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Peace Corps Connect

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers: Then and Now, We Continue to Serve see more

    Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers: Then and Now, We Continue to Serve — a conversation convened as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.


    Pictured: “Gül” in Turkish, “rose” in English. Margo Jones served as a Volunteer in the village of Asagisayak, then in the city of Bolu. Photo by Ken St. Louis

     

    On September 25, 2021, Jodi Hammer hosted a panel of Volunteers who have been evacuated from the countries where they were serving — in the 1960s and in 2020. Hammer was a Volunteer in Ecuador 1994–97 and serves as Career Support Specialist at National Peace Corps Association. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation. Watch the full conversation here.

     


    Margo Jones 

    Turkey 1966–67

     

    I decided in high school that I wanted to go into the Peace Corps. My parents were not thrilled. I was invited to Turkey. I graduated from college and went into training at Portland State. Turkish was my fifth language. At a university in Ankara, we spent a month learning more Turkish. I was a rural community development worker, and I went out into my village near the Black Sea at the end of August 1966.

     

    Asagisayak: Villagers where Margo Jones served as a Volunteer. Photo by Todd Boressoff

     

    The village had no running water. We went to the well in the morning at 5:30, a social event with the women. We did not have toilet facilities. For food we had no refrigeration. We went to a market once a week, and you bought what you could eat.

    I initially bought a few canned things. When I opened them, they had worms, so I threw them out. We had one big oven and baked bread once a week.

     

    Where she called home: In Turkey, Margo Jones’ landlady with her son. Photo by Todd Boressoff

     

    I got a driver and seven days a week went to villages and taught girls basic healthcare. I got an infection in one of my fingers, and they wanted to amputate. I said, “No, I came in with ten, I’m leaving with ten.” I had menstrual problems. But what brought me down was amoebic dysentery. They decided to evacuate me in March 1967. On my flight, a Peace Corps doctor accompanied me back to the East Coast.

     

    Many we had not talked to in 50-some years. They were all willing to come back and do it again.

     

    Three weeks later, the Peace Corps asked if I’d like to go train for India. I said, I’m still sick. They sent me to a doctor at George Washington University Hospital. I was still seeing him for a year.

    I felt Peace Corps was the best experience I’ve ever had. Financially, it was a problem. We were paid $150 a month in Turkey; that wasn’t enough to live on. I bought a bed but had to return it before I left, because I hadn’t fully paid for it. Then we were paid $150 per month at home. That didn’t go far with renting an apartment in Washington, D.C. My mom helped; she understood a little better than my dad why I was doing this.

    I loved the commercial that said: Is the glass half empty? Or is the glass half full? The Peace Corps person believes it’s always half full. In February 2021, I set out to find the 35 people in our group. In September, my site mate and I hosted a Zoom meeting; of the 30 people still alive, 17 participated. Many we had not talked to in 50-some years. They were all willing to come back and do it again.

     


    Ron Bloch

    Venezuela 1966–68

     

    Photo: Ron and pet rabbit devour a book. Courtesy Ron Bloch

     

    In 1966, when I graduated from college, I had a choice between the U.S. Army and Peace Corps. I chose the Peace Corps. We went to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish, and I was sent to Venezuela. There were 400 Volunteers there.

    I was assigned to work in the high-rise slums of Caracas — some 80 buildings, and 5,000 people in my building alone. I got involved in community development. I was there 18 months out of 24.

    Congress was debating whether military service and Peace Corps service should be equal. I was a test case; it went all the way to the presidential board, and I was drafted.

    I became a first lieutenant; the army, in their wisdom, assigned me to South Korea in charge of tactical nuclear weapons. All that taught me a lot about flexibility, resilience, and humor.

     

    High-rises in Caracas — where Ron Bloch served with the Peace Corps before the Army cut his service short and sent him to Korea. Photo by Ron Bloch. 

     

    I had a career in recruiting and outplacement career management, so I’ve offered a service to returned Volunteers reviewing résumés. I’ve helped over 4,000 so far. I keep, in my office, postcards they have sent from around the world — the only thing I ask for.

     

    WE SHARE SOME SAD NEWS from December 28, 2021: Ron Bloch passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He dedicated literally thousands of hours to supporting fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. We’re tremendously grateful for his work and care, and he will be deeply missed.
       —Jodi Hammer

     

     


     

    Natalia Joseph

    Ukraine 2019–20

     

    I was part of group 54. I arrived in August 2019 and was teaching in Mohyliv-Podilskyi in south-central Ukraine. I was evacuated because of COVID-19 in March 2020. The evacuation process itself was about four days in Kyiv, trying to figure out when we’d be able to find a flight back to the United States. Countries were shutting down airports.

    When all that happened, I was just getting into a groove, feeling connected with my community, students, and colleagues. I was in Kharkiv when I found out about evacuation; I texted my host family: I’m leaving. I’m sorry. I don’t know if guilt is the right word for what I was feeling; it was frustrating and upsetting.

    I arrived in Ohio, and the next day things went into a full shutdown. Everyone was experiencing culture shock in the U.S. I struggled with the economic tailspin. I was sitting in my quarantine hotel, thinking, What am I going to do? We were watching opportunities shut down.

    Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association did a good job hosting lots of virtual events, providing résumé help. Some graduate schools extended their application deadlines. I ended up going to grad school in international relations at University of Chicago. I wrote my thesis on Euromaidan and Ukrainian civil society. I am also involved in the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, trying to continue those connections between the U.S. and Ukraine.

    I work as a senior programs associate for Venture for America. Being able to communicate about things that are very difficult, dealing with people who have different cultural norms — that helped a lot when I was job searching. I would also say rely on the Peace Corps network. My friends were the best.

     


     

    Kelsi Seid

    Guyana 2017–19; South Africa 2020

     

    I was inspired by my mother to serve in the Peace Corps; she was a Volunteer in Botswana 2010–12. After serving in Guyana, I applied to go to South Africa and arrived January 2020. I was just at the end of pre-service training when the evacuation happened. It was about 36 hours from when we found out until we were on a plane.

    I did have quite a bit of culture shock coming back — especially because of a scarcity mindset in the U.S. Compared to where I had been, there was abundance. We have running water, electricity, I have a flush toilet. I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury. It was very confusing.

     

    I did have quite a bit of culture shock coming back — especially because of a scarcity mindset in the U.S. Compared to where I had been, there was abundance. It was very confusing.

    Peace Corps did a lot of outreach about volunteer and employment opportunities. The organization I’m supporting, as a crisis counselor for survivors of sexual assault, I found through that outreach. But after I closed my service in Guyana, I had a real struggle with mental and emotional health. Resources Peace Corps had were completely insufficient and hard to access. I’m in Oakland, California; there were a lot of providers on the list they provided. No one I called knew how they ended up on that list, and they wouldn’t take the Peace Corps insurance. I contacted Peace Corps; the response was dismissive. We hope you figure it out. I hope that changes in RPCV healthcare include a boost in mental health support and reevaluating that list of providers.

     

    Watch the full conversation here.

     

    This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine. 

    Story updated January 19, 2022, to correct photo credits.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Progress, failures, and what’s on the horizon: a conversation convened for Peace Corps Connect 2021 see more

    Progress, failures, and what’s on the horizon: a conversation convened for Peace Corps Connect 2021 

     

    Illustration by Anna + Elena = Balbusso

     

    On September 26, 2011, as the Peace Corps community marked 50 years of Volunteers serving in communities around the world, the U.S. Senate passed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, which was signed into law later that year. Three years ago, Congress completed work on the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act. These two pieces of legislation were designed to bring about improvements and reforms pertaining to the health, safety, and security of Volunteers. What made them necessary were two tragedies: Volunteer Kate Puzey was murdered after she reported a Peace Corps employee for sexually abusing children; Volunteer Nick Castle died when he did not receive appropriate medical care in time.

    National Peace Corps Association brought together this panel on September 25, 2021, to discuss progress, shortcomings, and future steps needed to further support and protect Volunteers as Peace Corps prepares for global redeployment. Below are edited excerpts. 

    Watch the entire discussion here: Peace Corps Safety and Security: A Decade of Legislation for Change

     


     

    Susan Smith Howley, J.D.

    Project Director, Center for Victim Research at Justice Research and Statistics Association

     

     

     

     

    Sue Castle

    Mother of fallen Volunteer Nick Castle

     

     

     

     

     

    Casey Frazee Katz

    Volunteer in South Africa 2009

    Founder of First Response Action

     

     

     

     

    Moderated by Maricarmen Smith-Martinez

    Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08

    Chair of the NPCA Board 2018–21

     

     

      

    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: Issues relating to sexual assault and violence against women, and to inadequate healthcare, span the globe. Peace Corps is not immune to these challenges. We want to review the passage of laws aimed at improving and addressing challenges in Volunteer safety and health; consider how successful those laws have been in bringing about progress and change; explore where those efforts have fallen short; and consider steps to take moving forward — and identify opportunities in this unique moment.

    My first foray into advocacy for Volunteer health and safety began as a member of Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, after hearing Kate Puzey’s mother speak at Peace Corps 50th anniversary events in 2011. One activist who led the charge in securing the passage of the Kate Puzey Act is Casey Frazee Katz; she created First Response Action and built a grassroots movement to push this legislation forward. What did you hope to achieve?

     

    Casey Frazee Katz: During my service as a Volunteer in South Africa, I was sexually assaulted. I found quickly that there were other Volunteers in South Africa and across the African continent and the globe who had also been sexually assaulted or harassed. What I couldn’t find were rules, laws, information, resources for someone who had been sexually assaulted as a Volunteer. So I founded First Response Action to work toward getting protections, support resources, and information codified for Volunteers.

    We initially started working with Peace Corps administration. Quickly it became obvious that we needed to take a step up. We began working with legislators and pulled in other returned Volunteers and families, including Kate Puzey’s family. We drafted the initial legislation, which went through many rounds before that was signed in 2011 to codify some supports for Volunteers—and to establish victim advocacy. I’m grateful that 10 years later, victim advocacy exists within the Peace Corps. This is an issue that is ongoing. So I’m grateful NPCA is keeping this issue top of mind.

     

    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: One outcome of that legislation was creation of the Sexual Assault Advisory Council.

     

    Susan Howley: I was a victim advocate at the national policy level for more than 25 years, working with people around the country as they passed their first victims rights laws: the first Violence Against Women Act, then the second, then the third. Now there’s a fourth. I worked with people who helped name and develop a response to stalking and human trafficking; worked to address the DNA backlog; worked with those raising awareness and calling for change in the military, on college campuses, in churches, in youth organizations, about sexual assault. I now work in the Center for Victim Research, trying to build an evidence base for how we can better support victims and survivors. In 2012, I was part of the first Sexual Assault Advisory Council and served during its first four years.

    By the time that council first met, the Peace Corps had already taken steps to stand up an office for victim advocacy; they developed and piloted their first training; there was already a risk reduction in response programming beginning to be put in place; and there were plans to research and monitor impacts. We were asked to advise on certain things; one was creation of a restricted reporting process, where Volunteers could report confidentially and access services and supports.

