In a time of global crisis, Lex Rieffel explores new ways forward for Peace Corps. see more
COVID-19 upended systems. Now we’re focused on structural racism like never before. So how can Peace Corps help this nation live up to its ideals?
By Lex Rieffel
Illustration by Sandra Dionsi / Theispot
The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted at the beginning of this year massively disrupted behavior that has for a long time been taken for granted — between people and between nations. Then in May the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under the knee of a policeman sparked unprecedented demonstrations around the world to end systemic racial discrimination and improve social justice.
Years will pass before new patterns of home life and work life become normal and before international relations achieve new forms of openness and interaction. Policies, programs, projects, and institutions will have to be adapted to meet this new reality. It will not be easy. It will require political will not seen since World War II, and a reckoning with racism that precedes the founding of the United States.
As it prepares to celebrate in 2021 its 60th year of working to make the world a better place, the Peace Corps, too, will have to change. Even the three goals announced at its founding will need to be reconsidered:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Perhaps the focus should be less on training and more on meeting global challenges like climate change and conflict.
MY PEACE CORPS GROUP, India XVI, served in the mid-1960s. This was the heyday of the Peace Corps. It had blossomed to become a vibrant agency in less than ten years, with almost 16,000 Volunteers serving in scores of countries. Then the Vietnam War and President Nixon crippled both the supply of volunteers and the demand from host countries, reducing the number of serving Volunteers to under 5,000 in the early 1980s.
A passionate campaign in that decade produced enough bipartisan support in the Congress to stop the decline in the number of Volunteers and begin a slow buildup. However, three successive presidents — Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama — failed to achieve their election campaign pledges to double the number of serving Volunteers from the levels they had inherited; Clinton inherited some 5,400, Obama just over 7,000 — about the number now. There was insufficient support in the Congress for a bigger Peace Corps budget to overcome the opposition of a vocal minority. Voters seemed convinced that U.S. national security depended more on putting boots on the ground overseas than sneakers on the ground.
Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress has strengthened during the Trump Presidency. A bill was introduced in the House last year to defund the Peace Corps and attracted more than 100 votes. It’s easy to imagine the Peace Corps being defunded in a second Trump Administration. But it’s also possible to imagine a stronger Peace Corps emerging under a new president.
Revolutionary and Inclusive
Wearing my economist hat, here is my best guess about the supply and demand for Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of who is elected in November.
It seems likely that more American men and women will be interested in joining the Peace Corps in the coming years because higher education and the job market in the USA have been so greatly disrupted. Even before the pandemic arrived, the job market was being reshaped by artificial intelligence, robotics, and other factors. The “normal” pattern of getting a full-time job with benefits was no longer the default option for many graduates. The gig economy was expanding visibly.
The pandemic has delivered a body blow to higher education that will almost certainly lead to dramatic changes. Already we see far more high school graduates exploring gap year options. More fundamentally, financial constraints are likely to reduce residential enrollment substantially for several years. College dropouts and people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, regardless of their age, may find the Peace Corps and other forms of public service to be appealing options.
The biggest unknown on the supply side is how the current debate on national service will play out. Too few Americans are aware of the existence of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Mandated by the Congress in the authorizing legislation for FY2017, the Commission issued its final report in March 2020, and held its public rollout on June 25. Its recommendations represent “a revolutionary and inclusive approach to service for Americans.”
The National Commission found compelling reasons “to cultivate a widespread culture of service” in the United States. Its report states that bold action is required, not incremental change. Its recommendations begin with “comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten” and extend to making service-year opportunities so ubiquitous that “service becomes a rite of passage for millions of young adults.” If acted upon, the result will enhance national security and strengthen our democratic system.
The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031.
The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031. Among these, it calls for one million to be supported by federal funding, ten times the number currently supported. The Peace Corps is explicitly included in this vision, though the Commission does not recommend a specific number of Peace Corps Volunteers. It does explicitly call for an expansion of Peace Corps Response, making the program more accessible to older Americans and people with disabilities, with increased opportunities for “virtual” volunteering.
The pandemic could actually accelerate the idea of creating a voluntary national service norm, for women as well as men. Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced to scale up AmeriCorps and other domestic service programs. Experts and activists have called for establishing new programs for rapid employment of contact tracers and health workers to stop the pandemic in the USA. The ongoing demonstrations against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have brought forth proposals for new community-based service initiatives. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) created in the Great Depression of the 1930s has been cited as a model for a form of service program that could emerge to reduce the highest unemployment rate the country has seen in the past 75 years: 14.7 percent at the end of April and 13.3 percent at the end of May.
The Peace Corps budget is a tiny part of the federal budget. For example, its appropriation of $410.5 million for FY2020 was less than two-tenths of one percent of the Defense Department’s budget request for weapons procurement. It shouldn’t take much political will in the Congress to double or triple the Peace Corps’ budget if there is growing voter support for national service. The crucial question will then become how many of the men and women seeking a service opportunity will be attracted to living in a foreign country. A big part of the answer will depend on evolving perceptions of the health and security risks of working outside the USA. Quite possibly, fewer Americans will want to spend two years in some remote village in a country they couldn’t find on a map, even with a promise of reliable internet access. On the other hand, some of the recently repatriated Peace Corps volunteers are continuing their service online, and forms of virtual service internationally may become more feasible and attractive.
In short, the supply could conceivably be sufficient to produce a Peace Corps with as many as 100,000 volunteers serving abroad by 2031, but that must be considered a best-case outcome.
The demand from host countries, by contrast, may be insufficient to even maintain the pre-pandemic level of 7,000 volunteers in the field. There will be an early test of this demand: how many of the 60-odd countries hosting volunteers before the pandemic erupted will welcome them back. The process of renegotiating programs with these countries will undoubtedly be challenging.
Who needs the Peace Corps?
In the 1960s, the whole world — even countries in the Communist Bloc — looked up to the USA with envy because of its high standard of living, its rich culture (movies, theaters, museums, etc.), its outstanding universities, its technological advances (putting men on the moon), its fight for civil rights, its enduring democratic political system, its international leadership. Few countries still look up to the USA in this comprehensive way. Over the past two decades or more, we have squandered our position of preeminence.
It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration.
That’s just the beginning of the problem. The process of globalization led by the United States started slowing down with the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001 and halted with the Global Financial Crisis emanating from the USA in 2007–08. By 2015, globalization was unwinding. That was the year the refugee exodus from the Middle East quickly led most European countries to restrict immigration severely. Another big setback came with the Brexit vote in June 2016, followed a few months later by the election of President Trump on an anti-globalization platform. It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration. Climate change is likely to produce more border closing than border opening.
In short, in a world where most governments are preoccupied with addressing internal problems and in which internet access is penetrating into the far corners of the globe, few countries are likely to need Peace Corps volunteers or want them.
At the same time, the rise of China and other countries forces us to reconsider our national security in a world where the U.S. population of 330 million represents barely 4 percent of Earth’s total population of 7.7 billion. Military power cannot possibly be enough to maintain the respect of the rest of the world. To some extent, this power seems to have made the rest fear the USA more than admire it. In this case, America’s national security may depend greatly on how well the rest of the world understands the positive features of our country. Promoting that understanding just happens to be the second goal of the Peace Corps.
FROM A DEEPER DIVE into the risk of border-related conflict in the coming decades emerges an argument that a “whole world peace corps” is needed more than lots of separate national Peace Corps-like programs. Thus, the most ambitious approach to reinventing the Peace Corps might be to transform the existing UN Volunteer program into a World Peace Corps, with every country establishing an affiliate. The U.S. Peace Corps, for example, would be rebranded as “World Peace Corps - USA.”
By contrast, the least ambitious vision for the post-pandemic Peace Corps would be to re-establish its recent level of 7,000 serving volunteers, making the adjustments necessary to restore programs with previous host countries and find some new ones. This should be doable — though it’s important not to underestimate the complexities that will arise.
So, what is the most impactful and politically feasible approach that the large “Peace Corps family” should pursue? A time of crisis like today’s provides an ideal opportunity to assess and debate alternatives. For this reason, the National Peace Corps Association is convening a summit on July 18 to explore the future of Peace Corps — and the broader Peace Corps community.
Among options worth considering: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them.
There are a number of options worth considering between a World Peace Corps and reverting to the barely visible program of the past 40 years. Most important among them may be two-way service programs: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them. This was part of Sargent Shriver’s vision back in the 1960s, but it was a nonstarter with the U.S. Congress. Now we have to ask ourselves why any country negotiating with the Peace Corps would fail to insist on a two-way program.
The resistance, sadly, will be within the USA, despite the fact that there is an abundance of service work that men and women from foreign countries could usefully do here. Disaster relief is just one obvious area. Few Americans know that thousands of individuals in Ireland raised more than $3 million for the Navajo nation to help fight the pandemic. Firefighters have come from as far away as Australia to battle wildfires in California and other states.
Teaching is probably the most interesting area for two-way service. Think of the benefits of having at least one foreign teacher in every middle school and high school in the USA. They could teach foreign languages, geography, music, sports, and more. Their counterparts, Americans serving as volunteer teachers abroad, would do the same.
This could be the easiest way to build on the Third Goal of the Peace Corps in the post-pandemic world: helping Americans to better understand people in the rest of the world. It would also represent a strong step to counter allegations that the Peace Corps is a manifestation of “white saviorism.”
Such a two-way teaching program could be established within the State Department (like the Fulbright and the Humphrey programs) or under the Corporation for National and Community Service. But there is one glaring problem here.
Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress won’t go away in a post-Trump administration. A bigger, better, bolder Peace Corps in its current form as a federal agency may well be a political nonstarter even under a Democratic administration. If so, converting the Peace Corps from a U.S. government agency to an independent, private sector NGO might represent the best chance to build an international service program that continues to be “the best face of America overseas.”
With a nonpartisan board of trustees composed of eminent personalities, this NGO could be generously funded by individual donors, foundations, and corporations, as well as receiving core grants from the federal budget. Largely freed from government fetters, it could iterate toward an array of programs of international service that contribute materially to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Operating within this organization, the Peace Corps could remain the gold standard of international service.
Yet now we have a fresh challenge — which is also coming to terms with a very old problem. To remain the gold standard, the Peace Corps will have to become more diverse, more inclusive. The report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has noted that our existing federal service programs have primarily benefited people from better educated and higher income families. This is true about the Peace Corps as much as other programs.
I hope readers will not simply “stay tuned” for a report from the National Peace Corps Association following the July 18 summit. I hope they will weigh in with constructive comments. For sure, there will be no consensus on how the Peace Corps should evolve, but I believe that the members of the Peace Corps family — more than 200,000 strong — are in the best position to understand the challenges and find a sensible way forward.
Lex Rieffel (India 1965–67) is a nonresident fellow with the Stimson Center. He served two years of active duty in the U.S. Navy before joining the Peace Corps. He has been an economist with the Treasury Department and USAID, a senior advisor for the Institute of International Finance, and a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Evacuated Volunteers and one with half a century of leadership experience in conversation see more
Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers and one with half a century of leadership experience in conversation. The big question: How can we transform this moment in Peace Corps history?
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. Four Volunteers joined NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst in conversation to discuss their experiences — and tackle some questions about how the believe Peace Corps — and the Peace Corps community — needs to change. Here’s the discussion — with video highlights throughout. And a video of the full conversation.
Marieme Foote, Evacuated RPCV | Benin 2018–20
Rok Locksley, Evacuated RPCV | Philippines 2018–20
Juana Bordas | RPCV Chile 1966–68
In conversation with
Glenn Blumhorst, President & CEO, NPCA | RPCV Guatemala 1988–91
Marieme Foote: I'm a second generation Peace Corps Volunteer who was evacuated due to COVID-19 from Benin, where I served in the agricultural field from 2019-2020. First, as others have done before me today, I would like to start off by sharing condolences: Congressmen John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were giants during the Civil Rights Movement and should continue to serve as an inspiration for our current conversation. Congressman John Lewis said, "Never be afraid to make some noise and get in trouble, necessary trouble."
If you want NPCA and the Peace Corps to move into a better future, we need to push for radical shifts in order to continue to push the envelope. If not, we risk losing Peace Corps to time.
So to start off, I will also introduce some of the panelists that I've worked with. When we returned from getting evacuated, we formed a group with Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and we created a report that received over 450 responses on the experiences of evacuated Volunteers. And we’ve used this report to advocate to Congress on behalf of volunteers for PUA, healthcare, and other different topics.
I'm joined by Rok Locksley. Rok volunteered in the Philippines as a coral reef preservation Volunteer from 2018 to 2020. He also served in Moldova from 2005 to 2008, and was a Peace Corps recruiter from 2009 to 2016. And we're also joined by Juana Bordas.
Juana Bordas: Intergenerational leadership is a key thing in all communities of people of color. I'm Juana, and I served in the Peace Corps way back in the ’60s, 1964 to ’66. And I've had an illustrious career since, we might say. It's been 54 years since I was in the Peace Corps. So I do want to share all of the things that have kind of happened since then that were based on my decision, which is a decision all of us made: We made a decision to serve and to and to put our lives in the service of humanity. And I think that's what makes people powerful, has made me powerful, and Peace Corps powerful. I've spent my career building organizations for communities of color, particularly Latinos and Latina women, and also doing work in race and equity and trying to build the compassionate, good society.
