peace corps connect

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A perspective from Guatemala — at the NPCA global ideas summit July 18, 2020 see more

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

    By Luis Argueta

    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 Luis Argueta — film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission. 

    Below is an edited version of his remarks.

     

    We are at an unprecedented situation worldwide because of this pandemic. It is a perfect time to ask some very basic questions about humanity in general and about the Peace Corps in particular. 

    From what I have seen here in Guatemala, the pandemic has revealed the vast differences between a small group of people who have a lot and the large majority who have very little. It has also revealed in its stark nakedness the structural deficiencies of states like Guatemala, where the economic disparities are tremendous. But also where the neglect of the large population for many, many years has caused the current critical situation where, for over 50 years, people's basic needs like education — and today, it's obvious health — have been not addressed.

     

    Watch: Luis Argueta’s remarks at Peace Corps Connect to the Future

     

     

    The response in Guatemala has been to create hospitals and to augment the number of beds that can be occupied by people who are ill with the COVID-19. That looks like a great solution. But in a system where we don't have basic access to minimal healthcare, this is not the solution. 

    By addressing this particular need, and by the Peace Corps focusing on the basic health needs of rural communities, we can start focusing on the future. Because when you need to go to a hospital to treat a minor illness that could be treated by a local health post — when there’s not even a clinic in the rural areas — I think we would be serving the communities in a very different way. 

     

    The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege.

     

    Something that I have been particularly focusing my work on for the past 12-plus years is migration. And these structural deficiencies — these major differences in the country — have provoked what, to me, is one of the most crucial issues of our times: forced displacement, forced migration and asylum seeking. 

    The current situation is not making those things better. And even if borders today are closed, once they open — and we hope that will be sooner than later — people will be forced again to leave their homes. So, again, what is the Peace Corps to do at a time like this? I think it is to go and work at the very basic community level and helping better these conditions that are making it impossible for people to stay at home and be with their family and prosper and be healthy. 

    I don't think that this is a time to be shy about our common links and our historical connections. The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege. And it is to the betterment of everybody we self-reflect on our position in these communities. 

    At the same time that we self-reflect on our role and our privileges, and the privileges of Volunteers, we should look at the historical ties between the host countries and the U.S. It is a time of many contradictions.

    Guatemalan immigrants, and immigrants from many other countries, are today in the U.S. working — and are considered, in many instances, essential workers. However, they also are risking being detained and deported. They're also suffering the effects of the pandemic in larger numbers, as are other minorities and more vulnerable populations in the U.S. We must recognize this. 

     

    We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world.

     

    We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world, because of very unfortunate isolationist policies. 

    So at the same time that we're reaching out to host countries — and hopefully, we will be receiving many more Peace Corps volunteers in the future — they're not issuing visas for my fellow Guatemalans to travel to the U.S. There is the threat of cutting visas even for exchange students who pay full tuition at U.S. universities, let alone temporary workers who go pick the crops in the fields of the U.S. So we must be conscious of these contradictions. And we must relearn the history between our countries.

    One of the privileges that we should look at is the fact that, as the pandemic was declared, Peace Corps Volunteers were sent home. Fortunately, they were able to go home and are now with their families. However, this took them away from a place where they had committed to work — and where people without that privilege, that choice, had to remain in a more vulnerable position. 

    Definitely to me, this is a time of meditation, of self-reflection, and self-analysis — and, as hard as it might seem, to look forward to the future with hope. I wish everybody the best now and in the days to come.


    Luis Argueta of Guatemala is a film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission. He is the 2019 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. 

  • Olivia Chuang posted an article
    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.

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

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

    By Kul Chandra Gautam

     

    On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted  Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Kul Chandra Gautam — diplomat, public policy expert, and peace advocate — and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. 

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Those are precisely the building blocks for peace and prosperity.  

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

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

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

     

    Our increasingly interconnected world demands global solidarity, not charity, to solve global problems that transcend national borders like the specter of war, terrorism, racism, climate change, and pandemics like COVID-19.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

    Our increasingly interconnected world demands global solidarity, not charity, to solve global problems that transcend national borders like the specter of war, terrorism, racism, climate change, and pandemics like COVID-19.

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

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

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

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

    Thank you.   

     


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

  • Amanda Silva posted an article
    NPCA and Water Charity have prioritized projects affecting the rehabilitation of refugee communities see more

    In 2011, the citizens of South Sudan declared their independence after their second civil war had lasted 20 years. As the newest nation in the world, it is sadly also among the poorest. Having suffered internal conflict since its independence, water shortages and access to clean drinking water become a paramount issue in the wake of this nation's survival for its people and transition to peace.

    Through our ongoing partnership, National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and Water Charity have prioritized projects supporting the rehabilitation of refugee communities such as those in South Sudan. Collaborating with the county commissioner of Yei River County, and working through our South Sudanese field partner, Water is Basic, we implemented the drilling and rehabilitating of boreholes in local communities.

    Phase One rehabilitated 10 wells and replaced broken hand pumps. Together with Water is Basic, we held five-day workshop trainings for 48 committee members on borehole operation and maintenance that resulted in over 760 households and more than 6,500 people gaining access to clean water. 

    With Phase One complete, NPCA and Water Charity are excited to move onto Phase Two of the South Sudan Well Rehabilitation Program. There is an opportunity to do as many as 100 well restorations per year if the resources are available. 

    Water changes everything. As the South Sudanese people are able to access clean water, there has been a transformation of life and health. Death rates fall and education rates rise. Access to food is increased and local economies grow. Ancient conflicts over water rights and access become obsolete as peace sweeps through areas where water shortages once caused civil war and conflict. 

    Join the Peace Corps community as we engage in making the greatest impact working with refugees both domestically and abroad!

    Peace Corps Beyond 2016 provides a forum for the greatest voices, expertise and insights to come together. Join the discussion with former Peace Corps staffer Barbara Busch, RPCV Valerie Kurka (Tanzania 2006-08), and RPCV Averill Strasser (Bolivia 1966-68) as they delve into direct assistance overseas, support for refugee resettlement efforts in the Sudan, Eritrea, the United States and elsewhere, and advocacy efforts to support refugee issues.

  • Megan Patrick posted an article
    Read the words see more

    by Averill Strasser (Bolivia 1966-1968)

    The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community is a powerful force.  As we complete our schooling, raise families, accomplish our career objectives, and enjoy life, we can remain engaged in furthering the Peace Corps mission.  Working together we can achieve a lot.

    During my Peace Corps service, I taught engineering at the University of San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia.  When the students were on vacation or out on strike, we traveled to remote parts of the country to do water and sanitation projects.

    Forty years later, after a career in engineering, city planning, law, and business, I was able to step back and ask: “What can I do now that would do some good in this world?”  

    Water Charity was started in 2008 with a few projects in Central America.  We have gone on to help change the lives of 3 million people, implementing 3,000 projects in 70 countries.

    Water Charity became a partner of the National Peace Corps Association in March, 2015. Since then, we have funded and provided technical support for Peace Corps Volunteer and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer projects in an amount exceeding $600,000.  

    In addition to acting as the COO of Water Charity, I am a member of the Board of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Los Angeles — an NPCA affiliate group, a Shriver Circle member, and a regular participant in NPCA advocacy.  

    I believe each of us have to do everything within our power to support the Peace Corps community, both in our activities and financially. I urge everyone to become an NPCA Mission Partner.