Recommendations 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After all Peace Corps Volunteers were withdrawn from around the world in March 2020, an unprecedented community-driven effort has charted a course for how to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Here Are Three Outstanding Leaders in the Peace Corps Community Honored with 2021 Awards by the Women of Peace Corps LegacyNancy Kelly, Amy Maglio, and Estee Katkoff honored for global service and leadership see more
Nancy Kelly of Health Volunteers Oversees and Amy Maglio of the Women’s Global Education Project are recognized with the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award. Estee Katkoff, founder of the Superkids Foundation, is recognized with the Kate Raftery Emerging Leaders Award.
By NPCA Staff
As part of the global virtual conference Peace Corps Connect 2021, Women of Peace Corps Legacy presented awards to three outstanding leaders in the Peace Corps community. Nancy Kelly and Amy Maglio were each honored with the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award. And Estee Katkoff was presented with the Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award.
The awards were presented by Kathleen Corey, president of Women of Peace Corps Legacy, on September 23 at the Peace Corps Connect conference. WPCL is an affiliate group of Natioanal Peace Corps Association and is part of a vibrant community that includes more than 180 affiliate groups focused on regions in the U.S., on countries where Volunteers have served, and around causes that matter to the Peace Corps community.
Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award
The Deborah Harding Award honors Peace Corps women whose contributions have made a significant difference in the lives of women and girls in the world.
Nancy Kelly has worked tirelessly for over four decades to help women and girls all over the world. She began her journey in 1979 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea, working in maternal and child health, and went on to develop a career in global health. As the executive director of Health Volunteers Overseas since its creation in 1986, she has been the driver behind a program which has enabled thousands of women, children and humans to receive improved, dignified, and compassionate health care — and has allowed thousands of health professionals to receive training and mentorship which otherwise would have been near impossible.
Under her leadership, Health Volunteers Overseas has facilitated over 11,900 volunteer assignments globally. The last five have resulted in, on average, 3,200 health professionals receiving training and mentorship each year — benefiting innumerate women and children both directly and indirectly. In so doing, she is helping to build a global cadre of talented, confident, and inspired women who are committed to advancing global health.
Amy Maglio is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP) which works with grassroots community partners to educate, empower, and promote equality for women and girls in rural Senegal and Kenya. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Amy saw firsthand the multiplier effect of girls' education in rural Senegal and how access to education — which was extremely limited for girls, not only increased their own opportunities — but also enabled them to provide for their families and catalyzed wider community change.
Inspired by Khady, her host sister who she assisted in getting an education as well as other girls in her village, Amy started WGEP in 2004, at her dining room table, determined to help girls and women succeed in school and reach their full potential. As director of this Chicago-area NGO, she helped ensure the increase of education opportunities for marginalized girls in rural Kenya and Senegal through innovative programs with grassroots community partners.
This NGO has proved to be tremendously successful and has held a 99% retention rate, reaching over 20,000 girls and young women to date. In 2010, she was invited to present WGEP’s model as a best practice approach to girls’ education at the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative Conference in Dakar, Senegal, and was a drafter of the UN Declaration on Gender Equality.
Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award
The Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award is presented annually to a woman with an affiliation to Peace Corps under the age of 35 who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and ongoing commitment to serve women and girls.
Estee Katkoff became aware of gender-based violence as a Peace Corps Volunteer and used this knowledge to lead initiatives preventing it in Paraguay during and after her service. She founded a girls' empowerment club and extended for a third year to continue her work, which included working with the Children's Rights Council of Gender-Based Violence Prevention.
Since then, Estee has piloted a successful youth program, originally called Zero Violencia, which continues now as the Superkids Foundation, working in Paraguay to mobilize children as agents of change in their communities. Seventy percent of the Kid Teachers who have risen to action through Superkids identify as girls and learn the knowledge and skills needed to not only end GBV but work towards equity in their communities, particularly in education.
Estee’s focus has always been on building the capacity of her Peace Corps community to use best practices to effect change, while championing women and girls and always including men and boys in the effort.
We are listening, and we stand in solidarity with all who are actively driving efforts for change. see more
Ideas and actions — and the principles that guide us
By Maricarmen Smith-Martinez and Glenn Blumhorst
As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, current and former staff, host country nationals, family, and friends, we uphold a commitment to creating a better world, one that promotes world peace and friendship. In this spirit, National Peace Corps Association envisions a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. We Stand Against Racial Injustice and affirm our commitment to empathy and justice — around the world, and here at home.
Yet in the midst of national unrest ignited by systemic injustice, a vision of unity and vibrance is not enough. We must take more concrete steps to ensure a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture for all RPCVs and members of our community.
Evidence of racial inequity exists in many forms, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed deep systemic problems in our country. Continued violence and police brutality against the Black community has ignited protests from coast to coast — and in scores of other countries. Economic insecurity, impacting tens of millions of Americans, disproportionately impacts people of color. Black Americans are dying at higher rates due to health disparities rooted in a problematic healthcare system. And while the ongoing struggle for racial equity and social justice resonates strongly with core Peace Corps values, Volunteers of color continue to share challenges of racism, bias, and exclusivity, describing experiences during recruitment, in service, and after returning home.