     

    What struck me were the complexities involved. There’s no uniform justice system around the world. Peace Corps has no criminal jurisdiction over foreign actors. The recognition of sexual assault was far from universal.

     

    What struck me were the complexities involved. There’s no uniform justice system around the world. Peace Corps has no criminal jurisdiction over foreign actors. The recognition of sexual assault was far from universal, especially for crimes that don’t involve penetration; certainly no uniform understanding of what sexual harassment is, or that it’s wrong. Mental health response wasn’t consistently available in countries. Unlike the military, there was no universal authority over anyone who might be involved in an assault — or response. Even where one Volunteer assaulted another, the Peace Corps didn’t have the same ability to hold someone accountable that you might have in the military. Unlike on a college campus, there are only one or two opportunities to reach the bulk of Volunteers for training. Peace Corps wanted to do a survey of RPCVs to find out more about the extent of sexual assault and harassment; that was a heavy lift, because RPCVs are no longer affiliated with the Peace Corps. You had to go through a whole process with the Office of Management and Budget before you could even think about having a survey.

    How do you train in-country staff? How often do they get together? Now we’re used to doing trainings by Zoom. It was a different world 10 years ago. There were a lot of issues that came up when Peace Corps was developing things like restrictive reporting; the Inspector General didn’t understand why they didn’t automatically get all reports — even confidential. It took time for country directors to understand they could not automatically get all information about confidential or restricted reports.

    With the Sexual Assault Advisory Council, each year we would come together and get a briefing on new adjustments, progress, evolutions in trainings or policies. We would hear what happened to the previous year’s recommendations: Which ones had the Peace Corps agreed with and were adopting? Which ones did the Peace Corps partially agree with? Which ones did they disagree with — and why? Then we would meet to review everything new and make recommendations.

    We would help identify best practices and adapt them. But the term “best practices” is really “best that we know right now.” Often you’re pointing to a program that worked for that group in that context. Does it work here with these people? Where there were no best practices, the Peace Corps and the Sexual Assault Advisory Council relied on key principles of trying to be as transparent as possible and trying to give victims options wherever possible. You create the best trainings and policies that you can at the moment; you implement them and monitor them. Then see where things aren’t working and adjust.

     

    I can’t think of a single area of crime victim response where advocates have been able to say, “Now we’re done. We have a system where every crime victim gets a just and compassionate response.” The most we can say in any arena is: “This is an improvement. What’s next?”

     

    I mentioned Zoom. There are new opportunities for virtual response and training. There’s new understanding of what it means to be trauma-informed, victim-centered. You can’t have a system of continual improvement without hearing from those for whom the system is not working. There have to be systems to identify and learn from cases where risk reduction failed, or response was harmful. We have to support victims who come forward after being failed, recognize their courage, and advocate for them.

    Improvements in our system of response to victims and survivors of crime in all kinds of settings, including the Peace Corps, have largely occurred because someone who was harmed or was close to someone who was harmed said, “This has to change.” Even where we make major improvements, the struggle for all of us is to recognize that “this has to change” is a repeated theme. There’s always more to do to ensure a victim-centered response and working support system. I can’t think of a single area of crime victim response where advocates have been able to say, “Now we’re done. We have a system where every crime victim gets a just and compassionate response.” The most we can say in any arena is: “This is an improvement. What’s next?”

     

    Illustration by Anna + Elena = Balbusso

     

    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: In addition to safety, we want to discuss healthcare for Volunteers. I first met Sue Castle several years ago through NPCA advocacy efforts; she and her husband, Dave, were working closely with members of Congress to draft and advance legislation that is now named after their son. They have been fully engaged with NPCA efforts to support it. I’ve seen firsthand the powerful impact of their story when shared with members of Congress. I’ve also seen how difficult it can be to repeat this story over and over again.

     

    Sue Castle: I must thank everyone who has dedicated their time and effort in supporting reform efforts. Yet it’s pretty disheartening, because it is 10 years after the Kate Puzey Protection Act was signed into law, and we’re still trying to see it followed.

    A month after graduating from U.C. Berkeley, in 2012, my son Nick was sent to China as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He became quite ill while serving, and he died in February 2013. Medical care he received by a Peace Corps medical officer (PCMO) was poor and contributed to his death. My primary goal in being involved in advocacy was to make sure what happened to Nick could never happen to another Volunteer. Sadly, that did not happen.

     

    No one wants to have to share some of the worst moments of their life.

     

    In 2018, another Volunteer, Bernice Heiderman, died due to poor medical care. Policies were not being followed. It’s heartbreaking to see this. Peace Corps is supposed to be about what is best about American service: to learn about the cultures, values, and traditions of other countries. But the Peace Corps fails when it comes to taking care of Volunteers who have had a difficult service. Volunteers who return home ill or disabled have difficulty receiving healthcare. Volunteers who are a victim of a crime or sexual assault have difficulty seeing any resolution to their case, and in receiving proper mental health services to move forward in processing their trauma. Many times these Volunteers take their case public, hoping to get help. No one wants to have to share some of the worst moments of their life.

    In 2018, the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act was signed into law. It extends some provisions in the Kate Puzey Act. Yet some of these provisions remain vague. I’ve talked to members in Congress about that. Some issues remain confidential and are unable to be discussed — such as performance reviews of PCMOs. I want to see better healthcare in training before any growth or expansion of the Peace Corps. I want to see professional PCMOs; less encouragement to tough it out or be ignored; and a more thorough examination of the patient. I want to see medical training that reflects current standards, and reviews that accurately reflect the competency of the PCMO.

    Cultural bias can be difficult to overcome. There needs to be more training in regard to that. Voices with more recent experience in regard to safety and sexual assault need to be acknowledged and not dismissed. The approach that the Peace Corps has taken has not translated into long-standing change. New ways of dealing with these issues need to be explored. The cost of advocacy is high when you have to retell your story over and over again. Peace Corps shouldn’t have to wait for a response because of a story in The Daily Beast or The New York Times or USA Today. They need to do better.

     

    Where’s the data?

    Casey Frazee Katz: When I started talking to people in my group about being assaulted, some shared that they knew of other people who had come through South Africa who had also been assaulted, or had been in other countries and medevaced to South Africa. But we didn’t have data. So I created a basic survey where I asked Volunteers to share as widely as they could, to get better data: Who had been assaulted? Which countries had hot spots or particular issues? What was the response? Do they feel supported or not? The vast majority — three-quarters of people — felt they were not supported. We were hopeful to go in the direction of the quarter of people who did feel supported: What happened there, and how are they connected? How are they resourced? Then we know what to do next.

     

    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: Do you think that the efforts the council is taking are setting the stage for an evidence-based approach?

     

    We were hopeful to go in the direction of the quarter of people who did feel supported: What happened there, and how are they connected? How are they resourced? Then we know what to do next.

     

    Susan Howley: There’s always more to be done. There’s now a fully functioning RPCV survey, which will be very helpful. There’s about to be a new database that will make it easier to keep victims’ information confidential but allow pulling out more data about what happened, the kinds of responses people are getting. You still need a system that makes it comfortable for people who feel that they were failed to come forward and report — whether that’s anonymously or identifying themselves.

    Just like there’s no best practice in response, there’s also no best practice in gathering this kind of data. We’ve tried national victimization surveys, local victimization surveys, college victimization surveys. There’s always a better way to improve response rates, accuracy, and understanding. The Peace Corps is about to undertake a more formal evaluation of its programs. That’s important, because one step is to try to articulate: What are the outcomes we are looking for? What are the indicators we’ll be able to gather that will show whether we are getting those outcomes? The outcomes are typically: We want people who have been victimized to thrive in the future. What is it that they might tell us is happening in the short term that is an indicator they’ll thrive in the future? You have to keep working at it and refining it.

     

    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: If things are not documented appropriately, we are liable to repeat mistakes.

     

    Sue Castle: What they need to do is hold people accountable for when they aren’t documenting. It tends to come out later that they did not document a safety and security or healthcare incident. There’s no accountability for not documenting. We’re going to have a new security management system. Training is critical. But I think there’s a cultural bias to dismissing some health or security concerns; that’s why they’re not documented. They need to document everything and make it clear: You’re not going to be punished for documenting, but you are going to be held accountable if you’re not documenting.

    Is this a matter of needing more legislation — for example, for the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act? Or is it a matter of better implementing legislation we have passed — the Kate Puzey Act, the Farr-Castle Act? What types of measures would help support improved implementation?

    The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act is a great piece of legislation. It covers a lot: increase in the workers’ compensation rate from GS 7 to 11 for RPCVs who come home and are unable to work because of a service-related illness or injury; it extends whistleblower protection; it includes the Respect for Peace Corps Act. As far as prior legislation: That shouldn’t take this long to implement.

     

    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act would also increase the period in which Peace Corps would pay for post-service insurance from one month to three months. We saw that post-evacuation — so trying to make that permanent. The legislation proposes further reporting on post-service mental healthcare provided to returned Volunteers. What might the gradual reintroduction of Volunteers into the field mean when it comes to improving the safety and security and piloting measures?

     

    Sue Castle: They’re already working on improving behavioral health resources for Volunteers — a good first step.

     

    Casey Frazee Katz: What comes to my mind, especially thinking of the council working on risk reduction, is evaluating sites. I wouldn’t say that Peace Corps is inherently unsafe for anyone. Sexual assault, sadly, and sexual harassment, are issues that tend to have several commonalities. One is sometimes just opportunity. If Volunteers are in a rural area with limited cellphone reception, no independent way to get out of their site, that makes someone a little bit of a sitting duck to someone who knows that. As no Volunteers are in the field now, that gives a unique opportunity to evaluate how safe a site is, how many risk factors exist, what resources someone has access to — safety or support.

     

    There ought to be a law. Implemented.

    Casey Frazee Katz: Ten years ago, it surprised me that people we thought would be natural allies in Congress were not necessarily immediate supporters of our efforts. People were afraid that maybe we wanted, in bringing up this issue, to dismantle the Peace Corps. None of us wanted that. We believe in Peace Corps as an institution. We believe that Peace Corps does good work. We just wanted to make sure that Peace Corps was also accountable and supportive. These are reasonable measures. What Sue is talking about in terms of PCMO training is very reasonable. However, there is a pandemic and the current political climate, which can make things more challenging. In the best-case scenario, Peace Corps can be a model for supporting survivors, infrastructure, sustainability, and economy. Legislation is one part; implementation, follow-through, training, and assessment matter, too.

     

    We just wanted to make sure that Peace Corps was also accountable and supportive. These are reasonable measures.

     

    Sue Castle: My point has always been to make the Peace Corps better for Volunteers. I’ve done recruiting events and shared my story. I want people to be aware, but I also want people to be involved. Everybody’s voice needs to be acknowledged, whether you agree with it or not. They’re painful conversations — but necessary, and it’s only going to make the Peace Corps better.