Glenn Blumhorst: First I just want to say thank you so much, Marieme. This panel is something I was really looking forward to. As we kind of started talking about this, it seemed like the right way to do this was just to say: This is your panel discussion and make it what you want, and put together something to reflect on all these big ideas that we have — and your thoughts as the next generation of Peace Corps Volunteers. I'm glad you invited me to be a part of the conversation, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your reflections. The questions you put together are really important — not just for you, but for all of us. And I'm looking forward to hearing your answers. This is directed to everyone for a brief response. As we envision the reentry process for Volunteers, what do you think are the most important things to consider when supporting Volunteers in the future post service?
WATCH: Rok Locksley — Lessons from Reentry
Difficulty Upon Reentry
Rok Locksley: I'll take that one. I served in ’05-’08 and then I served again in ’18 to ’20, so I was evacuated. But the first time that I finished my service, I came back into the 2008 economic depression. I started doing a lot of research, especially when I went to work for the agency. (Thank you, Jody Olson, for helping me get a job, back when we had an RPCV Career Center, to make all that happen!) Peace Corps has known for a very long time that returned Volunteers have had more difficulty upon reentry, rather than going into service. In fact, the Peace Corps like itself termed “reentry” in a paper in the ’90s. They took it from the NASA program, because reentry is recognized as a very difficult process — as difficult as as leaving the earth.
There was a paper written in the ’90s called "Psychological and Readjustment Problems Associated with Emergency Evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers." That really nailed down what some of the problems were. This is where we started to see that Peace Corps, recognizing through its own surveys and own research, that Volunteers were having trouble with reentry to start with — but then evacuated Volunteers were seeing double the amount of difficulties.
So, 265 Volunteers were evacuated from Liberia, Philippines, and Yemen. The evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers coined the term that this was a "crisis of reentry." Fifty-one percent of all RPCVs found reentry very difficult, and that was the highest difficulty rating on the survey. All evacuees from this 1990s survey got a debriefing conference as part of Close of Service (COS), and that's how they got these surveys. Basically, the stats are: 30 percent of RPCVs experienced some sort of depression, where 60 percent of evacuated Volunteers experience depression. Then we see the stats doubling: 30 percent for a feeling of disorientation; 12 percent for periods of crying; 39 percent for a difficult transition back; 26 percent difficulty making decisions; 15 percent reported avoidance of thinking about Peace Corps as an experience; and 12 percent reported disturbing dreams. Take all those percentages and double them, and that's generally what evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers have been dealing with.
We are given three months of training to integrate into a community. At best we're given a three-day Close of Service conference to readjust to the States, but then no real support from the agency when we land.
We are given three months of training to integrate into a community. At best we're given a three-day COS conference to readjust to the States, but then no real support from the agency when we land. And especially with the discontinuation of RPCV Career Center, pretty much all we have is our RPCV groups and NPCA to help us make this transition. What we need to do is really provide a landing pad for RPCVs — because we know it's difficult. The agency knows it's difficult. And I think there are two ways to do this.
The first is that we have to flood the world with our stories. We have to talk about return on investment on Volunteers, and how do we measure that. But our greatest return on investment is the stories of Peace Corps Volunteers. So, if you don't have the fact that you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in your staff file at work, put it in there. When I was interviewing people [as a recruiter], the most common response to my question "How did you hear about Peace Corps?" was: a teacher, my parents, or I had a friend that served, my uncle or aunt served. So people were coming to us not because of our recruitment efforts, commercials, or radio spots; they were coming to us because of one-on-one connections that they'd had with people who shared these very beautiful, very intimate stories.
Our stories are really our greatest resource. We need to be sharing those at all opportunities. That's so that we can both inspire people into service, and then when they return, they know to look for RPCV groups who can help them find jobs and help them make this transition, so we can start to minimize that trauma.
WATCH: Juana Bordas — Peace Corps taught us leadership
Peace Corps Taught Us Leadership
Juana Bordas: I would take a little bit of a different perspective, I think. What I do today is I teach leadership, and I learned it in the Peace Corps. Futurists say there are two trends, two shifts, that we're going through. One is to become a global community, which we do by being in the Peace Corps. The second one is to create the inclusive, diverse, and equitable society. In other words, we're moving towards a multicultural society and world. The young millennials and the generation after them are already there. And I think we reframe the Peace Corps as something that taught us leadership, that made us global citizens, that made us inclusive and able to relate and embrace people of all cultures and ethnic groups and ages and generations, etc.
In the ’90s, I worked with National Peace Corps Association to do a leadership program for Peace Corps Volunteers that were re-entering. But I've been listening some, and I think one of the things that's so important is for us to empower ourselves to understand — because when I came back from the Peace Corps, I went to get my first job, and I had this portfolio because I had been doing micro-enterprise work with women way back then. I had all this stuff, and I go to get interviewed, and the guy stops me and he says, "I'm really sorry, but we only hire people that have a master's degree in social work." This was the state of Wisconsin. Well, this was absolutely bizarre to me. I'm the first person in my family to graduate from college. My mother had a fifth-grade education. I thought this was ridiculous. And I had just come back from the Third World where I thought I had made a contribution. So I slammed my papers on the floor, and I said, "You don't understand. I was born to be a social worker. I was born to do this." And he looks at me and he says, "We can go down to the University of Wisconsin, we'll help you get a master's degree if you'll come back to work for us."
“Guess what? I’m a global citizen. I’ve made contributions across this globe. I’m inclusive. I love culture. I’m here to build this new world that's coming.”
Now, I understand I had certain privilege there for the first time in my life, because I am Latina and I was able to speak Spanish, etc. But I had that sense of empowerment that I got through the Peace Corps. And I invite everyone just to stop for a minute to realize that, yes, it's difficult to come back, particularly under these circumstances. But I think the most important thing we can do as Peace Corps Volunteers is to have that banner that says: "Guess what? I'm a global citizen. I've made contributions across this globe. I'm inclusive. I love culture. I'm here to build this new world that's coming."
Especially today, with our problems in foreign policy, with our problems with the current administration, the work we need to do in the future is absolutely more critical. The other thing I'd like to say is that I've been at this for over 50 years. So it's not, I'm coming back from the Peace Corps and what I'm going to do. It's our lifelong commitment to building peace in the world.
Marieme Foote: I think that what we've all realized, even when we created the WCAPS report: Facebook and social media was definitely huge for us, in terms of bridging those connections. In the future, looking at ways that we can formalize those places where we can get information — a lot of RPCVs were offering help, therapy sessions, all types of help. If you're not on Facebook, you wouldn't know; or if you're not in these specific chats, you wouldn't know. So figuring out how can we get all of this information to all of these groups of Volunteers that need it — I think is definitely something that will be important when considering reentry for the future.
What does the future recruitment process look like?
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you all. It's really great how a community comes together like that organically and helps, and that's what we saw emerge during the evacuation: when the group started forming and talking amongst themselves, and then also speaking with us and helping share with us what their needs and expectations were from the community, from NPCA, and from Peace Corps. So, thank you. Shifting a little bit to recruitment now, the question here is: How were you recruited? What does the future recruitment process need to look like? We've heard some ideas earlier today, but from your perspectives, what would it look like? There is another question that's really mostly for Juana: How can Peace Corps focus its efforts to recruit members who may be experiencing the crab syndrome? I think we'll kick it over to Rok first, if you don't mind, and then go from there.
Rok Locksley: I think, you know, it goes back to the question that was brought up earlier on one of the report outs: Where's the "peace" in Peace Corps, right? For me, peace is not like harmony and no conflict. It is absolutely a place of conflict, difficult questions, expanding our comfort zones, learning about other people and our world that we exist in — those are all peaceful things. What breaks the peace is when we have a disagreement that leads to some sort of violence. So I think that Peace Corps having healthy conversations about how they're going to recruit in the future — the question I was asked a lot as a recruiter was, “What is the Peace Corpse?” Right? So my thing is, like, let's not be the Peace Corpse, because that's not good! We're definitely the Peace Corps, right?
Let’s not be the Peace Corpse, because that’s not good! We’re definitely the Peace Corps, right?
I remember as a recruiter 10 years ago, when we first started our big initiative with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and start increasing our diversity numbers. I was sitting around in a conference room with a bunch of other recruiters; most of us were white, and there was one Black recruiter. And we were talking about strategies of: How do we recruit Black people? Or how do we recruit persons of color and Latino community members? How do we recruit these? How do we talk to these people? And then we were saying, We need to get this Black recruiter to come with us on campus to talk to the Divine Nine, or to talk to the different university groups. And he looks at us and he says, That is like — I recruit on white universities, right? You don't need to be a certain race or color to go recruit these people. But that, it was such an enlightening moment for me — and such a moment where I realized: Even in the Peace Corps, even working as a recruiter, my privileges, and my blinders are so on. Here is this guy — he was laughing at us, like, this is so ridiculous. And that was 10 years ago, when we first started doing it. So recruitment has a long way to go. And it's full of these difficult conversations and lots of apologies.
Glenn Blumhorst: Marieme, you're a child of a Peace Corps Volunteer yourself. Can you share a little bit from that perspective?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — How will Peace Corps and NPCA shift?
Marieme Foote: For me, it's like Peace Corps has always been something that I've always considered as something that I would do, because my father served in Peace Corps in Ethiopia and in Eritrea. I'm one of the few that has that connection, I think. And the fact that there were lower numbers of Volunteers that are people of color, that are Black, Latina — they don't have that kind of connection as other white Volunteers might have. So it's really important to also see how that could affect recruitment.
The other question that I have in terms of recruitment is looking overall at the mission of Peace Corps. When Peace Corps was first created, it was an exciting thing. It was something that was radical, really. And as we go forward and the population in the U.S. changes and a new generation comes about — they're dual national, they're all types of different backgrounds. They also have different expectations, and what they want to do and what they want to be a part of. They're questioning neocolonialism. They're having a lot of questions about Peace Corps overall. So how will Peace Corps and NPCA shift? I know even questions about joining NPCA; a lot of Volunteers that I know that are Black or Asian, or people of color, don't feel like NPCA or Peace Corps is for them. So, how do we expand that discussion and make them also feel like they are a part of this as well? You know, even for me, without the work with WCAPS, I'm not sure if I would have been as involved with NPCA. So I feel like that is a concern that I have, at least for recruitment and getting people involved with NPCA and Peace Corps.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you so much, Marieme. I really appreciate that, because I do believe that it's incumbent upon us to help create a more inclusive and welcoming community here on the part of NPCA for the Peace Corps, the greater Peace Corps community. Juana, did you have anything to add about the question specifically for you related to crab syndrome?
Juana Bordas: Yeah, but I also wanted to go back to some of the discussion I was listening to, to talk about coalition building and partnerships, particularly with communities of color. Because I think the association itself, for example, the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities that serves Hispanic-serving organizations, or the NAACP or some of the other organizations and in our communities that serve people of color — because it's through those organizations, not only can you learn and exchange and grow your power base and your numbers, but it also gives you an entree into into young — well, they don't have to be young, but into people of color that want to serve in this way. The other thing I would like to say about it is that servant leadership — and leadership as service and as social change — are absolutely pivotal in communities of color.
Leadership as service and as social change are absolutely pivotal in communities of color.
When I joined the Peace Corps, I actually joined the year that John F. Kennedy was killed. There was this tremendous upheaval in our communities about what we could do to support this vision that he had: about young people going and learning about the world and contributing. Today we have similar kinds of reasons for us to be able to go global and to try to help and work with communities. Of course, we all know we learn more than we get.
The crab syndrome, for people that don't know what it is: It's when when you grow up marginalized when you grow up in a society that does not validate your people, your history, your background, who you are, your incredible contributions to this country — you develop what's called the psychology of oppression. In other words, you begin to internalize the negative messages that society has put forth. And that's why identity building and learning our history — we have Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, and all of that, because you have to integrate that into the American fabric if we're truly going to have a multicultural society. Where it comes in with the Peace Corps — well, first of all, I want to say that if you have that sense of ... All I wanted to do when I graduated from college was to give back, because I've been given so much. I'm an immigrant. I came here, I became educated. And so I had that sense of service, which I think is pivotal in communities of color. That's how we've gotten where we are, is to collaborate to help one another, and to serve.
This whole idea of service is a key thing for communities of color. Growing up, I didn't know I was smart; how could I know I was smart if I didn't know the language when I entered school? If I didn't understand the system? (And I do now, by the way.) So you begin to think everybody in your community is not smart — because I didn't have professors, teachers, Congresspeople. So that's the crab syndrome. What can I do? And am I good enough? Are my people not capable of doing it? Identity building becomes really important.
