Nepal

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Remarks from the July 2018 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future see more

    A host country perspective from Nepal. Remarks from the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.

    By Kul Chandra Gautam

     

    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 Kul Chandra Gautam — diplomat, public policy expert, and peace advocate — and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. 

     

    I want to thank National Peace Corps Association for this opportunity to share my views on the future of the Peace Corps from the perspective of a host country, in my case, Nepal. 

    I have had five-decade long and happy association with the Peace Corps, since I was a 7th-grade student in the hills of Nepal. My wonderful Peace Corps teachers were instrumental in helping transform my life. And the 4,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Nepal have contributed immensely to my country’s development. 

    I feel sad that because of the COVID pandemic the Peace Corps had to temporarily withdraw its Volunteers from all countries, including Nepal. 

    Today I join my fellow panelists from Guatemala and Kenya to address some weighty questions about the future of the Peace Corps from our perspective as global citizens, and that of our home countries.  

     

    Watch: Kul Chandra Gautam’s remarks at Peace Corps Connect to the Future
     

    I deeply appreciate the soul-searching motivation for our reflection at this time of historic convulsion in the U.S., triggered by not only the COVID crisis but also the Black Lives Matter movement, and other crises facing America and the world. 

    Recent events have made all of us introspect deeply about combating systemic racism, and more broadly, promoting social justice, and ending the long legacy of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender-based disparities.

    We find these phenomena not just in America, but in all countries where the Peace Corps serve.

    Let me try to address these issues in a historic and holistic perspective. 

    During the past century, the United States has been the world’s greatest super-power. There have been three major sources of America’s super power status in the world — its economic prosperity, its military strength and its cultural vibrancy.

    America has been the richest country in the world for nearly two centuries. The U.S. has only 4 percent of the world’s population, but 15 percent of the world’s GDP, and 30 percent of the world’s billionaires.

    But we also find in America grotesque inequality, and great poverty in the midst of plenty.

    It is the only rich country in the world without universal health coverage. In terms of people’s health & well-being, the U.S. is no longer a world leader. 

     

    The fact that the U.S. has more cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any other country in the world is a telling example of how America’s vast wealth fails to protect its people’s health.

     

    The fact that the U.S. has more cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any other country in the world is a telling example of how America’s vast wealth fails to protect its people’s health.

    America’s military strength has also been unparalleled in recent history. 

    Currently, the U.S. spends more than $700 billion annually on defense. That is close to 40 percent of the world’s military spending. 

    But this is increasingly becoming a burden without proportionate benefits for America. The trillions of dollars America spends on its military is increasingly becoming counter-productive. Instead of winning friends, America’s military might is turning people into enemies and even terrorists. 

    Look at what the trillions in military spending have produced in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Arab world, and even in Latin America — a wave of anti-Americanism. 

    I believe it is time now to reorient the American economy, drastically reduce military spending, and redirect it to end poverty, to reduce inequality, to provide health care and quality education for all, and to protect the earth from the climate crisis. 

    This is where America’s third strength comes into play. 

    America’s educational, scientific, and cultural vibrancy have earned the U.S. tremendous soft power in the world. 

    Forty percent of the world’s Nobel Prize winners have been Americans. More than 50 percent of the world’s Nobel laureates were trained in America. And 60 of the world’s 100 best universities are in America. The American scientific, technological, and cultural innovations have enveloped the whole world.

    That is what gives America a positive soft power for the good of the world.

    I consider the Peace Corps as one element of that benevolent American soft power.

    I dare say that the less than half a billion dollars that America spends annually on the Peace Corps touches more ordinary people’s hearts, and helps nurture peace and friendship in the world than the many billions the U.S. spends on military aid to developing countries. 

    I recall that was precisely the vision of President John F Kennedy when he established the Peace Corps.  

    Kennedy envisioned the Peace Corps as an opportunity for young Americans to better understand the challenges of living in a developing country, to impart their knowledge and skills, and to help overcome poverty and underdevelopment.

    Those are precisely the building blocks for peace and prosperity.  

    It is that spirit of solidarity and empathy that makes America, or Nepal, or any other country truly great. 

    To paraphrase the late Senator Teddy Kennedy, to make America Great Again: “It is better to send in the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps.” 

    I so wish that President Trump had been a Peace Corps volunteer. If he had the Peace Corps experience, he would have tried to make “America Great Again” by responding to the greatest challenges of our times — the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, global poverty, and the climate crisis — in a completely different manner. 

     

    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.

     

    Let me now reflect on two questions that the NPCA asked us:

    • How can the Peace Corps be a true partner with host countries in the new post-COVID world?
    • And how must the Peace Corps change to be relevant for the 21st century?

    Well, even before COVID-19 invaded and destabilized the world, we already had a universally agreed global agenda called the Sustainable Development Goals. Those goals, with dozens of specific and time-bound targets to be achieved by 2030, include ending extreme poverty, promoting prosperity with equity, protecting the environment and safeguarding people’s human rights.

    They were endorsed by all countries of the world, including the United States, at the United Nations in 2015. The SDGs comprise a non-partisan agenda, so all of us can support them whether you are a Republican or Democrat or neither. 