     

    Casey Frazee Katz: Pushing the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act forward is certainly critical. With the advocacy work we did 10 years ago, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, in addition to the Volunteers and returned Volunteers, we were supported by a legal team who helped us prepare for the hearing and get affidavits from survivors. These are complex issues and sometimes require complex solutions.

     

    Susan Howley: The voice of the individual is key in advocacy efforts. Legislators and policymakers tell you that they want data, facts; they want to see the logic. But it’s the real story that brings it home, that really makes that data and research come alive for a legislator and their staff — and makes them care.


    WATCH THE ENTIRE DISCUSSION here: Peace Corps Safety and Security: A Decade of Legislation for Change

     

    This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine. 
    Story updated January 17, 2022.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders have a conversation on Peace Corps, race, and more. see more

    Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Leading in a Time of Adversity. A conversation convened as Part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.

     

    Image by Shutterstock 

     

    Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are currently the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S., but the story of the U.S. AAPI population dates back decades — and is often overlooked. As the community faces an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and the widening income gap between the wealthiest and poorest, their role in politics and social justice is increasingly important.

    The AAPI story is also complex — 22 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages, and other characteristics. Their unique perspectives and experiences have also played critical roles in American diplomacy across the globe. 

    For Peace Corps Connect 2021, we brought together three women who have served or are serving as political leaders to talk with returned Volunteer Mary Owen-Thomas. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation on September 23, 2021. Watch the entire conversation here.  

     

    Rep. Grace Meng

    Member, U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s sixth district — the first Asian American to represent her state in Congress.

     

     

     

    Julia Chang Bloch

    Former U.S. ambassador to Nepal — the first Asian American to serve as a U.S. ambassador to any country. Founder and president of U.S.-China Education Trust. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia (1964–66).

     

       

     Elaine Chao

    Former Director of the Peace Corps (1991–92). Former Secretary of Labor — the first Asian American to hold a cabinet-level post. Former Secretary of Transportation.

     

     

      

    Moderated by Mary Owen-Thomas

    Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines (2005–06) and secretary of the NPCA Board of Directors.

     

     

     

     

     

    Mary Owen-Thomas: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. This is not a recent story — and it’s often overlooked. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, and I happen to be Filipino American.

    During my service, people would say, “Oh, we didn’t get a real American.” I used to think, I’m from Detroit! I’m curious if you’ve ever encountered this in your international work.

     

    Julia Chang Bloch: With the Peace Corps, I was sent to Borneo, in Sabah, Malaysia. I was a teacher at a Chinese middle school that had been a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The day I arrived on campus, there was a hush in the audience. I don’t speak Cantonese, but I could understand a bit, and I heard: “Why did they send us a Japanese?” I did not know the school had been a prisoner of war camp. They introduced me. I said a few words in English, then a few words in Mandarin. And they said, “Oh, she’s Chinese.”

     

    I heard a little girl say to her father, “You promised me I could meet the American ambassador. I don’t see him.”

     

    In Nepal, where I was ambassador, when I arrived and met the Chinese ambassador, he said, “Ah, China now has two of us.” I said, “There’s a twist, however. I am a Chinese American.” He laughed, and we became friends thereafter. On one of my trips into the western regions, where there were a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers and very poor villages, I was welcomed lavishly by one village. I heard a little girl say to her father, “You promised I could meet the American ambassador. I don’t see him.” He said to her, “There she is.” “Oh, no,” she said. “She is not the American ambassador. She’s Nepali.”

    Those are examples of why AAPI representation in foreign affairs is important. We should look like America, abroad, in our embassies. We can show the world that we are in fact diverse and rich culturally.

     

    Mary Owen-Thomas: Secretary Chao, at the Labor Department you launched the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit, and the annual Opportunity Conference. The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting the employment data on Asians in America as a distinct category — a first. You ensured that labor law materials were translated into multiple languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Talk about how those came about.

     

    Elaine Chao: Many of us have commented about the lack of diversity in top management, even in the federal government. There seems to be a bamboo ceiling — Asian Americans not breaking into the executive suite. I started the Asian Pacific American Federal Advancement Forum to equip, train, prepare Asian Americans to go into senior ranks of the federal government.

    The Opportunity Conference was for communities of color, people who have traditionally been underserved in the federal government, in the federal procurement areas. Thirdly, in 2003 we finally broke out Asians and Asian American unemployment numbers for the first time. That’s how we know Asian Americans have the lowest unemployment rate. Labor laws are complicated, so we started a process translating labor laws into Asian, East Asian, and South Asian languages, so that people would understand their obligations to protect the workforce.

     

    We are often seen as invisible. In Congress, there are many times I’ll be in a room — and this is bipartisan, unfortunately — where people will be talking about different communities, and they literally leave AAPIs out. We are not mentioned, acknowledged, or recognized.

     

    Grace Meng: I am not a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I am honored to be here. My former legislative director, Helen Beaudreau (Georgia 2004–06, The Philippines 2010–11), is a twice-Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I am incredibly grateful for all of your service to our country, and literally representing America at every corner of the globe.

    I was born and raised here. This past year and a half has been a wake-up call for our community. Asian Americans have been discriminated against long before — starting with legislation that Congress passed, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, to Japanese American citizens being put in internment camps. We have too often been viewed as outsiders or foreigners.

    I live in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse counties in the country, and still have experiences where people ask where I learned to speak English so well, or where am I really from. When I was elected to the state legislature, some of us were watching the news — a group of people fighting. One colleague turned to me and said, “Well, Grace knows karate, I’m sure she can save us.”

    By the way, I don’t know karate.

    We are often seen as invisible. In Congress, there are many times I’ll be in a room — and this is bipartisan, unfortunately — where people will be talking about different communities, and they literally leave AAPIs out. We are not mentioned, acknowledged, or recognized. I didn’t necessarily come to Congress just to represent the AAPI community. But there are many tables we’re sitting at, where if we did not speak up for the AAPI community, no one else would.

     

    At the root of hate

    Julia Chang Bloch: I believe at the root of this anti-Asian hate is ignorance about the AAPI community. It’s a consequence of the exclusion, erasure, and invisibility of Asian Americans in K–12 school curricula. We need to increase education about the history of anti-Asian racism, as well as contributions of Asian Americans to society. Representative Meng, you should talk about your legislation.

     

    Grace Meng: My first legislation, when I was in the state legislature, was to work on getting Lunar New Year and Eid on public school holidays in New York City. When I was in elementary school, we got off for Rosh Hashanah; don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have two days off. But I had to go to school on Lunar New Year. I thought that was incredibly unfair in a city like New York. Ultimately, it changed through our mayor.

    In textbooks, maybe there was a paragraph or two about how Asian Americans fit into our American history. There wasn’t much. One of my goals is to ensure that Asian American students recognize in ways that I didn’t that they are just as American as anyone else. I used to be embarrassed about my parents working in a restaurant, or that they didn’t dress like the other parents.

     

    Data is empowering. We can’t administer government programs without understanding where they go, who receives them, how many resources are devoted to what groups.

     

    Julia Chang Bloch: I wonder about data collection. We’re categorized as AAPI — all lumped together. And data, I believe, is collected that way at the national, state, and local levels. Is there some way to disaggregate this data collection and recognize the differences?

     

    Elaine Chao: A very good question. Data is empowering. We can’t administer government programs without understanding where they go, who receives them, how many resources are devoted to what groups.

    Two obstacles stand in the way. One is resources. Unless there is thinking about how to do this in a systemic, long-term fashion, getting resources is difficult; these are expensive undertakings. Two, there’s sometimes political resistance. Pew Charitable Trust, in 2012, did an excellent job: the first major demographic study on the Asian American population in the United States. But we’re coming up on 10 years. That needs to be revisited.

     

    Role models vs. stereotypes

    Elaine Chao: Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch and Pauline Tsui started the organization Chinese American Women. I remember coming to Washington as a young pup and seeing these fantastic, empowering women. They blazed so many trails. They gave voice to Asian American women.

    I come from a family of six daughters. I credit my parents for empowering their daughters from an early age. They told us that if you work hard, you can do whatever you want to do. We’ve got to offer more inspiration and be more supportive.

     

    Julia Chang Bloch: Pauline Tsui has unfortunately passed away. She had a foundation, which gave us support to establish a series on Asian women trailblazers. Our inaugural program featured Secretary Chao and Representative Judy Chu, because it was about government and service. Our next one is focused on higher education. Our third will be on journalism.

    I want, however, to leave you with this thought. The Page Act of 1875 barred women from China, Japan, and all other Asian countries from entering the United States. Why? Because the thought was they brought prostitution. The stereotyping of Asian women has been insidious and harmful to our achieving positions of authority and leadership. That’s led also to horrible stereotypes that have exoticized and sexualized Asian women. Think about the women who were killed in Atlanta.

     

    That intersection of racism and misogyny that has existed for way too long is something we need to continue to combat.

     

    Grace Meng: There was the automatic assumption, in the beginning, that they were sex workers — these stereotypes were being circulated. I had the opportunity with some of my colleagues to go to Atlanta and meet some of the victims’ families, to hear their stories. That really gave me a wake-up call. I talked about my own upbringing for the first time.

    I remember when my parents, who worked in a restaurant, came to school, and they were dressed like they worked in a restaurant. I was too embarrassed to say hello. Being in Atlanta, talking to those families, made me realize the sacrifices that Asian American women at all levels have faced so that we could have the opportunity to be educated here, to get jobs, to serve our country. And that intersection of racism and misogyny that has existed for way too long is something that we need to continue to combat.

     

    Julia Chang Bloch: We’ve talked about the sexualized, exoticized, and objectified stereotype — the Suzie Wongs and the Madame Butterflys. However, those of us here today, I think would fall into another category: the “dragon lady” stereotype. Any Asian woman of authority is classified as a dragon lady — a derogatory stereotype. Women who are powerful, but also deceitful and manipulating and cruel. Today it’s women who are authoritative and powerful.

     

    Mary Owen-Thomas: Growing up, I was sort of embarrassed of my mom’s thick Filipino accent; she was embarrassed of it, too. I was embarrassed of the food she would send me to school with — rice, mung beans, egg rolls, and fish sauce. And people would ask, “What is that?” Talk about how your self-identity has evolved — and how you view family.

     

    You do not need to have a fancy title to improve the lives of people around you. I became stronger myself and realized that it was my duty, my responsibility, as a daughter of immigrants, to give back to this country and to give back to this community.

     

    Grace Meng: I don’t know if it’s related to being Asian, but I was super shy as a child. And there weren’t a lot of Asians around me. I was the type who would tremble if a teacher called on me; I would try to disappear into the walls. When I meet people who knew me in school, they say, “I cannot believe you’re in politics.”

    What gave me strength was getting involved in the community, seeing as a student in high school, college, and law school that I could help people around me. After law school I started a nonprofit with some friends. We had senior citizens come in with their mail once a week, and we would help them read it. It wasn’t rocket science at all.