There are so many issues in communities of color that we're kind of caught in the crossfire. So the Peace Corps, in order to be able to really attract leaders in communities of color — for example, DACA students, which would be another political thing, but they're brilliant young people that are dealing with so many issues, and when they come to school, they are so talented. But then they’ve got to deal with immigration in this country. They've got to deal with homelessness. They have to deal with low-income wages, they have to deal with the cost of college education for kids. Somehow the Peace Corps has to be relevant to the many dynamic, critical issues that we face — and connect.
What I learned in Chile I was able to bring back and help start a center for Latina women that had a business center; that followed the micro-enterprise principles I worked on in Peace Corps. So it's that weaving together of the needs and challenges in communities of color. It's building those partnerships. It's making the Peace Corps relevant, and an experience that you can bring back to enrich your own community. And at the same time, for Anglos that come back from the Peace Corps, you need to join organizations and become multicultural yourself so that we can start building those bridges across communities and and fulfill our Third Goal.
What will future generations need?
Glenn Blumhorst: Absolutely, thank you so much, Juana. We've touched a lot here already on diversity and inclusion. But let's drill down on that a little bit more. For each of you, how will diversity and inclusion impact the Peace Corps in the future? And in that, what will the future generation need? How can you answer that?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — How do we not just recruit but retain Volunteers of color?
Marieme Foote: We're looking at stats for Peace Corps. You see diversity — at least the rates of Volunteers that are serving from different backgrounds — are going up and up. However, there isn't really any support in place for a lot of them. And we're also seeing that ET [early termination] rates for those volunteers of color are significantly higher than their white counterparts. So these are the questions that we really we need to be looking at and saying, Why is this the case? It's not just about recruitment. It's about how do we also retain these volunteers? How do we keep them interested? How do we get them involved with NPCA? And how do we do all of that?
Right now, there's great work that Volunteers are doing. I know that there are letters that Volunteers have written to their country offices on racism and discrimination that are going around in the community. Volunteers of color are creating group chats — WhatsApp chats, Facebook groups. They have all of these resources, but they're not compiled in one place. So it's hard for volunteers to have access to all of these things. And it's important for us as well. So I'm thinking about creating seminars, creating spaces for these Volunteers to meet each other, to meet other people who are older, other RPCVs who are working in different types of fields, so that they can get also motivated and feel like Peace Corps and NPCA are for them. So pushing for that, I think and holding NPCA and Peace Corps accountable for that, is something that we all have to do and be responsible for. Which is why it's also so important for Volunteers to get organized and actually advocate — and push these institutions.
Glenn Blumhorst: A great point, Marieme, thank you so much. Because that's what we are — a community-driven organization. And all we do, it should respond to the community and the expectations that you set for us. We're going to move on to the next question — penultimate question. What are the potential barriers you see to joining the Peace Corps or NPCA? How can that impact future Volunteers? So, Rok, do you want to start it off with that one?
WATCH: Rok Locksley — “For me to clear medical cost $6,000.”
Rok Locksley: There's a lot of barriers. For me, personally coming in at 40 years old, for me to clear medical cost $6,000. At the point I had quit my job to join Peace Corps. So I was unemployed and pretty much homeless. I was one backpacking through different countries, but I had no home of record in the United States. So getting back to the States and having to rely on other services, because I had no medical insurance: It was a $6,000 that we just put on our credit cards and then paid off with our readjustment allowance. So that's a major barrier. I know I'm older, I've had some medical issues, but the costs involved with the medical application alone is is prohibitive.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you, Rok. I think that's something we don't think much about — the cost involved for many individuals, particularly if we're not young and as healthy as we were before. Thank you for bringing that perspective to this. Let me ask just for one another person maybe to chime in on that question, and then we'll move to the last question.
Juana Bordas: Well, if I had had to pay $6,000 for medical, I wouldn't have been in the Peace Corps. You know, I had no money. Now students are graduating with debt. So, again, going back to leadership and communities of color, we need to dedicate ourselves to public change, public policy change. This cannot be — that people have to pay. When I found out that happened, because two of my Latino friends joined, I was shocked that it — and that it took so long, because the process wasn't like that in the past. And I think some of these barriers are just ways to not expand the Peace Corps to where it should be at this time, in this multicultural age.
Financial barriers are one of the most significant things that we need to look at — to remove them so that anybody and everybody who wants to serve can, regardless of their economic situation.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you Juana. Financial barriers are, I think, one of the most significant things that we need to look at — to remove them so that anybody and everybody who wants to serve can, regardless of their economic situation. The question we want to ask all of you is: What do you envision the future Peace Corps Volunteer values to be?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — “If we really, really do care about Peace Corps … we also have to be open to changing Peace Corps.”
Marieme Foote: If you look at the next generation, you see even the Black Lives Matter movement, you saw, at least when I went, you saw a huge amount of the next generation there present. And they're calling for change. They're calling for accountability, and all of these things. And if Peace Corps and NPCA and these organizations don't shift, they won't exist.
If Peace Corps and NPCA don’t shift, they won’t exist.
So, if we really, really do care about Peace Corps, we want Peace Corps to exist and to continue, and we care about the mission, we also have to be open to changing Peace Corps and making these radical changes — or also we'll not exist, because the next generation won't accept it. Even when I was joining Peace Corps, I had a lot of questions from my friends: “Why are you joining this organization? You know, there's not a lot of people of color there. It's mostly white people.” There was a lot of just preconceived ideas of what my Peace Corps experience would be. And there was a lot of fear of joining it, and being a part of a neocolonialist [enterprise] — and so if Peace Corps really does want to exist, I think that it does need to shift from the foundation in terms of its mission statement and what it does — and how it does it — is my opinion.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thanks, Marieme, that's a really powerful statement. And I take that to heart, because I think you're absolutely right: If we don't shift, we will not exist. And that's food for thought, very important for us.
WATCH: Rok Locksley — “If Peace Corps wants to remain this cutting edge social justice thing, it cannot remain reactive, as it has been.”
Rok Locksley: OK Peace Corps, the first groups were Kennedy's kids, right? Shriver's kids. And if Kennedy was building Camelot, then Peace Corps is his Excalibur. It was the best thing that was created, and it was on the edge of social justice and change. Now, we know like it's sort of steeped in neocolonialism, white savior complex, those sort of things. But you know, most people didn't have those terminologies back then. But if Peace Corps wants to remain this cutting edge social justice thing, it cannot remain reactive, as it has been. It can't just wait for and prepare for the worst case scenario and be quiet. And during our evacuation, that's all the EPCVs have experienced, is quietness. Our main source of our cutting edge Excalibur has been Facebook. I mean, we need the agency; we want to support you. This thing has hurt us. We gave our lives to this organization, and our hearts are in it. And we believe in social justice and change. So I just want to see Peace Corps return to its roots of being this cutting edge of social justice and change. And I think embracing that would lead to a revolutionary new wave of applicants whose hearts are full, who are young and active and ready to serve — and really, really get to the core of the agency, which is world peace and friendship.
If Kennedy was building Camelot, then Peace Corps is his Excalibur. It was the best thing that was created, and it was on the edge of social justice and change.
Glenn Blumhorst: Juana, I'm going to ask if you have any last words of wisdom or wisdom for us.
Juana Bordas: I just want to say is that we are the association. We are the Peace Corps. You know, I served on the board of NPCA for six years, I developed the leadership program for the association. We want to continue engaging; it's not somebody doing it for us. It's each one of us making that long-term commitment. I want to say it for everybody who's been out in the demonstrations, who's been out there trying to make this change: Keep it up. Because as an elder, I did that in the ’60s. You know, I did that for women, for the Vietnam War, for civil rights, and then there weren't that many people marching.
My last thing is: We have to do this. It's a lifelong commitment. It's up to each one of us. The Peace Corps has prepared us to be leaders in this new global and international and multicultural age. So I would like to see us say, Yes, each one of us is going to step up our commitment. Yes, each one of us decides we're going to do this, we're going to reach out to other communities, we're going to join organizations that aren't white, if we're white; we're going to join different organizations from different perspectives. And we're going to keep this going. And I think it does take an advocacy commitment for all of us to do our part in creating the future.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you so much, Juana. That's a great way to end this conversation. I want to thank especially the evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers for organizing this panel, and inviting Juana and myself to be a part of it as well. I've really enjoyed getting to know all of you over the last several weeks and working with you and a number of other evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers. This has just really been a highlight for me. Though I am pained with the way that your service was interrupted and you had to come home, I'm just really amazed at how you have rallied around as a community and supported each other and helped drive the conversations that we're having today. So thank you all so much.
Story updated November 9, 2020.
There is an attentive and caring Peace Corps community that empathizes with you and awaits you see more
Through your personal stories and photos shared by social media over the last few days, an entire Peace Corps community has vicariously lived the shocking reality of 7,000+ serving PCVs evacuating from communities in 60 countries around the world. This traumatic interruption of service is not the way a PCV envisions service to end - with unfinished projects, unsung farewells, unrung COS bells, and unsaid goodbyes.
To the PCV evacuees, my heartfelt sympathy. I share your grief. As you return home, know that there is an empathetic and caring Peace Corps community awaiting you with a collective virtual embrace. We are thousands of returned Peace Corps Volunteers (including many whose service had also been cut short), former staff, host country nationals, family, and friends who care deeply for you.
This unprecedented moment calls for an extraordinary response. Be assured that National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is committed to providing the substantive support services that our RPCVs deserve. We hear you and are responding. In the coming days, you can expect:
- A collaborative effort forged among the Peace Corps agency, NPCA, and the greater Peace Corps community to support evacuated RPCVs upon your arrival.
- The launch of a comprehensive Global Reentry program designed by NPCA especially for evacuated RPCVs with support tailored to your needs and expectations.
- Rollout of an array of academic and career resources to assist evacuated RPCVs in taking the next step in your professional pathway.
- Connections to an emerging RPCV peer support network and your local RPCV groups to provide emotional, moral, and logistical support.
- Updates on how, through NPCA, we can collectively advocate for the benefits and entitlements evacuated RPCVs deserve, as well as ensure the future of the Peace Corps.
For those of us in the Peace Corps community who are able to provide financial leadership, the Benevolent Fund will enable NPCA to support basic needs and longer-term readjustment of evacuated RPCVs.
This is an amazing and resilient Peace Corps community. Thank you for all you do to serve one another and the world.
NPCA President & CEO
RPCV Guatemala 1988-91
Help NPCA Reach More Returned Volunteers
Your financial support of any size will make a BIG difference.
Steven Saum posted an articleA group to link evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers with the help they need see more
A group to link evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers with the help they need. Sometimes that’s just someone to listen — and hear.
By Steven Boyd Saum
The day after Peace Corps informed Volunteers around the globe that they were being evacuated, a new group took shape to help them: Returned Peace Corps COVID-19 Evacuation Support [Community-Generated] was launched by returned Volunteer Joshua Johnson. The group had 200 members within the first hour. By the end of the day on March 16 that number had grown to 2,000. Soon nearly 10,000 returned Volunteers and parents joined. And a dozen administrators began to chip in to manage it.
There were outpourings of sympathy and dismay and immediate offers of help: A place to stay for self-quarantine in Boston or Tucson, Baltimore or Seattle, Central Pennsylvania or East Tennessee. A welcome home and a ride from the airport in Washington or Syracuse, Columbus or LAX (with free air hugs). A grocery run in New York. Questions about what’s the status of Volunteers evacuating from Ethiopia and Morocco, Indonesia and Panama.
Evacuations differed country by country, and so did instructions from country directors. So questions for the group were legion: about readjustment allowances and benefits, health insurance and reimbursement for those having to self-quarantine in a hotel. There were questions about pets: bringing cats and dogs back home. One wanted to know about transporting his machete. Amid economic meltdown, there were many questions about unemployment and would the evacuated Volunteers be eligible? After all, they were not technically “employees.”
What they were, per a new community-generated acronym: ERPCVs, for Evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Pin our hopes: The community offered places to stay and airport rides, financial help and comfort. Sometimes it was the little things, like lost and found—a Botswana pin scooped from an airport floor in Doha. Photo by Carrie Cowan Angell
There were differences in status: Some were initially placed on administrative hold. Ultimately, all were COS’d — a verbification of the acronym for “close of service.” That status unlocked benefits that otherwise would not have been available to Volunteers kept on hold. But it felt like a gut punch to many. And it led to this Washington Post headline: “The Peace Corps isn’t just bringing home 7,300 volunteers because of the coronavirus. It’s firing them.” Not exactly. But there was this: To formally COS, Volunteers needed medical checkups, which had to be done back home; nationally, non-critical medical appointments were on hiatus.
The Facebook group provided updates and advice; it steered members to the latest news and programs from National Peace Corps Association, as well as new policies rolled out by the Peace Corps agency. Group members have provided job help and resume reviews, interview tips and advice for grad school, opportunities for community service to help battle the pandemic here at home. It became a place to connect as many took to the streets to protest against racial injustice. In June it carried news that evacuated Volunteers could now apply for reinstatement or re-enrollment.
Joshua Johnson, who served as a Volunteer in The Gambia 2009–11, started the group with other RPCVs because they realized they didn’t need to wait for someone else to take action — they could help by bringing the community together and centralizing resources. “Leaving Peace Corps after months of preparation was difficult enough,” Johnson says. “I can only imagine what it is like to be so quickly pulled out of site.”
