working in Ethiopia at the time. I immediately started trying to find ways to help.
The earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010. I was working in Ethiopia at the time. I immediately started trying to find ways to help. I did some fundraising, but I was ultimately able to volunteer with Peace Corps Response, working with USAID. That was my first time in Haiti; it was unfortunate that it took the earthquake to get me there.
The program was put together as quickly as possible, trying to find the right skill sets to be most effective. It was a disaster response situation: I came in from the airport and they sat me at a table and told me to read all these documents and explain what I was going to do. Those first hours were cathartic. It’s all epiphany, it’s all learning — what I know, what I don’t know, how to move forward. Not knowing everything is fine. But knowing people is an expertise as well — how to read cues. Leaning on experiences I had from Kenya and Zambia and Ethiopia, I knew that if you don’t ask the right question, or don’t ask it the right way, you’re not going to get the answer you really want. Sometimes people are going to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what you need to know.
What I did was fill gaps for a long time: I would be an informal interpreter in the field; then I worked as the liaison to the United Nations Clusters. Any given day, you could be working on something totally different, responding to immediate needs. We were facilitating specific parts in the recovery via monitoring and evaluation, recommendations about what people should do. I was able to work on a project at its inception and then work in a different agency to develop and implement it. So I got the chance to see the fruits of my work in a way that a lot of Volunteers don’t.
In terms of identity, in Haiti I could be Haitian — but also American. I could speak Kreyòl in a really comfortable way, but also speak English. It was the first time that everyone around me was speaking the language that I grew up speaking. How many people have that moment where you swear you’re an expert, and then you’re confronted with however much you really know — or don’t? It’s incredibly humbling — but not humiliating.
This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.
There’s a new spot at Florida International University dedicated to all who have served. see more
A place to pause for peace: David Garcia, president of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, donates a sculpture and bench to Florida International University
By NPCA Staff
Photography by Vince Rives / Florida International University
There’s a new spot on the campus of Florida International University dedicated to all who have served — or will serve — in the Peace Corps. The place to pause: a bench beneath the wings of a dove of peace, designed and donated by David Garcia to mark the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps. Garcia is president of the Returned Volunteers of South Florida; he studied at FIU and served as a Volunteer 1988–90 at a rural technical school in Meru, Kenya. And he was on hand for a ribbon-cutting and the dedication of the space in May, as were local dignitaries, NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst, and university leaders, including President Mark B. Rosenberg.
The metal sculpture is meant to embody a spirit of peace, intricacy, and collaboration. It is affixed to the north side of the Deuxieme Maison building, one of the original structures on the campus of FIU, Miami’s largest public university. The school is recognized by the Peace Corps as a leader among Hispanic-serving institutions for producing Volunteers. In 2014 FIU inaugurated a Peace Corps Prep certificate program, part of its mission of fostering global understanding.
Pause for Peace: David Garcia, president of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, with the sculpture and bench he designed and donated to Florida International University. Dedicated to all who have served — or will.
Ribbon cutting with local dignitaries, NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst, and university leaders, including President Mark B. Rosenberg