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  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Short-term, high-impact. Now marking 25 years since its founding. see more

    Short-term, high-impact. Now marking 25 years since its founding.

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo by Christian Farnsworth

     

    A quarter century ago, at a midsummer White House Rose Garden ceremony attended by President Bill Clinton and Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, a new type of Peace Corps service was announced to the world: Crisis Corps. Short-term, high-impact, it was, as then-Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan explained, “an effort to harness the enormous experience, skills, motivation, and talents that the Peace Corps, including its returned Volunteer ranks, possesses, and bring them to bear in an organized fashion during such crisis situations.”

    At the outset, all Crisis Corps Volunteers were required to have already served in the Peace Corps. In fact, the program traces much of its origins to grassroots work by returned Volunteers. The National Peace Corps Association Emergency Response Network, activated to help in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, provided powerful inspiration.

     

    IN ITS FIRST YEARS, Crisis Corps enlisted hundreds of Volunteers to serve in places from Bosnia to Guinea to El Salvador. Volunteers worked with communities recovering from conflicts, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more. Following the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand and Sri Lanka, among other countries, in 2004, the largest cohort ever of Crisis Corps Volunteers deployed there. Months later, hundreds more began serving Gulf Coast communities battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — the first time Volunteers served in the United States.

     

    Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

    Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

     

    By 2007 the broadening nature of assignments led the agency to rename the program Peace Corps Response. Assignments last three months to one year, shorter than a standard 27-month term of Peace Corps service. That makes them more feasible for working professionals, who have to take a leave of absence. And, since 2012, Response Volunteers have included individuals who haven’t previously served in the Peace Corps.

     

    Two women in Guinea at World Food Programme distribution of food

    Mothers and daughters pick up gifts of cooking oil as an incentive for school attendance, part of a World Food Programme effort in Guinea documented by Christian Farnsworth, who served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

     

    It’s interesting to note that in 2020 the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a report that called for exploring virtual service assignments for Peace Corps Response, to further open up opportunities for people able and willing to serve but not, perhaps, able to travel to other countries. Indeed, after the evacuation of all Peace Corps Volunteers in March 2020, the Peace Corps agency launched the Virtual Service Pilot — which connected evacuated Volunteers and Response Volunteers with organizations and communities in countries where they had been serving. 

    In May 2021, more than 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers deployed domestically, as part of a partnership with FEMA. “By sending specialized volunteers to targeted assignments, we are helping to advance Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship,” Peace Corps Response Director Sarah Dietch noted. Response Volunteers began serving with community vaccination centers to reach underserved communities — an effort that seems more important with each passing day, as another wave of COVID-19 takes a terrible toll.

     

     

    Ukrainian grandmother in village, photographed in profile

    Grandmother in a Ukrainian village, photographed by Michael Andrews as part of the Baba Yelka project.

     

    In the 25 years since Peace Corps Response began, more than 3,800 Volunteers have served in over 80 countries — and twice in the United States. As we go to press, Response is recruiting for 136 openings, with Volunteers departing “no earlier than late 2021” for Belize and Guyana, undertaking assignments that include literacy specialist, adolescent health specialist, and epidemiology specialist. They’re recruiting for positions departing “no earlier than early 2022” for more than 20 countries, from Mexico to Malawi, Uganda to Ukraine, Georgia to Guatemala, Jamaica to South Africa.

     

     

    Kudu being released into a wild animal park in Guinea

    Kudu released into Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, where Betsy Holtz worked as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer

     

    Response Volunteers were at the vanguard as Peace Corps returned to countries such as Liberia. Civil war forced the program there to close in 1990. In 2007, when Response Volunteers arrived to serve, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia, personally attended the swearing-in ceremony.

    In the pages that follow, we bring you a brief history of the program. Along with milestones, take note of the stories of lives and communities that have been shaped by the experience. It’s no coincidence that there’s a recurring theme of building together, whether that’s infrastructure or shared knowledge, and undergirding it all, that commitment to nurturing peace and friendship. 

     

    Three girls in a village in Panama

    Three girls in Comarca Emberá-Wounaan, eastern Panamá; Eli Wittum documented environmental work in the country, and when he visited this region these three were delighted to pose for a photo.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

     September 12, 2021
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Peace Corps beginnings up to global evacuation in 2020 — and advice for what should be next. see more

    Sixty years since the Peace Corps was founded. Beginnings in a troubled world. Amid an unprecedented time, an anniversary like no other. And unfinished business in an age of divisiveness and uncertainty.