“Responding to an emergency situation by coming together as a community gets to the heart of Peace Corps values, and really is what we have trained for.” —Joshua Johnson
Joshua Johnson and family. Photo courtesty Joshua Johnson
And Johnson says the kindness he has witnessed has been inspiring. “In reality, responding to an emergency situation by coming together as a community gets to the heart of Peace Corps values, and really is what we have trained for. In the face of an uncertain situation, and with limited resources, we are able to use our creativity and resourcefulness to come together to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”
The group has also been a platform for ideas. “What has really given me the most hope is seeing how the evacuating Volunteers have responded to this,” Johnson says. “Yes, there have been many moments of grief or frustration shared, but I also see a lot of hope as Volunteers have found ingenious ways to continue their project work, and continue to connect with their communities.”
Tasha Prados (Peru 2011–13) contributed to this story.
Quick Take: Peace Corps Efforts to Help Evacuated Volunteers
Volunteer Ana Santos, evacuated from Rwanda
Providing evacuation and readjustment allowances, a wellness stipend, extended health insurance, health and quarantine instructions and resources, information and webinars for federal government job opportunities, job postings for other private sector positions, and graduate school options. Volunteers who were evacuated qualify for Non-Competitive Eligibility (or NCE), which makes it easier from them to join the federal workforce. They qualify for Coverdell Fellowships available for graduate school study. Volunteers who seek to return to their host countries or seek a new assignment will be given expedited consideration over the next year.
Nearly all evacuating Volunteers are finishing Virtual Completion of Service conferences, which provide training to assist Volunteers with their transition back to the United States and allow closure of activities in their countries of service. Courses through LearningSpace, the agency’s internal online learning management system, are already online, with more in the works to help returning Volunteers: prepare for employment; maintain health and well-being; understand COVID-19; and learn the future process for returning to service once circumstances allow.
Federal agency webinars: Thirty and counting to introduce the work of their agencies, especially as it relates to COVID-19 response. Many more have asked to host a webinar and/or present for a second and third time. Hundreds of evacuated Volunteers have participated in each of these events. The Office of Personnel Management has hosted eight sessions covering themes related to working in the federal government, showcasing opportunities available across the country, discussing how to prepare a successful federal resume and navigate USAJobs for their job search. Hundreds of evacuees have benefited. Bulletins that provide answers to pressing concerns and questions and direct Volunteers to an increasing number of resources available from the Peace Corps and other partners and sources, such as the National Peace Corps Association, RPCV Support Groups, Rotary International, universities offering tuition discounts, and hoteliers offering lodging discounts. New info posted daily.
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A perspective from Kenya. July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future. see more
A host country perspective from Kenya. Remarks from the July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said
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 Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said — volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels.
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
Hi everybody, I’m happy to be given this chance to share with you some experiences. I’ll talk about three episodes regarding the Peace Corps. Peace Corps came at the correct time when many countries just gained their independence; the young people who came as Volunteers were disciplined and they really interacted with the community.
People in Kenya knew very little about the United States. With the coming of the Peace Corps Volunteers, who worked mainly in rural areas, people came to know more. And that was during during the Cold War. Discussions took place, and people felt at home with the Volunteers — and the Volunteers themselves felt at home. Thus that aim of the Peace Corps was achieved immediately.
The majority of the Volunteers were teachers, and I'm happy to say that most of the people who went through those schools — special high schools — and because of the Peace Corps, they did well in school and they have really served the community. That's the main aim of the Peace Corps: to empower the people.
Watch: Remarks by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said from July 18
As the years went on, especially in other fields, what Peace Corps Volunteers did was marvelous. In technical terms, whether in agriculture or in otherwise empowering people, they did a good job. The policy of the American government was seen on the ground; to see and talk to people and exchange ideas is when you learn more about the country. And it came as a cultural exchange: We learned technical fields, and we learned more about American culture and American people.
After the Cold War came another era — the era of terrorism, which really affected the work done by Volunteers in several countries. In some countries, the Volunteers couldn't go too deep in some areas. And as things change, especially in Kenya, they had to be pulled out; that was very sad. That also interfered with the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers.
And now there is a reckoning because of this pandemic. I think this a big a big blow to the Peace Corps itself — especially in Kenya, because we were just planning to bring in new Peace Corps Volunteers. We were ready to receive them, after they were pulled out about seven years ago. They were coming back. And unfortunately, all of a sudden this pandemic came.
Now is a very difficult time, especially for the work of the Peace Corps — because the Peace Corps Volunteers work with communities and interact with communities. With this pandemic, we don't know how long it will take. So unfortunately, that interaction is no longer there. Because when people are living together and working together, they learn from each other — and they learn each other's culture, even how to prepare traditional dishes. We shall miss all that.
How can the Peace Corps change and work from outside the country they're supposed to be in? How can the Volunteers work? It's a big challenge. And I think this we have to look at very critically. I don't see Volunteers coming back to the countries in the near future. So I think the best thing is to plan and see how we can interact. What we are doing now through Zoom most these days — people have learned to communicate. People are working from home; is it possible to give some technical advice from home? That's one thing we should look at.
I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
How can we revive or continue with the work that Peace Corps Volunteers were doing? They have left, and I'm sure that local people that are trying to contact them to do some work; it's a continuous train which goes on.
How can we survive during this pandemic? We need to look at ourselves and bring our heads together and see how the work can be done. We have seen it at the national conference taking place. And is it possible, at least to some extent, to carry on with the work we are doing in the stations we were through Zoom?
The other issue is the American situation. Just recently people were really shocked when the [government] said that international students who are there had to come back. I'm very happy that decision was revised. Such decisions sometimes, unfortunately, affect ordinary people who have children there and who are starting their own family; they hope that they will get the education they need in America and then come back. So if all of a sudden they said that "No, because of this pandemic, you have to go back," it becomes difficult.
But also, if I can mention what has happened recently in the States — especially the brutality which is going on: That really affected so many people all over the world. I'm glad that things are being worked out, and I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
People are very sensitive, especially in terms of human rights; people are saying that especially that America, this democracy, is usually the first to talk about and harass other countries when there is abuse of human rights. And here people are looking at especially the security guys and themselves doing such things. As human beings, we should all learn to live with each other and respect each other — and work together.
Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya is a volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels. He is the 2013 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
The skateboarding project and learning to paddle together. see more
Nobody wanted it to happen this way. Evacuation stories and the unfinished business of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
The Philippines | Diane Glover
Home: Valdosta, Georgia
When Diane Glover arrived in the Philippines in July 2018, it was a sort of homecoming — to the country where she was born and left at age 11. She was raised by her older sister in Washington state and Georgia. “So many people invested in my success,” she says. Returning that investment seemed natural; empowering girls is something she cares about deeply — especially survivors of sexual violence.
She was a youth development Volunteer in Tacloban City on the island of Leyte. She worked with dozens of street children. One effort was the “skateboarding project,” which rented out skateboards — but not for money. The goal was to get kids into the community office and help them learn. Every minute they participated in reading, writing, or gardening bought a minute of skateboarding. The work taught Glover patience: “I can’t necessarily say, ‘I transformed six lives today.’ Most of the time our success — we don’t see that until down the road.”
“I can’t necessarily say, ‘I transformed six lives today.’ Most of the time our success — we don’t see that until down the road.”
Investing in their success: Diane Glover, left, with kids in Tacloban City. Photo by Diane Glover
With six months left, she was worried about cutting it close with the terms of a grant. There was another project proposal — and wouldn’t it be good to extend for a third year? Then came the email.
The islands of the Philippines are scattered over hundreds of miles; evacuation was decentralized. Peace Corps staff flew from Manila to Cebu City to ensure that Volunteers consolidating there got home safely. “They just wanted to support their Volunteers till the very end.”
Crisis brought home a new lesson: Stop worrying about grants and project deadlines. “The evacuation has given us a snap of realization: Your relationship is your success—the relationship that you create in your community.” Yet suddenly that was gone.
The Philippines | Rok Locksley
Home: Chicago, Illinois
Volunteer Rok Locksley, left, supported Nibarie Nicolas in his projects focused on marine resources. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley
I met Nibarie Nicolas just before our swearing-in ceremony in Manila. I knew him as Ban2x (Ban-Ban). He’s mid-twenties, full of energy, curiosity, and infectious joy. He had recently been hired as fisheries technician for the Municipal Office of San Jose in the Visayas region. He was responsible for local marine resources, programs, and events. He was passionate about working with local fisherfolk. And he was assigned to be my counterpart.
I served as a Volunteer in Moldova (2005–08) and worked as a recruiter for Peace Corps before my wife, Genevieve, and I went back as Volunteers in Philippines. I supported Ban2x in his projects: developing a guardhouse for our marine sanctuary, programs for fisherfolk, agro-tourism events, and education about marine resources.
Within minutes of us meeting, Ban2x asked if I liked dragonboating. I had a vague familiarity; I’m an avid whitewater kayaker. He had assembled a dragonboat team from the fisherfolk communities; he was drummer and captain. They had never paddled before as a team, but they spent days and nights on the water in canoes they call sakayans, fishing the Tañon Strait. They borrowed a boat for their first race and blew the competition out of the water.
Dragonboating became a major part of my life. After a day in the office working on marine policies or presentations, Ban2x and I headed to practice. We paddled until sunset, then sat on the beach and watched stars reclaim the sky. We shared thoughts and dreams and life lessons. We ended each night with traditional goodbyes in Binisayan: “Kitakits”—which isn’t so much “goodbye” as “Until we see each other again.”
Genevieve became fast friends with Ban2x’s grandmother. We attended birthday parties and fiestas with his family. He took time to walk me through basic introductions, made sure I knew how to dress for various occasions, who to thank. While he was tasked with protection of the park, he had never donned SCUBA gear to see it underwater. So I arranged for him to get his diving certifications. Our first dive we saw lobsters, turtles, sharks, and stunning coral formations. When we surfaced, I saw the wonder in his eyes.
We created plans for coastal resource management and a marine protected area. We had big ideas for 2020. As January ended and news of the virus spread, we intensified our work. February rolled in fast. March, I could see the writing on the wall. I tried to wrap up projects and spoke with Ban2x at length about what needed to happen professionally if Genevieve and I left.
“When we surfaced, I saw the wonder in his eyes.” Photo by Rok Locksley
The first week in March we went on lockdown. I talked with Ban2x about evacuation. He wasn’t worried. Peace Corps evacuated us in 2019 to Manila when a typhoon came close. We returned a week later. When we got the call for consolidation in mid-March, I knew it would be the end of my service. I asked Ban2x to come over.
He arrived in his usual chipper demeanor. We talked on the porch, then I brought him into the house and started pointing out things he could take, what to give to the fisherfolk. After I showed him our bicycles, it registered on his face that we were truly leaving.
I firmly believe that one-to-one relationships built at a grassroots level between people who are fundamentally different is the best pathway to world peace. But I forgot how much it hurts to leave your friends.
When people talk about Peace Corps, they are quick to mention Volunteers and service. Maybe they get around to speaking about the three goals or cultural exchange. Most people forget about the actual mission of the agency: world peace and friendship. I firmly believe that one-to-one relationships built at a grassroots level between people who are fundamentally different is the best pathway to world peace. But I forgot how much it hurts to leave your friends.
Ban2x showed up at our house early the next day. He brought his family car to shuttle us to the seaport. We were on the last boat out. We loaded our bags. He pledged to look after our dog. We hung around the port until the last possible minute. Then I grabbed my dragonboat paddle and turned for one last look at my best friend. “It’s not goodbye,” I said, “just until we see each other again.”
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With Your Participation - We can Reach This Goal! see more
UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, President Trump signed into law the $2.2 trillion emergency stimulus package passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier in the day.
Final approval of the emergency stimulus package means $88 million will be forwarded to Peace Corps to assist with the cost of evacuating 7,300 volunteers from 61 countries and support initial transition assistance.
"This funding reinforces the federal commitment to the Peace Corps, and we are grateful for this action to support the agency and its Volunteers during this difficult time", said National Peace Corps Association president and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. "While this package addresses critical short-term issues, we continue to work with Congress as the evacuated RPCVs will face additional challenges in the coming weeks and months."
NPCA is already in communication with congressional offices to discuss next steps for an anticipated next round of legislation. Congress needs to hear from you. That's why we are asking you to take action now with your members of Congress to press for ongoing support for evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
During this extraordinary moment, we require a committed response from the Peace Corps community and the broad, deep reservoir of everyday citizens who believe in the mission and goals of Peace Corps service.
That's why we are issuing a challenge to mobilize and send 100,000 messages to Congress
The final approval of this massive stimulus package is good news for Peace Corps. But our work doesn't end there. Numerous offices are indicating that the bill finalized on Friday—the third stimulus bill passed into law—will not be the last.
Conversations are underway to make sure that future legislation addresses some of the longer term needs evacuees will likely face, including some form of joblessness support, extended health care support where needed, adequate mental health support, possible enhancements to Coverdell Fellowship programs for prospective graduate students, and possible domestic deployment opportunities so skilled Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can help fight the pandemic.