    I tell that story to young people, because you do not need to have a fancy title to improve the lives of people around you. I became stronger myself and realized that it was my duty, my responsibility, as a daughter of immigrants, to give back to this country and to give back to this community.

     

    Julia Chang Bloch: At some point, in most Asian American young people’s lives, you ask yourself whether you are Chinese or American — or, Mary, in your case, whether you’re Filipino or American.

    I asked myself that question one year after I arrived in San Francisco from China. I was 10. I entered a forensic contest to speak on being a marginalized citizen. I won the contest, but I didn’t have the answer. At university, I found Chinese student associations I thought would be my answer to my identity. But I did not find myself fitting into the American-born Chinese groups — ABCs — or those fresh off the boat, FOBs. Increasingly, my circle of friends became predominantly white. I perceived the powerlessness of the Chinese in America. I realized that only mainstreaming would make me be able to make a difference in America.

    After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps, to pursue my roots and to make a difference in the world. Teaching English at a Chinese middle school gave me the opportunity to find out once and for all whether I was Chinese or American. I think you know the answer.

    My ambassadorship made me a Chinese American who straddles the East and the West. And having been a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have always believed that it was my obligation to bring China home to America, and vice versa. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the U.S.-China Education Trust since 1998.

    We should say representation matters. Peace Corps matters, too.

     

    WATCH THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION here: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Leading in a Time of Adversity

    These edited remarks appear in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
    Story updated January 17, 2022.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Nancy Kelly, Amy Maglio, and Estee Katcoff honored for global service and leadership see more

    Nancy Kelly of Health Volunteers Overseas and Amy Maglio of the Women’s Global Education Project are recognized with the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award. Estee Katcoff, founder of the Superkids Foundation, is recognized with the Kate Raftery Emerging Leaders Award.

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    As part of the global virtual conference Peace Corps Connect 2021, Women of Peace Corps Legacy presented awards to three outstanding leaders in the Peace Corps community. Nancy Kelly and Amy Maglio were each honored with the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award. And Estee Katcoff was presented with the Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award.

    The awards were presented by Kathleen Corey, president of Women of Peace Corps Legacy, on September 23 at the Peace Corps Connect conference. WPCL is an affiliate group of National Peace Corps Association and is part of a vibrant community that includes more than 180 affiliate groups focused on regions in the U.S., on countries where Volunteers have served, and around causes that matter to the Peace Corps community.

     


    Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award

    The Deborah Harding Award honors Peace Corps women whose contributions have made a significant difference in the lives of women and girls in the world. 

     

    Nancy Kelly has worked tirelessly for over four decades to help women and girls all over the world. She began her journey in 1979 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea, working in maternal and child health, and went on to develop a career in global health. As the executive director of Health Volunteers Overseas since its creation in 1986, she has been the driver behind a program which has enabled thousands of women, children and humans to receive improved, dignified, and compassionate health care — and has allowed thousands of health professionals to receive training and mentorship which otherwise would have been near impossible.

    Under her leadership, Health Volunteers Overseas has facilitated over 11,900 volunteer assignments globally. The last five have resulted in, on average, 3,200 health professionals receiving training and mentorship each year — benefiting innumerate women and children both directly and indirectly. In so doing, she is helping to build a global cadre of talented, confident, and inspired women who are committed to advancing global health.
     

    Amy Maglio is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP) which works with grassroots community partners to educate, empower, and promote equality for women and girls in rural Senegal and Kenya. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Amy saw firsthand the multiplier effect of girls' education in rural Senegal and how access to education — which was extremely limited for girls, not only increased their own opportunities — but also enabled them to provide for their families and catalyzed wider community change. 

    Inspired by Khady, her host sister who she assisted in getting an education as well as other girls in her village, Amy started WGEP in 2004, at her dining room table, determined to help girls and women succeed in school and reach their full potential. As director of this Chicago-area NGO, she helped ensure the increase of education opportunities for marginalized girls in rural Kenya and Senegal through innovative programs with grassroots community partners.

    This NGO has proved to be tremendously successful and has held a 99% retention rate, reaching over 20,000 girls and young women to date. In 2010, she was invited to present WGEP’s model as a best practice approach to girls’ education at the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative Conference in Dakar, Senegal, and was a drafter of the UN Declaration on Gender Equality.

     

     


    Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award

    The Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award is presented annually to a woman with an affiliation to Peace Corps under the age of 35 who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and ongoing commitment to serve women and girls.

    Estee Katcoff

    Estee Katcoff became aware of gender-based violence as a Peace Corps Volunteer and used this knowledge to lead initiatives preventing it in Paraguay during and after her service. She founded a girls' empowerment club and extended for a third year to continue her work, which included working with the Children's Rights Council of Gender-Based Violence Prevention.

    Since then, Estee has piloted a successful youth program, originally called Zero Violencia, which continues now as the Superkids Foundation, working in Paraguay to mobilize children as agents of change in their communities. Seventy percent of the Kid Teachers who have risen to action through Superkids identify as girls and learn the knowledge and skills needed to not only end GBV but work towards equity in their communities, particularly in education.

    Estee’s focus has always been on building the capacity of her Peace Corps community to use best practices to effect change, while championing women and girls and always including men and boys in the effort. 
     

     

    Story updated December 28, 2021 to correct spelling

     September 27, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Acting Director Carol Spahn on the state of the Peace Corps in 2021. see more

    No Volunteers in the field. Battling COVID-19 — and the global rollout of virtual volunteering. Remarks and Q&A with Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.

     

    Pictured: In Morocco, partners and volunteer participants team up as part of the Virtual Service Pilot — which has fostered collaboration on projects around the world since October 2020. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Morocco.

     

    Carol Spahn has served as acting director of the Peace Corps since January 2021. She previously served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 and later as country director for Malawi and chief of operations for the Africa region. She spoke on September 23, 2021, as part of the opening evening of Peace Corps Connect 2021. The Q&A was moderated by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Below is an edited version of their conversation. Watch the entire conversation here.  


    Carol Spahn: I can think of nothing more important than being here today with the Peace Corps family. It is such a gift to be part of this community that continues to show up years and decades later, to be with each other and to work together to make the world a better place, to make the agency the best that it can be. We value you. We are listening, we are here with you. And we really thank you for your support. I know that most of you have a burning question on your minds, which is: When will Volunteers get back out into service? I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the enormity of the pandemic’s impacts on health, safety, and well-being around the world, as well as the disproportionate impact that it has had on many of the countries where Volunteers served. We are all anxious to get out there and be a part of the solution. Finding the balance between the health and safety of our Volunteers in our communities has been one of the biggest challenges of my time as acting director.

    When we first evacuated Volunteers in March 2020 — in itself an amazing feat; we evacuated almost 7,000 Volunteers in just eight days — we thought we would turn around and get Volunteers back into service three or four months later, after COVID passed. We got to work putting procedures in place, setting up expedited applications, and working hard to make sure that we were ready. As we were gearing up to get Volunteers back into service, we hit the second wave of the pandemic. So we pulled back.

    When I took this position in January 2021, we thought, We will get Volunteers vaccinated, and we will be able to get them right back out into service. Then the delta variant hit. At this time, we recognize that COVID will be with us for some time. None of us expected to be having this conversation still, 18 months after the evacuation of Volunteers.

    We are evaluating every country individually. We have seen how they’ve handled the pandemic — and multiple waves — in their own communities. We are assessing their health systems as well as other factors, like medical evacuation hubs, and the availability and stability of those hubs. We have several countries that are making it through our very rigorous process. We are hopeful that we will be able to get some Volunteers out toward the beginning of 2022. But we know that the pandemic does continue to throw us curveballs. We will get Volunteers out as soon as it is safe to do so.

    When I think about this time, I think about what cultural anthropologists call a liminal experience. This is a disorienting period when things are neither here nor there, when things have been so disrupted that we are forced to think about things differently. And this is not just Peace Corps. This is happening around the world.

     

    We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.

     

    But when I think about Peace Corps’ role in the world and our rich history, there are so many examples of how Peace Corps has helped to rebuild countries following civil war, disasters; how we came in after apartheid, after the end of the Cold War, and much more. We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.

    Peace Corps Volunteers know how to listen first, to see what’s possible, to inspire collaboration, to challenge the status quo, and to handle uncertainty. We withstand adversity, we learn through hardship, we adapt to changing circumstances, we innovate, we partner, we fail, and we come back again, until the problem has been solved. In fact, we demand to be challenged, to have our beliefs questioned, to ask hard questions, and to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And we make lifelong friends around the world along the way.

    I’ve been so inspired during this time to see how the broad Peace Corps community has stepped up, surrounded by so many of you — and so many staff members — whose very nature it is to raise your hand, to jump off the sidelines, to approach obstacles, and to get in there and solve problems. I am grateful to the 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers who closed their service in August after contributing to the domestic whole-of-government efforts to reach underserved communities with critical health information and access. The stories from this partnership with FEMA, only the second time that Peace Corps has deployed domestically in our history, have been amazing.  

     

    Evacuated from Ukraine in March 2020, Kevin Lawson served as a Response Volunteer in 2021 in the U.S. to battle COVID-19. Photo by Meghan White / Peace Corps

     

    We have Volunteers who reached out to a homeless community in Oregon. The people there did not want to go to the vaccination site. So what does a Volunteer do? They went back to the vaccination site and brought the doctors and nurses to the people. We have Volunteers who used Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages to reach people — to build trust and connections in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S.

    Likewise, I’m profoundly grateful to our 240 Virtual Service Pilot participants. Through this engagement, you’ve challenged the status quo and demonstrated that, through technology, we can realize impact and that partnerships can be sustained. Participants serving virtually in Nepal are supporting government health and agricultural workers to combat growing food insecurity and economic hardship attributable to COVID-19. Virtual service participants in the Eastern Caribbean have developed a blended learning program, and they’re training teachers across four countries to use digital and online learning to help students return to learning and recover from educational disruptions. This virtual service program can tear down barriers to service, both for volunteers who can’t serve overseas and for communities that, for health safety or other logistical reasons, can’t host volunteers in person.

    For the latest round of this pilot, we have returned Volunteers from every decade — the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and beyond — returning to their country of service virtually, to support them during this time. It is such an amazing tribute to the legacy of Peace Corps, and the real commitment that is not just those two years when a Volunteer serves, but that really extends a lifetime.

     

    In the community of Mantasoa in Madagascar, Peace Corps staff helped launch a vaccination campaign. Photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

    I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the tremendous work being done by our staff around the world. Since the global evacuation, our staff have been working tirelessly to keep advancing Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship. The working partnerships that have emerged organically during this time are remarkable.

    In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16. In Timor Leste, staff have been partners to the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and have translated COVID-19 information and guidelines into Tetum and nine other local languages, promoting equitable access to health information throughout the country.

     

    In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16.

     

    Almost every single post around the world is directly contributing at this time to the objectives of the United States’ COVID-19 global response and recovery framework. Technology has been key during this time, not only for the virtual service, but also for our staff. In North Macedonia, after completing our eight-week course developer certificate practicum, our staff partnered with the Ministry of Education and delivered workshops to all 25,000 educators from 1,000 public schools in the country so that they could educate their students virtually. Meanwhile, our global agency has poured time and attention into strengthening our systems.  

