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  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    She brought literacy expertise to work in Belize. And has volunteered with FEMA to combat COVID-19. see more

    Judith Jones

    Peace Corps Response

    Volunteer in Belize (2018–20) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer with FEMA in Oregon, United States (2021)

     

    As told to Sarah Steindl

     

    Photo: Teacher and student at work in Belize. Photo courtesy Judith Jones

     

    My Peace Corps journey was a little bit different. I originally applied to be a two-year Volunteer in Jamaica, and I got rejected for medical reasons. I appealed, and I lost that decision. I was devastated because this was something that I really wanted to do in my retirement. Then out of the blue, a month later, a friend who works for USAID wrote me about the literacy support specialist position in Belize for Peace Corps Response: “I think you’d like this.” I looked at it and thought, My gosh, this was written for me! I’ve taught children and adults for 30 years, worked as an ESL teacher and literacy coach. I applied at the beginning of February 2019. They told me toward the end of April that I was going, with five weeks to get ready.

    In Belize we worked with the Ministry of Education. We worked with second-grade teachers to help develop their skills in teaching reading. Belize is a place where they are still using very traditional teaching methods. We had to meet them where they were at. We gave them workshops and courses, and we went on-site in classrooms to help implement strategies: working with a small group of students, designing activities to improve reading levels. 

    We found kids in second grade who couldn’t spell their name, didn’t know the complete alphabet, the sounds that letters make, or how to spell simple words. By second grade, most children should know these things. But classrooms don’t have books. I wanted to get more books in the classroom, but it was important that the teachers take on those projects. My country director, Tracey Hébert-Seck, was a big proponent of not doing things for them, but doing things with them, and teaching them to do it on their own. 

     

    Judith Jones watching teacher and students in Belize

    Literacy at the forefront — and Judith Jones in the background, observing a teacher work with her intervention group of students in Belize. Photo courtesy Judith Jones

     

     

    I think there need to be more 50-plus Volunteers and staff. There need to be more Black and brown Volunteers and staff, more variety in sexuality and gender. Peace Corps needs to reflect America. I don’t see that in recruiting. I don’t see that in staff. It’s hard to get into Peace Corps if you’re 50-plus or 60-plus. To go through the craziness of the medical clearance process, you have to spend so much money — so how are you going to get Volunteers from a lower socioeconomic area? It really needs to be made easier and more diverse. We should be able to participate. 

     

    With Response, I got to do something closer to the work that I love doing. I want to continue to put literacy at the forefront of education. Literacy will improve countries, economies, and social situations. 

     

    With Response, I got to do something closer to the work that I love doing. I want to continue to put literacy at the forefront of education. Literacy will improve countries, economies, and social situations. 

    I enjoy doing this job I’m in right now, supporting the vaccination effort with FEMA. The Oregon Health Authority has been a fantastic counterpart. And it’s interesting working with all these young people. But that’s very different from what Peace Corps Response usually is; typically Volunteers are more mature and used to working. We learned from each other. It was invaluable. 

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 12, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    The second time in history that Peace Corps Volunteers have been deployed in the United States. see more

    Beginnings. Good sense. And the second time in history that Peace Corps Volunteers have been deployed in the United States.

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo from 1994: A Rwandan refugee camp in eastern Zaire. Photo courtesy CDC

     

    Here’s an instructive but heart-wrenching place to start, if we want to tell the big story at the center of this edition of WorldView. It’s one of crisis and response: April 1994. A plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi is shot down over Kigali. The assassination ignites events that lead to horrific genocide in Rwanda. Over 100 days, 800,000 people are killed. More than 2 million flee to neighboring countries as refugees; another 1.5 million are internally displaced.

    Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Berry and his then-wife, Carol, were in Rwanda at the time. Carol was working with a human rights group; John was directing training efforts for micro-enterprise development. They were evacuated as the nightmare began to unfold. 

    Back in California, John and Carol were watching news reports on the genocide when they saw a local reporter interview another returned Volunteer, Steven Smith, who was in Zaire — where many Rwandan refugees had fled. Smith was recruiting returned Volunteers to help Rwanda. John called him. And Smith reached out to National Peace Corps Association President Chic Dambach. As WorldView editor emeritus David Arnold wrote in this magazine, “They set in motion grassroots initiatives that became known as the RPCV Rwanda Project.” They also found funding to build NPCA’s Emergency Response Network — “names, contacts, and résumés of hundreds of RPCVs willing to turn their cross-cultural experiences, language, and skill sets to the Rwanda crisis.”

    And they brought together returned Volunteers to work with refugees on the ground.

     

    NOT LONG AFTER, in 1995, Mark Gearan was sworn in as Peace Corps director. He took a page from the Emergency Response Network playbook and launched Crisis Corps, a new Peace Corps program to harness the skills and cross-cultural experience and care returned Volunteers might bring to crisis situations. The program was formally inaugurated in June 1996 at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Among those present for the occasion: Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, and his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as longtime Peace Corps champion Senator Harris Wofford.

     

    “The real gift of the Peace Corps is the gift of the human heart, pulsing with the spirit of civic responsibility that is the core of America’s character. It is forever an antidote to cynicism, a living challenge to intolerance, an enduring promise that the future can be better and that people can live richer lives if we have the faith and strength and compassion and good sense to work together.” 

     

    At that ceremony, President Bill Clinton observed a truth we know well. “The dedicated service of Peace Corps Volunteers does not end when their two-year tour is over,” he said. “So let us always remember that the truest measure of the Peace Corps’ greatness has been more than its impact on development. The real gift of the Peace Corps is the gift of the human heart, pulsing with the spirit of civic responsibility that is the core of America’s character. It is forever an antidote to cynicism, a living challenge to intolerance, an enduring promise that the future can be better and that people can live richer lives if we have the faith and strength and compassion and good sense to work together.” 