Beyond that, an ongoing mobilization is needed to remind our lawmakers and our fellow citizens that Peace Corps remains open and is preparing to re-deploy as soon as possible.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, take action!
Want to help coordinate advocacy efforts in your community/region? Contact us! firstname.lastname@example.org.
A legendary figure in the launch of the Peace Corps dies at age 92. see more
A legendary figure in the launch of the Peace Corps dies at age 92.
He was a student of Gandhi's methods of bringing political change through non-violent direct action. An associate and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. during the early years of the civil rights movement. A key adviser to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy who facilitated a key meeting between JFK and MLK which eventually led to a critical phone call that is credited with tipping the election to Kennedy.
He was a World War II era veteran. A university president. A United States Senator.
But for tens of thousands of members of the Peace Corps community, Harris Llewellyn Wofford — who died Monday — will always be remembered and revered for his iconic work as one of the architects of the Peace Corps, and his vigorous lifelong commitment to volunteerism and service above self.
"Harris Wofford blessed the world with his never-ending commitment to public service and social justice," said National Peace Corps Association President Glenn Blumhorst. "He truly was a global citizen who embodied Peace Corps values. All who were fortunate enough to have met Harris are mourning his passing, not only because we lost a friend, but also because our nation has lost a man of such high character and goodness."
After JFK's election in 1960, Wofford began work in the new administration as a key civil rights adviser, but was later appointed to assist Sargent Shriver in the formation of the Peace Corps. He served as the agency's special representative to Africa and director of operations in Ethiopia.
At gatherings of the Peace Corps community, Wofford would regularly remind audiences of the bold vision and role of the new agency at its inception. He recalled being on the White House lawn with President Kennedy as a new group of volunteers was leaving for their service. According to Wofford, Kennedy said:
"You know this Peace Corps is going to be really serious when we have 100,000 Volunteers a year. Because in one decade, we'll have a million Americans who will have had first-hand experience in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Then at last, we'll have an intelligent foreign policy because there will be a big constituency of people who understand the world."
Wofford was a member of NPCA's Advisory Council and a regular at NPCA conferences, leadership summits, and advocacy days. His commitment to service went well beyond Peace Corps. He was Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (which included AmeriCorps) from 1995 to 2001. He was a leader in the formation of the Building Bridges Coalition in 2006, bringing together non-governmental organizations, businesses and universities committed to expanding overseas service opportunities. Wofford also served on the boards of several volunteer organizations, including America's Promise, Youth Service America, and the Points of Light Foundation.
In our nation's capital, a city that can be consumed by status and titles, "Senator Wofford" was simply known to all as "Harris." His personal modesty belied his mark on history and many global achievements. Those achievements began in the 1940s, when he formed the Student Federalists while in high school. They continued six decades later, when Wofford assisted another presidential candidate at a critical moment: introducing Barack Obama at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center before a pivotal speech on race in America. They endured in 2016, when his opinion piece in The New York Times spoke of the man who became the second love of his life and the importance of marriage equality.
During the 50th anniversary year of Peace Corps in 2011, NPCA recognized Wofford's lifetime of service to our nation and our world by establishing the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. The award is given annually to an outstanding global leader who grew up and continues to live in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers serve and whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps.
On Saturday, March 2, 2019, we gathered to remember the remarkable life of Harris Wofford at Howard University in Washington, DC. If you were unable to join us, you can watch the service using the link below.
Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleHonoring six Returned Volunteers and a civic leader in Chicago see more
Honoring six Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served around the world — and a leader who has worked to close the racial and wealth gaps in the Chicago area.
By NPCA Staff
On December 15 the Peace Corps recognized leaders in the Peace Corps community — and a civic leader with a shared commitment to Peace Corps values — with the Franklin H. Williams Award. The award honors ethnically diverse Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have demonstrated a commitment to civic engagement, service, diversity, inclusion, world peace, and to the Peace Corps’ Third Goal — to strengthen Americans’ understanding of the world and its peoples.
The award was presented to six Returned Volunteers, and a special Director’s Award for Lifelong Service honors was presented to recognize an individual who has not served in the Peace Corps but shares a commitment to building peace and civic involvement.
The keynote address was delivered by Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, whose pathbreaking career in the Foreign Service has created new opportunities and possibilities for women and minorities. Abercrombie-Winstanley served with the Peace Corps in Oman, was the first woman to lead a diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia, advised U.S. Cyber Forces on diplomatic priorities, and served as U.S. ambassador to Malta.
The event was hosted and awards were presented by Dr. Darlene Grant, who serves as a special advisor to Dr. Jody Olsen, Director of the Peace Corps. Meet this year’s winners.
Dr. Sabrina T. Cherry
The Gambia 2001–03
Dr. Sabrina T. Cherry has worked for nearly 20 years within the field of public health. Dr. Cherry’s professional experience started as a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa. As a public health practitioner, Dr. Cherry collaborated on Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA) for the Greater Atlanta Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and two rural Georgia hospitals; provided technical assistance to faith-based, mini-grant recipients in Southwest Georgia; and worked on a food insecurity and medication-adherence pilot study for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
Dr. Cherry served as part of a research team that won the 2018 National Economic Development Award awarded by University Economic Development Association Awards of Excellence and is the recipient of the Distinguished Scholarly Engagement and Public Service Award awarded by UNCW. Her primary research interests are the intersection of public health and religion. She earned a Master of Science Public Health degree from the University of South Carolina, a Master of Theological Studies from Emory University, and a Doctor of Public Health, as a well as a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Qualitative Research from the University of Georgia.
Denisha Richardson, a Minnesota native, offers 10+ years of broad base program administration and communications skills. She specializes in transformation and competency; in the areas of power, ability, status, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion, gender rights, youth development and leadership. Her work spans over four continents, in diverse access and living conditions. Richardson is a proud HBCU graduate of Florida Memorial University, where she obtained her bachelor of arts in public relations. She obtained her Master of Sociology with a concentration in Intercultural and Diversity Studies from the University of Cape Town.
In June 2020, she and fellow Fiji Peace Corps Volunteer-turned-business-partner Montrell Sanders founded the Beacon Axiome Group (BAG). Motivated by world events, the BAG was formulated out of their shared experiences, passions, and desires to assist with transforming society to end injustices, anti-blackness, and discrimination. Her work experience includes serving as a Refugee Officer and Immigration Services Officer in the federal service.
From 2015–17, Denisha served as a Community Youth Development Specialist Volunteer in the Republic of Fiji. For ten years she was a mentor and later the Program Coordinator for a diversity and leadership program throughout an independent school district in Minnesota. Her teaching and development experiences extend to South America and South Africa. She previously served as a Congressional intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. In these roles, she has led, planned, implemented, and facilitated efforts to provide training, research, resources, and developmental activities to youth, young adults, and learners.
“I believe in fostering a culture of empowerment that equips others with the skills and knowledge to be not only productive but also provide the opportunity for them to showcase their unique abilities and contributions.”
Jalina Porter is an entrepreneur and strategic communications professional who serves as the Communications Director for Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) in the U.S. House of Representatives. A seasoned communications advisor and foreign policy professional, Jalina has advised non-profit organizations and conducted inclusive communications-based professional development training for over 4,000 working professionals including current elected officials, veterans, global leaders, corporate executives, and congressional staff. Jalina is a current Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, member of The Links, Incorporated, and serves on the Executive Advisory Council of the National Peace Corps Association.
Jalina served as a Volunteer in the Kingdom of Cambodia 2009–11 and has been recognized as a 2018 Next Generation Foreign Policy Leader by New America, a 2019 African-American Foreign Policy Influencer by Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and a 2020 “40 Under 40 Returned Peace Corps Volunteer” by National Peace Corps Association. Jalina earned her B.B.A. in Marketing from Howard University and her Master’s in Global Strategic Communications from Georgetown University. A former professional dancer, Jalina values connecting with others through performing and creative arts, cultural exchanges, and mindfulness practices.
Ella Cheri Bennett
Dominican Republic 1991–93
While in high school during the late 1970s Ella Cheri Bennett was intrigued by the Peace Corps commercial that proclaimed that the Peace Corps was “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” This anthem seemed to speak to her personally. Although she was 29 years old when she joined, she remained faithful to her childhood dream. From 1991 to 1993, she served as a Community Education Volunteer in San Jose de Los Llanos in the Dominican Republic. Her principal project included collaborating with school personnel and the community to plan and implement major physical repairs to Maria Nicolasa Billini School. Bennett also formed the asociación de padres y maestros, the U.S. equivalent to the Parents and Teachers Association. As a team, this group planned and implemented projects to assist in securing funding, in addition to support received from the country’s Ministry of Education, to make school repairs.
Following her Peace Corps service, Bennett continued to serve her community through her work. For more than 17 years, she taught Bilingual Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) in Anson County, North Carolina. While many of her students could not read or write, others were competent scholars that only needed encouragement to complete their high school equivalency (GED) exams. During this time, Bennett also taught English as a Second Language to Spanish speakers from various countries living in Richmond County, NC. These experiences provided an opportunity for Bennett to share her Peace Corps experience and the language that she learned, as well as share her African American culture with others.
Today, Bennett teaches nutrition education to bilingual groups with a focus on encouraging families to make healthy choices to improve their health and prevent chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes that are prevalent in communities of color. The classes also serve as an opportunity for cultural exchange, as families have the opportunity to prepare recipes hands-on and experience ethnic dishes that are made with healthier options.
Twenty-seven years after her Peace Corps service, Bennett remains in contact with her many friends in San Jose de Los Llanos in the Dominican Republic. She also serves on the International Awareness Committee of the Laurinburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Dr. Sheldon Gen
Sheldon Gen is the son of immigrants who fled China’s communist revolution following World War II. He was raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley in Turlock — then a rural agricultural town, where his parents established a successful restaurant. Gen began working in the back of the restaurant at age 8, learning a full range of kitchen skills that would eventually pay his way through college and feed many friendships. He is a first generation college graduate, earning a B.S. in civil engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. This led to a decade of engineering work with federal agencies, including the Peace Corps (Kenya), the U.S. Air Force (Los Angeles AFB), and the Environmental Protection Agency (San Francisco and San Diego) where he was a Presidential Management Fellow. As his engineering career progressed, he earned a MPA degree with honors at the University of Southern California to understand the public service and policy contexts of his engineering projects. These studies engrossed him and eventually led him to complete a PhD in public policy at Georgia Tech (with honors).
In 2003, San Francisco State University hired Gen into a joint appointment between the Public Administration Program and the Political Science Department, focusing on public policy studies. He is now an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. He maintains interests in civil engineering, having worked on many Bay Area public policy issues related to public infrastructure and the environment. He has also kept his kitchen skills sharp, and for five years he was the co-owner and executive chef of Chef Camps, a cooking camp for kids in Sonoma County.
Diamond Butler is a New York native dedicated to youth and community development. Her interests in international affairs sprouted while interning at the International Rescue Committee. After graduating from Cheyney University with a degree in political science, Butler worked on various political campaigns while teaching workshops for the 181st Beautification Project. She then became the Director of Youth Programming and Internships at the United Palace in Washington Heights for several years. She also worked at the YMCA of Greater New York Global Teens program where she had the opportunity to lead students on service-learning trips to California and South Africa. Butler served in the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Comoros while working with various community projects. She is a proud Community School Director for Global Kids at the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA).
Franklin H. Williams Director’s Award for Lifelong Service
Dr. Helene D. Gayle
Helene D. Gayle has been president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, since October 2017. Under her leadership, the Trust has adopted a new strategic focus on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago region.
For almost a decade, she was president and CEO of CARE, a leading international humanitarian organization. An expert on global development, humanitarian and health issues, Dr. Gayle spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control, working primarily on HIV/AIDS. She worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation directing programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues. She also launched the McKinsey Social Initiative (now McKinsey.org), a nonprofit that builds partnerships for social impact.
Dr. Gayle earned a B.A. in psychology at Barnard College, an M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.P.H. at the Johns Hopkins University. She has received 18 honorary degrees and holds faculty appointments at the University of Washington and Emory University. She serves on public company and nonprofit boards, including The Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America, ONE Campaign, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Economic Club of Chicago. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Council on Foreign Relations, American Public Health Association, National Academy of Medicine, National Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics. She has authored numerous articles on global and domestic public health issues, poverty alleviation, gender equality, and social justice.
About Franklin H. Williams, the award’s namesake
An early architect of the Peace Corps, Franklin Williams also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. ambassador to Ghana, and he worked for years as an advocate for civil rights. The award was founded in 1999, and past winners include Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative; Ambassador Charles Baquet III; and Sia Barbara Ferguson Kamara, who served as Associate Commission of Health and Human Services.
Peace Corps beginnings: Franklin H. Williams, left, with Sargent Shriver. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
Unprecedented Times. Powerful stuff. Stories that brought tears. see more
I’m writing to congratulate and thank you for the current issue of WorldView. It’s the most powerful thing in print I’ve seen from Peace Corps since I received my acceptance letter in 1969. Congrats to everyone involved on a mammoth job so very well done.