     

    In the print edition of WorldView, these photos open a section of the magazine that brings together a few stories of service across the decades. Plus, advice that former Peace Corps directors would share with the current president of the United States. Read. Explore. And share your stories.  

     

    1961: Towering Task Edition  |  Once More, with Feeling  |  Our Stories Are America’s Stories  |  “If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…”  |  Peace Corps Week 2021  |   Make It Cool, Make It Last  |  This Isn’t Over  |  In it Together

     


     

    BEGIN

    Peace Corps training in Hawai‘i in the 1960s. 

    Archival photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

     

    RENEW

    Mangrove reforestation in Panamá, and Elias, a boy fom the community, high-fives Volunteer Bailey Rosen. Her service was cut short by evacuation in March 2020. 

    Panamá photo by Eli Wittum 

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    PC counterparts: one person in the community tasked with helping make this endeavor possible see more

    Every Volunteer has a counterpart. That’s Peace Corps lingo for one person in the community tasked with helping make this endeavor possible.

     

    Interviews Edited by Steven Boyd Saum and Cynthia Arata

    Photo: Sharmae Stringfield (left) Chippie Ngwali. Courtesy Sharmae Stringfield.

     

     

    Malawi | Sharmae Stringfield, Volunteer
    Home: Virginia, United States

     

    The day I had to leave my village in the district of Blantyre was the day the painter I hired finished our mural at the health center: a dedication to sanitation and critical times to wash hands. Seeing as the evacuation was due to a virus that spreads rapidly through a lack of both those things, it was a fitting project to have left behind.

    I left my neighbor and best friend, Vincent Zitha. I had less than 24 hours to say goodbyes. My co-workers were health care workers, teachers, community leaders. One of my favorite responsibilities was supervising the local youth club that I helped re-establish. We were able to have two community service projects, and we invited health workers to give talks. The youth absorbed these health messages and turned them into song and plays. After I left, they created a play about coronavirus and performed it at the health center.

    We were going to tackle tough issues troubling girls in the community — including dropping out of school due to early pregnancies and young marriages.

    I co-facilitated an after-school girls’ club with the chair of their mothers’ group, using the Go Girls curriculum. The day I got the email to evacuate would have been my last day to facilitate. Schools then closed to take precautions against COVID-19. The work I was doing came to a halt; the program was only half complete. The head teacher and I have remained in contact to ensure its completion. Shortly before evacuation, I began a partnership with a local NGO, FACT Malawi. We were going to tackle tough issues troubling girls in the community — including dropping out of school due to early pregnancies and young marriages. Youth of Malawi need programs that cater to teaching young boys how to be gentlemen and teaching young girls how to assert and protect themselves. Communities can benefit from the Peace Corps approach to both community health and environment issues. Our fellow Malawians valued our presence in their country, and they welcomed us with both hands.

     

    Sharmae Stringfield and Mdeka Youth Club. Photo courtesy Sharmae Stringfield.

     


    Malawi | Chipiliro Ngwali, Counterpart
    Home: Phalula village in Balaka district

     

    I am married and I have a son, and I am now working under the Ministry of Health as a health surveillance assistant at Mdeka Health Center. We do field work in hard to reach areas: monitoring health of community members, engaging in health talks, and providing immunizations and other preventative medication. Malawi has few health workers in rural centers, so people have limited access. We work in collaboration with Peace Corps; they help fill the gap — and bring volunteers like Sharmae. This made me excited.

    In the last few months, there have been so many changes due to coronavirus. Health workers’ efforts have diminished; they are afraid of contracting the virus, since there’s little personal protective equipment. Society discriminates against health workers because of that risk. Many health centers close early to avoid overcrowding. Projects initiated by Sharmae have been affected. Groups she brought together have stopped receiving education she used to provide. Safety measures have prevented the other programs from continuing.

    Americans need to understand that the work we did was important … The work that was started doesn’t have to end.

    People are still eager to know more and acquire skills Sharmae was teaching. As for the mural Sharmae was working on at the health center: With people being afraid of getting coronavirus, we have been avoiding large gatherings. Instead, we let people view the mural to self-educate. People see the times when it’s critical to wash hands. They see how waterborne illnesses happen. Americans need to understand that the work we did was important. There are skills that were taught and prevention techniques that can be practiced.

