Communications Intern posted an articleHere’s what the Peace Corps community in one state has to say about it. see more
Here’s what the Peace Corps community in one state has to say about it. Some lessons and inspiration from New Mexico.
By Jonathan Pearson
As National Peace Corps Association worked with members of the Peace Corps community to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act last September, we launched an eight-week campaign around the anniversary, seeking community members to be advocates through news outlets across the country — both digital and print.
The results? Two months in, advocates for the Peace Corps successfully placed 49 submissions in publications across 23 states, reaching an audience of 2.3 million people. This campaign resonated in several parts of the country in particular. One place where it really shone was New Mexico, thanks to the collaborative effort of NPCA and the New Mexico Peace Corps Association (NMPCA).
Land of Enchantment. And a robust RPCV community.
New Mexico is big on geographic scale — the fifth-largest state in the union — with a relatively small population — 36th in the nation. It has also sustained a vibrant local newspaper tradition, says Greg Polk (Mali 1973–75), a member of the NMPCA Coordinating Committee. More than 70 local newspapers can still be found across the state.
There’s also a robust Peace Corps community. More than 2,500 individuals from New Mexico have served in the Peace Corps, and NMPCA, which is an affiliate group of National Peace Corps Association, has more than 1,000 of them on its email list.
Like many affiliate groups, NMPCA seeks to provide a variety of activities and service opportunities for members. These include river cleanups and tree plantings. They also manage a small grants program to support RPCV-led community development projects around the state. That’s been complemented recently by a special grants program to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
Polk saw the guest essay and letter-to-the-editor campaign as another opportunity to bring RPCVs together around a common interest. One nice surprise: tens of folks from across the state responded to the call for action — including many returned Volunteers who hadn’t taken part in previous NMPCA activities. “The opportunity to share their Peace Corps experience and make the case for the continued funding of Peace Corps sparked an enthusiastic response,” he says.
The end result was the publication of guest essays and op-eds in seven newspapers, along with several follow-up letters to the editor, reaching some 200,000 readers. Among the writers: Donna Marie (Kyrgyz Republic 2018–20) from Carson, a community 30 minutes west of Taos. “The Taos News has an avid readership who are interested in local, national, and international issues,” Marie says. “Lending a piece of public awareness in an engaged community was an easy contribution to make.”
The campaign has had a multiplier effect, Polk notes. Certainly it reminded fellow New Mexicans of the important contributions of the Peace Corps over its 60-year history. The campaign also provided an opportunity to reach out to members of the New Mexico congressional delegation to remind them of the value of Peace Corps service and a commitment to Peace Corps ideals, and to encourage their support. Even when submissions weren’t published, they reached the desk of local and regional news editors who were reminded of the impact of Peace Corps service.
One key ingredient to success: national and local collaboration. “Frankly, this New Mexico campaign would not have been possible without the encouragement and assistance from NPCA,” Polk says. “It was one thing to bring together RPCVs motivated to write. It was quite another thing to actually write the op-eds and figure out how to get them published. The staff of NPCA helped at every step of the way.” That included a template that provided essential points but allowed each participating RPCV to weave them together in their own way and incorporate their personal Peace Corps experience. NPCA also organized Zoom-based workshops to explain how to reach out to editors to encourage them to publish contributions.
In celebrating the past, Polk hopes the Peace Corps community will look toward the future. And, he says, the 60th anniversary campaign provides an excellent model going forward. What is the next big moment to focus on? “The return of Peace Corps Volunteers to the field in 2022,” Polk says. “It’s an opportunity to mount a campaign to remind the public of the evolving role of Peace Corps as it faces the challenges of the 21st century.”
Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him at email@example.com.
Every dollar matched to reach greater impact in Eritrean refugee camps. see more
In the Horn of Africa, a worsening refugee crisis is finding relief from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).
By providing refugees with water, health and power, and resettlement services, and raising awareness of their plight through the power of film, the Peace Corps community is helping Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia and elsewhere.
In partnership with National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), Water Charity is providing refugees with access to water, basic health services, and solar panels. Water Charity’s Averill Strasser (Bolivia 1966-68) and Beverly Rouse are confident that more desperately needed help is on the way following the recent announcement of a pledged $25,000 match challenge from an anonymous donor. Join NPCA's fundraising campaign for these water and sanitation projects.
Linked forever to Eritreans following his service in the country from 1966 to 1968, John Stauffer is the co-founder and President of the America Team for Displaced Eritreans, providing resettlement services to many of the 400,000 Eritrean refugees who have fled their homeland.
Stauffer will speak about his experiences and how the Peace Corps community can help at Peace Corps Connect following the screening of Refugee: The Eritrean Exodus, director Chris Cotter’s raw, harrowing story of following the Eritrean exodus. The screening will kick off Peace Corps Connect on Wednesday, September 21—the International Day for Peace. Tickets are on sale through September 12.
Long considered the North Korea of Africa, Eritrea has caused one of the largest, yet lesser-known refugee crisis in the world through gross human rights violations. Refugees are largely confined to camps in Ethiopia, and many attempt a treacherous and often deadly trek to resettlement in Western Europe.
Following several successful projects in Ethiopia with currently-serving Peace Corps Volunteers and after viewing Refugee, Water Charity’s Strasser decided it was time to help in the camps. The NPCA-Water Charity partnership is well underway, and the $25,000 match challenge will add to progress already being made.
