An Update from Acting Director Carol Spahn at the Shriver Leadership Summit see more
An Update from Acting Director Carol Spahn
Carol Spahn served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 as a small business advisor, as country director for Peace Corps Malawi, and as chief of operations in the Africa Region, covering eastern and southern Africa. She has held roles at Women for Women International, Accordia Global Health Foundation, and Small Enterprise Assistance Funds. Here are edited excerpts of her remarks at NPCA’s Sargent Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2021.
IN MY FIVE-YEAR TOUR AS COUNTRY DIRECTOR IN MALAWI, I swore in around 500 Volunteers. During each swearing-in ceremony, I reminded Volunteers that their service was not an adventure but a journey. One of my favorite things to witness was their growth and development — not just language skills or cultural competence, relationships or projects. I’m talking about observable growth in their character, awareness, humility, and global citizenship. They stepped off the plane eager and bright-eyed but walked back with wisdom and respect, and often tears of sadness to leave. The same journey was apparent amongst our host country staff: What started as a job became a passion for community development and intercultural exchange.
Peace Corps and our mission have never been more relevant. But in order to meet this moment, we must adapt.
For 60 years Peace Corps has been on a journey of development and growth, improvement and constant learning — the journey of a million miles, places, and people around the globe. The pace has been steady and the steps deliberate. As I have participated in panels throughout Peace Corps Week, particularly one with all living former directors, I have been struck by how Peace Corps has responded and adapted across the decades: to diseases like smallpox, polio, guinea worm, and HIV; and to historic events like the end of the Cold War. Given what the world has been through the past year, I can say without hesitation that Peace Corps and our mission have never been more relevant. But in order to meet this moment, we must adapt.
A welcome: Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn, right, while serving as country director in Malawi. Photo courtesy of Peace Corps
What we see ahead
Our top priority is returning Volunteers to service as soon as conditions allow. Localized situations continue to shift daily, especially with changes related to vaccine accessibility and new variants of the virus. We’re unfortunately not yet able to offer a firm time frame for when Volunteers will return. However, we continue to assess each country’s situation based on robust medical, security, programmatic, administrative, and logistical criteria. We are very aware of evacuated Volunteers’ strong desire to return, along with a large and growing cohort of invitees anxious to begin their journeys.
Every one of our host countries has enthusiastically expressed their interest in our return. We are planning to reopen El Salvador; we have staff in place to launch Peace Corps in Viet Nam. Recruitment teams, now fully virtual, are working tirelessly, and we continue to receive new applications — not at pre-COVID levels, but significant given the pandemic and the pause in our operations. We expect interest to pick up even more once Volunteers start going back.
Returning Volunteers to service in a world where the ground has fundamentally shifted has required that we reimagine and reengineer almost everything we do.
Last week we announced we will require all Volunteers to receive a COVID vaccine before going into service. This decision was made not only to protect the health and safety of Volunteers but also host country staff and communities. Staff at each post will have the opportunity to be vaccinated prior to the return of Volunteers. Many staff have already been vaccinated; one host country government added our staff to their vaccine priority list — a testament to the value of our contribution.
Returning Volunteers to service in a world where the ground has fundamentally shifted has required that we reimagine and reengineer almost everything we do. This includes granular things like safety standards at training locations, to broader fundamentals of how to stay true to our core approach of people-to-people relationship-building when safety measures require social distancing. We have established systems to control for all the things that we can control for — and to be flexible in all the ways we can be flexible. I’ve seen photos of staff members getting their vaccines; these and the COVAX plane landing in Ghana this week have given us hope that we are rounding the corner.
Virtual and Grassroot
I’ve gotten the “So what are you all doing if you don’t have Volunteers in the field?” question a lot. Our Volunteers are our lifeblood. We feel their absence intensely and deeply. And the needs in the countries we serve have not gone away.
We’ve used this time strategically so that we can build back better — in ways big and small, including not-so-glamorous but critical things like cybersecurity and system upgrades. One positive aspect of moving into the Zoom world: We are in phase two of a Virtual Service Pilot program that involves 20 posts and 85 participants. Evacuated returned Volunteers, trainees, and returned Response Volunteers are donating 12 to 15 hours a week in countries they served in, for a period of 12 weeks. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and we believe there is tremendous potential for the future.