Most remarkable WorldView ever, both the quality of the product and the effort it took to gather and edit the stories. What we may have is the substance for a book, proceeds from which would fund NPCA services and support to returning Volunteers. Two quotes (both from the stories from China): “A lot of my students had never seen or interacted with a foreigner. For them, the experience is transformational” and, “To assume that the Chinese government and people are the same is a fallacy.”
I wept my way through reading WorldView. The evacuation stories both broke my heart and raised my spirit. I could not help but imagine myself being torn away from my community, friends, counterparts, programs, and much more, had I had to leave Paraguay (where I served) within 24 hours. Unbearable thought for me and yet excruciatingly real for 6,892 Volunteers. Their stories were beautiful and so painful. I was buoyed up with an affirmation that Peace Corps is still making its unique contributions worldwide. Not just in the countries where Volunteers serve, but also in the Volunteers themselves. Peace Corps must survive this global pandemic. We need it now more than ever.
Congratulations on the rapid launching of your Global Reentry program. NPCA has risen to the challenges of today in so many fabulous ways. Thank you for your leadership.
Engaging, thoughtful, and truly remarkable — I’ve read it in print cover to cover, and will read it again online. This one’s a keeper.
Peter de Groot
PCV Benin 1980–82
Peace Corps Trainer, Africa, 1983–92
Amazing with the stories from the country directors closing their sites. These stories bring a world of hurt thinking about what each had to go through to plan their departures, and the Volunteers having to say “goodbye.”
On behalf of our RPCV Gulf Coast Florida group: We were touched to read the heartrending stories of so many evacuated PCVs, and especially Missi Smith’s eloquent lament, “I’m Tired.”
For our signature project, we have dedicated ourselves to fundraising for and assisting the African American community in the heart of Sarasota called Newtown, through its grassroots organization, Newtown Alive. African American residents played a major role in the development of Sarasota. Black labor cleared snake-infested land for real estate developers, laid railroad ties, harvested celery, helped plant golf courses, and labored in the homes of Sarasota’s power brokers — cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. The men and women fought for equal rights, triumphed over Jim Crow segregation, KKK intimidation, and vigilante violence. Today, a diverse group of historians, community scholars, and others have united to present the dramatic history of strivers who refused to give up. More: rpcvgcf.peacecorpsconnect.org
Leita Kaldi Davis
Lillian Carter Award Recipient 2017
We need to find ways to make the Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better, bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention.
Terrific — packed with timely, important news that helps put unprecedented issues impacting the Peace Corps into perspective. I hope all past and future Volunteers and staff will go through the magazine cover-to-cover. I especially like“Our Unprecedented Times,” tracing momentous events and decisions which have changed not only Peace Corps but also our nation and the entire world. And Lex Rieffel’s “The Peace Corps in the Post-Pandemic World,” while controversial, is worth pondering. I disagree with proposals to convert the Peace Corps into something other than an independent federal agency, but I agree we need to find ways to make the Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better, bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention. We must have more conversations about the ideals, relevance, and mission of the Peace Corps in a rapidly-changing world and make sure the Peace Corps truly reflects America’s diversity and has the resources it needs to get Volunteers back into the field as soon as it is safe to do so.
Michael H. Anderson
Board Member, Friends of Malaysia
Well written and edited — a pleasure to read, though my eyes fill with tears as I learn Volunteers’ stories of their emergency evacuations. That many returned Volunteers can continue to communicate with their colleagues and friends living in remote places is one benefit not afforded earlier Volunteers. Nevertheless, the bonds are immutable; after 40 years, I and a fellow RPCV returned to the sites where we trained and supervised healthcare providers and located many of them because of their long, successful careers. We only had to ask a few strangers who recognized faces in old photos. (See WorldView Spring 2018.)
I hope evacuated Volunteers are able to return to their work, if they so choose.
You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many.
As a longtime journalist, allow me to say that you’ve done a great job. The coverage of the withdrawal of Peace Corps from its posts was absolutely terrific. The text cover, a brilliant graphic touch, was only the beginning of a fascinating issue. You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many. These are terribly difficult times for us all, particularly painful for Peace Corps and the many new, reluctantly-made, RPCVs.
Fabulous edition! I’m sending my copy off to my granddaughter, who was considering joining. Here’s hoping she has the chance!!
Greetings from the Solomons. I am missing my WorldView mags due to no mail from the States for months. Glad to know there is an online edition. COVID19 has held up the reopening of the Peace Corps office for the Solomons this year and the bringing in of new PCVs in 2021.
Solomon Islands 1974–78
Reading stories of the evacuated Volunteers brought back memories of my service 50 years ago in the Philippines. The agricultural school where I was assigned is now a full-fledged university. Some current students are likely to be the grandchildren of students I taught while there. Best wishes for continuing Peace Corps ideals in the future.
Philippines Group 36
Some time ago, my daughter was notified that she is on a list for training for Guinea. She is diligently working on French. I hope this pandemic can be brought under control before many more months pass; she doesn’t want to miss this opportunity.
The issue of WorldView that tells the stores of the PCVs being recalled was absolutely fabulous.
Costa Rica 1964–66
What a work by dedicated individuals! I served in the first group to go to Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1963. Thank you to those who shared, captured the info, and created this issue.
Truly wonderful issue. Thanks for your hard work in writing and putting it together.
Fantastic! Thought provoking and meaningful, from the global evacuation to the pandemic to Black Lives Matter and the very future of the Peace Corps.
Powerful and well-written, this article by Missi Smith challenges us to take action, giving us a clear list of things we can actually do to move our society toward racial equality.
Ecuador 1970–74, Nicaragua 1974–75
It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join the Peace Corps and others to take action. Missi Smith’s essay, “I’m Tired,” is powerful. The statements from the PCVs who were evacuated testify to the incredible importance of the Peace Corps around the world, especially as global ambassadors. I have just now made contribution to the NPCA and will add it to my annual giving list. Keep up the good work! The return of Peace Corps to the wider world is in my prayers.
It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join the Peace Corps and others to take action.
I got my edition and immediately called my brother, the father of an evacuated 25-year-old volunteer from Botswana. I told him I would keep this edition as a keepsake for my nephew, saying it was historical and powerful and moving! If one can order second copies please let us know. We continue to support and pray for these Volunteers and communities!
Indeed, we’re happy to send more! Support from NPCA members and donors makes it possible for us to tell stories that matter.
A few questions: What kind of a journal has no place for readers’ responses — and simply takes current headlines and applies them to something entirely different? Do you really think there is systematic racism in this country and the Peace Corps is part of it?
James Eric Lane
Find all the stories mentioned here in the Summer 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. 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.
What are the big ideas for Peace Corps and the Peace Corps community going forward? see more
Eight town halls and a global ideas summit to reimagine the Peace Corps for a changed world.
By Glenn Blumhorst
What are the big ideas for the Peace Corps, National Peace Corps Association, and the Peace Corps community going forward?
To answer that, in July we convened eight town halls and a global ideas summit that brought together thousands of members of the Peace Corps community. The reason: In March 2020, all Volunteers were evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19. They came home to a country in economic turmoil and with a worsening pandemic, and soon wracked by protests against racial injustice.
We heard loud and clear from the community that Peace Corps needs to change and adapt if we want it to endure. How? Areas we focused on ranged from diversity, equity, and inclusion to recruitment and recalibrating programs; from reexamining the three goals of Peace Corps to agency policies and funding; from helping Volunteers during readjustment at home to communication to, in, and about the Peace Corps community.
As this edition of WorldView goes live, we’re preparing to release a broad set of recommendations: for our community, including the agency, as well as policymakers and the American people. We’re approaching the work ahead of us with humility and awareness of what’s at stake. As a prelude to that, in the stories we’ve brought together for this feature package in WorldView, you hear voices from around the world and across generations, asking how we connect Peace Corps to the uncertain future we’re making.
Kul Chandra Gautam, Nepal | Peace Corps in a Post-COVID World
Luis Argueta, Guatemala | A Time to Reflect
Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said, Kenya | Empower People
Jody Olsen, Peace Corps Director | Peace Corps Today
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He welcomes your comments: email@example.com.
These stories also appear in the Fall 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
A conversation we’ve had again and again. Here are some ideas, insights, and hard truths. see more
Recruitment, support — and what next? It’s a conversation we’ve had again and again. Here are some ideas, insights, and hard truths.
ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2020, THE CONSTITUENCY FOR AFRICA convened a group of past, present, and future Peace Corps leaders for the annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs series. It’s a timely and needed conversation — with all Peace Corps Volunteers evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19, and as our nation grapples with pandemics of coronavirus and systemic racism.
The conversation was moderated by educational consultant Eldridge “Skip” Gilbert, who served as a Volunteer in Sierra Leone (1967–69). Edited excerpts here. You can also watch the full video.
Melvin Foote: I served in Eritrea and Ethiopia in the early ’70s. Peace Corps is the reason I’m doing what I am today. Constituency for Africa is a policy advocacy organization; we help to educate Americans about Africa, improve cooperation and coordination between organizations, and help shape U.S. policy toward Africa.
Now Peace Corps has gone through the trauma of evacuation of Volunteers worldwide, trying to figure out when and how it will return to the field. We want to increase the number of African Americans and Americans of African descent in Peace Corps. It comes at an interesting time for our country, as Black Lives Matter and the forces of coronavirus have taken over our lives. How do we strengthen the Peace Corps going forward?
That is what this conversation is about.
Melvin Foote, Founder & CEO, Constituency for Africa (Ethiopia 1973–75)
Each One, Reach One!
Darlene Grant: I’m speaking from Birmingham, Alabama, where I am steeped in my family’s and our nation’s history — of overcoming overwhelming odds, injustice, and disparities to fulfill our ancestors’ wildest dreams. We know what it means that we’re stronger together. That it takes a village to help individuals realize their full potential. That is what we have to offer the Peace Corps. I have six points to make.
One, focus primarily on the health, safety, and security of Volunteers. Peace Corps partners with communities abroad to develop sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems and challenges. It’s critical to empower more African Americans and Black-identifying individuals to drive the narrative of who they are — Volunteers who can show the strength, resilience, ingenuity, beauty, richness of our culture in the spaces where they walk, live, and serve. It is critical that African American Volunteers work collaboratively with Latinx, white, Asian, and other identifying Volunteers, so that when they return to the United States, they are able to effectively communicate across differences. To mobilize diverse communities, form coalitions, make the U.S. — and the world — a better place.
Two, in today’s world, a college degree is not enough to impact socioeconomic mobility of oneself or one’s family. Peace Corps service pays dividends. We must better communicate those dividends so that our Black-identifying and African American sisters and brothers can communicate to their families, schools, businesses, churches, mosques the value of leaving to come back stronger, bigger, badder, leaner, meaner. Peace Corps offers a significant resume value, on-the-ground international development experience, foreign language immersion, small grant writing and implementation skills. It offers interaction with State Department, USAID, United Nations staff, and other communities — and opportunity to take the Foreign Service test. I was 50 years old at my mid-service, and I was thinking, “Man, if I had known about all of this when I was preparing to graduate from college, where would I be today?” So I’m making sure my grandkids know — and nieces, nephews.
My first leave of absence from Mongolia as country director I visited my niece’s first grade class. I was a secret reader of the day. I read a Halloween story. Then I held up a Mongolia flag, told stories of Mongolia to a bunch of first graders in a predominantly white elementary school in Birmingham, Alabama. Then I invited them to go home and tell their parents they were going to grow up to join the Peace Corps. That poor first grade teacher’s eyes got so big — she thought I was starting a ruckus she would not be able to control! But that is what we must do: Start early and often in the schools.
Three, in many African American and Black-identifying families — particularly in lower income communities — if you have earned a college degree, you are the family’s bootstraps, by which families have a chance to see a bigger world, a broader view, a hope for different tomorrow.
The role of African Americans in post-pandemic U.S. Peace Corps is to describe and design the doors for others to walk through.
Four, the role of African Americans in post-pandemic U.S. Peace Corps is to describe and design the doors for others to walk through.
Five, the pandemic has highlighted racial and socioeconomic inequities in our country. It has done so in countries abroad as well. They must see a more diverse volunteer corps to better understand and to better grow their own worlds.
Finally, this pandemic and everything else going on have high-lighted global interconnectedness — and with that an increased need for people, for African Americans, who can effectively and sensitively navigate cross-cultural difference for the purpose of building a just and equitable world and systems, a just and equitable peace.
Dr. Darlene Grant, Senior Advisor to Peace Corps Director (Cambodia 2009–11)
Skip Gilbert: I would like to add a little bit more to that. Not only do we need to reach out and “each one, reach one,” but it's wonderful that we have the opportunity of “each one teaching one.” So we can learn to not only reach out for contact purposes, but we have the responsibility to teach as well.
Dwayne Matthews: When I was in the application process, I asked, “What is Peace Corps doing to gain African Americans?” I wrote a list of things I wanted to do. I didn’t find out about Peace Corps until going to community college. I was watching an episode of “A Different World” and heard the character Whitley say, “Well, why don’t you just ship me off to the Peace Corps?” That prompted me to look into it.