It is humbling to acknowledge shortcomings, and it is difficult to change a system — but we will not succeed if we do not try. Inherent in this effort is the need for change within NPCA itself. Our staff and Board of Directors must consistently reflect the diversity we champion. Our programming must proactively incorporate values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Roadmap for the Future
To that end, the NPCA Board of Directors is charting a course for progress toward a more diverse and inclusive culture within our Board of Directors, our staff, and our Peace Corps community. We are developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Framework with cross-cutting priorities across our strategic plan, addressing the need for systemic change not only within our organization but also within Peace Corps, in our membership and Affiliate Group Network, and in our global social impact.
As a starting point, the policy will serve to:
Ensure diversity and inclusion within the NPCA staff and Board.
Ensure training to improve the organization and the workplace, such as training to better understand unconscious bias.
Support efforts to help the Peace Corps be the best it can be and address racism and inequity within the institution.
Support efforts to empower members and affiliate groups to thrive by ensuring opportunity for diversity and inclusion at NPCA events such as Peace Corps Connect; enhancing outreach efforts to RPCVs and affiliate groups of color; and building capacity for the Affiliate Group Network to facilitate conversations about social justice and to mobilize members to take action.
Support efforts to amplify the Peace Corps community’s global social impact by proactively seeking applications for projects that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion — bolstering work with minority-owned startup enterprises and leveraging our new home at Peace Corps Place in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., to engage in activities that address systemic racism.
Join Us in this Work
Our board and staff have taken the first steps to demonstrate NPCA’s proactive and deliberate leadership reflected on our new We Stand Together For Change web page. NPCA has also adapted existing tools to contact Congressional representatives, leveraging opportunities for RPCVs to advocate for racial equity and social justice legislation. We facilitated a Group Leaders Discussion: Affiliate Group Stand for Racial Justice. Our staff has formed a DEI Working Group with dedicated hours and budget. And we have more work to undertake together.
We understand that RPCVs are ready to support this cause. We recognize the difficulty of sharing experiences with racism and bias — from decades past or just last week. And we applaud those who are able to speak out and voice their experiences. We also acknowledge the discomfort of approaching conversations about race from a point of privilege. We commend the RPCVs and affiliate groups that have facilitated events, such as the RPCV/W Town Hall for Racial Justice, to not only advance the conversation but also take action.
We are listening, and we stand in solidarity with all who are actively driving efforts for change. On behalf of the NPCA Board and leadership, we seek your feedback, encourage your recommendations, and invite your ideas. And we welcome your shared commitment to this crucial work now — and for the long haul.
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez is Chair of the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08.
Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.
Right Now, We Need to Honor Peace Corps Ideals by Helping in Humanitarian Crises in Afghanistan and HaitiWe need to honor Peace Corps ideals by helping in humanitarian crises. see more
Here is what we’re doing to bolster efforts by the Peace Corps community.
By Glenn Blumhorst
It should strike us with no small significance that today, August 19, is World Humanitarian Day — a day to advocate for the survival, well-being, and dignity of people affected by crises. In just the past week, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti; thousands have been killed and injured. In Afghanistan, on Sunday the capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban. A chaotic U.S. exit and collapse of the Afghan military has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions — and fears of retribution and horrific treatment of women and girls under a new regime.
Many of us in the Peace Corps community have deep personal ties to these countries. Volunteers served in both in years past. Many RPCVs, including myself, have worked on development projects in Haiti and Afghanistan. Our first response in moments like this is to ask: What can we do now? How can we provide hands-on help? And where should we raise our voices?
Helping in Haiti
The people of Haiti were already suffering from the pandemic, food insecurity, and political turmoil after the assassination of the president. We are in contact with a number of organizations providing help on the ground, such as Partners in Health, and will keep you updated on any formal partnerships that come together for the Peace Corps community. RPCVs who served in Haiti are encouraged to contact us as we seek to strengthen the organizational capacity of our Friends of Haiti affiliate group.
Helping Refugees from Afghanistan
The Peace Corps Community for Refugees (PCC4Refugees), in partnership with Friends of Afghanistan — both affiliate groups of National Peace Corps Association — is coordinating efforts in the Peace Corps community to support refugees from Afghanistan being resettled across the United States. PCC4Refugees is mobilizing RPCVs to assist local resettlement agencies and ensure our allies are received with welcome, safe transportation, access to housing, and other necessities. PCC4Refugees can connect you with opportunities in the 30 U.S. cities designated as resettlement locations. Contact Local Liaison Coordinator Anneke Valk. Read more here, and visit pcc4refugees.org to get involved.
Since 2002, Afghan families have risked their lives to assist the U.S. military, diplomats, and other government employees, serving as translators, interpreters, cultural liaisons, and more. However, as the U.S. armed forces rapidly withdraw from Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan allies and their families are being targeted and suffering retaliatory attacks from the Taliban for their affiliation with the U.S.
In response to the continuing violence towards Afghan allies, the Biden Administration is expected to evacuate 2,500 individuals to the U.S. before September 11, 2021, through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program which provides a legal pathway to safety for individuals who worked with U.S. forces and personnel. These Afghan Allies/SIVs have begun arriving at Fort Lee, Virginia and will continue to be relocated to 30 different cities across the U.S. over the next six weeks.
The cities are:
Albany, Atlanta, Austin, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, D.C. Metro Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Durham, Elizabeth, Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Louisville, Modesto, Oakland, Omaha, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh, Rochester, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa.
Story updated August 19, 2021, at 7:00 PM.
Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association.
An in-depth work of investigative journalism by USA TODAY brings together deeply troubling stories. see more
An in-depth work of investigative journalism by USA TODAY brings together deeply troubling stories of harm suffered by women who have been victims of sexual assault while serving as Volunteers. Peace Corps must do better.