As an example of the virtual work being done, I’ll tell you about returning volunteer Samara, who coordinated with a local nonprofit in Costa Rica, whose goal is to create a domestic version of the Peace Corps, appropriately called the Costa Rica Corps. This organization was looking for help establishing their own pool of volunteers and matching them with counterparts. Samara was able to help them virtually to craft a volunteer profile and application brochure which will be used to train and interview interested volunteers.
Teams around the world are also getting creative with training and reporting; more than 600 staff from headquarters and the field have been trained in developing and implementing blended learning strategies. Teams mentored by host country nationals from other countries or HQ staff have developed 150 blended learning training projects. This has tremendous potential to reinvent how we do training — and utilize expertise across borders. Volunteers will be working with updated logical project frameworks and held to new reporting standards. By late this year, they will have a reporting system that will provide a personal dashboard on metrics. Program managers will be able to report consolidated results to host country partners and ministries. This has the power to transform how we relate with communities and Volunteers in the field.
There’s innovative work being done by staff to meet the needs of communities we serve — from contact tracing to virtual workshops to working with farmers. In Ukraine, post staff have repurposed PEPFAR funding to implement a cross-regional program supporting the most vulnerable youth through food vouchers and HIV/AIDS case counseling calls. In Malawi, staff and counterparts have continued in-person HIV prevention work for youth through Grassroot Soccer; they have tested new approaches following COVID protocols; and they continue to support partners through providing personal protective equipment and other resources so counterparts can safely continue work in rural communities.
Inequity and pandemic response
We have asked every post to meet with their ministries of health and partners in country to determine how we can help support their pandemic response. This will differ across countries, depending on needs, but we anticipate every Volunteer will have a role to play. The head of the World Health Organization has said that the world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure due to unfair vaccine rollouts. And COVID has shown us once again the vast inequities in global health. To the extent that Peace Corps can play a role at the invitation of the countries we serve, we will be there.
COVID has shown us once again the vast inequities in global health. To the extent that Peace Corps can play a role at the invitation of the countries we serve, we will be there.
In addition to a dramatic reckoning around health inequity, we have a moment of reckoning on racial justice. The Peace Corps at its core is about honoring diversity around the world. It’s about building relationships and opportunity, and fostering equity and inclusion. It is important to all of us — staff, Volunteers, host communities — that our workplace, our volunteer system, and our culture reflect these values. We will be looking for Peace Corps to be a leader in addressing systemic racism.
At various points throughout our history, we have been called to do more, and we have stepped up, but we know that we have room to grow. In 2010 then-director Aaron Williams called on Peace Corps to diversify recruiting across race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and religion. At the time, 19 percent of Volunteers identified as a minority. In the last decade that has grown to 34 percent. Five years ago, we started doing intensive intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and inclusion training for entire post teams. This was a one-week foundations course. Last year we rolled out a pocket model that includes a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens as Volunteers undertake participatory community assessments. And we tripled the medical reimbursement for applicants to ensure that this was not a barrier to service.
I share this with you to honor the work that has been done up to this point. That said, we have heard recommendations brought forth by NPCA and through letters written by passionate and interested stakeholders across the Peace Corps community. We are listening. And we acknowledge the need to continue to address inequities, to reach out to underserved communities, to address gaps in training, to examine support structures during service. Our task force is busy developing recommendations on staffing, and pre-service and in-service support. We have barrier analysis underway looking at hiring, promotion, retention, and other staffing practices. A mandatory training course on unconscious bias will be launched on April 1 for all staff. This is just the beginning.
As we carry out this work, we are cognizant of the need to balance a collective sense of urgency with a need to be intentional, so that the changes we implement will be both effective and sustainable. Systemic change requires deliberate steps and endurance.
The “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was an enormous undertaking, and I want to commend everyone who was involved. We have read it, and I have shared it with agency leadership. It is striking how much overlap there is among the actions or initiatives already enacted or underway at Peace Corps; the input we received from the field and our community through our task force for diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the content of this report. We need to meet this historic moment on so many levels. We will be kicking off our strategic planning process shortly with new agency leadership, and this report will help to inform those deliberations as we chart the path for the future.
Ahead on this journey
We also recognize the critical importance of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community and celebrating the domestic dividend — the role that those Volunteers play more broadly in society, and specifically in international development. Perhaps even more important, these RPCVs bring perspective, problem-solving skills, and deep respect to their roles as parents, neighbors, and global citizens. How important those qualities are during this time of tremendous divisiveness — and when we have been incredibly isolated, as individuals and as communities. Our Office of the Third Goal is working closely with NPCA to help tell the story more broadly of the contributions of Volunteers as they return to the U.S. following service.