    The Peace Corps Volunteers already promote these goals in their work as teachers, health promoters, agriculture extension workers, and a variety of other vocations. 

    What is needed now is to refine the skills of the Peace Corps Volunteers to ensure that their services are provided to truly empower local people and communities. 

    Like all other institutions are doing at this time, the Peace Corps too would benefit from an organizational soul searching to root out any trace of racism, gender discrimination, or a colonial mentality that may occasionally and inadvertently influence its work and mission.  

    I honestly believe that the Peace Corps can help transform the multiple crises facing the U.S. and the world into opportunity for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  

    I know from my own personal experience and observation that Peace Corps Volunteers can make a transformational impact on the lives of many ordinary people, and future leaders of host countries.

     

    More than any other group of Americans, I believe that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can instill a sense of a more enlightened America as part of, not apart from, a more just, peaceful and prosperous world. 

     

    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.

    I sincerely believe that the Peace Corps can be a great organization dedicated to promote such global solidarity at the people to people level.

    Let us remember that solidarity, unlike charity, is a two-way street. The Peace Corps experience is just as important for the education and enlightenment of the Peace Corps Volunteers as it is for them to help their host communities. 

    More than any other group of Americans, I believe that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can instill a sense of a more enlightened America as part of, not apart from, a more just, peaceful and prosperous world. 

    So, I hope and count on the Peace Corps to survive and thrive, and help build an enlightened post-COVID America and the world.

    Thank you.   

     


    Kul Chandra Gautam is the 2018 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. He is a diplomat, public policy expert, peace advocate, and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. 

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A first season as a wildland firefighter. It was one for the record books. see more

    My first season as a wildland firefighter

    By Colin McLaren
    as told to Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo by Colin McLaren

     

    By October 2020, wildfires in the western U.S. burned an area larger than the state of New Jersey. A story from the front lines.

     

    Typically when we’re out on a fire, we work 16 hour days: up before six and finishing with a pretty late dinner — whenever the work is really done. But recently two of the fires we worked overnight, to 9 a.m. the next morning.

    We were on the Cold Creek Fire in Wenatchee, Washington. We went there directly from the Pearl Hill fire, a little east of Lake Chelan. Before that, the Chikamin fire, close to Leavenworth, the district we're based out of in Washington. Earlier in the summer I was down in Arizona on the Magnum fire, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Then the Bighorn Fire, on Mount Lemmon outside Tucson. In between I went to Modoc National Forest in Northern California, and to the fire at Lava Beds National Monument.

     

    The Bighorn Fire, near Tucson. Photo by Preshit Ambade

    The California fires we were working around the clock. Everyone's a little fatigued. Basically all of September we had maybe three days off. But it’s valuable work.

    This is my first year on a hand crew. I’m part of what’s referred to as the dig, typically using a tool called a scrape. Chainsaw teams cut the big stuff out of the way. The dig follows behind, scraping a perimeter in the dirt and trying to establish a line that fire will not cross. 

    The fire we were on most recently was pretty intense. We did a backburn, where you burn off of an established fire line to remove the excess fuels in between the main fire and the area you absolutely don't want the fire getting to. While we’re doing that, embers get sucked up from the heat and convection currents and can be spit out as far as a mile away. We had spot fires from embers, and we really had to rush around.

     

    “One we ran from, it looked like a volcano erupting. Kind of a scary moment.” Photo by Colin McLaren

     

    We’ve had to run from fires a couple times — which happens when it’s gotten too hot or winds have changed, and the fire could overtake you if you don’t hightail it out of there. A couple times people had to deploy fire shelters. One we ran from, it looked like a volcano erupting. Kind of a scary moment. Then we got in a safe place, organized, and went in and did direct suppression and some background stuff to protect the houses and nearby agriculture. We worked all night. In the morning, the fire basically put itself out because of the work we had done.

     

    Wildland crew heads toward the fire. Photo by Colin McLaren

     

    This is work I wanted to do after Peace Corps. It can be extremely difficult. There’s a refrain that you’re not a hero until you die. In terms of paychecks, most of us are the lowest level employees — technically “forestry aide” or “forestry technician.” After a disaster it’s: “Wildland firefighter died.” So there’s a discrepancy in how we’re treated as employees versus the reporting that goes on.

    If we’re able to stop the fire, on an environmental level that's a lot of carbon not being released into the atmosphere. As wildfires get really bad, they get attention. Now the weather’s hotter and drier in September; historically, the West Coast should be getting rain sooner. This is one result of climate change — and it will get worse as the environment gets hotter. Some people don’t want to hear the the direct connection between climate change and how it has made the fire season longer. We’ve certainly been seeing it in California, making the extremes more extreme. In Seattle, the past weekend was the smokiest that it has ever been.

     

    Cold Creek Fire in Wenatchee, Washington. Photo by Krista Williams 

     

    I lived for two years in Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer, 2017–19. I remember talking with older people in my village—which, by the way was not in the mountains; most of Nepal is actually in the subtropics. The pre-monsoon season has gotten hotter and drier; their whole agriculture calendar is changing. And communities have basically no safety buffer. Will they be able to adapt to a more intense climate? They’re not climate refugees yet, but whole corn crops might be at risk.