On April 23, USA TODAY published an in-depth investigative piece chronicling the experiences of multiple women who became victims of sexual assault while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. Their stories are devastating. And the statistics cited in the article about the prevalence of sexual assault are profoundly disturbing.
Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn issued a statement the same day that the article appeared, outlining how the agency is addressing these very serious issues. All incidents chronicled in the story have been referred to the Peace Corps Inspector General for investigation. And Spahn made sure that returned Volunteers know they can reach out directly to the Inspector General, as well as to the agency.
“We owe it to these women to read their stories — and to truly hear what they are saying,” said NPCA Board of Directors Chair Maricarmen Smith-Martinez in a statement. “Those of us who have been victims of sexual assault know firsthand that it takes immense courage to come forward, especially given how the initial reports of these women were handled. And let us be unequivocal: There must be zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct within the ranks of Peace Corps staff. We owe it to all Volunteers — past, present, and future — as well as their families, to ensure that Peace Corps does better.”
“We owe it to all Volunteers — past, present, and future — as well as their families, to ensure that Peace Corps does better.”
In early March, at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, former Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet recounted once again how, while she served as a Volunteer in Western Samoa in the 1980s, she was a victim of repeated sexual assault by a Peace Corps staff member — and the agency failed to take action.
Since then, some progress has been made. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act led to the establishment of a sexual assault advisory council in 2013. The Sam Farr/Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act, passed in 2018, includes strengthened criteria for hiring overseas doctors and medical support staff and outlines a number of critical requirements. Among them: evaluation of all medical staff for compliance with all relevant policies and guidelines; and designated staff at each post to serve victims of sexual assault.
As NPCA’s Smith-Martinez noted, at this moment, when no Volunteers are in the field, there is an opportunity and a responsibility for Peace Corps to conduct a thorough review of the Farr/Castle law and other previously passed legislation to ensure full compliance in all aspects. “We are very concerned that this is not the case at this time,” she wrote.
The agency is implementing a new Security Incident Management System to integrate systems for reporting and tracking sexual assaults and other crimes. That is part of the solution. Also part of the solution: whistleblower protection for Volunteers, included in the Peace Corps legislation introduced by Rep. John Garamendi in March. Emma Tremblay, who served as a Volunteer in Ecuador and is one of the women who share their heartbreaking stories in the USA TODAY piece, notes that passing this legislation is one way to show support for her and other Volunteers.
But an agency in which sexual assault has metastasized in recent years has tremendous work to do. April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “This is not something that we should think about in the abstract,” writes Smith-Martinez. “Every victim of an assault — like the women who share their stories in this article — is a person whose life has been deeply harmed.” Smith-Martinez also underscores that “While this particular USA TODAY piece focuses on the stories of women who are white, Peace Corps and others must ensure that victims who are people of color receive full support throughout their service and afterward. Racial justice and equity demand it.”
Note this as well: Kathy Buller is the Peace Corps’ inspector general. She is also executive chair of the legislation committee for the Council of the Inspector General on Integrity and Efficiency. Just days before the story appeared, she testified before Congress on the importance of the independence of the work done by inspectors general.
This story originally appeared in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine.
From the Editor: WorldView winter 2021 see more
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that approaching this endeavor with a sense of solidarity and humility and commitment is a matter of life and death.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Cover illustration by Ellen Weinstein
This is not the magazine we wanted to publish. How could it be? Instead of marking six decades of Peace Corps in pageantry and scrappy DIY inventiveness, we find ourselves in an existential moment. Begin a familiar litany: devastating pandemic, cratering economy — and within the Peace Corps community, the evacuation of Volunteers from around the world last year, with their hoped-for return to service postponed by the resurgence of the virus. Forget not the crushing burden of racial injustice, or climate instability and the fate of the planet hanging in the balance. And, to kick out the jams in the new year, a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol: some toting zip ties and beating police and looting offices of the members of Congress under the QAnon banner, some proclaiming civil war, one with Camp Auschwitz emblazoned on his sweatshirt. Weeks one through three of 2021: insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration — with downtown Washington, D.C., fortified like a Green Zone.
From around the globe: shock, horror, and some schadenfreude, calling out American hypocrisy. But also messages of hope: that this country can pull back from the brink. From my old Peace Corps country of service, Ukraine, where I and a number of returned Volunteers have observed elections over the years, the foreign minister tweeted: “I’m confident American democracy will overcome this challenge. The rule of law & democratic procedures need to be restored as soon as possible. This is important not only for the U.S., but for Ukraine and the entire democratic world as well.” Point taken. This from a country that has had war on its eastern border approaching seven years now — and a country that hosts one of the largest Peace Corps programs in the world.
Reengaging with the World
So, a natural question: Where do we go from here? Reengaging with the World our cover reads. Surely we in these United States have got work to do at home like never before. Indeed. As renowned epidemiologist Anne Rimoin argues in this edition, that’s all the more reason for working side by side, learning with and from communities around the world. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that approaching this endeavor with a sense of solidarity and humility and commitment is a matter of life and death. A conversation with Rimoin opens a section of the magazine focused on the pandemic: hearing from a nurse on the front lines, a participant in a vaccine trial, and news of returned Volunteers going to work as contact tracers in the first cohort of the National Peace Corps Association Emergency Response Network. Amid these days, both sadness and hope: gifts of COVID-19 survival boxes from the Korea Foundation to the Volunteers who served in South Korea decades ago, as thanks for being there in a time of need. It’s a reminder that the service we undertake, the gestures we make, both large and small, may sustain us and our communities in years to come in ways we can’t imagine.