This will be an agency that promotes world peace and friendship at a time when the world so badly craves mutual respect, solidarity, and community.
We are preparing for a future that demonstrates how the agency, during a time of uncertainty, builds back better, and is more relevant than ever. This will be an agency that safely returns, just as it safely evacuated. An agency that is truly representative of the United States and all its people. An agency that builds on its strong history and foundation of embracing difference. An agency that is part of the global solution to the COVID pandemic. And an agency that promotes world peace and friendship at a time when the world so badly craves mutual respect, solidarity, and community.
Peace Corps service may look different in the future — from how Volunteers serve to how they are trained. But we will be there in a spirit of partnership and with humility.
We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine the agency see more
With our allies in Congress, we’re working to ensure that the administration understands this is no time to return to the status quo. We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine, reshape, and retool for a changed world.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Many of us in the Peace Corps community took note of the pledge in President Biden’s inaugural address to “engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And, we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Those words resonate with the Peace Corps mission, not with a sense of “be like us!” but with a sense of solidarity and commitment to working and learning alongside one another, wherever we serve. One of the messages we’re driving home to members of Congress and the Executive Branch: If we’re reengaging with the world, let’s do it with ideals that are supposed to represent what’s best about this country — even as we work in our communities and at the national level to build a more perfect union.
That said, if we value the role of the Peace Corps, we have to be serious about reimagining, retooling, and reshaping the agency for a changed world. As the administration appoints new leadership for the agency, it is critical that it brings on board not only a director but top staff who reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice, and that these leaders come equipped with global experience and a deep understanding of — and commitment to — the Peace Corps community.
Equity, experience, and community
At the Peace Corps agency, January 20 marked the departure of Director Jody Olsen, who led the agency during unprecedented times, including the global evacuation of Volunteers in spring 2020. Last fall she was optimistic about Volunteers returning to the field as early as January 2021. But by December it was clear that was no longer a possibility. Plans are now for Volunteers to return in the second half of 2021. The health and safety of communities and Volunteers is paramount.
Carol Spahn has been named Acting Director of the Peace Corps. The Biden Administration has also begun to announce new political appointments. We’re meeting with Spahn and the leadership team as it takes form to ensure that we keep moving forward with the big ideas the Peace Corps community has outlined to meet the needs of a world as it is, not as it was. For Peace Corps, as with so much in this country, now is not the time to return to the status quo. Now is the time for historic changes.
When many hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community came together in summer 2020 for a series of town hall meetings and a global ideas summit, it was with a sense of an agency, a nation, and a world facing multiple crises. From those meetings came “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a community-driven report that brings together big ideas and targeted, actionable recommendations for the agency and the Executive Branch, Congress, and the wider Peace Corps community — particularly NPCA.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential: that many of them address longstanding issues and sorely needed changes, but there never had been the opportunity to undertake them on a major scale. Now is that time.
Whom the Biden Administration appoints to top posts at the agency sends a powerful signal to the community. Will the leaders reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice — and a serious commitment to the quarter million strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community? Members of Congress who have been champions for Peace Corps funding are watching as well.
A roadmap for change
The report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” provides a roadmap for change. While the report is far-ranging in point-by-point recommendations that are grouped into eight separate chapters, here are three overriding themes that emerged. We’re working to ensure that the administration and new staff at the agency take these to heart:
1. The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism.
The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps. Conversely, many in the U.S. bristle when hearing these terms; but it’s important to both recognize the context and address them head-on to enable a more effective and welcome return for Volunteers.
2. The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact.
The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers. NPCA has demonstrated that it is both possible and beneficial to become community-driven to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Community-driven programming will keep the work both current and relevant to the world around us, ensuring that the agency succeeds in its mission in a changed world.
3. Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change.
The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken.
Who is there to lead the change matters. From the Peace Corps community, this message came through clearly: When it comes to the permanent director, they should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States — and communities throughout the world.
In an unprecedented time, the Peace Corps community has come together with an unparalleled response. With the new administration, there are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with years of experience already taking on key roles in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Labor, and National Security Council. These appointments show a value placed on experience and racial equity — and a commitment to leading with the best. Let’s ensure that commitment carries over to Peace Corps as well.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association
Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleRecommendations for how to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world. see more
After all Peace Corps Volunteers were withdrawn from around the world in March 2020, an unprecedented community-driven effort has charted a course for how to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Washington, D.C. (November 13, 2020) — Amid a time of unprecedented crisis for the Peace Corps and our nation as a whole, the Peace Corps community has come together to chart a way forward: with specific, actionable steps that will help reimagine and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world. Those steps are outlined in “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a report months in the making and made public today.