When sitting in the village, I knew I wanted to target Historically Black Colleges and Universities. My first event as a diversity recruiter was doing an HBCU tour up and down the East Coast and the South coast. From there, I did the HBCU barbershop tour: 23 barbershops gave me the platform. We have to be more creative in the ways that we’re attracting folks.
I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. Peace Corps just wasn’t a conversation. My folks didn’t travel.
I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. Peace Corps just wasn’t a conversation. My folks didn’t travel. My dad’s a truck driver, my mother’s a housewife.
Now, in this COVID-19 pandemic and racial pandemic, I was able to speak with the Peace Corps powers that be, and we are in the process of creating an HBCU video where we’re talking to returned Volunteers who graduated from HBCUs about their experiences — how Peace Corps has set them up for their life.
Dwayne Matthews, Office of Peace Corps Diversity Recruiter (Malawi 2013–15)
Clintandra Thompson: Senegal is predominantly Muslim, predominantly Wolof speaking. My community was Catholic and Sarare. I was in my language group with one other Volunteer, a white woman from Utah. I remember her dad sending cards and letters at least twice a week. She got one for administrative professionals day, for Veterans Day, for Tuesday! Her parents were very supportive of her service.
My parents were a little lukewarm. When I saw the support white Volunteers had from their community — in the way of care packages, visits, sponsored trips to other places, social media, phone calls — I said to myself when I returned, There’s definitely something we can do to lift ourselves up. I reached out to RPCV friends and asked if they would help me send letters, care packages, make calls to Volunteers in service. I started out small on Facebook and was overwhelmed with the response; there are way more current Volunteers who wanted to be matched with a Black RPCV.
I started the Adopt a Black Peace Corps Volunteer exchange to help and encourage Black Volunteers, to allow them an opportunity to reach out to Black RPCVs who’ve been there.
I started the Adopt a Black Peace Corps Volunteer exchange to help and encourage Black Volunteers, to allow them an opportunity to reach out to Black RPCVs who’ve been there — who know what those slights and comments might sound like, what it’s like when your community kind of shuns you, what it feels like to be the only American for miles and miles and hours and hours of travel. The Adopt a BPCV exchange has been around since 2015. I usually gear up in September in anticipation for sending out a Halloween card, Thanksgiving card, Christmas card, Christmas care package.
Clintandra Thompson, Communications Professional; Creator, Adopt a Black PCV Exchange (Senegal 2012–14)
Why Peace Corps?
Harris Bostic II: After a decade of swimming in all things Peace Corps — as a Volunteer, agency employee, and NPCA board member — I stayed ashore for awhile. Now as the waters again beckon for help with diversifying this 60-year-old organization, I’m ready to dive back in.
The years I spent in Africa as an advisor to a microcredit program and local Guinean small businesses have directly impacted my career, my personal life — and, frankly, my mere being. The Peace Corps was great for me. I do admit that it is not for everyone. But it certainly should be a viable option for more Blacks than it is now.
Shortly after I concluded my service, I landed a position with the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. My boss chose me from a large number of applicants because of my Peace Corps experience: having a vast knowledge of the world beyond U.S. borders, the ability to embrace the unknown, push through ambiguity, work with limited direction and guidance, and continually learn about oneself and others. I became director of the 54 African Olympic National Committees, then advanced to the office of the chairman, Ambassador Andrew Young, where we were instrumental in negotiating South Africa’s return to the Olympics after a 30-year sanction due to apartheid.
At the Peace Corps agency I participated on many task forces. The “How to Quantify the Peace Corps Service” task force was incredibly important, but it lost steam due to the Peace Corps five-year rule, continual turnover, and loss of institutional knowledge. Today I challenge the agency, NPCA, and RPCVs, to come together and create crisp messages on all the salient reasons to join the Peace Corps — and benefits of service that target specific audiences: Blacks, folks from lower socioeconomic levels, people of color, etc.
Today I challenge the agency, NPCA, and RPCVs, to come together and create crisp messages on all the salient reasons to join the Peace Corps — and benefits of service that target specific audiences: Blacks, folks from lower socioeconomic levels, people of color, etc.
Career and grad school recruiters scour resumes, applications, and essays in search of various experiences. Often they see military service, an MBA, law degree, formal sports experience — and they associate discipline, decision making, critical thinking, teamwork, striving for excellence. Recruiters should see Peace Corps and think of all the core competencies associated with it.
Another call-to-action: Consider rebuilding the Peace Corps to attract Blacks and those from lower socioeconomic levels, who often just can’t afford to join the Peace Corps. They have college loans, credit card debt, need to support families back home. Unlike the military, the Peace Corps is unreachable — and sometimes seemingly more suitable for whites and privileged individuals. Allocate budgets to support those at lower socioeconomic levels so they can see Peace Corps as not only tenable but viable. Market and package Peace Corps service in such a way to attract Blacks by lifting up the quantifiable benefits of Peace Corps service.
The goal is for Peace Corps to assemble at the same table a group of both likely and unlikely allies — to work toward identifying solid benefits of service; quantifying, or translating them to understandable competencies; then market and package them into sellable traits and attributes that recruiters value and seek, especially among people of color, and from diverse backgrounds. Imagine what a group of RPCVs — business and community leaders, media, social scientists, academics, and changemakers — could accomplish by putting their heads together and brainstorming how the agency can not only quantify what it means to serve in the Peace Corps, but also give every PCV and even parents the proof that their service mattered.
Harris Bostic II, Strategic Senior Advisor & Client Services, Tides (Guinea 1988–91)
Anthony Pinder: Peace Corps has run through the veins of my understanding of what a global citizen is. I started as a Volunteer, came back to the agency as a country director in Central Africa and Equatorial Guinea, then came back to Washington as a national director for minority recruitment.
Removing barriers for underrepresented communities and creating a more just and equitable Peace Corps — we have always been concerned with that. It’s not enough to be concerned about increasing numbers. What are we going to do when we get them in the pipeline?
Removing barriers for underrepresented communities and creating a more just and equitable Peace Corps — we have always been concerned with that.
In the Office of Minority Recruitment, the first thing was change the name to the Office of Minority and National Recruitment Initiatives. I was given some university programs as well; you got to have tools in your toolkit. I did not want to just be the diversity guy. I wanted to have more juice among my own communities as I moved around the country and helped manage 11 regional recruiting officers.
I have worked in other spaces where the robustness of the folks in leadership positions was absent. And it’s awkward to bring up questions and strategies that benefit a particular community when certain people aren’t at the table. We were able to go into the HBCUs and negotiate awesome, big events, not just for minority recruitment, but for the agency. The first group of volunteers we sent to South Africa was on my watch. We did a dramatic sendoff in Atlanta, at Morehouse College, and also at Emory at the Carter Center.
Representation is important — as is supporting diversity at the country director level. As we talk about increasing recruitment of people of color, Black folks in particular, what happens when they get in country? Will there be advocacy for the difference that they bring, for the ingenuity and the wonderful things that make their experiences so rich — also for so many people alongside them? Look at what it takes for the successful completion of the volunteer experience, as well as leadership positions within the agency. This conversation is not a new one.
We’ve talked about the awkwardness of a five-year rule. Why is it, as one of the few minority directors of Peace Corps, as a country director, I’ve never gotten a call from Peace Corps? I have leveraged the awesome experience that Peace Corps was into a career in higher ed and other areas. We should know who each other are, the strengths and resources we possess, so another person following Dr. Grant does not have to start from scratch trying to identify stakeholders.
We should not have to revisit this topic again.
Dr. Anthony L. Pinder, Associate Vice President of Internationalization & Global Engagement, Emerson College (Ecuador 1987–90)
Skip Gilbert: One historical footnote: I also had a wonderful Peace Corps experience. And from that time until now, we've only had two African American Peace Corps directors. One, Dr. Carolyn Payton. And the other person, who is on this call, is Aaron Williams. Now Aaron Williams and I worked on an Office of Minority recruitment, under the leadership of one C. Payne Lucas. He and the late Dr. Joseph Kennedy were personal mentors to myself, and certainly others — among them Aaron Williams.
Marieme Foote: Peace Corps is almost in my blood. My mother is Senegalese and grew up in Senegal, surrounded by Peace Corps Volunteers, where she learned English and then came to the U.S. to pursue her graduate degree. My father was a Volunteer. Before that, he had no understanding of Africa as a whole. His career has been shaped by it. This has transformed their lives, and other Black lives across the world, and has transformed my own.
I’m still reeling from the difficulty of being pulled suddenly from Benin. With the reality of COVID-19 in the U.S., I’ve seen Volunteers going through homelessness, unemployment, lack of health insurance. COVID exposed a wound that hadn’t really been addressed. As Volunteers, we were rapidly trying to adjust to the reality of Blackness within the U.S. Within weeks of getting back, after quarantine, I was on the streets, protesting in front of the White House.
Peace Corps does have the capacity to transform lives, which is why it’s so important that we make sure that when Black Volunteers do return, they have support they need.
African Americans are disproportionately impacted by socioeco-nomic issues in the U.S. For many Volunteers, what is provided in terms of support when returning is not enough. Evacuees are facing issues with paying for health insurance or paying for their Close of Service medical exam and not being reimbursed. If you don’t have the money in the first place, how do you even pay for it?
Peace Corps does have the capacity to transform lives, which is why it’s so important that we make sure that when Black Volunteers do return, they have support they need.
Marieme Foote, Advocacy & Administrative Support Associate, National Peace Corps Association (Benin 2018–20)
Rahama Wright: In Mali I served at a community health center. I also started working on developing cooperatives and small and medium enterprises. I was so impacted by my experience — seeing many women in my community struggling to care for themselves and their children. And I became obsessed with learning about making shea butter. When I came back to the U.S., I launched Shea Yeleen with a goal of helping women who make this amazing product bring it to the U.S. market in a way that was sustainable.
My parents met when my dad did the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso in the ’70s. I grew up in upstate New York in a family where I knew I would do Peace Corps. But I did not know the impact it would have: changing everything I thought about the continent of Africa, about people who lived in rural communities — experiencing what they were because of global social, economic, and political issues outside their control.
We have been given tools and experiences as Volunteers that we can use to make sustained, longterm impact in communities we serve. We have the knowledge and cultural competencies that a lot of Americans don’t. Most Americans don’t have a passport.
For Peace Corps, that means centering the role and contributions of Black and Brown people — not in a “we want to support diversity and inclusion by bringing more people to the table” — but really building an entirely new table.
Now, what we’re dealing with in terms of Black Lives Matter and COVID: The humanity of Black and Brown people is under attack not only here in the U.S. but globally. We have to rise to the occasion and say, “We’re not going to allow the things that we’re seeing without taking a stand.” That is so important, especially when we’re thinking about the future of Peace Corps. Everyone wants to build back better. For Peace Corps, that means centering the role and contributions of Black and Brown people — not in a “we want to support diversity and inclusion by bringing more people to the table” — but really building an entirely new table. We need to reimagine Peace Corps.
Rahama Wright, Founder & CEO of Shea Yeleen Health & Beauty Company (Mali 2002–04)
It’s About Ubuntu
C.D. Glin: For me, this conversation is about Ubuntu: “I am, because we are” — because of this community. Because of Tony Pinder leading minority and national recruitment, because of Harris Bostic in San Francisco as regional recruitment director. From being in the first Peace Corps Volunteer group that showcased diversity as a strength to a new South Africa: 32 volunteers — four African Americans, four people identified as Latinx, five people over 55, five Asian Americans. Having an African American country director, being greeted by the Mission Director to South Africa and the ambassador being African American men — Aaron Williams and James Joseph.
“Why are we still having this conversation?” We’re having this conversation again, and again. I went to South Africa in February 1997. It was a transformational time for our country but also for South Africa, with a democratically elected president who had battled back the racial oppression of apartheid. That historic moment was an opportunity to showcase the America that we all are — people of different backgrounds coming together for a cause.
That entry point into Peace Corps opens up the world. But if we as people of color, as African Americans, are not part of that, the rest doesn’t happen. Looking at foreign assistance and national security and diversity in all its forms: 189 Americans are serving as U.S. ambassadors. Seven are people of color: three African Americans, four people who identify as Latinx. Many in the State Department and foreign service, where did they start their careers? Peace Corps. We’re not in the pipeline if we’re not being recruited by people like Dwayne, supported by people like Dr. Grant.
That entry point into Peace Corps opens up the world. But if we as people of color, as African Americans, are not part of that, the rest doesn’t happen.
There was a full court press at the agency from the mid ’90s to early 2000s to recruit diverse volunteers. This was beyond race and ethnicity; this was ability, people over 50. There was a real intentionality. We lost some initiatives because they were never institutionalized.
People who are not traditional Volunteers — they’re not looking for adventure, they’re looking for a way to enhance their professional portfolio: the Foreign Service exam; universities looking for returning vol-unteers in the Peace Corps Fellows Program, in the master’s international program; a leg up in international development work. These are critical to tell people who are nontraditional recruits, predominantly African Americans, who come from places that represent and sort of look like some places where we are sending Volunteers.