Now is the time for big changes, for bold ideas, brought to bear with the kind of energy and audacity that launched the Peace Corps 60 years ago — but with a better and fuller and truer sense of community and who we are.
The need to look outward and inward, when it comes to building justice and peace, is not new. An interview with civil rights attorney Elaine Jones makes that clear. In the stories of those honored by the Franklin H. Williams Award in December, we should also ask: How does that building resonate across the years?
We explore where we’ve gotten some things right, and how — for instance, eradicating smallpox in Ethiopia and then the world. Or where things went horribly wrong: A diplomat released as a hostage by Iran 40 years ago recounts what happened when those with the power to do something about a violent mob failed to act.
These are some of the stories, the conversations, the profiles. You’ll notice smack-dab in the center of this magazine something that’s neither; it’s some serious roll-up-your-sleeves stuff: the community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” These are the big ideas sourced from thousands of members of the Peace Corps community: how we reimagine, reshape, and retool Peace Corps for a changed world. The report embraces this existential moment: Now is the time for big changes, for bold ideas, brought to bear with the kind of energy and audacity that launched the Peace Corps 60 years ago — but with a better and fuller and truer sense of community and who we are. As we’re reengaging with the world, it would be good to lead with what’s best about this country. And to deepen and renew our commitment to living out those ideals at home.
Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He was a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96. Write him.
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.
She wants to see more girls from places like she grew up as Volunteers — and ambassadors. see more
Linda Thomas-Greenfield wants to see more girls from places like she grew up as Volunteers — and ambassadors.
As a young girl growing up in Baker, one of my biggest dreams was joining the Peace Corps.
Nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Why She’s A Fan
Writing last fall for The Advocate in her home state of Louisiana, Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted: “As the oldest of eight children, I always had a strong sense of responsibility and curiosity. I became enamored with the idea of the Peace Corps from joining a group of trainees who were stationed at nearby Leland College for their language training.”
Thomas-Greenfield didn’t end up serving in the Peace Corps, but her studies led to a grant to conduct research in West Africa — and to a 35-year career in the Foreign Service, including posts as U.S. ambassador to Liberia and director-general of the Foreign Service.
As a Black girl who was the first in her family to graduate high school, she grew up in a town where KKK cross burnings were common. “The young girl from Baker in me did not imagine this career, and while I had few who looked like me at this level, I know the power that representation can bring to an agency like the State Department. My wish is for more girls from Baker and Baton Rouge to serve as United States ambassadors, diplomats, international aid workers, Fulbright Scholars, and Peace Corps Volunteers.”
A conversation with John Limbert, one of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981. see more
Iran past, present, and future – with diplomat John Limbert, one of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981. They were released 40 years ago this month.
From a conversation at the National Peace Corps Association 2020 Shriver Leadership Summit
Photo: The U.S. Embassy in Tehran, seal defaced
Storming the Compound
My connections to Iran go back to 1962, when my dad was assigned there with USAID and I was a college student studying history. The first Peace Corps Volunteers went to Iran that year; Rep. Donna Shalala was part of that group. I served there as a Volunteer 1964–66, and I went back a few years later to teach at Pahlavi University. My wife, Parvaneh, and I were married 53 years ago, and I’m proud to be part of a welcoming, well-educated, very kind Iranian-American family. The first language for both our children is Persian. My dream is to take our grandchildren to see Iran. A group of Friends of Iran Peace Corps people have been back multiple times. But I’m not welcome — because I remind them of a very black chapter in their own history.
As a foreign service officer, I volunteered to go to Iran in 1979. The Shah had gone into exile after nearly two years of protests. I arrived in August; in October, President Carter agreed to admit the Shah to the United States for medical treatment. On November 4, the embassy was overrun by 3,000 students and captured.
Had there been a functioning government in Iran, presumably they would have sent some help. To this day, I blame those who had the power to react and didn’t take the responsibility to do so.
November 4, 1979: the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Iran. “Despite the obvious dangers, our embassy had only minimal defense against a mob attack,” John Limbert wrote recently. “When that attack came, [Ayatollah] Khomeini not only did not condemn it, he praised the mob as agents of ‘a second revolution, greater than the first.” Photo by unknown photographer via WikiCommons.
For the next 14 months, we had no communication with the outside world beyond some heavily censored letters from our family. I was held in solitary for nine months. Usually what would happen is I would tell myself, if I can get through a day, that would be okay — then two days, a week, a month.
In July 1980, I did find out that the Shah had died. Then the Iran-Iraq war began, which was more important to them. They had grudges against Carter, but after he lost the election, that wasn’t so relevant. They had solidified their political position inside Iran. There was not much use to holding us anymore. On January 20, 1981, they put us on a plane to Algiers.
Ignore Previous Message
For the last 40 years, we have been insulting and threatening each other. We’ve come to the brink of war. In 2009, I was asked: “Would you come work with the Obama administration to see if we can change this way of dealing with each other — not necessarily to become friends, but just to break out of a pattern that has done nothing?”
As often happens in international politics, timing is everything. And the time wasn’t right.