The report itself was prepared by a special National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) advisory council drawn from the broad Peace Corps community inside and outside the United States. It provides specific and actionable recommendations for multiple stakeholders: policymakers in the Peace Corps agency and the federal Executive Branch’s leadership; the United States Congress; and the Peace Corps community, particularly National Peace Corps Association.
The report comes at an inflection point for the Peace Corps, which was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Its mission of building world peace and friendship has motivated more than 240,000 Americans to volunteer in nearly every corner of the world. Peace Corps sets the gold standard for service, and its brand is a cultural icon with near universal recognition. But this year that service came to a halt.
In the spring of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peace Corps evacuated all of its roughly 7,300 Volunteers from service around the globe. They came home to a country hit by pandemic and economic maelstrom, and soon one convulsed by protests against racial injustice.
“We heard loud and clear from the community that the Peace Corps needs to change and adapt if we want it to endure,” said Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. “That’s from Volunteers who have served across the decades and around the world, and from people who live in communities where the Peace Corps has worked.”
For the first time in the nearly 60-year history of the agency, no Peace Corps Volunteers are serving overseas. This abrupt interruption of Peace Corps service has dramatically altered the lives of the Volunteers, and it has profoundly disrupted the work and relationships in communities where they were serving. The global evacuation of Volunteers also brought to the fore some longstanding challenges for the agency and the broader Peace Corps community. All this called for an unparalleled response.
Harnessing the experience, commitment, and innovative ideas of the Peace Corps community, in July National Peace Corps Association convened a series of national community discussions and a global ideas summit to ask some far-reaching questions about the future of Peace Corps in a changed world. The conversations tackled two key questions. First, whether the Peace Corps as an agency should continue to exist; on that count, the response was a resounding “yes.” And second, when the Peace Corps returns to the field, what should it look like? The responses to this second question yielded the far-reaching report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.”
“We heard loud and clear from the community that the Peace Corps needs to change and adapt if we want it to endure,” said Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. “That’s from Volunteers who have served across the decades and around the world, and from people who live in communities where the Peace Corps has worked. They’ve offered big ideas in conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as recruitment and recalibrating programs, including critical health support. They’ve looked hard at the three goals of the Peace Corps agency, as well as policies, funding, and how Peace Corps communicates.”
“Peace Corps should reflect the fullness of America and provide the country’s best and truest face to the world,” the report notes. “It should return to the field better, bolder, more inclusive, and more effective.”
Three Cross-Cutting Themes
Each of the eight chapters of the report can stand alone with its own unique set of recommendations. But during the community conversations, it was made clear that three primary themes cut across the entirety of the issues Peace Corps faces:
The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism. The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact. The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers.
- Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change. The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken. This report shows the way.
This moment of international crisis and domestic change has provided a period of critical reflection to restructure, retool, renew commitment, and get things right. The Peace Corps must meet the challenge of this moment. And once more it can lead the way. “Peace Corps should reflect the fullness of America and provide the country’s best and truest face to the world,” the report notes. “It should return to the field better, bolder, more inclusive, and more effective.”
The Peace Corps agency has reported that partner nations have all asked for the return of Volunteers as soon as conditions permit. A small number of Volunteers are scheduled to return in early 2021. The first will be Cambodia and Saint Lucia, in January 2021, as Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen revealed on November 12 at a program hosted by The Commonwealth Club of California.
The act of Volunteers returning — or their arrival in countries for new programs — will signal that a country can engage internationally in a post-pandemic world.
The report takes as a touchstone some remarks by diplomat Kul Chandra Gautam at NPCA’s global ideas summit. Gautam was born and raised in Nepal, and as a student he was taught by Peace Corps teachers. His career has included serving as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. “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,” he said. “I sincerely believe that the Peace Corps can be a great organization dedicated to promote such global solidarity at the people-to-people level.”
And here is a handy URL to share: bit.ly/peace-corps-connect-report
Listen Up: A special podcast diving into “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” with Marieme Foote, Chic Dambach, Joel Rubin, and host Dan Baker.
Story updated November 20, 2020.