    This time without Volunteers in the field has given us a unique opportunity to make strategic improvements. And I would encourage all to sign up for “Inside Peace Corps,” a newsletter we’re putting out that pulls back the curtain so that you can see improvements that we are making. There are too many to list at this time, but I do want to raise a couple.

    First, keeping equity at the heart of our work, we continue to ramp up our intercultural competence, diversity, equity and inclusion practice. We have gained invaluable insights from our RPCV community through the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report through our barrier analysis in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have implemented unconscious bias training for all staff around the world. We will be requiring this training for Volunteers before they go out into service. We are approving a new position that will focus on retention, looking at Volunteers in the pipeline to ensure that we understand what the barriers are for our Volunteers of color, our applicants of color who are applying to the Peace Corps, and that we are at a place to remove those barriers.

    We also have a new programming, training, and evaluation system that looks at core competencies — and among those are ICDE&I competencies, through which we are intentionally building accountability to our host countries. These will be used globally, and Volunteers will all be evaluated on a standardized set of ICDE&I competencies, which set clear levels of how Volunteers are expected to master technical skills and demonstrate the agency’s values through their assignments.

    There is so much that is going on in this space. You will see a lot of it in our strategic plan when that is released. [It was released December 3. —Ed.] One of the big ideas we were asked to consider in the 2020 “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was around ethical storytelling. We’ve taken this recommendation seriously and are developing an ethical storytelling toolkit for staff, Volunteers, and RPCVs. That will equip us all with the awareness and communication tools necessary to keep our host communities at the heart of our storytelling. Through this work, we aspire to achieve a more ethical and equitable storytelling standard that extends across all of the Peace Corps network, and ensures that Peace Corps members have a sense of belonging and that we are honoring identity throughout.

    Finally, I know that many of you have deep concerns about our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program. We are committed to strengthening this program and have been taking a long, hard look at where it can be improved. We’ve taken several actions already that are aimed to reinforce this system, and that also respect the rights, the privacy, and the needs of any Volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault. I am very proud of the advances that the agency has made in this space. And I’m very personally committed and accountable for this work.

    I want to end by quoting from a speech that President Biden gave at the U.N. General Assembly. He said, “There is a clear and urgent choice we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures. And whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come.”

     

    This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change.

     

     

    This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change. But we can create a Peace Corps that transcends the experience we all know and love to create a new and improved Peace Corps, one that encompasses the diverse, equitable, and inclusive vision we have — a vision of an agency that is able to respond quickly to shifting realities, and utilize a variety of creative tools and modalities to combat some of the greatest threats of our lifetime.

    We are all inextricably linked to that legacy.

     

    Questions from the community: diversity, virtual service, reducing the risk of sexual assault, and more

    Glenn Blumhorst: You mentioned the Peace Corps Connect to the Future summit and report and specific things the agency is implementing, such as ethical storytelling. Are there other recommendations that stand out and that you have been working to implement?

     

    Spahn: It is a report I go back to frequently. As we went through our strategic planning process, it was one of many inputs we factored in. Giving priority to hiring people of color: We will have specific goals and objectives around that, and implementing systems for how to do outreach more intentionally into different communities, both for staff and for Volunteers. We would love to engage the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in helping us do that. There are recommendations about providing financial assistance. We are looking to pilot programming this year to see how we can support Volunteers who might not be able to pay upfront costs of medical clearance. Is there a way we can provide vouchers or other financial support so they do not need to carry costs until they can be reimbursed? We have been partnering with AARP for how to recruit all kinds of diversity into Peace Corps.

     

    Blumhorst: The report was shared with of Congress. Some reforms and improvements and provisions that emanated from that report are in H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, introduced by Congressman Garamendi.

     

    The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place.

     

    Spahn: The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place. The bill really does have a lot of provisions that are very supportive of our Volunteers and our community.

     

    Blumhorst: You touched on a topic that’s one that we really want to lean in on, and listen in on — sexual assault risk reduction and response. What is the status of the congressionally-mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council that is charged with assessing Peace Corps’ efforts to address sexual assault and offer best practices?

     

    Spahn: The council has been meeting since May, several times a month. We’ve asked them to look back over the last five years at recommendations of the council, assess where we are, and see what is relevant from those prior recommendations: where we still have work to do, what are the most important things going forward. They will be preparing a report for us before the end of the year, and we will make that report public. [The report was released in November. — Ed.] I want to thank those advisory council members. Those are unpaid positions — people who care deeply about Peace Corps — and we put a big task in front of them this year. We have also put out a call for proposals and will be having a review of the overall structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program to make sure it is structured in the best way, that we are a continuously learning organization. There is no entity that can say, We have the best way to really meet sexual assault survivors where they are. We are all learning, we’re all growing, and we are committed to listening, improving, and putting systems in place so we can be the best that we can be.  

     

    Blumhorst: We recognize the role of staff in the field, preparing the way for Volunteers to return. Meanwhile, tell us about virtual volunteering. What have you learned from current programs?

     

    Spahn: It has shown tremendous promise for how Volunteers can stay engaged long after service, supporting communities in a variety of ways. The beauty of virtual service is that there might be people who can’t clear medically who would still have an option to serve. We might have people with very specific skills a country is looking for, who might not be able to leave home for two years — but could contribute in other ways. We have regions that can’t be reached due to safety and security issues. We saw this with Paraguay — an ecotourism organization and national park site Volunteers were not able to reach for a variety of reasons. There is now a virtual Volunteer helping through radio programming and other ways to support environmental programs.

    Will it ever replace the two-year Volunteers and that on-the-ground connection? No. That is where the magic of Peace Corps happens, in living and working together side by side for an extended period of time. But will it be a terrific supplement, using all of the tools that we have at our disposal? Absolutely.

     

    The hardest part is that balancing act — knowing the need at this pivotal time in history… knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and how to do that safely.

     

    The hardest part is really that balancing act — knowing what the need is that’s out there at this pivotal time in history, part of a global pandemic, the likes of which we will hopefully never see again in our lifetime; and knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and struggling through the details to make sure that we can do that safely. That has been the biggest challenge. One of the biggest barriers has been stable access to medical evacuation hubs. We’re setting up backup options and agreements. We’re all here for the mission of Peace Corps, to be out in communities and supporting world peace and friendship. The highs have been seeing innovation and how people have stepped up in many ways: what staff in the field are doing in the absence of Volunteers, and staff at headquarters buckling down to get systems in place so that when we’re ready, we really are the best that we can be.

     

    Blumhorst: How does the agency play a role in helping RPCVs have a lifetime of service and impact?

     

    Spahn: I love the theme of this conference, and have seen in so many ways how RPCVs have stepped up. I want to give a special shout-out to Friends of Tonga, who are a 2021 Library of Congress honoree for best practices for their virtual read-aloud program. As Peace Corps, we are looking to engage with RPCVs and through National Peace Corps Association, to really expand and understand the impact. I encourage everyone to complete the survey that NPCA put out, so that we can really understand that and help support it longer term. Our ethical storytelling kit will be a great tool. And we will be looking to work with RPCVs getting out into underrepresented communities around the United States to really elevate awareness of the Peace Corps.

     

    Watch this entire conversation here.  

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Peace Corps Community for Refugees recognized for its work with refugees from Afghanistan see more

    What began as an effort by five people to support refugees has grown to a network of 1,200 individuals. And they have led the way in the Peace Corps community in working with refugees during the current Afghanistan crisis.

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    Peace Corps Community for Refugees is this year’s recipient of the Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service. This year’s award recognizes PCC4R for its outstanding advocacy for refugees during the current Afghanistan crisis, as well as its continued resettlement work in Greece and Mexico and its efforts to educate the public on refugee support.

    An affiliate group of National Peace Corps Association, Peace Corps Community for Refugees began with five initial members in 2016. It has grown to a network of more than 1,200 members in the Peace Corps community.

    They work in three main areas. Through education, they seek to inform others about issues pertaining to refugees through stories and educational resources. Through resettlement support, they connect interested volunteers with NGOs serving refugee communities. Through advocacy, they work on behalf of refugees at the national, state, and local level.

    This year’s award was presented on September 23 at Peace Corps Connect, a 60th anniversary conference for the Peace Corps Community. The award was announced by film and television writer Katherine Ruppe, the daughter of Loret Miller Ruppe.

     

     

    The award was accepted on behalf of Peace Corps Community for Refugees by Barbara Busch, team leader for overseas action for Peace Corps Community for Refugees. As she noted, this year's work has involved important collaboration with NPCA affiliate group Friends of Afghanistan, which has provided leadership in joint advocacy for SIV Afghan evacuation and planning for resettlement support. Barbara Busch reminded audience members that the work in front of them is growing: advocating for Afghans still left behind; the crisis at the border for Haitian asylum seekers; and the looming crisis of climate migrants.

     

    Support Refugees today at pcc4refugees.org

     

    About the Loret Miller Ruppe Award

    Named for the 10th Director of the Peace Corps, the annual Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service is presented by NPCA to outstanding affiliate groups for projects that promote the Third Goal of Peace Corps or continue to serve host countries, build group spirit and cooperation, and promote service.  Eligible projects include those completed within the past two years or ongoing for at least three years. The purpose of the award is to recognize the great work that NPCA’s groups are doing and to generate ideas that other groups may emulate in their communities.

    Read more award and previous winners.

     September 26, 2021
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Help shape this special 60th anniversary conference for the Peace Corps community see more

    An invitation for individuals and groups alike: Help shape this special 60th anniversary conference. Produce a video. Tell your story. Lead a discussion group. 

    By Evelyn Ganzglass


    The 2021 Peace Corps Connect Conference Program Planning Committee is seeking affiliate group and individual member participation in this year’s conference program. As we mark six decades since the founding of the Peace Corps, we’re putting together a conference that reflects the place of Peace Corps amid these unprecedented times.

    The conference will focus on four key themes:

    • Racial justice and how we can foster equity, diversity, and inclusion
    • Climate change and its impact
    • Refugees and forced migration 
    • Continuing service by Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers more broadly. 

    Read more about the conference here. And read on for how you can help guide the conversations at Peace Corps Connect 2021.

     

    Counterparts in the Community

    Who can speak to the impact of the Peace Corps better than Peace Corps counterparts in communities around the world? We are gathering five-minute videos made by returned Volunteers and their partners in communities that highlight the work they have done together — and the impact of these partnerships. If you’re interested in submitting a short video to be shown at the conference, please express your interest here.

     

    Evacuated Volunteers: Tell Your Story

    Are you an evacuated Peace Corps Volunteer who would like to share your story of service — and how you were part of the unprecedented global evacuation? We’re looking for participants to be part of a moderated panel with other evacuated Volunteers. We’ll discuss the work by Volunteers, how evacuation has affected you and your community, and how you are continuing to be involved in service.  Express your interest in being part of the evacuated Volunteer panel here.