President Obama used a phrase in Oslo that I have often used. He said, “I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation.” Most of us who have had the Peace Corps experience share this view, whether we like the Islamic Republic or not. And I do not. It’s a pretty awful regime, about as bad as you can get. But that’s not the point. The question is, What sort of policy should we have? What should we be aiming for? One day, we and the Iranians will be able to talk to each other. We got a glimpse of that in 2015–16. One day we may get there, and when we do, we will look back and ask: Why did we waste so much time hating each other?
There are voices within this country, both American and within the Iranian diaspora, calling for war. One is a strange, cultlike group, which has spread out its network in Washington: the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq.
There are voices within this country, both American and within the Iranian diaspora, calling for war. One is a strange, cultlike group, which has spread out its network in Washington: the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, also known as the MEK. Back in the ’60s, they were a Marxist opposition group to the Shah. They have changed themselves into a cult, and using money believed to be from the Saudis, they have discovered what so many in Washington, D.C., have: Money can buy you anything. They have bought people on left and right — Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Elaine Chao, Bill Richardson, Howard Dean. They would love to see a war, because they think that in the aftermath they could take power.
They present themselves as partisans of secular liberal democracy. Their real inspiration comes from the Khmer Rouge and James Jones. Most Iranians, who may well intensely dislike the clerics and their brutal, corrupt business, would hate these other people much more. They also murdered Americans in the ’70s. The problem is, these people are well financed, well organized, and have high levels of support. The U.S. Secretary of State sent out a notice in January 2020 to all embassies saying you should have nothing to do with this group. I saw that and said, “Wow, that’s progress!” The next day, he sends out a message saying ignore previous message. Who got to him?
I think a lot of steps that President Trump has taken vis-a-vis Iran have nothing to do with Iran — and have everything to do with his predecessor. If his predecessor negotiated an agreement, by definition that had to be a bad agreement.
But just because we get a new administration with a different philosophy doesn’t mean the Iranians are going to agree with us easily or quickly. That was certainly the case with President Obama. From the day of his inauguration, he sent out a clear message: We should be talking to each other. The Iranian reaction, for about three or four years, was “What’s the trick?” The other problem: We had President Ahmadinejad in Iran until 2013. He was toxic in this town. Didn’t matter if what he said was sensible or nonsensical. No one was listening to him.
There’s not going to be sort of a wake-up on January 21, 2021. It’s going to take patience, just like getting to the nuclear agreement — forbearance, listening, persistence. But there should be a determination to do things differently.
Steven Saum posted an articleEquality and justice. Empathy and compassion. see more
Equality and justice. Empathy and compassion.
Teaching health or English, working in youth development or fisheries, nurturing enterprises or advising in agriculture.
Building friendships to help the world understand our complex and troubled nation, bringing understanding of a wider world back home.
Navigating lives as individuals and parents, children and siblings, citizens and friends in a time of need.
Colt Bradley calls North Carolina home now. He took this photo of the primary school in Missamana, Guinea, where he was serving as a Volunteer until he was evacuated in March. As tough as the journey sometimes is, beauty and wonder are part of it, too. So is community.
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Welcome a number of new Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to the NPCA team see more
Meet the newest members of our team.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Photo of schoolgirl in Panamá by Eli Wittum
Next week we mark two days that resonate deeply with the Peace Corps community. On Monday, September 21, we celebrate the International Day of Peace. And on Tuesday, September 22, we commemorate the 59th anniversary of the passage and signing of the Peace Corps Act — the legislation that created the Peace Corps. One of its advocates in the House of Representatives was Illinois Republican Marguerite S. Church, who valued the aspiration to nurture “human dignity and confidence” around the world.
But that world has changed. And here on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the agency, we have both the opportunity and responsibility to help reimagine and reshape the Peace Corps — and our community — to be better and stronger. So I’m delighted to welcome a number of new Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to the NPCA team to help do that work — from consultant and Council on Foreign Relations Member Jalina Porter to full-time team member Marieme Foote, who was evacuated from Benin in March and is taking on responsibilities supporting advocacy and outreach. We’ve also brought on board database expert Robertino Bogart and consultant Kim Dixon to work with part-time team members Caitlin Nemeth and Molly O’Brien as they spearhead efforts to connect, inform, and engage community members.
And we have three more opportunities to join our team: We’re looking for a Director of Development, Finance and Administration Associate, and Associate Editor, Global Stories. Together we can foster a diverse, vibrant, and united Peace Corps community that has the energy and commitment to tackle the big challenges in front of us.
Jalina Porter | Strategy Consultant
Jalina Porter will be contributing to several key areas of our work, including partnerships; advocacy; strategic communications; and our diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies. She has been an active collaborator with NPCA advocacy programs for many years, and she introduced Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick at our July 18 Peace Corps Connect to the Future ideas summit.
A term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Jalina is a strategic communications advisor who specializes in Congress, peace and security, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Throughout her career, she has advised and trained over 3,000 public and foreign policy professionals, veterans, artists, athletes, politicians, and leading corporate executives. She served in Peace Corps Cambodia 2009–11 and later served on the board of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, D.C. as development director. She was named a 2018 top 35 Black American National Security and Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader by New America and a 2019 Foreign Policy Influencer by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group. She is also a member of the inaugural cohort of the NPCA 40 Under 40 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. She is a proud graduate of Howard University, where she received her bachelor’s degree, and Georgetown University, where she earned her master’s. A former professional dancer, Jalina is passionate about the arts, living with intention, and unique storytelling through movement and writing.