When I arrived in my community in South Africa, there was a welcome: majorettes and a band at the school where I was going to serve. I had studied U.S. foreign policy toward Africa at Howard University, I’d been a Foreign Service intern in Ghana. I got to South Africa and knew this community was waiting for me. The Land Cruiser pulled up and I hopped out, and everyone was still looking around and looking over me and almost through me — because I wasn’t the American that they were waiting for. I didn’t look like the volunteer they were told they were going to get. Just by showing up, I knew I was going to transform the way that they thought about the U.S. I took it as a challenge. This is an opportunity for us as people of color, as African Americans, to show up, to represent.
I saw examples of what Peace Corps could do for careers by those who mentored me. I’m grateful to be “a success story” because of all those who’ve come before me — and to have reached back as I climbed. When I see Curtis Valentine on the chat, I remember a call from the country director in South Africa, Yvonne Hubbard, saying there’s a young brother here who’s a Morehouse man who wants to talk to you. Curtis Valentine has gone on to Harvard and become a leader in education throughout the state of Maryland.
I lead the U.S. African Development Foundation. Almost half of our staff are former Peace Corps Volunteers. The foundation, second to Peace Corps, is probably the government’s best kept secret.
It’s our duty to use our experiences to make young African Americans more aware of opportunities Peace Corps can provide. It’s incumbent upon the agency to ask us to do more.
The realities of today are not unlike the past. But what got us here, where we have so many success stories — they need to be leveraged. When I was a Peace Corps diversity recruitment specialist, it was my job to think about successful African Americans who had done Peace Corps. I got to know Ambassador Johnnie Carson, returned Volunteer, three-time ambassador, and an icon in the Foreign Service, now a mentor to me. After volunteering on the Obama campaign and leading the transition team at Peace Corps, to join the staff of Aaron Williams as the second African American, first African American male, to lead the Peace Corps—to focus on global partnerships and intergovernmental affairs — this was a true honor.
It’s our duty to use our experiences to make young African Americans more aware of opportunities Peace Corps can provide. It’s incumbent upon the agency to ask us to do more — give back in new ways, such as Adopt a Black RPCV. There is a recruitment issue, a pipeline issue, a retention issue. We also want to focus on advancement and leadership. It is about the intentionality that we need to bring. Let’s be innovative — and institutionalize the initiatives — so 10 years later, we aren’t having the same conversations again.
C.D. Glin, President of US African Development Foundation (USADF) (South Africa 1997–99)
Skip Gilbert: What policies would you implement to increase African American presence in this new Peace Corps?
Dwayne Matthews: I was looking at an old Ebony magazine from 1978, with Mohammed Ali on the cover. It had Peace Corps Director Carolyn Payton inside — talking about the same thing we’re talking about today. But she had a three- or four-page ad about African Americans and the need for them in Peace Corps.
I don’t know where that money is being allocated to. I do know that if they’re trying to target us, the budget needs to be bolstered.
Skip Gilbert: We have a marvelous opportunity to engage in a new dialogue, which will allow us to help create that new Peace Corps.
Anthony Pinder: It’s not about creating safe spaces, but brave spaces. I had some really courageous supervisors; if you’re going to empower me to do something, I need you to advocate for me, even if I do something wrong.
There needs to be a holistic strategy — people empowered to be great, and hired because of their innovation, genius, courageousness. When you have directors and all levels throughout the organization empowered, so we are not in isolated roles, we don’t have to have major conferences about inclusive excellence; it’s gonna happen.
I am now at a predominantly white institution as a vice president. We are having the same kinds of conversations. This is not peculiar for Peace Corps; this is a national dialogue, some systemic things we need to fix. The agency has to be braver than it has been.
Harris Bostic: I like to ask hyperbolic questions in situations like this: What if the goal of Peace Corps was to have 90 percent of Volunteers be people of color? What would be done differently? How would recruitment and benefits be explained? How would the application process be different? Reentry?
Take it further: What if, in 1961, when they were designing the Peace Corps, they were designing it for people of color and people from the lower socioeconomic 90 percent? How would the Peace Corps have been developed?
What if, in 1961, when they were designing the Peace Corps, they were designing it for people of color and people from the lower socioeconomic 90 percent? How would the Peace Corps have been developed?
Like I said, hyperbolic questions. But think about Peace Corps in 1960–61: Who did it appeal to? A young, white, usually female, from middle or upper class. It has grown from there.
To the structure over 60 years — how do we rebuild? We can’t forget that equality is different from equity. We don’t have to treat everyone the same. If people coming in are people of color, Black, lower socioeconomic levels — they should be given different benefits and opportunities, a different return. There’d be pushback. But ask those bold questions — if we really want to get high numbers of people of color in the Peace Corps — what we have to do, or what we have to stop doing.
Melvin Foote: This is just the tip of the iceberg. Before I joined Peace Corps out of Gunnison, Colorado, I had a column in a newspaper called “The Back of the Bus.” I wrote about the experience of Black people. My audience were cowboys, folks up in the mountains. A guy wrote me a note — white guy from Michigan — and we met over coffee. He told me that he went to Ghana as a Peace Corps Volunteer, fell in love with a Ghanaian woman, and what is my opinion about interracial marriage?
“You love who you love. I can’t tell you about that. But, ”I said, “what is this Peace Corps?” I wanted to go to Africa. I put in my application.
A few months later, they wrote: You're going to Ethiopia. I thought: Ethiopia—the Middle East, because of the Bible stories. I went to the library, found an atlas — Ethiopia, right in the heart of Africa. When we flew over, I thought that Tarzan would be at the airport to take us to the village. That's the level of knowledge we had about Africa. I was shocked when I got to the airport and people were in suits and ties and carrying luggage and doing the things that people do at airports.
My message is: Don't agonize, organize. You could get mad all the time; here in Washington you’re always mad.
How far we have come — and how far we have to go. I’m an advocate. My message is: Don't agonize, organize. You could get mad all the time; here in Washington you’re always mad. Figure out what constructively you can do to shape policy.
I’ve had my hand on just about every U.S. policy toward Africa — everything from PEPFAR to the Rwanda intervention to President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. We have to find constructive ways to add our voices, educate people about the Peace Corps, raise the issue with members of Congress who ought to be more supportive of the Peace Corps. We’re a coalition of the willing who want to help continue the legacy of the Peace Corps.
WATCH MORE: The full conversation
Exploring an idea to enlist more experienced and diverse volunteers see more
Testing the waters — and exploring an idea that a commission on national service says will open up opportunities to more diverse and talentted candidates.
By WorldView Staff
Is virtual volunteering an idea whose time has come? It’s a proposal in the report issued by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service earlier this year. As Lex Rieffel wrote in this magazine, the report explicitly calls for “an expansion of Peace Corps Response, making the program more accessible to older Americans and people with disabilities, with increased opportunities for ‘virtual’ volunteering.”
Now Peace Corps has floated the idea to evacuated Volunteers: asking them if they would like to participate in what’s being called the Peace Corps Virtual Service Pilot. It’s an opportunity to apply to volunteer for 10 to 12 weeks with the country where they were serving in person. Participants will be able to test drive the program for a future, broader rollout.
In the time of COVID, of course so much of our lives has become virtual. At the Peace Corps Connect to the Future Global Ideas Summit hosted by National Peace Corps Association in July, Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said — currently governor of the Red Cross in Kenya — explicitly called on returned Volunteers to look for ways to leverage online meetings to sustain connections.
Indeed, some Volunteers are working on grants with communities, hosting English clubs, and more. And the Farmer to Farmer Program, for which NPCA recruits experts based in the States to consult with farmers internationally, has moved to remote consulting. Experts are paired up to work on capacity building for organizations and individuals in West Africa and South America.
At 2 a.m. on October 14 the Peace Corps community kicked off 60th anniversary celebrations see more
We’re marking the events in 1960 and 1961 that led to the creation of the Peace Corps. And we seek inspiration in how we can reimagine Peace Corps for a changed world.
By WorldView Staff
At 2 a.m. on October 14 the Peace Corps community kicked off 60th anniversary celebrations with a once-a-decade gathering: We returned (virtually) to the steps of the student union at University of Michigan to commemorate the impromptu speech by John F. Kennedy that helped launch the Peace Corps.
The questions that caught the zeitgeist: “How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers: how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can. And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we’ve ever made in the past.”
JFK at the Union: 2 a.m., October 14, 1960. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
November 2 marks the anniversary in 1960 of a speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, in the final days of his campaign for president, in which Sen. John F. Kennedy proposed “a peace corps of talented young men and women, willing and able to serve their country in this fashion for three years.”
These “ambassadors of peace,” he said, “would be a volunteer corps, and volunteers would be sought among not only talented young men and women, but also Americans, of whatever age, who wished to serve the great Republic and serve the cause of freedom, men who have taught or engineers or doctors or nurses, who have reached the age of retirement, or who in the midst of their work wished to serve their country and freedom, should be given an opportunity and an agency in which their talents could serve our country around the globe.” Watch a clip here.
PEACE CORPS DAY | MARCH 1
Celebrations with the Peace Corps community across the United States— and around the world.
PEACE CORPS CONNECT | JULY 29–31, 2021
Howard University, Washington, D.C. + Online
We hope that we’ll be able to come together in person for our annual conference, hosted by Howard University. But wherever you are in the U.S. or around the world you can join us—because we’ll have a robust digital program.
Stay tuned for more—and updates on how we’ll host our annual Days of Action on Capitol Hill at the beginning of March 2021.
Darlene Grant on her task to help shape “a more just and equitable Peace Corps” see more
Darlene Grant on her task to help shape “a more just and equitable Peace Corps”
Illustration by Edward Rooks
At a time of national reckoning with racial injustice — and the Peace Corps has heard calls from Volunteers to do better in confronting systemic racism as it affects the agency — a new top level advisor has come on board to lead work to create “a more just and equitable Peace Corps.” Darlene Grant’s official title is senior advisor to Director Jody Olsen. The excerpted Q&A below gives a sense of the scope of her work. You can read the full version on the Peace Corps website.
Some background on Dr. Grant: 18 years as a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in social justice, clinical practice, research methodology, and working with at-risk youth. Named 2006 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers. Took a leave of absence to serve in Cambodia’s third Peace Corps Volunteer cohort as a teacher and teacher trainer. Then country director in Mongolia and Kosovo.
On volunteering in Cambodia
It challenged everything I had learned from living life as an African American woman whose parents were a part of the great migration of the 1950s — when they traveled from the South to northern cities for opportunities. It challenged everything from my academic pursuits to what I taught as a professor about empathy, resilience, social justice, diversity, power, privilege, and oppression.
It challenged everything from my academic pursuits to what I taught as a professor about empathy, resilience, social justice, diversity, power, privilege, and oppression.
The people-to-people work of a Peace Corps Volunteer — living at the level of the community in which you serve, building relationships in the face of daily cross-cultural misunderstanding (that, in my case, included helping others overcome stereotypes related to the package that I come in) affirmed my commitment to my profession as it intersects with the mission of the Peace Corps. It solidified my passion for this work.
As a country director
It is from my own personal experience as a Volunteer and my professional framework that I have encouraged Volunteers — when they feel their work or presence is not valued — to get back to their why. Why do you want to do meaningful work? Why did you join the Peace Corps? It is my firm belief that if you can get back to your why, and if you use the staff and peer resources around you, you will tap into your core resilience.
As senior advisor
My primary role is to listen to and advise through the filter of my experience as a clinical social work practitioner; professor-researcher focused on anti-violence, anti-poverty, anti-racism, and oppression; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer; and former country director. I want to create a space where I can truly listen to people’s stories and recommendations on behalf of the agency. I aim to collaborate with the Peace Corps’ Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion to connect the dots in terms of attitudes, policies, and practices that deliberately or inadvertently put up barriers toward attaining the richest possible diversity of applicants, Volunteers, and staff from underrepresented groups.
Why do this?
My unique skills make me sensitive to the desire everyone has to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are, their fears, what they have overcome, and their hopes and dreams. Peace Corps changed the trajectory of my life and career to be one focused on meaningful cross-cultural work which, through an agency embedded within our U.S. government, enables me (and us) to work for a better America and a better world. After hearing the sad news of the passing of Representative John Lewis, I have been framing the dozens of calls for Peace Corps leadership to address organizational racial inequities in terms of his life, his fearless commitment, and his devotion to this work. The challenges and importance of anti-oppression, anti-racism, cannot be overstated.
Peace Corps changed the trajectory of my life and career to be one focused on meaningful cross-cultural work which, through an agency embedded within our U.S. government, enables me (and us) to work for a better America and a better world.
As I emphasize the importance of pressing on, no matter how tired, no matter how skeptical that this effort will lead to real change, one quote by Rep. John Lewis particularly resonates: “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even fairer, more just society.”
As everyone who reads this response has undoubtedly done, I have ruminated on the meaning of the intersection of the pandemic, the evacuation, and the horrendous killings of Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others. These events have catapulted our society — and this agency — to a tipping point with a feeling of real possibilities for change.