     
    From Peace Corps to Black Lives Matter: Striving for Allyship at Home and Abroad

    Racial justice and a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is one of the key themes of the conference. For a session on “From Peace Corps to Black Lives Matter: Striving for Allyship at Home and Abroad,” conference attendees will have an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences of racism, unconscious bias, and allyship, both during and after their Peace Corps service. We are seeking Volunteers to act as small group facilitators during the session. These facilitators will receive training from a DEI professional prior to the conference — and they will meet with conference organizers and other facilitators for planning. The total time required to act as a DEI break-out facilitator will be 4 to 5 hours.  Express your interest in serving as a facilitator during this session here.

     

    Service Projects: Stories of Impact

    During the conference (and beyond!), we'll be highlighting affiliate group service projects and the stories of their impact on individuals and communities worldwide. Have a service project to highlight? Contact Affiliate Group Network Coordinator Hannah Wishart.


    Evelyn Ganzglass (Somalia 1966–68) serves on the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association, is on the leadership team of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Archives Project, and is a member of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, D.C. 

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    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.

     

     WATCH: The full panel discussion: Reimagining a Peace Corps for the Future

    MORE from Peace Corps Connect to the Future here.

     

    Story updated November 9, 2020.

    • Rand Robinson The issues of inclusion and financial barriers and other important themes are cited here, yes, but whatever became of PC's clarion call for Redesigning PC from top to bottom, how to make vols more... see more The issues of inclusion and financial barriers and other important themes are cited here, yes, but whatever became of PC's clarion call for Redesigning PC from top to bottom, how to make vols more effective as extensionists, better supported, etc...the recent contemporary Uproar over racial justice and inclusion and these type of issues are entirely important but they are Not sufficient to reimagine and design PC in a manner than could be much more effective..I had tried to write a blog about this months ago on the NPCA cite, offering myself to join a working group of others who would look at this this, but there's been no answer at all...this is in spite of recent calls to Abolish the Peace Corps, and for reasons that are Not entirely unfounded or specious..I have just Found this remark I'd make earlier about what needs to be addressed, posted somewhere on the NPCA site, but never answered: Respective to positioning PC for the future and better addressing social justice and racial equality, what could be Extremely helpful is ensure that Every three Months orientation and training program addresses Development Ethics which is an entirely Foundational but now nearly lost and forgotten aspect of raising great awareness about the Approaches change agents, such as PCVs, must always remember as they engage with communities. These principles were best laid out be Dennis Goulet, Paulo Freire, Peter Berger, Robert Chambers---some international development graduate schools still teach these but..nowadays..often not, preferring to teach harder skills like conducting surveys etc..The foundational concepts are too rich and detailed to present and discuss here but I propose, as part of the Redesign effort for Peace Corps, a task/working group be established among a handful of relative subject matter experts and PC trainers to consider how these Entirely, Centrally Important ideas about interacting and serving in host populations, and as outsiders, should be treated as a very delicate affair--but these pioneering development ethicists understood Very well how these must be incorporated into any development professionals training and orientation for the design, implementation and evaluation of effective programming. I hope this is the right place to offer this suggestion because i am surprised to see so few postings here."----Anyway, maybe such efforts will really continue in the months ahead, and while Peace Corps is presumably trying to regroup after bringing back all vols weeks ago..
      1 year ago
  • Brian Sekelsky posted an article
    Join us for a conference to mark six decades of impact — and look to the future of the Peace Corps see more

    We mark 60 years since the founding of the Peace Corps. In addition to joining us for a global conference, take part in pre-conference events beginning September 18, 2021.

     

    This year we mark six decades since the founding of the Peace Corps — culminating in an anniversary conference in September 2021. That comes 60 years after President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Peace Corps Act, legislation permanently creating and funding the agency. 

    At this unprecedented moment, we also look to the future of Peace Corps: how the agency needs to transform, and the work it has begun to meet the needs of a changed world. 

     

    FOR THIS ANNIVERSARY YEAR, we began celebrations in fall 2020, commemorating the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s campaign speech at University of Michigan in October 1960 that sparked national interest in the Peace Corps. And in March 2021 events took place across the country and around the world to mark Peace Corps Week — and the anniversary of the executive order that established the agency.

    Mark your calendars: Here’s what’s in store for September 2021.

     


     

    Pre-conference events

     

    September 18

    Affiliate Group Network Annual Meeting

     

    September 20 – 21

    Virtual Reunions and RPCV Service Project Presentations

     

    September 22

    Peace Corps Act Day: Advocacy Day and Evening Reception

     


     

    PEACE CORPS CONNECT 2021 | Conference 

    September 23 – 25, 2021

    Virtual Conference and possible in-person events in Washington, D.C.

     

    We still hope that we’ll be able to come together in person for our annual conference in Washington, D.C. But while the pandemic continues, in-person events can’t yet be confirmed. What is for certain: a robust digital program of events on September 23–25, with additional pre-conference meetings and reunions.

    We wil update this story as the program is confirmed. And we’ll be launching a conference information and registration page. Stay tuned!

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    After town halls and the summit, where do we go from here? see more

    We thank you for your continued support and acknowledge the need for change. Closing remarks for Peace Corps Connect to the Future.

     

    Thank you, Glenn. And thank you, Dr. Frederick, for your support. We look forward to continued engagement with you and with Howard University. 

    Fellow RPCVs and friends, on behalf of the National Peace Corps Association Board of Directors and as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Costa Rica from 2006 to 2008, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to engage with you today. Thank you for your passion for service, for your dedication and time, for your bold ideas to build a better future for the Peace Corps. As Volunteers, we lived and worked in communities across the globe to promote world peace and friendship. We answered the call to serve because we imagined a better world. And we're here today because we believe in a better future. As a community, we recognize that Peace Corps has its flaws. Within NPCA, we likewise acknowledge our own shortcomings. In embracing the need for change, we take time to reflect upon our history across our community within ourselves. 

    Watch: Maricarmen Smith-Martinez’s closing remarks for Peace Corps Connect to the Future

     

    We are here because, for the first time since 1961, there are no Peace Corps Volunteers in the field. The global evacuation triggered by COVID-19 resulted in an unprecedented disruption of service for thousands of our PCVs, and many are eager to redeploy but face an uncertain environment. 

    We're here because racism is a systemic issue, and our community is not immune. The struggle for racial justice is embedded in the history of the Peace Corps, present in the early days of our founders, and demonstrated in the Volunteer experience today. We are here because we recognize these challenges and we champion your ideas to reimagine the future of the Peace Corps. With the social impact approach, NPCA works not only for our community, we are driven by you and the priorities you bring to focus.

     

    So that leaves us with a big question. Where do we go from here?

    To convey that I'm inspired by the ideas of this summit and the eight town halls proceeding it does not do justice to the hope I feel and the optimism I hold for our future. We've heard about ways to create a more inclusive community, one that recognizes racial justice is a critical component to ensuring diversity. We've heard about revamping Peace Corps policies, about establishing an exchange program with the countries we serve, about evaluating RPCV support, and about measuring our collective global impact. We have heard the ideas of our future. The NPCA staff is small but mighty — and I express my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for our dedicated, courageous team that raised the bar these past few weeks, working tirelessly to create a space to listen, to learn, and to forge a path for the future. 

    Yet we cannot go alone. Working together with you, with Peace Corps, and with RPCVs across the nation and around the globe, we must now convert these ideas into actions, develop the strategies and the programs that will enable us to fulfill our vision of a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. So we do not ask you to stay tuned for more information, we invite you to sing the song with us, and we offer several instruments to enable your support. 

     

    • First and foremost, engage with us. If you have not already, join NPCA to learn more about the next steps that will develop from these big ideas.
       
    • Second, donate. We could not undertake any of the work we do without your generous support. Your financial leadership allows us to develop new initiatives like the Global Reentry Program we heard about today. Your contributions allow us to continue critical engagement for advocacy efforts, expand our support for the affiliate group network, and further the unfinished business of RPCVs and communities around the world. Contribute to the Community Fund Projects, become a Mission Partner, or join our Shriver Leadership Circle. Your support in any amount will help fund the ideas discussed today and ensure they become part of our reality. 

    • Next, connect with the Affiliate Group Network. As past president of Atlanta Area RPCVs, I understand firsthand the challenges affiliate groups face with community outreach. More than 180 affiliate groups are eager to reach you — from regional and country of service groups to workplace affinity groups that support RPCV recruitment and professional growth in the workplace, to the increasing number of cause-driven groups championing issues like environmental action, social justice, and refugee support — that are joining this network. Search the affiliate group directory on the NPCA website. And if you don't find what you're looking for, contact us to learn about starting a new group. 

    • And finally, amplify our voice. We number over 230,000 RPCVs and Peace Corps staff, yet many in our community remain on the fringes. As we work to create a more inclusive environment, we need your help to reach our fellow volunteers, and shape a space that welcomes everyone. We know that we can go further together and we must unite as we never have before to realize our full potential.

     

    On behalf of the entire NPCA team, thank you so much for being here today. Thank you for your commitment and your dedication.

    I'll take one note in an immediate call to action. As Glenn noted earlier, we will have a survey to collect your feedback on the summit and the actions we will undertake in the days to come. Please take a moment to share your thoughts with us and inform our continued improvement. We are honored to walk with you on this journey as we connect Peace Corps to the Future. Thank you.


    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez is Chair of the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08. 

  • Ana Victoria Cruz posted an article
    An ideas summit to ask some big questions about the Peace Corps community in a changed world. see more

    We’re convening for an ideas summit to ask some big questions about the Peace Corps community in a changed world. 


    In the next few weeks, we’re also bringing together members of the Peace Corps community around issues of racial injustice and climate change — to help shape our agenda for the future.

    In March 2020, Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated globally because of a global pandemic still taking its toll. That created an unprecedented and enormous challenge on its own.

    We want to help reignite the work of Peace Corps around the world. So how do we do that, and make sure that Peace Corps — and our community — is the best that it can be?

    Join us to help answer these questions — and take action.

     

    Learn More & Register

  • Megan Patrick posted an article
    Authors Sebastian Junger and Sarah Chayes Headline Peace Corps Connect 2016 see more

    Childhood friends and distinguished authors Sebastian Junger and Sarah Chayes traveled to Morocco together when they were 18. While there, they met a couple serving as Peace Corps Volunteers and their lives haven’t been the same since.

    On Saturday, September 24, 2016, Mr. Junger and Ms. Chayes will reunite on the plenary stage of the National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) Peace Corps Connect conference in Washington, D.C. Author and documentarian Sebastian Junger will join Sarah Chayes (RPCV Morocco), senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to reflect on their decades of experiences with war, peace and community — and why they think the Peace Corps is needed now more than ever.

    In print and documentary form, Mr. Junger has explored firsthand the human experience through war and tragedy in works such as the bestselling Perfect Storm and War, and the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo. Mr. Junger’s most recent book, Tribe, explores the cohesive community societies gain when they value shared experiences and responsibilities, and what is lost when they don’t.