    The work that was started doesn’t have to end. Peace Corps Volunteers should continue to pass along information on COVID-19 to counterparts who can reach remote areas. They can teach ways of ensuring food security in this time of pandemic. And PCVs can stay in communication with counterparts to try to preserve any work that can continue after the coronavirus is less of a threat. 

     

    Malawi: Health mural, Mdeka Health Center. Photo by Sharmae Stringfield.

     


     

    Panama | Bill Lariviere, Volunteer and José María Barrios, Counterpart
     

    Panama: Volunteer Bill Lariviere (left) and counterpart José María Barrios, admiring the work they organized for a reforestation event in Nuario, Los Santos. Photo by Eli Wittum. 

     


    Morocco | Omar Lhamyani, Counterpart
    Home: Zagora Province

     

    I was born and raised in a village called Tazarine in southeast Morocco. It was once a green oasis with an economy centered on agriculture; years of drought and desertification have changed the region into more of a commercial area.

    I was introduced to Peace Corps in 2010. I have worked with three cohorts of Volunteers as a language and cross-cultural facilitator, counterpart, and language tutor, and as member of the multimedia committee creating and translating content that showcases the amazing work Volunteers and community youth are doing.

    This work is life-changing for the youth in my community, just as it was for me.

    We focus on youth in development. This work is life-changing for the youth in my community, just as it was for me. As a young high school student I participated in a linguistics camp in my town where I felt the influence of PCVs. They were role models for me.

    Most recently I worked with Gio Giraldo. She worked with community members and focused on girls’ empowerment with the Dar Chabab Youth Club. She is an accomplished soccer player and trained withcollegiate and professional athletes in the U.S. That was new and fascinating, especially for the girls in Tazarine. It is rare to see boys and girls playing sports together in rural villages. Gio wanted to create a space for girls to feel welcome to play soccer. Now I see boys and girls playing competitive soccer games together.

    We are lucky in Tazarine to have had PCVs for more than 10 years. They help students improve their English skills and connect us to resources, such as scholarships. Ideas and perspectives that Volunteers have brought have influenced and inspired us.

    When I first heard of the evacuation, I couldn’t believe it. But I knew the situation could become more difficult. The community understands why Gio had to leave; her family must want her near in this time. We hope the sadness we feel seeing Gio go will be temporary — but her impact on our community will continue to thrive.

    Community members ask about Gio all the time—and if she will come back. Mostly the girls from the community ask me if they will continue their soccer project with Gio. Her kindness, and the way she carried out her service, made the community trust and respect her.

     

    Omar Lhamyani. Photo by Giovana Giraldo.


    Morocco | Giovana Giraldo, Volunteer
    Home: Miami metropolitan area, United States

    They called the region the gateway—the entrance to big cities from Sahara country. Doors open up to the desert. There are beautiful canyons and a blend of cultures. I arrived last year. We were excited about a grant proposal from the U.S. Embassy to organize a summer leadership program for youth. I was coaching a girls soccer team that started off as pick-up soccer; the dream was to develop it into an organized association. Soccer can be great for integration. I’ve played all my life. Opportunities I’ve had are due to people coming together to make things happen. That was my goal in Morocco. There was amazing talent. Traveling has shown me that talent is equally distributed but not necessarily opportunity.

    Omar is a selfless and motivated person. He is incredible. Peace Corps influenced him when he was younger; he has repaid that tenfold.

    Omar is a selfless and motivated person. He is incredible. Peace Corps influenced him when he was younger; he has repaid that tenfold. Anyone who reached out — he would connect and help.

    Other counterparts I worked with were also focused on providing opportunities. I like to think the work will go on without me being there. Though evacuation has thrown all my emotions into a washing machine. I’m disappointed because of the timing. Sad because of what it all meant to me. For Moroccan staff, Peace Corps means livelihoods, careers. They were nothing but supportive and positive. I feel like I’ve lost a little family.

     

    Girls hiking expedition. Photo by Giovana Giraldo.