    American society is not set up to combat climate change. We’re some of the worst perpetrators on the global level. The Peace Corps experience I had showed me the importance of community: how a strong, extended family structure is very capable of dealing with shortages and other bigger scale problems that might cripple individual households. Helping each other out.

     

     


    This story appears in the Fall 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

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  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Global evacuation — and friends and communities left behind see more

    Photos from Nepal, Timor  Lesté, Guinea, and Jamaica

    Along with the dozens of stories we’ve shared from Peace Corps Volunteers evacuated from around the world, here are snapshots from more Volunteers. They capture the friendships and communities left behind. And they capture the heartbreak of leaving.


     

    Nepal | Eddie De La Fuente

    When Peace Corps announced the global evacuation, we were actually en route to visit our permanent sites a month early. I, and many of the other agriculture volunteers, never made it to our sites given the distance; I had just finished two all-day bus trips and was still another day-and-a-half away when we got the order to get back to Kathmandu ASAP. 

    We gathered at the Nepal Peace Corps headquarters and effectively had a close of service conference after only two months in the country, and only about four to five days away from being able to swear in as full Volunteers. 

    The Nepal Peace Corps staff was very compassionate though all of this; our Country Director and her partner even brought their brand new puppy and American candy to help comfort us. 

    We are, in my opinion, an extraordinarily cohesive and supportive group of people and I believe that these sentiments — as well as our continued, steady communication and mutual support — is truly exemplified in these photos. 

    Nepal welcomed us so readily and so fully that we were all absolutely heartbroken when we were told we were going home. I even had the good fortune to sit next to a gentleman on the final flight from Qatar to Nepal that served as an language instructor for Peace Corps back in the ‘70s!        

     

    This photo of the gentleman greeting was actually from our first night in Nepal. He was far from the only person that was unabashedly eager to meet us and get to know us — and for us to know them.

     

    Nepal farewell: Training to become Volunteers, Rachel Ramsey, left, and Elyse Paré had to evacuate instead.

     

     


    Timor Lesté | Andre De Mello

    Andre De Mello arrived in Timor-Lesté in late 2019 in the country’s tenth group of Peace Corps volunteers. After training, he settled in with a host family and started teaching. But his two-year commitment was not to be. Read more about his story here.

     

    “This picture was taken after Sunday mass in the Grotto located by the church in Railaco. The person to my left, wearing the white-dotted blue shirt, is my host brother Adi Carvalho.  The person to my right is the son of the Chefe de Suco (sort of like a community leader).”

     


    Guinea | Colt Bradley

    Home: Mooresville, North Carolina

    He served as a Volunteer in Kankan, Guinea, where he taught math and chemistry and served as the head of the Peace Corps Guinea Media Team.

     

     Walk on: Colt Bradley heading home during the dry season in Guinea, West Africa.

     

    Transport for Volunteer Colt Bradley and other visitors to the islands from Conakry.

     


    Jamaica | Kate Rapp

     

     Students at Spring Garden Infant and Primary School, where Volunteer Kate Rapp worked with counterpart Lorraine Clarke.

     

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Jim Damico: lessons from and for the teacher see more

    Nobody wanted it to happen this way. 
Evacuation stories and the unfinished business of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
     

    Nepal | Jim Damico

    Home: Kansas City, Missouri

    I am a three time Volunteer. I previously served in Thailand (2014–18) and Mongolia (2018). In Nepal I had just finished my first school year. When I sat down to tell this story, I was in a hotel in Kansas City in my 14-day quarantine. 

    After a year you have made connections; you see where you can go. I had an awesome host family that I miss dearly. I miss the little mud-floor kitchen where we ate our meals — and where my host sister makes selroti, a kind of donut made for special occasions. I miss the view from my school: a stunning vista of the Himalayas. After the monsoon season, when the skies are clear, you can see white-capped mountains from horizon to horizon.
     

    The teacher is in: My fourth-grade students were always joking and playing. And one day they wanted to wear my topi, a traditional Nepali hat. But once they had it on, they decided that they were the teacher and got up to teach the class.

     

    I left students behind — many of whom teachers had written off. When I began teaching, more than half of my fifth graders couldn’t read or write English, though they had studied it since kindergarten. Besides low academics, they had behavioral issues. It was tough teaching them, but over the year they became better students. I loved them. Many of them have started to be excited about learning English. Hopefully that will continue in their other courses, too.

     

    We want meaningful work, we want a good education for our children, and we all genuinely want peace and prosperity. 

    Schools is out: In the winter months, some of the classrooms were dark, damp and downright freezing. So we carried the student benches outside and had class in the warm sunshine. We must have done this for several weeks.

     

    I turned 61 when I was in Nepal. For decades I had a career as a mechanical engineer. Back in the 1970s I’d looked into Peace Corps, but the only engineers they were looking for at the time were civil engineers. One thing I’ve learned working internationally over my life: On a lot of levels, we’re all the same, no matter what country. We want meaningful work, we want a good education for our children, and we all genuinely want peace and prosperity. 

     

    See more from Jim's service here

     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.