Marieme Foote | Advocacy and Administrative Associate / Outreach Specialist
Marieme Foote served as a Volunteer in Benin from September 2018 until the global evacuation in March 2020. While serving as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Agent, she worked alongside men and women’s groups to address issues concerning food security and agriculture. After returning to the U.S., she became involved in advocacy work for evacuated Volunteers and worked with Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) to gather data and create a report to advocate for better support for evacuated Volunteers. She holds a B.A. in political science with a minor in environmental studies from Ithaca College. She identifies as a Senegalese-American, so she has spent time both in the U.S and Senegal, where a part of her family resides. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and knitting.
Robertino Bogart | Database Management Specialist
As a Volunteer in Ghana 2017–19, Robertino taught the computer class at a junior high school and worked on a number of health, education, and agriculture projects with students and community members. He co-led a team of PCVs, software developers, and farmers that won the 2018 Peace Corps Cashew Hackathon. They created the prototype for a data collection tool that collects data about cashew harvests and provides reliable and accurate pricing and sales data for farmers and cashew buyers. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Robertino worked as a database developer with the SQL programming language. He is adding python programming language to his repertoire to manage data and create visualizations. He holds a B.A. in mathematics from George Mason University and enjoys swimming and cooking.
Kim Dixon | Team Leader, Peace Corps Community Connect
Kim joins NPCA as a part-time consultant after many years of sales, marketing and management consulting with IBM. On the technical sales side she focused on organizational change management when implementing Internet solutions; she later founded a consulting firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her true calling appeared when she went to Georgia as a Peace Corps Volunteer 2014–16 and worked with internally displaced persons. When her service concluded, she returned to the States, but her heart remained in Georgia. In 2017 she returned for another 18 months. Among other diversions and hobbies, Kim has danced with the Raleigh Little German Band throughout the East Coast, Germany, Austria, and Belgium.
Caitlin Nemeth | Outreach Specialist, part time
Caitlin Nemeth is a Coverdell fellow at the University of Colorado-Denver and expects to complete her Master of Public Administration degree in 2021. She served as a Volunteer in The Gambia 2017–19. She has a B.A. in public health policy and English from the College of William and Mary. While studying at W&M, Caitlin worked for the university’s Phonathon, building rapport with alumni and other associates of the College, and raising money for scholarship funds, diversity & inclusivity initiatives, and academic departments. As a shelter advocate at Avalon, A Center for Women and Children located in Williamsburg, she began to build necessary interpersonal skills while deepening her understanding of the complexities of nonprofit public health programs. Her time at the shelter encouraged her to combine her dream of joining the Peace Corps with her career ambition of implementing positive public health change. In Caitlin’s spare time, she enjoys sailing and paddle boarding on the Chesapeake Bay, baking delicious cookies and cakes, and reading speculative fiction novels.
Molly O’Brien | Outreach Specialist, part time
Molly O’Brien comes to NPCA after completing her M.A. in Public Service/Nonprofit Administration at Marquette University earlier in 2020. She was the recipient the Trinity Fellowship, a competitive program focused on social and economic justice, and she worked at Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity providing programmatic support for homeowners. Molly was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Trang, Thailand 2016–18 and in Karak, Jordan 2014–15. Since her return from the Peace Corps, she has been active in the RPCV community, serving on the board of the Milwaukee Peace Corps Association as their membership coordinator. Prior to Peace Corps she earned a B.A. in history and communications from Loyola University Chicago. She resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible.
Welcoming remarks for the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future see more
We’ve reached the summit. But this is not the end of the journey. Welcoming remarks for Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Glenn Blumhorst
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. Here is the introduction from NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst.
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Glenn Blumhorst. I'm President of National Peace Corps Association. And I was a Volunteer in Guatemala from 1988 to '91. And I've chosen today to represent my bio — what we're doing is a six-word bio for myself today — it is: "Serving you, the Peace Corps community." And I chose that six-word bio, because really, that's what this role here is all about for me at Peace Corps. We are about serving the community as an organization. And I have the honor and the privilege of being your servant as well and serving you as a member of this community. So I'm so very grateful for that opportunity.
I’m very pleased to welcome all of you to Peace Corps Connect to the Future, an ideas summit we're calling it. This is our first — and hopefully our last — virtual summit. This was a lot of hard work. And I just want to thank all the board directors, the members of our staff, volunteers, and family and friends and others who really contributed to making this all possible. It's a lot of work compared to an actual physical gathering, and it's a quite a different type of work that we had to undertake to make this happen.
Watch: Glenn Blumhorst’s welcoming remarks for Peace Corps Connect to the Future
Today, we would have been, normally, celebrating and “festivating,” I guess is the word, at our annual national conference in Seattle. Today would have been Peace Corps Connect in Seattle. But, as many of us know, things sometimes change.
And this year, what happened on March 15, 2020: We heard the Peace Corps announce that they were making the unprecedented decision to suspend all Volunteer programs and activities due to the COVID. And 7,300 or more Peace Corps Volunteers were brought home, and programs were suspended at that time. Lives were really turned upside down by the COVID pandemic. And that was just the beginning.
We responded to the returning Peace Corps Volunteers by launching the Global Reentry Program. You'll hear a little bit more about that later this afternoon. But it was intended to throw out the welcome mat to those 7,000 evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers and give them a long virtual embrace in welcoming them home from their service in what was very much a traumatic and abrupted situation for them — many of them who were not expecting to be where they are today after that transition.