     
     


    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.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    “I hope and pray that they’re staying safe. We volunteers are grieving…missing friends and family.” see more

    Panama | Danielle Shulkin

    Home: Sharon, Massachusetts

    Photo: Mangrove reforestation, Los Santos, Panamá — the community where Volunteer Bailey Rosen served and took time to high-five with one of the students taking part. Photo by Eli Wittum

     

    Köbö kuin dere! Ti kä Mechi Sulia Kwatabü amne ti sribire Cuerpo de Paz ben. I served in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, in a mountainous part of an indigenous reservation. The language that I introduced myself in is Ngäbere, which has about 200,000 speakers throughout Panama and Costa Rica. I was a TELLS volunteer — Teaching English, Leadership, and Life Skills, helping teachers improve English language skills and teaching methodologies. I also worked with the guidance counselor at my school to do sexual health education and provide resources for parents.

    I had about one hour to pack and say goodbye. A leader of the comarca helped find someone with a car who drove me two hours out of the mountains to the main road — and picked up a few other Volunteers. When we tried to pay, he said, “That’s not my custom.” The night before I left, I had coffee with this man, and we were talking about the possibility of Peace Corps evacuating. He expressed how much the comarca enjoyed having the Peace Corps presence there — and how much they had helped.

    As far as what I left behind: material possessions — clothes, a french press, a solar panel, food I had bought when I was anticipating a long shelter-in-place. None of those things matter as much as the connections and the potential left unrealized. 

     

     

    The new school year had just begun. I had set up a meetings with the guidance counselor and the Padres de Familia — like a PTA. I had a new counterpart who was excited to start new extracurricular opportunities. And I worked as a special education teacher in New York City before joining Peace Corps; special ed is a big need in Panama. I was thinking about extending for a third year to help schools come up with ways to support all students — especially those who need extra help, whether they have a diagnosed disability or not.

    One thing that weighs on me is the people to whom I didn’t get to say goodbye. One family I got close to were kind of outsiders in the community. The husband was studying English at a university extension; he needed help. He had dropped out of school as a teenager and earned his diploma through night school. Now he was studying English with hopes of being an English teacher. We worked for hours in his home — made of zinc panels, held up by tree branches, with a dirt floor. His daughter would hold a flashlight over our work while he wrote essays. I often ended up eating dinner with them, and their daughter would braid my hair and watch videos on my phone. His wife made me a nakwa, the traditional dress in my community. They were the first people to bring me into their home and make me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. 

     

    I hope and pray that they’re staying safe. We volunteers are grieving, and missing friends and family so much.

     

    The day that I left, I ran to their house with a bag of food and random things to give to them. Both parents were at work. I left the bag with the daughters, but I never got to say goodbye.

    I hope and pray that they’re staying safe. We volunteers are grieving, and missing friends and family so much. A lot of us are hoping to come back one day, and we can sit on your porches and listen to La Patrona and drink the finca-grown coffee and watch the sunset and continue to work hombro a hombro, or shoulder to shoulder. Until that day, we will be here thinking of you and trying to move forward. So, que Dios les bendiga, y que le vaya bien.

     

    See more from Danielle's service

     


    Panama | Eli Wittum

    Home: Cleveland, North Carolina

    I served as a community environmental conservation extension agent in Panama 2016–18. I collaborated with host country nationals assessing environmental concerns, focused on the increasing deforestation of the Panama Canal watershed. I facilitated environmental trainings on reforestation and acquired a grant to implement new sustainable cook-stove alternatives, which will greatly reduce environmental and health concerns. 

     

    Schoolgirl in Bajo Corral, Los Santos, Panamá. The mural was painted years ago by Volunteers at a site where evacuated PCV Kiera Morrill served. Photo by Eli Wittum.
     

    Since summer 2018, I’ve carried the title of multimedia specialist for Peace Corps Panama. I document work being done by the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative and bring scientific information to audiences in a form they can understand. I capture the story of this work in photographs and videos. The visual medium has the power to illuminate both damage and progress in the environment, to speak to us intellectually and emotionally.

     

     Mangrove reforestation: Tito and work well done — more than 6,000 trees planted. Photo by Eli Wittum

     

    Working in poor rural communities, I have also photographed people young and old who had never possessed a picture of themselves. When I travel back to those places, I’ll bring a print — something I hope shows them in their dignity and grace and humanity.

    This is what I have left behind. It’s work that remains unfinished.


     Mother and child. Photo by Eli Wittum

     


    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.

    Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.