Ethiopian and Eritrean RPCVs have been actively involved in their host countries for many years, especially since war broke out between the two nations in the late 1990s. For their efforts to broker a peaceful resolution to a border dispute in 1999, the Ethiopian and Eritrean RPCV group was awarded NPCA’s Loret Miller Ruppe Award.
You can donate to NPCA-Water Charity projects in Ethiopia here, and join us at the screening of Refugee to become part of the conversation led by John Stauffer at Peace Corps Connect.
RPCV Camillia Freeland-Taylor helps community build school in Southern province of Zambia. see more
The Community Fund: Perpetuating a Lifelong Commitment to Peace Corps Ideals
At National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), we understand the impact Volunteers make in host communities, as well as those host communities make upon Volunteers. Both resonate for decades. The Community Fund thrives on sustaining that relationship and impact.
An example are Camillia Freeland-Taylor’s (Zambia 2013-15) efforts to support the children of her village, Magalela, who must walk nine miles and cross two rivers to attend school. Many families do not allow their girls to attend because of the two-hour walk. During Camillia’s service, a first grade boy drowned on the journey.
The village children need a local primary school to ensure their basic human right to education. Camillia worked both during and after service to meet this need.
The grant she originally received as a PCV provided the amount necessary to lay the foundation of the school. As an RPCV, Camillia sought out NPCA to purchase cement and other building materials to complete the project by plastering the school's walls, finishing the floors, building latrines, and fitting windows with glass. The Zambian government will then provide teachers.
“It’s good to have a school because our children won’t have to walk so far (usually six-eight kilometers one way), and they don’t have to worry about crossing the river during the rainy season, which is extremely dangerous. Right now we have no choice, but we are trying to change that through the new school” says Jethrow Siatubi, Magalela Village Head.
Education has a compounding effect, and the result of allowing an entire community of children access to a primary education is profound. Studies show that with each additional year of education, an individual will earn more as an adult and prevent extreme poverty. Moreover, women who receive a primary school education are less likely to lose children in the first five years of the child’s life.
“I remember one time I went to the hospital and they gave me the wrong medicine. If I wasn’t educated I wouldn’t have been able to tell the medicine was meant for someone else and for a different problem. I was able to do so because of education. I want my children to have a better education and a chance at a brighter future” remarked Julius Simombeh, a school committee member.
NPCA supports community-driven projects of impact through the Community Fund see more
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is proud to support community-driven projects of impact through the Community Fund. NPCA supports grassroots initiatives led by members of the Peace Corps community that have a lasting and sustainable impact. One of our newest initiatives is supporting the continuation of the micro-loan programs facilitated by The Colombia Project Global (TCP Global).
Where it all began
In 2000, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida (RPCVSF) established The Colombia Project (TCP), a committee that was created in response to the drastic internal displacement rates in Colombia. Social workers, attorneys, leaders of the displaced community and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) gathered at a meeting in Bogota, Colombia and decided the most effective solution was to provide resources to people ready to rebuild their lives through a sustainable micro-loan program.
The mission of TCP is two-fold: assist marginalized entrepreneurs with micro-loans and strengthen the grassroots organizations that effectively serve marginalized communities.
In Colombia, as in much of the developing world, affordable loans for marginalized entrepreneurs are available only from the daily lenders who charged up to 10% per day and often used harsh collection measures. The larger micro-finance institutions tended to focus on population centers where it is easier to scale their operations. The TCP model, however, is created for small and remote communities where the lending gap is greatest.
For TCP loan recipients, a marginal increase in family income means the difference between young adults continuing their studies and dropping out to help feed the family. Those who successfully repay several TCP loans often qualify for bank loans for their business or for constructing their own homes. In addition to loan recipients, TCP partners used earnings to benefit the communities where they work. Projects included the first latrine for the handicapped in Aguadas, a facility for the handicapped in Cartago, repairing homes for the poorest residents of Puerto Tejada, establishing a sewing cooperative and completing a community center in La Victoria.
"I no longer look at myself as a displaced person but as an entrepreneur"
- Gloria Beatriz Barliza Epiayu, Woman Entrepreneur of the year for the Guajira Region of Colombia 2011
Moving onto the next phase
In 2014, The Colombia Project became independent of RPCVSF, and evolved in to TCP Global. In 2015, TCP Global opened new programs in Niger, Guatemala and Peru with one hundred percent loan repayment in the first 16 months. In this next phase, TCP Global has seeded $10,000 from the U.S. and supported $21,000 in loans to 100 recipients and earned its current partners $5,000 to date.
TCP Global partners have found that increasing the income of their clients provides each a hand up to reach a better standard of living. These loans help keep children in school, provide healthier diets, access to clean drinking water and protection of the environment. Women entrepreneurs are often empowered by their success and progress to become community leaders.
TCP is a results-oriented model that keeps the focus on the loan recipient. If they do well, the organizations that administer the loans are compensated for their good results. The first allocation is typically $1500. Once that has been invested twice with at least a 95% repayment rate, additional allocations are sent until the permanent loan pool is sufficient to meet the needs of the community.
NPCA's Community Fund is currently supporting a new program that will open in the Philippines and in a Colombian community where there is a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. These programs are projected to need up to $12,000 each over the next 4 years.
Since funds are released in $1500 increments or less, with a promise to send more if those funds are invested successfully, the risk is small. The repayment rate for loans given since 2007 exceeds 95%. TCP’s oldest site, in Genova has invested each donated dollar eight times in nine years. That is the level of success NPCA and TCP Global hope to continue globally as this program expands with the help of the Community Fund.