    After several years covering conflict as NPR’s Paris correspondent, including in Kosovo and in Afghanistan, Ms. Chayes put down her microphone to play an active part in rebuilding that wartorn country. Among other initiatives, she launched a manufacturing cooperative where men and women produce fine skincare products from local botanicals. Ms. Chayes later served as special assistant to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. She is the author most recently of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, winner of the LA Times Book Prize.

    NPCA will welcome Mr. Junger and Ms. Chayes at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium during the afternoon plenary session of the annual Peace Corps Connect conference. The five day event will explore how, through increased collaboration, attendees and community members can continue to champion Peace Corps ideals. This year’s event also celebrates 55 years of Peace Corps and the limitless potential of the community to continue to create change.

    See the full program and register for the conference.

    Eventbrite - Peace Corps Beyond

  • Ana Victoria Cruz posted an article
    Hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community gathered in Austin, TX to collaborate & innovate! see more

    What happens when hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community get together to discuss innovation, collaboration, and service? An exhilarating two-and-a-half days of conversation on topics ranging from immigration to social media, economic development to climate change, and everything in between. 

    "What starts here changes the world." As our co-host, the  Heart of Texas Peace Corps Association (HoTPCA), pointed out, this University of Texas at Austin saying applies to the shared Peace Corps experience and inspired attendees to be curious, go beyond expectations, and take what they learned in Austin back to their home communities. 
     


    The conference officially kicked off on Thursday, June 20th at the Austin Central Library with live music from RPCVs Kinky Friedman and Doster and Engle.

    On Friday, the opening plenary session featured a conversation with Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen and NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst. Afterwards, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to renew the organizations’ commitments to support the Peace Corps’ mission and continue to implement initiatives that educate the public on Peace Corps programs. “The signing of this memorandum gives returned Peace Corps Volunteers a framework for a lifetime of service,” said Jody Olsen. “I ask every person at this conference to be strong as you talk about your volunteer experiences. You are key to the next generation of Peace Corps Volunteers.

     


    Following, Kathleen Corey, President of the Women of Peace Corps Legacy, presented Sue Richiedei with the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement award for her outstanding impact on women's lives worldwide. NPCA Board Director Mariko Schmitz then presented the New York City Peace Corps Association (NYCPCA) and Peace Corps Iran Association (PCIA) with the 2019 Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service.

    Whether you served decades ago or are a recently returned Volunteer, the conference offered tremendous value and networking opportunities. The community content sessions and workshops focused on a variety of topics, including how to use technology to launch a business, innovations in global issues advocacy, transition assistance for recent RPCVs, how to harness market forces for social impact, and ways to work together to create positive political change in era of "America First." As Tom Lightbown (RPCV Niger 1965-1967) pointed out: "We made some new friends, including youngsters fresh out of service, discovered RPCVs with white hair from other countries of service with stories to tell, made some quite important contacts of value to our Guinean friend Ahmadou Baldé, and, overall, had a very positive first experience with Peace Corps Connect." 

     

     

    The energy throughout the conference was palpable, as well as the level of engagement. With interactive sessions such as "Stepping Up - Politics: The Next Level of the Third Goal" and "Be an RPCV Changemaker: Connecting via the Web to Spark Community and Economic Development in Your Peace Corps Site" participants learned strategies on how to be catalysts for change, both at home and abroad. 
     

     

    "The PC Connect Conference was both informative and inspiring. The theme of the conference was “Innovation for Good" and the breakout sessions highlighted many RPCV created programs, companies, and NGOs that contribute to that objective."Greg Polk (NM RPCV)

     

    During the Affiliate Group Network Annual Meeting, the new Divisional Board Directors were presented and representatives from NPCA Affiliate Groups shared resources and opportunities to help groups thrive.

    On Saturday, June 22, NPCA Board Director Katie Long kicked off the Annual General Membership Meeting with a special Peace Corps ukelele rendition of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," while NPCA Treasurer Patrick Fine provided a report on the financial status of the organization, and President Glenn Blumhorst outlined the successes of the past year.

    During the Pitch Competition, six entities pleaded their case for a chance to win a $2,500 cash prize. The finalist were:

    • Humans of Kiribati for its effort to save the island of Kiribati from rising sea levels
    • Peace Corps Kids for promoting a just and inclusive world through multicultural and multiracial storytelling
    • Trees for the Future's initiative Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) to break the cycle of poverty and eradicate hunger for 1 million people by planting 500 million trees in 125,000 Forest Gardens by 2025
    • Jump Finance's credit model to provide students in developing countries with the capital and mentorship to finish their post-secondary education and launch their careers
    • Teachers Training Pact, a programs for teachers who are helping transform students into successful lifelong learners
    • Tiny House Coffee, a company created by two Peace Corps Volunteers that works directly with small producer coffee farmers to guarantee them economic stability.

    Each finalist was scored based on their demonstrated social impact, innovation, sustainability, leadership, presentation, and clarity of concept. Ultimately, Jump Finance took the top prize.
     

     

    As NPCA continues to celebrate its 40th anniversary, a special retrospective took a look at our formative years from the view point of the earliest leaders of the organization with Greg Flakus, First President (1986-1989); Margaret Riley, Third President (1983-1986); and Katy Hansen, Fourth President (1986-1989).

    Attendees where also treated to a special excerpt from A Towering Task: A Peace Corps Documentary and a conversation with Director Alana DeJoseph who announced the premiere screening of the documentary is slated for September 22 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. 

    During the closing plenary, Karen Keefer, NPCA Board Emeritus and Shriver Leadership Circle member, presented Liz Fanning with the 2019 Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service for her tireless efforts to create and expand CorpsAfrica, a nonprofit organization that gives young Africans the opportunity to serve like Peace Corps Volunteers in their own countries.
     

     

    The conversation then turned to a panel discussion examining the historic exodus from Central America and the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border. Reflecting on the special screening of ABRAZOS earlier in the day, a film by Luis Argueta that shows the transformational journey of a group of U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants who travel from Minnesota to Guatemala to meet their grandparents—and in some instances their siblings—for the first time, NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst moderated a panel titled "Beyond Borders" featuring Maria Martin, Director of The Graciasvida Center for Media; John Burnett, Southwest Correspondent for National Public Radio; and Luis Argueta, acclaimed Guatemalan Film Director and Producer. The panelists underscored the need for policy solutions and the opportunities for the Peace Corps community to take action. 

     

    "We need to humanize immigrants. The global community needs to fight fiction with truth." - Luis Argueta

    After the panel, Ken Lehman, NPCA's Advisory Council Member, presented Luis Argueta with the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. Lehman, in nominating Argueta for this award, noted that Argueta “has demonstrated that filmmakers from the developing world can produce world class stories illuminating important issues… [H]is involvement in the entire issue of Latino immigration has humanitarian dimensions, and civic meaning.”

    In accepting the award, Argueta said "tell those who are fearful of people who are not like them about your host families" and challenged us to change the immigration narrative "from one of hate to one of love...we need to remember to practice the Golden Rule."

    As the conference drew to a close, HoTPCA President Sally Waley announced Seattle as the host city for Peace Corps Connect 2020! She handed the "baton" over to Seattle Area Peace Corps Association (SEAPAX) President Brad Cleveland. The conference will have an emphasis on immigrants and refugees and will be centered around “Cultivating Connections.” While the exact dates are yet to be determined, SEAPAX leaders indicated they are looking for dates in the summer next year. Stay tuned for more information!
     

     

    For more on Peace Corps Connect, head over to our Facebook page and be sure to checkout our Twitter feed and Instagram account.

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    We're Coming to Austin! But our travels won't stop there. see more

    What a great gathering of the Peace Corps community last weekend in Austin, Texas during Peace Corps Connect on June 20 - 22.

    But our travels didn't stop there

    Immediately following the conference, members of NPCA spread out across four states to meet with more RPCVs and former Peace Corps employees in the region.

    Visit our events calendar or scroll through our itinerary (below) as a few stops remain in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

     

    SUNDAY, JUNE 23

    DALLAS, TX

    Meetup with NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst
    Date: Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Time: 6:00 pm

    Location: L U C K (Local Urban Craft Kitchen) at Trinity Groves, 3011 Gulden Lane, #112, Dallas, TX 75212

    Details: Fresh off the Peace Corps Connect national gathering in Austin, join leaders of the North Texas Peace Corps Association as they welcome NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst to Dallas. Meet Glenn and hear the latest NPCA news, including several exciting big plans for the Peace Corps community. For more details, contact Alexis Kanter at alexis.kanter@gmail.com.

     

    SAN ANTONIO, TX 

    Peace Corps Community Dinner
    Date: Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Time: 6:00 pm

    Location: Luna Rosa Restaurant, 2603 SE Military Drive, San Antonio, TX 78223

    Details: Join San Antonio RPCVs for a community dinner, meet Will Burriss, NPCA’s Government Relations Officer, and hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding and other Peace Corps policy initiatives. To help us with our planning, please RSVP for the dinner at sarpcv@gmail.com.

     

    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
    Peace Corps Advocacy Workshop

    Date: Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Time: 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm

    Location: Headquarters of Feed the Children, 333 North Meridian Avenue, Oklahoma City, OK 73107

    Details: Jonathan Pearson, NPCA's Advocacy Director, will conduct an advocacy workshop dealing with key Peace Corps issues before Congress, members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation, and the role RPCVs can play in helping make the Peace Corps the best it can be. All RPCVs across Oklahoma are invited to attend.

     

    Peace Corps Community Dinner
    Date: Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Time: 5:30 pm

    Location: Gopuram, Taste of India Restaurant. 412 South Meridian Avenue, Oklahoma City, OK 73108

    Details: If you couldn’t join the advocacy workshop earlier in the day, join us for a community dinner. Along with learning the latest from the NPCA, connect with others and join a conversation about revitalizing an OKC area group and establishing better communication with the Tulsa and Stillwater groups. To help us with our planning, please RSVP for the dinner by contacting Richard at rgreen26@cox.net.

     

    MONDAY, JUNE 24 

    FAYETTEVILLE, AR

    Fayetteville Coffee and Conversation with NPCA
    Date: Monday, June 24, 2019

    Time: Anytime between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm

    Location: U.S. Pizza, 202 W Dickson Street, Fayetteville, AR 72701

    Details: Please stop by - even if only for a few minutes to say hello. Meet NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson and connect with other members of the Fayetteville Peace Corps community. Hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, other Peace Corps policy initiatives, and other big plans of the Peace Corps community. A comprehensive update will be presented between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. Jonathan will be at a table in the vicinity of the main entrance to Panera. He'll be wearing a blue Peace Corps baseball cap and will have copies of WorldView magazine, some Peace Corps bumper stickers, and more! For more details, contact jonathan@peacecorpsconnect.org.