We mobilized to help advocate for benefits to be enhanced for the evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers, and worked to support them as an organization with their jobs and academics and finding opportunities, connecting with the community after their return.
We also were concerned about the future of the Peace Corps. We found it in an unprecedented state: an uncertainty in our country, but also an uncertainty with the Peace Corps and its future, with no Volunteers serving overseas. We ramped up our advocacy efforts on behalf of the Peace Corps, just to ensure that it secured its additional funding for the evacuation, and that the prior process of advocating for future-year funding was also in place to ensure that there was going to be continuity for Peace Corps' funding.
But ultimately, we had to decide to cancel Peace Corps Connect. And when we did, we were looking at a really grim situation here in the United States in terms of the pandemic, where the death toll had reached over 100,000 from COVID-19. And more than 40 million individuals had filed for unemployment since mid-March, many of them — and most of them, actually — in communities of people of color.
Time of Reckoning
And then on May 25th, we witnessed the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man at the hands of a white police officer. And his last words that we all heard: "I can't breathe." This sparked nationwide protests and the beginning of a reckoning with systemic racism. And I know personally, this struck me very deeply.
A few days after that, and just watching the news and absorbing what was happening, it really struck me that National Peace Corps Association as an organization needed to come out clear and articulate in what our position was, and what our reaction was to the situation. And we took a stand against racial injustice. We issued a May 31st statement. One of the things that we said was: "We condemn the actions that led to George Floyd's death, just as we condemn discrimination and violence against all Black people, and that includes members of the Peace Corps community."
Since then, a nationwide movement has opened our eyes and opened our hearts and minds. It's also sparked community-wide conversation on racism right here in our own Peace Corps community. And so, July 18, 2020, here we are now. After all of this — on what would have normally been a festive occasion for Peace Corps Connect up in Seattle, we're here virtually gathered all with all of you.
We want to ensure the future of the Peace Corps — that it not just survives, but that it emerges transformed — recreated, as many people have said, dramatically changed.
And this event, we decided to hold because we really felt that we needed to hear the collective voice of our community on the issues that are most important to you: first and foremost that of systemic racism, and how we are going to deal with it in our own community and our own institutions, including National Peace Corps Association. We heard from you also about concern about the Peace Corps and its future as well. And when Volunteers may someday, hopefully soon, be able to return back to their service, or new Volunteers will be able to be recruited and placed in their countries of service, just like we were.
So we held a number of town halls throughout the last two weeks, eight of them in total. And those town halls hosted conversations on a variety of different topics. And these topics then feed into this annual summit, and you're going to hear the report-outs from those town halls and you're going to hear the most salient issues that were identified, and even some really great ideas that came out of those. But I want to say that while we've reached the summit here after eight town halls, this is only the first step of many, in a very long journey. We have much more work to do. Beyond this summit, we have to now put words into action, ideas into action. It's not going to be downhill from the summit. It's not going to be downhill from here. We have hard work to do. And we have commitment to show.
We first, of course, want to ensure the future of the Peace Corps; we want to ensure that it not just survives, but that it emerges transformed — recreated, as many people have said, dramatically changed. It needs to be a new Peace Corps. I think we have all come to that understanding. We're going to hear a little bit later from the Peace Corps director herself, and she's going to share some of her thoughts about where Peace Corps is headed as it reemerges from this crisis situation.
But also, we want to achieve that vision that we have of a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. And that's our vision statement. But you know what? We need to include in our own vision statement that this is a community that needs to be one that is diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. And that is a powerful force for the change that we want to see. That, my friends, is our utmost priority going forward. And you have my commitment that I will do all I can and work hard for you and with you to make sure that happens.
So, while this weekend, we would have had a nice festive gathering up in Seattle, and we would have enjoyed connecting with each other and hugging — and real hugs, and catching up on telling stories to each other, enjoying the Seattle weather and all the fun up there — it really is an entirely different weekend than what we had anticipated just a few months ago.
A Moment of Reflection
But there's reason also today to have pause. Today, we're marking this today as Nelson Mandela International Day. We must remember that in all that we're facing right now, he represents our north star toward justice. So we're pleased to have our conference on his day and remember him and all that he stood for, and follow his commitment and his example.
Sadly, though, yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the killing of Eric Garner; that remains such a reality in our minds. Guess what? His dying words as well, six years ago: "I can't breathe," repeated 11 times. Though it helped spark a movement in protest of police treatment of minorities, six years later, that happened again, those words echoed in the last minutes of George Floyd's life. It's a moment of sadness for Eric, for George, and for so many other Black Americans who have endured this violence for hundreds of years as a result of systemic racism.
And just last night, as we were making the final preparations for this event, we learned of Congressman John Lewis's passing. He was an icon of the justice movement. Martin Luther King spoke about the nation's bend toward justice. And that complicated bend was personified by Congressman John Lewis: as a radical, fighter, public servant, and friend. He was, of course, a wonderful supporter to all of the Peace Corps. And that came as no surprise, because in 1968, he married Lillian Miles, who would become his wife of nearly half a century. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving for two years in Nigeria, and passed away just a few years ago. So in these most challenging times, and at this time of John Lewis's death, these challenging times for our nation, we have lost an icon in the struggle for racial justice in America.
I'd like to then take a moment and give a few minutes, a few moments of silence in reflection and remembering, mourning, and hope, as we reflect on all of these events that have struck our community and mean so much to us, if you'll join me, please, in just a moment of silence.
Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.
Megan Patrick posted an articleCelebrate our Community’s 55 Years at Peace Corps Connect and at American University’s Peace Corps Community ArchiveArchiving 55 Years of History see more
Alongside the 2016 Peace Corps Connect conference in Washington, D.C., American University Archives and Special Collections is debuting two exhibits highlighting the Peace Corps Community Archive — one on campus and the other online.
The Peace Corps through the Lens of its Volunteers will be on display through the end of the semester on the third floor of the Bender Library. The Peace Corps and Its Volunteers, the online companion exhibit, is permanent.
- Preparing for Abroad
- Service Abroad
- Common Service Projects
- Friendship and Travel
- Witness to History
Representatives from the Archive will be present at the 2016 Peace Corps Connect conference. Attendees can inquire about the digital collection associated with the exhibit, which includes some items that are not featured.
The Peace Corps Community Archive is curated by the American University Library and supported by the National Peace Corps Association. It collects, preserves, and makes available materials that were created and acquired by Volunteers. The archive is also used to support scholarly research and provide educational programs that document the experiences and impact of individuals who served in the Peace Corps.
For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website.
To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the American University Archives at email@example.com.
Amanda Silva posted an articlePCV Togo shares his touching story of bringing clean water to his community. see more
Peace Corps Volunteer Mokube Ewane serves in Kante in the Kara Region of Togo. The project was originally designed to dig eight public wells, install two hand washing stations in public schools, and repair/rehabilitate three community water pumps. At the conclusion the community had built 12 wells, rehabilitated two wells, and repaired four hand pumps. The handwashing stations were deferred. The work was done in 17 communities, bringing water to 5,300 people.
Here is an excerpt from Mokube's final project report:
The farther north you go in Togo, the more scarce water becomes. This is particularly true in northern villages that are farther away from the national road. Each time I go to visit AIDS patients in remote villages and have the time to chat with community members, all they could talk about is how scarce water is, and how they have to travel long distances to fetch it. Sometimes, the water they fetch may not be ideal for human consumption. However, that is all they have.
I have seen villagers, especially girls, fetch water in the same pond that animals such as goat, and cows drink from. Often, the water contained in these shallow ponds is greenish, or yellowish in color. I was riding my bike from Kante (my post) to a nearby village, just to see and experience how life is over there. I came across a couple of children about 13 and 15 years old. They were standing next to a shallow pond of yellowish standing water. I asked what they were doing and they told me they were fetching drinking water. Just to be sure, I asked if that’s where they get their drinking water and their response was affirmative.
This situation is not unique to this village. Even in villages with access to a hand pump, when broken, it can take sometimes four years or more to get it repaired. I was a witness to three such villages with broken hand pumps since 2012. These pumps just got repaired in April 2016, thanks to our water project. People desperately wanted to get a reliable, potable and clean source of drinking water. Hence, my community and I had no choice but to undertake this water project. To correct myself, we had a choice: do nothing and let people continue to suffer or try to undertake a difficult and ambitious water project that will improve the living condition of thousands of people and save tens if not hundreds of lives each year. We chose the latter. At the end of the project, we were able to provide access to potable water to 17 communities (~5300 direct beneficiaries), thanks to Water Charity and National Peace Corps Association.
At first, people were a little skeptical about the notion of a potable water source next to them. However, when they realized that was a reality, their enthusiasm and excitement for the project couldn’t be exaggerated. After much planning and sensitization, the water project was officially launched in March 2016. With inputs from the mayor’s office, local chiefs, quarter heads, community members and presidents of the various development committees, consensus was made to build or rehabilitate water wells and repair hand pumps in 17 communities (five villages and 12 neighborhoods). At the end of the project, 12 brand new wells were built, two wells rehabilitated, three hand pumps repaired, and one hand pump repaired and rehabilitated (Totaling 14 wells and four hand pumps). These communities were chosen based on two main criteria: number of people in village (village population density), and degree of difficulty they face fetching water.
When the project began in the various sites, people couldn’t disguise their joy and happiness. They were very motivated to be part of this project. Some people came up to me and say “nous ne savons pas comment te remercier” (roughly translated to “we don’t know how to thank you”). Others will say “tu as sauvé nos vies (roughly translated to “you have saved our lives”). Apart from sand and gravel (community contribution), a lot of people were bringing food and local drinks for the workers working in the various sites. A lot of young people were also helping during the digging process. Without community members’ willingness to participate, this project couldn’t have been successful.
Our water project took approximately three months to complete (March 2016 to mid-June 2016). I’m proud to say that, despite the many challenges we faced, such as transporting cement to remote locations, or organizing community members, this project was a success. Now, more than 5,300 people in 17 different communities have access to clean and potable water, and girls can now dedicate more time studying instead of traveling long distances to fetch water for their families. Many people, especially young children, don’t have to get sick because of the scarcity of obtaining clean water. Some women can now engage in income-generating activity because of a reliable water source. All these are made possible because of the generous financial support made by Water Charity and National Peace Corps Association.
To date National Peace Corps Association and Water Charity partnership continue to be a leading source of funding for PCV and RPCV projects both in water and sanitation as well as Let Girls Learn grants. Our role to the Peace Corps community is to help PCVs and RPCVs like Mokube better serve their communities and provide the expertise, guidance and training needed to complete these projects. Thank you Mokube for sharing your story!