     

    AND WHAT OF THAT — compassion and good sense and working together? In 2021, for the second time in history, Peace Corps Response Volunteers have been deployed domestically. The first time was in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. When Response Volunteers were recruited this past spring, there were more people offering to serve than there were slots available. It seemed that the pandemic was winding down. Just a few months back — but a long time ago. More recently, when one group of Response Volunteers was working with vaccination outreach efforts in underserved communities in Oregon, the sense of this is about over couldn’t have been further from reality. As a reporter for NBC News who had spent time with the Volunteers observed, ICUs in the state were virtually at capacity.

     

    NBC reporter talks with Peace Corps Volunteer

    Peace Corps Response Volunteer Judith Jones talks with NBC News reporter Maura Barrett. Jones was evacuated from Belize in March 2020 and in 2021 has been part of the second domestic deployment of Peace Corps Volunteers. 

     

    So, in service around the country amid this pandemic, we find one answer to another question we ask in this edition: What does it mean to serve now? A question that bears asking as Peace Corps Response marks its 25-year anniversary and the Peace Corps celebrates 60 years. And a question that, for this edition, we put to Mark Gearan in his recent capacity as one of the leaders for the congressionally mandated National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Over several years, that bipartisan commission endeavored, for the first time in the nation’s history, to gain a comprehensive view of what it means to serve — and what the needs and as of yet untapped opportunities are. They sought to answer, in concrete terms: How can we get to 1 million Americans serving every year?

    Sixty years ago, the Peace Corps took wing fueled by JFK’s exhortation “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” In helping to define and inspire service for a new generation, and in reaching a scale this country has never seen, the ideas and the ideals that have shaped Peace Corps have something to bring to the table. Read on.

     

    DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: David Arnold’s 2013 story on Rwanda and the NPCA Emergency Response Network.


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.

     September 12, 2021
  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Do NPCA advocates make a difference? You need to read about these two first timers to Capitol Hill. see more

    Many among the estimated 230 National Peace Corps Association advocates who participated in our Peace Corps 55th Anniversary advocacy day had no previous experience in the world of Capitol Hill citizen-lobbying. Among them were our October Advocates of the Month, the Ashland, Oregon husband and wife team of Asifa Kanji and David Drury.

    For David and Asifa, their Peace Corps experiences were recent and extensive, serving first as 27-month Volunteers in Mali from 2011 - 12 and later signing on as Peace Corps Response Volunteers in both Ghana and South Africa.

    Capitol Hill? That was another story.

    The couple didn't know exactly what to expect when they signed up to take part. "As first-timers, Asifa and I were a little nervous about it all", said David. "How are you supposed to act around a Senator or Congressperson? What do you say? We didn't want to be an embarrassment to Peace Corps." 

    That, they were not! And, as Asifa noted, "Whoever would have thought (advocating on the Hill) would be the highlight of my Peace Corps Connect experience."

    David and Asifa studied the NPCA briefing papers the night before, and gathered at a church on the morning of advocacy day, joining four other Oregonians who also had little or no advocacy experience. With this in mind, NPCA bolstered the group by connecting them with Pat Wand, a former NPCA Board member and long-time Capitol Hill advocate who had previously lived in Oregon. The first stop was a constituent coffee where the group had a few minutes meeting junior Senator Jeff Merkley, followed by additional time with his staff to make the case for increased Peace Corps funding and better health care support for Volunteers and RPCVs with service-related illnesses or injuries.

    Wand got the group started with both of the group's Senate meetings. But then it was time for Team Oregon to split up and meet with their respective members of the House of Representatives. "Oh my, we are on our own!" thought Asifa. "Suddenly, it was my turn to speak to my Republican representative."

    In this case, the meeting (pictured above) was with Congressman Greg Walden, a key member of the House Republican leadership. Asifa shared her story of being an immigrant to this country, and how her decision to become a U.S. citizen was very much due to her desire to serve in the Peace Corps. "I have to tell you, I have never been so proud to say I was an American as when I was in the Peace Corps."

    Upon sharing she was originally from Tanzania, Congressman Walden noted he had recently visited that country on a congressional delegation (CODEL) with RPCV Congressman and Peace Corps champion Sam Farr. He pulled out his i-phone, shared photos and talked about his CODEL trip.

    With a strong connection made, David and Asifa got to the business at hand. As Asifa recalls, "After that it wasn't hard to look him in the eye and with a big smile ask him to co-sponsor H.R. 6037 (Peace Corps health legislation). My husband, who knew that Rep. Walden had worked hard to improve the medical services military vets get, was quick to add that PCVs have served their country too and deserve better care for medical conditions related to their service. The congressman was on board. Wow."

    Congressman Walden became one of the first co-sponsors of the legislation. and there is no doubt it was due to the efforts of Asifa and David! The meeting had more than a passing impact, as RPCV Congressman John Garamendi shared the story of being approached later that day on the House floor by Congressman Walden, who wanted to tell him about the meeting with his RPCV constituents.

    David was generous in his praise of the NPCA for a successful first-time advocacy experience. "We couldn't have done it without the fantastic support provided by the NPCA staff and advocacy volunteers...The NPCA staff did all the heavy lifting, setting up appointments, providing briefing sheets, and heading up each state delegation with an experienced person who showed us how it should be done. They worked their tushes off* to make us look good. And once you've done it, you see how  satisfying and fun advocacy can be."

    We are very proud of our advocates of the month for their highly significant and successful participation on Capitol Hill.

     

    NPCA can continue congressional outreach only with your support. Donate now to the Community Fund to advocate for a bigger, better Peace Corps.