     

    TUESDAY, JUNE 25

    LITTLE ROCK, AR
    Little Rock Coffee and Conversation with NPCA

    Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2019

    Time: Anytime between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm

    Location: Panera Bread, 314 South University Avenue (Park Avenue Shopping Center), Little Rock, AR 72205

    Details: Please stop by - even if only for a few minutes to say hello. Meet NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson and connect with other members of the Little Rock Peace Corps community. Hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, other Peace Corps policy initiatives, and other big plans of the Peace Corps community. A comprehensive update will be presented between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. Jonathan will be at a table in the vicinity of the main entrance to Panera. He'll be wearing a blue Peace Corps baseball cap and will have copies of WorldView magazine, some Peace Corps bumper stickers, and more! For more details, contact jonathan@peacecorpsconnect.org.

     

    WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26

    BATON ROUGE, LA

    Peace Corps Community Happy Hour and Dinner
    Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

    Time: 6:30 pm

    Location: The Rum House, 2112 Perkins Palms Avenue, Baton Rouge, LA 70808

    Details: Join the RPCVs of Baton Rouge for a community happy hour and dinner. Meet Will Burriss, NPCA's Government Relations Officer, hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, and other Peace Corps policy initiatives. Along with learning the latest from the NPCA, connect with other members of the Baton Rouge Peace Corps community. To help us with our planning, please RSVP for this event by contacting Will at william@peacecorpsconnect.org

     

    FORT SMITH, AR

    Fort Smith Coffee and Conversation with NPCA
    Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

    Time: Anytime between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm

    Location: Panera Bread, 2917 South 74th Street, Fort Smith, AR 72903

    Details: Please stop by - even if only for a few minutes to say hello. Meet NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson and connect with other members of the Fort Smith Peace Corps community. Hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding and other Peace Corps policy initiatives. A comprehensive update will be presented between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. Jonathan will be at a table in the vicinity of the main entrance to Panera. He'll be wearing a blue Peace Corps baseball cap and will have copies of WorldView magazine, some Peace Corps bumper stickers, and more! For more details, contact jonathan@peacecorpsconnect.org.

     

    THURSDAY, JUNE 27

    NEW ORLEANS, LA

    Peace Corps Community Happy Hour
    Date: Thursday, June 27, 2019

    Time: 4:00 pm - 7:00 PM

    Location: The Upper Quarter, 1000 Bienville Street, New Orleans, LA 70112

    Details: Join the RPCVs of New Orleans for an informal community gathering. Meet Will Burriss, NPCA’s Government Relations Officer, hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, and other Peace Corps policy initiatives.  Along with learning the latest from the NPCA, connect with other members of the New Orleans community. To help us with our planning, please RSVP for the happy hour by contacting Will at William@PeaceCorpsConnect.org.

     

    TULSA, OK

    Congressional District Office Meetings on Peace Corps Issues
    Date: Thursday, June 27, 2019

    Time: TBD

    Location: TBD

    Details: We are seeking RPCV constituents of Congressman Hern and Senator Lankford to join in district office meetings we are seeking on the afternoon of June 27th. Contact Ed Seiders at seiderse@asme.org if you are interested and willing to be a strong voice for the Peace Corps!

     

    Peace Corps Community Dinner

    Date: Thursday, June 27, 2019
    Time: 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

    Location: Home of Ed and Stella Seiders, 3152 South Rockford Drive, Tulsa, OK, 74105.

    Details: If you couldn’t join the district office meetings earlier in the day, join us for a Tulsa Peace Corps community gathering. Enjoy some delicious Middle Eastern food. Meet NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson, hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, and other Peace Corps policy initiatives. Discuss the possibilities of re-establishing an NPCA affiliate group in Oklahoma. To help us with our planning, please RSVP for the dinner by contacting Ed Seiders at  seiderse@asme.org.

     

    FRIDAY, JUNE 28

    NEW ORLEANS, LA

    Peace Corps Community Coffee Hour
    Date: Friday, June 28, 2019

    Time: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

    Location: Backatown Coffee Parlor, 301 Basin Street, Suite 1, New Orleans, LA 70112

    Details: Join the RPCVs of New Orleans for a community gathering. Meet Will Burriss, NPCA’s Government Relations Officer, hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, and other Peace Corps policy initiatives. Along with learning the latest from the NPCA, connect with other members of the New Orleans Peace Corps community. To help us with our planning, please RSVP for the coffee hour by contacting Will at William@PeaceCorpsConnect.org.

     

    FORT WORTH, TX

    Rep Granger District Office Meeting
    Date
    : Friday, June 28, 2019

    Time: TBD

    Location: Fort Worth district office of Representative Kay Granger - 1701 River Run, Suite 407, Fort Worth, TX 76107

    Details: We are seeking RPCV constituents of Congresswoman Granger to join in a district office meeting we are seeking on the afternoon of June 28th. Contact Andy Castelano at castelano@gmail.com if you are interested.

     

    Fort Worth Happy Hour with NPCA
    Date: Friday, June 28, 2019

    Time: 7:00 pm

    Location: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 111 East 3rd Street, Fort Worth, TX 76102

    Details: The North Texas Peace Corps Association invites you to start your weekend by stopping by for a Peace Corps community happy hour! Connect with other members of the Fort Worth Peace Corps community. Meet NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson, hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding and other Peace Corps policy initiatives. For more details, contact Andy Castelano castelano@gmail.com.

     

    SATURDAY, JUNE 29

    WACO, TX

    Waco Coffee and Conversation with NPCA
    Date: Saturday, June 29, 2019

    Time: Anytime between 8:00 am and 10:00 am

    Location: Panera Bread, 2516 W Loop 340, Waco, TX 76711

    Details: Please stop by - even if only for a few minutes to say hello. Meet NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson and connect with other members of the Waco Peace Corps community. Hear the latest updates about the status of Peace Corps funding, other Peace Corps policy initiatives, and other big plans of the Peace Corps community. Jonathan will be at a table in the vicinity of the main entrance to Panera. He'll be wearing a blue Peace Corps baseball cap and will have copies of WorldView magazine, some Peace Corps bumper stickers, and more! For more details, contact jonathan@peacecorpsconnect.org.

     

    AUSTIN, TX 

    Building a Texas Peace Corps Advocacy Network
    Date: Saturday, June 29, 2019

    Time: Anytime between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm

    Location: The Brewtorium, 6015 Dillard Circle, Suite A, Austin TX 78752

    Details: Didn't get enough "Peace Corps" at Peace Corps Connect?  Neither did we! Following a week-long tour through the region and just before departing the Lone Star State, NPCA Advocacy Director will be back in Austin for a session with Heart of Texas Peace Corps Association members and others who want to share their Peace Corps stories and build their advocacy skills with elected representatives. Whether you're a seasoned-citizen lobbyist or just back from your service, stop by to discuss and consider strengthening our Peace Corps advocacy footprint in Austin and beyond! For more details, contact jonathan@peacecorpsconnect.org.

     

    NORTH CAROLINA

    Contact us for more details about Glenn's upcoming stops during the week of June 30th to Asheville, Greensboro and Charlotte! 

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Kul Chandra Gautam is the seventh recipient of this award see more

    National Peace Corps Association Honors Nepali Diplomat Kul Gautam

    Whose Ties to Peace Corps Volunteers Date Back to 1962

     

    Shawnee PA (Friday August 24) -- Kul Chandra Gautam, a native of Nepal who rose from humble beginnings to become a distinguished United Nations diplomat and peace advocate, has received the highest honor bestowed to a global leader by National Peace Corps Association (NPCA).

    Gautam, who currently serves as chairman of the board of the international anti-poverty non-profit RESULTS, accepted The Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award at NPCA’s annual Peace Corps Connect conference on Friday August 24 in Shawnee, PA.

    The annual award is named for the former U.S. Senator who was instrumental in the formation of the Peace Corps in 1961 as a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy. NPCA is the largest non-profit organization representing Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

    Born in a small village without running water or electricity, Gautam’s ties to the Peace Corps date back to 1962 when he attended a school in Tansen, about a three-day walk from his home. According to his official biography, Gautam, an outstanding student, “became good friends with several U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers who were English language teachers at the school. He learned to play Scrabble with them and surprised them by often beating them – quite a feat for a Nepali 7th or 8th grader.” 

    Recognizing Gautam’s talents, Peace Corps volunteers encouraged Gautam to seek a college scholarship in the United States. Gautam eventually graduated with degrees from Dartmouth College and Princeton University and then worked for UNICEF over three decades, rising to become Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations in the early 2000s.

    After retiring from the UN, Gautam was briefly Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal on International Affairs and the Peace Process. He continues informally to advise his country’s senior political and civil society leadership on the peace process, consolidation of democracy, human rights, and socio-economic development.  

    "I am thrilled and most grateful for this honor,” said Gautam. “My experience with the Peace Corps has been a source of great inspiration for me from my early student days in Nepal and throughout my long career with the United Nations in the service of the world's poor and disadvantaged, particularly women and children. This prestigious award will further motivate me to continue to dedicate the rest of my life to pursue the core Peace Corps values of service, peace, development, human rights and global human solidarity.”

    In describing the award, NPCA CEO Glenn Blumhorst noted: “This award honors an outstanding global leader who grew up in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers served, whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps, and whose career contributed significantly to their nation and the world in ways that reflect shared values in human dignity and economic, social, and political development.”

    "Kul Gautam's connections to Peace Corps are extensive and deep, starting with his 7th grade teacher in Nepal in 1962 through his speech at the 55th anniversary of Peace Corps Nepal in 2017,” the NPCA awards selection committee noted. “In the years in between, he dedicated his career to improving lives and working towards peace in all corners of the globe. We are so pleased to honor Kul, who so fully embodies all that the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award represents."

    Gautam was nominated by RPCV Doug Hall of New Hampshire. After serving in the Peace Corps in Nepal in the late 1960s, Hall first met Gautam as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in 1971.

    “I am so happy that NPCA has selected Kul Gautam for this year's Wofford award,” said Hall.  “Kul's long career in the UN and subsequent activity back in Nepal exemplify his dedication to global and national leadership and commitment to goals that all Peace Corps Volunteers have shared over the years: international understanding and peace. Throughout his life, he has not been hesitant to praise President Kennedy's vision in establishing the unique institution that is the US Peace Corps."

    Besides serving as board chair of RESULTS, Gautam also supports several other international and national organizations, charitable foundations and public private partnerships. He is the author of “Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake” published in 2015, and his recently published memoir: “Global Citizen from Gulmi: My journey from the hills of Nepal to the halls of the United Nations”.

    Gautam is the winner of several other awards, including the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award conferred by the US Fund for UNICEF in 2008, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award for Lifetime Achievement given by Dartmouth College in 2009. He is donating proceeds from his latest book and the monetary component that accompanies the Harris Wofford award to a UNICEF-assisted girls’ education project in Nepal.

    To learn more about NPCA, go to: www.peacecorpsconnect.org

    To learn more about Kul Chandra Gautam, go to: www.kulgautam.org  

     

    (photo: Kul Gautam accepts the Wofford Global Citizen Award from NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst)