Communications Intern posted an articleEvacuation, some Peace Corps history, and #apush4peace see more
Evacuation, some Peace Corps history, and #apush4peace
When Coronavirus Unmapped the Peace Corps' Journey
Jeffrey Aubuchon (92252 Press)
Reviewed by Jake Arce and Steven Boyd Saum
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the unprecedented global evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers. Jeffrey Aubuchon brings together stories of some evacuees chronicled in WorldView: Chelsea Bajek, who was working with a women’s group in Vanuatu; Jim Damico, evacuated from teaching in Nepal; Benjamin Rietmann, yanked from his work with farmers and young entrepreneurs in Dominican Republic; and Stacie Scott, who left behind the community she was serving as a health volunteer in Mozambique.
Aubuchon follows in greater depth two Southern California high school sweethearts, Jacqueline Moore-DesLauriers and Dylan Thompson, who served together in Morocco. In Sefrou (pop. 80,000), on the outskirts of Fez, they taught English classes and hosted a STEMpowerment workshop for girls at the local dar chabab (youth center). They established a girls’ volleyball team that played its first game on March 5. Ten days later, Peace Corps announced its global evacuation.
“Never in the last 40 years has the Association’s mission been more vital.”
The book also serves up some context for 2020 — when each week seemed like a year unto itself. And National Peace Corps Association gets more than a passing nod — particularly its crucial work advocating for evacuated Volunteers, which helped secure additional benefits for them and $88 million in supplemental funding for Peace Corps. “Never in the last 40 years has the Association’s mission been more vital,” Aubuchon writes. “Indeed, on March 16, 2020, NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst released a statement not only voicing support for all of the EPCVs, but also outlining a national plan to coordinate support for these evacuees among the Peace Corps, the NPCA, and the RPCV community itself.”
Aubuchon served as a Volunteer in Morocco 2007–09. “I walked my own Peace Corps journey in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Casablanca bombings of 2003,” he writes. He applied for and received grant funding to help build four libraries. In fall 2019, he was teaching a course in Advanced Placement U.S. History at a high school in central Massachusetts. A lesson in Cold War history led students to do more than merely talk about global problems; they founded a youth venture — and began raising funds to support Peace Corps Volunteers’ projects. Taking the acronym for the class, APUSH, they hasthtagged their effort #apush4peace. They convinced community members to put up $1,000 in seed funding — and then, through fundraising, more than tripled that, “allowing them to help a PCV in Zambia build a hospital clinic ward and help another build a library in Mozambique.”
Paama Custom Arts Festival: Traditional basket weaving on Vanuatu. Chelsea Bajek worked with these women to launch a business project. Photo by Chelsea Bajek
One of those APUSH students, Olivia Wells, takes over the closing chapter of the book. She observes: “Few people know that there are ways to help educate adolescents in Eswatini (Swaziland) about HIV/AIDS, or to help local farmers in Malawi construct an irrigation system to decrease water erosion on their farmland.”
This is a project that’s meant to give back; one dollar from each copy sold goes to Kiva.org to support microfinance projects, and another dollar goes to support National Peace Corps Association.
As for the stories of the Volunteers who were evacuated: Those journeys continue beyond the pages of the book. For example, Jim Damico, a three-time Volunteer, didn’t wait for Peace Corps to return to Nepal. He went back on his own in January 2021 and has been mentoring teachers. Chelsea Bajek, who was serving in Vanuatu, had successfully applied for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant to purchase equipment and materials for skill-building workshops at the Paama Women’s Handicraft Center. But those funds were cut off when Bajek was evacuated. Thanks to crowdsourcing and NPCA’s Community Fund, in 2021 that project was fully funded and will, Bajek reports, increase opportunities for women’s economic development and empowerment.
Steven Saum posted an articleShe and son Gideon had their lives cut tragically short in a boating accident. see more
By Steven Boyd Saum
She was a mother and wife and human rights attorney. She was granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and daughter of David Lee Townsend and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland. She was a woman of boundless energy and an avid advocate for social justice and human rights, with a focus on issues relating to women, girls, and communities affected by HIV/AIDS.
Her passion to make a difference in the lives of others greatly shaped the remarkable career she established for herself. She served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique, worked with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and taught bioethics and human rights at Georgetown University. She worked with the Obama Administration as the first senior advisor for human rights within the U.S. Department of State’s Global AIDS program, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Global Affairs, and served as executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative.
Mother and son: Maeve Kennedy McKean and Gideon. Illustration by Edward Rooks
She was born in 1979 and tragically killed, along with her 8-year-old son Gideon, in a boating accident near a family home in Maryland on April 2. She leaves her husband, David, and children Gabriela and Toby. A virtual memorial was held on April 12, bringing together thousands of people from around the country to celebrate the lives of mother and son.
Steven Saum posted an articleI left behind my adored Mozambican family, friends, and students. see more
Mozambique | Stacie Scott
Home: Louisville, Kentucky
My community, Metangula, is in the northern province of Niassa. I was a community health services promoter for 22 months, working in the community health center organizing HIV patient files. I formed an English club, an English theater youth group, and a Grassroot Soccer youth group. I also trained high school students in HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention.
When we were evacuated, I left behind my adored Mozambican family, friends, and students. I had to leave behind my two cats, whom I love dearly and planned on bringing home with me.
I left behind the most extraordinary community. Metangula sits on Lake Niassa, the third largest lake in Africa. The rainy seasons fills the mountains with lushness. It’s a special and beautiful place.
During my service, I didn’t complete any large scale projects or grants. I certainly questioned my ability to have an impact and whether my activities were necessary. What I learned is that the size of the project does not determine its importance. Fostering positive relationships with youth and community members — being a trustworthy, honest, reliable person — makes a difference. If I build positive relationships with youth, they are more likely to participate and to carry the messages I teach, then share that knowledge. In the grand scheme of things, this is what matters — and this is what people need the most, no matter where we are in the world.
In the grand scheme of things, this is what matters — and this is what people need the most, no matter where we are in the world.
After the conclusion of my Grassroot Soccer program, one of my students, Inacio, came looking for me at the hospital. He handed me a typed document that had been folded twice and stapled shut.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s for Tia Stacie to read at home.”
Inacio had written a letter thanking his colleagues within the program, explained the implications of HIV in his community, and noted what he learned from the curriculum. The ultimate paragraph was titled “special thanks,” for Tia Stacie: for the doors that I open for the group — and that in return, the group loves me greatly because I am a “mother” always on their side.
Sunrise in Namaacha, where Stacie Scott and other Volunteers trained before beginning service. Photo by Stacie Scott
A couple days later, I found Inacio in his normal hangout spot. “Inacio, you are a very special man,” I said. “Do you know why?” He smiled and looked away bashfully. I explained that my job here can be difficult, but his acknowledgment of the program did my heart so much good. It is due to my students that I charge ahead even on the toughest days. “You all do far more for me than I could ever do for you,” I added. Of course, he disagreed and only continued to thank me more. “I am a transformed man now,” he insisted.
Many community members told me during my farewell, “We are already accustomed to you being here!” Given our abrupt departure, it is even more important to return to show our commitment.
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Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.