Steven Boyd Saum is Director of Strategic Communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96. For questions and interviews with Glenn Blumhorst, members of the report advisory council or steering committee, or former Peace Corps directors about this report, please contact email@example.com or (202) 934-1532.
About National Peace Corps Association (NPCA)
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is a mission-driven social impact organization that encourages and celebrates lifelong commitment to Peace Corps ideals. NPCA supports a united and vibrant Peace Corps community, including current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers, current and former staff, host country nationals, family and friends in efforts to create a better world. NPCA exists to fulfill three specific goals:
- Help the Peace Corps be the best it can be
- Empower members and affiliate groups to thrive
- Amplify the Peace Corps community’s global social impact
In 2019 NPCA marked its 40th anniversary with a vibrant community of over 240,000 individuals and more than 180 affiliate groups. The affiliate groups are organized by city and region, country of service, places of employment, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and around causes such as environmental action and work with refugees.
Orrin Luc posted an articleSixty Years of Peace Corps see more
Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other missives: Readers respond to the stories in words and images in the Spring 2021 edition of WorldView. We’re happy to continue the conversation here and on all those nifty social media platforms. One way to write us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixty Years of Peace Corps
Thanks for another great issue! Glad you included “If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…,” which we heard in March, and then lots of other good stories such as “Once More, with Feeling” in Moldova and “Triage, Respite, and Isolation” at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Glad, too, to be able to read on paper! Hoping for some in-person meetings in D.C. in September.
While we’re not able to gather for Peace Corps Connect in person in September, some affiliate groups representing individual countries of service are holding their own reunions. And a wreath-laying ceremony will take place in person at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. More info, including a schedule for the conference and registration: bit.ly/peace-corps-connect-2021 —Ed.
Much thanks to NPCA for drawing our attention to the current effort to reauthorize the Peace Corps Act (H.R. 1456). This important legislation has been introduced by John Garamendi (D-CA; Ethiopia 1966–68) and co-sponsored by Garret Graves (R-LA). It has been decades since the Peace Corps’ organic legislation was last comprehensively reviewed and updated in 1999. The world has changed a lot since then, and the Peace Corps Act needs to be updated to keep up with those changes.
Between the two of us (father and daughter) we have extensive Peace Corps experience, including two tours as Volunteers, five years of work in Peace Corps Recruitment, Peace Corps Employee Union work, and currently one of us is a Peace Corps Response candidate. Our work with the Peace Corps has given us insight into the deficiencies of the current law governing the Peace Corps. We desperately need an airing of any systemic problems so that reasonable solutions can be implemented. This effort will make the program more efficient and effective in the 21st century.
So … consider the baton passed! NPCA has alerted the Peace Corps community to the reauthorization effort. It is now incumbent upon us to contact our congressional representatives and encourage its passage. If you are reading this letter, stop now and go do it! What are you waiting for?
I served in Ghana in the mid-’70s and have followed President Biden in his COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. He was asked if he would consider sending the vaccine overseas once we got the virus under control and we accumulated a surplus. The president’s response was quick in the affirmative, since we are aware that it is a global pandemic. I would like to suggest that the priority list for countries receiving our surplus should be countries that currently host Peace Corps Volunteers. It would be beneficial to both the host countries and the Volunteers.
As a side note, my daughter was also a Volunteer. She served in Botswana 2008–10.
I’d say: 1) We know you support Peace Corps; thank you. 2) Please double the budget. 3) Lead retooling, re-entry, and re-engagement into host nations with public health efforts at the forefront.
What is the cost of public benefit/value and global net welfare gain via supranational peace in the long run? That’s just one reason I’m proud not only to have served in the Peace Corps, but to be an American. Many nations make allies to go to war. The U.S. decidedly makes allies to not go to war, while also promoting friendship across borders.
If I had three minutes I would tell the president to definitely not expand the Peace Corps. Typical of government and organizations: If it’s working, let’s just expand it until it’s dysfunctional. Rather, put more young and old people to work in this country and keep the international portion selective and efficient.
Peace Corps Connect to the Future
I read through your whole Winter 2021 publication and do want to tell you how much I appreciated it. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with all of your proposals for the future of Peace Corps; there is definitely a generation gap.
I am now 95 years old (and was obviously an “older” Volunteer), yet I still feel very much in tune with the concept and the actual organization. I served in the Dominican Republic 1987–89 in rural development, and before the electronic age. Yet, as I read the stories of the various recent Volunteers, their experiences don’t seem so different from mine.
Thank you for keeping us returned Volunteers informed.
Dominican Republic 1987–89
Thank you for amplifying the discussion of diversity in the Peace Corps community. That spurred our minimally-diverse TCP Global team to look beyond the ranks of RPCVs. Not too surprising, adding two Kenyan Americans and one representative each from Uganda, Nigeria, Niger, and Nepal helps all of us to better address the different challenges and opportunities in different regions. Their presence on the team serves as a welcome sign for site administrators to offer their own suggestions for improving service, much as Colombia Project administrators helped to perfect our model over the first seven years in Colombia. We are still a work in progress and are fortunate to have natives of five countries we serve helping us chart the course ahead.
Co-Executive Director, TCP Global
Colombia 1968–70, Slovak Republic 1997–99
Corrections: Politics, and that would be March 2021
Our Spring 2021 roundup of returned Volunteers serving in state government (page 47 in print) should have included one who recently made the move from the hospital to the capitol in Wisconsin: Sara Rodriguez was elected to the state legislature in 2020. She served with the Peace Corps in Samoa 1997–99, as a health education Volunteer focused on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. She has worked as a nurse, in epidemiology with the CDC, and as a healthcare executive.
In print, “What Lies Ahead for the Peace Corps” (page 15) contained a slip of the year in the intro: Carol Spahn’s remarks were given at the Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2021, not 2020.
WRITE US: email@example.com
This proposal comes up short, if we’re serious about building a better and stronger Peace Corps. see more
The budget proposed today by the White House comes up $40 million short of where it needs to be to implement critical reforms staked out in the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021.
By Jonathan Pearson
President Joe Biden has sent his Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget request to Congress. Included in his budget is a request of $ 410.5 million for the Peace Corps. By all measures, to build a better and stronger Peace Corps that can help the United States reengage with the world, this comes up short.
The President’s request represents flat funding — and a maintenance of the same level of support that the Peace Corps has received for the past six years. It stands in stark contrast to bipartisan House legislation introduced in March that would provide $450 million in funding to ensure the implementation of critical reforms.
“We are grateful to the Peace Corps’ congressional champions for setting out a vision of a Peace Corps that is renewed, revitalized, and reformed, buttressed by a budget that meets the goals of the Peace Corps community,” said National Peace Corps Association President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. “But proposed level funding will not enable us to build a better, stronger, and more inclusive Peace Corps for a changed world.”
Indeed, as the Peace Corps community has underscored time and again, long-needed reforms have not been adequately addressed in part because of a lack of funding.
Congress has shown: This is where we need to be.
The bipartisan support for Peace Corps in Congress includes the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456) legislation, introduced by Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Garret Graves (R-LA), which calls for $450 million to support the Peace Corps in FY 2022. ( Here’s a link you can use to reach out to your lawmaker to ask them co-sponsor this legislation.) Garamendi and Graves also sponsored an annual Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 156 lawmakers, which also urges at least $450 million for the coming fiscal year.
Strong support for the Peace Corps was also reinforced by every living past Peace Corps director who signed this letter to President Biden. That group includes those who served under Republicans and Democrats alike going back to the Nixon administration. A revitalized Peace Corps, they wrote, “advances our nation’s critical foreign policy goal of world peace through international cooperation and service. We believe that now is the right time for the Peace Corps to build back better than it ever was before.”
Earlier this spring, on the 60th anniversary of the day that President Kennedy created the Peace Corps by executive order, all living directors also convened for a conversation about the past, present, and future of the Peace Corps. One question they tackled: Given three minutes with President Biden to talk about the Peace Corps, what would they say? They spoke about the value of national and public service in uniting a nation, about the role Volunteers can play in public health efforts around the world, about the return on investment for decades to come — and one shared the perspective of the president of Guinea, who spoke of how the presence of Volunteers in communities is worth far more than millions in foreign assistance alone.
“We have an opportunity to build back better and reengage with the world. And when it comes to Peace Corps, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”
While the budget proposal from the White House is disappointing, we’ll take this moment to note that over the past several years the Peace Corps community has worked closely with champions and members of Congress to sustain the Peace Corps through tough times. And Congress has laid out a clear goal of where we need to be for a better and stronger Peace Corps.
“We will work closely with these champions to ensure that the Peace Corps’ budget is robust for the future,” said Glenn Blumhorst. “We have an opportunity to build back better and reengage with the world. And when it comes to Peace Corps, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”
READ MORE: Key reforms — some of which require robust funding to become reality — are staked out in the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.”
Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can help.
Communities and Volunteers still feel the trauma. An open letter to the Peace Corps community. see more
Communities and Volunteers feel the trauma of this disruption. But the pandemic has underscored even more profoundly that we need to foster global solidarity and understanding. An open letter to the Peace Corps community.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Nepal farewell: Training to become Volunteers, Rachel Ramsey, left, and Elyse Paré had to evacuate instead. Photo by Eddie De La Fuente
Around the world in recent days, we have been marking a truly somber anniversary: It was just over a year ago that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For the Peace Corps community, the burgeoning health crisis led to something unprecedented as well: On March 15, 2020, the decision to evacuate all Peace Corps Volunteers from across the globe.
All told, some 7,300 Volunteers were evacuated from more than 60 countries. Sometimes with just hours’ notice, they were told they needed to pack and leave.
Communities were bereft; Volunteers were heartbroken, stunned. At the same time, so many rose to the occasion — communities and returned Volunteers alike, reaching out in solidarity in a time of need. Here at National Peace Corps Association, we quickly brought online the Global Reentry Program to assist this surge of Volunteers — who were coming home to a country hit by pandemic and economic turmoil. And soon, too, it was a country wracked by protests against racial injustice.
It’s important to pause and acknowledge the enormity of this disruption.
On this day, it’s important to pause and acknowledge the enormity of this disruption. For those who are part of the Peace Corps community, I would encourage you to reach out to evacuated Volunteers and communities where they were serving. As the 240,000 of us who have served realize, the Peace Corps is profoundly about personal interactions and connections, built up over weeks and months and years. Rupturing those connections because of a crisis is deeply traumatic.
Over the past year, many of the evacuated Volunteers have kept in touch with people in the communities where they were serving. At the same time, many evacuated Volunteers have moved on to jobs or graduate school, many with fellowships provided to returned Volunteers. Some are hoping to return to Peace Corps service as soon as possible. And in fact, on their own, a few have returned to the countries where they were serving, though not with the Peace Corps. Scores more have taken part in the first two rounds of virtual volunteering, through a program the Peace Corps launched in the fall, supporting projects in communities where evacuated Volunteers had lived.
NPCA’s Global Reentry program continues to work with many evacuated Volunteers, and it is envisioned to become a truly robust resource for the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, providing guidance, advice, and support in tumultuous times. It’s one more way to build connections at a time we so desperately need them.
Amid pandemic: celebration, legislation, and a road map for the future
At the beginning of March, people and organizations around the world celebrated the establishment of the Peace Corps by an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961. We heard congratulations from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the Ambassador of Colombia to the United States. We heard from the State of Colorado and the city of Madison, Wisconsin. We heard from governors and senators and representatives across the country. We heard congratulations from Ghana and Germany, Fiji and Korea. The anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps is a time to recognize the powerful impact of service in communities — and how that has been felt across countries and generations.
Even more important, it’s a time to look to the future and to ask: How will the Peace Corps work in a changed world? And, as the United States reengages with communities and nations outside its borders, how can the Peace Corps help lead the way?
The report and the team at NPCA have also helped inform the most important piece of Peace Corps legislation in years.
Last year the Peace Corps community came together in a series of town halls and a Global Ideas Summit to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps. The fruits of those intensive discussions were the community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” which provides a roadmap for change. As the Peace Corps agency continues to assemble its new leadership team and tackles strategic planning, that report provides guidance.
The report and the team at NPCA have also helped inform the most important piece of Peace Corps legislation in years. Two weeks ago, on Monday, March 1, Rep. John Garamendi, who served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia, introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. National Peace Corps Association worked with Rep. Garamendi’s office to help understand and address key priorities expressed by the Peace Corps community.The legislation calls for important reforms, including issues addressing better healthcare and protection for whistleblowers in the Peace Corps. And it takes seriously an increase in funding that will be necessary for the Peace Corps to help lead the way in reengaging with a world profoundly changed by COVID-19.
Let’s approach the work ahead with a sense of solidarity, not charity — and an awareness of both the privilege we have and the responsibility we share.
Along with the celebratory news stories from around the world, there have been a couple of opinion pieces that have raised the question as to whether the Peace Corps should continue to exist — including one in the Chicago Tribune, to which we responded. In fact, we asked the Peace Corps community that very question last summer, as we convened town halls and our Global Ideas Summit. We took as a touchstone words we heard from people in countries including Nepal, Guatemala, and Kenya: the work of Peace Corps is more important than ever, with a clear sense of solidarity, not charity; with an awareness of the privilege we have and the responsibility we share to our fellow citizens of the world; and the understanding that we can empower communities by working together. That holds true in whatever community we call home.
Unfinished Business: Read the stories from dozens of Volunteers who were evacuated in March 2020 — what they left behind in their communities, and the unfinished business they have — and Peace Corps has — around the world.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Write him at email@example.com.
From the Editor: WorldView winter 2021 see more
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that approaching this endeavor with a sense of solidarity and humility and commitment is a matter of life and death.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Cover illustration by Ellen Weinstein
This is not the magazine we wanted to publish. How could it be? Instead of marking six decades of Peace Corps in pageantry and scrappy DIY inventiveness, we find ourselves in an existential moment. Begin a familiar litany: devastating pandemic, cratering economy — and within the Peace Corps community, the evacuation of Volunteers from around the world last year, with their hoped-for return to service postponed by the resurgence of the virus. Forget not the crushing burden of racial injustice, or climate instability and the fate of the planet hanging in the balance. And, to kick out the jams in the new year, a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol: some toting zip ties and beating police and looting offices of the members of Congress under the QAnon banner, some proclaiming civil war, one with Camp Auschwitz emblazoned on his sweatshirt. Weeks one through three of 2021: insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration — with downtown Washington, D.C., fortified like a Green Zone.
From around the globe: shock, horror, and some schadenfreude, calling out American hypocrisy. But also messages of hope: that this country can pull back from the brink. From my old Peace Corps country of service, Ukraine, where I and a number of returned Volunteers have observed elections over the years, the foreign minister tweeted: “I’m confident American democracy will overcome this challenge. The rule of law & democratic procedures need to be restored as soon as possible. This is important not only for the U.S., but for Ukraine and the entire democratic world as well.” Point taken. This from a country that has had war on its eastern border approaching seven years now — and a country that hosts one of the largest Peace Corps programs in the world.
Reengaging with the World
So, a natural question: Where do we go from here? Reengaging with the World our cover reads. Surely we in these United States have got work to do at home like never before. Indeed. As renowned epidemiologist Anne Rimoin argues in this edition, that’s all the more reason for working side by side, learning with and from communities around the world. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that approaching this endeavor with a sense of solidarity and humility and commitment is a matter of life and death. A conversation with Rimoin opens a section of the magazine focused on the pandemic: hearing from a nurse on the front lines, a participant in a vaccine trial, and news of returned Volunteers going to work as contact tracers in the first cohort of the National Peace Corps Association Emergency Response Network. Amid these days, both sadness and hope: gifts of COVID-19 survival boxes from the Korea Foundation to the Volunteers who served in South Korea decades ago, as thanks for being there in a time of need. It’s a reminder that the service we undertake, the gestures we make, both large and small, may sustain us and our communities in years to come in ways we can’t imagine.
Now is the time for big changes, for bold ideas, brought to bear with the kind of energy and audacity that launched the Peace Corps 60 years ago — but with a better and fuller and truer sense of community and who we are.
The need to look outward and inward, when it comes to building justice and peace, is not new. An interview with civil rights attorney Elaine Jones makes that clear. In the stories of those honored by the Franklin H. Williams Award in December, we should also ask: How does that building resonate across the years?
We explore where we’ve gotten some things right, and how — for instance, eradicating smallpox in Ethiopia and then the world. Or where things went horribly wrong: A diplomat released as a hostage by Iran 40 years ago recounts what happened when those with the power to do something about a violent mob failed to act.
These are some of the stories, the conversations, the profiles. You’ll notice smack-dab in the center of this magazine something that’s neither; it’s some serious roll-up-your-sleeves stuff: the community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” These are the big ideas sourced from thousands of members of the Peace Corps community: how we reimagine, reshape, and retool Peace Corps for a changed world. The report embraces this existential moment: Now is the time for big changes, for bold ideas, brought to bear with the kind of energy and audacity that launched the Peace Corps 60 years ago — but with a better and fuller and truer sense of community and who we are. As we’re reengaging with the world, it would be good to lead with what’s best about this country. And to deepen and renew our commitment to living out those ideals at home.
Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He was a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96. Write him.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.
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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.
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.