Joel Rubin posted an articleCongress is on the cusp of reauthorizing Peace Corps, confirming Carol Spahn and raising its budget. see more
Everyone get ready! It's high stakes time in Congress for the Peace Corps, as we're on the cusp of achieving the Peace Corps community's three major advocacy goals.
With only days before this session of Congress ends and a new House majority takes over in January, we have the chance to achieve dramatic wins for the Peace Corps that haven't been achieved in decades.
- First, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act is being considered by the Senate after having already passed the House. If this bill becomes law, it will be the first full reauthorization of the agency since 1999, ushering in significant reforms to how the agency operates while also creating a more robust benefits package for volunteers so that the agency's work will be modernized to meet the needs of 2023 and beyond.
- Second, Carol Spahn is on the cusp of being confirmed as the next Peace Corps Director, having been approved unanimously last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now on the verge of being considered for full confirmation on the Senate floor.
- Third, the Peace Corps budget is set to have its first increase in seven years, from the flat $410.5 million it's received over the past six years to a long overdue bump up to $430.5 million.
Yet while we are close to success, we're not there yet. That's because success depends upon multiple factors falling into place over the next week to 10 days, as Congress will likely adjourn no later than Friday December 23rd. These factors include a big picture success dependent upon Congressional Leadership, specifically the pending Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill moving forward into law. If it does, the agency funding increase will likely happen and the authorization legislation may have a potential vehicle to carry it over the line into law. This also means that a Senator needs to offer Ms. Spahn's nomination on the floor so that it can be considered by the full Senate.
To achieve these successes requires close coordination between us at NPCA, our grassroots advocates like you, and key Members of Congress and their Staff. We are leaving no stone unturned, having received tremendous support from the community, including past Peace Corps Directors from both parties, to get us to this point. Because of your support, we're sprinting through the finish line, engaging Congressional Leadership, the White House, and the Peace Corps agency directly to make sure that they know how important these potential wins are to both our country, and to you, the Peace Corps community, that we are so honored to represent in Washington.
Please stay tuned as we provide more updates about the status of our advocacy efforts in the closing days of the 117th Congress. If we get this done, we'll all have a lot to celebrate this holiday season!
NPCA's Vice President for Global Policy and Public Affairs
RPCV Costa Rica (1994 - 1996)
After a send-off from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, they headed for Zambia and the Dominican Republic. see more
After a send-off from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at the White House, Volunteers headed for Zambia and the Dominican Republic in March. Here are the 24 countries they will be returning to first. More are being added this spring.
By NPCA Staff
Photo courtesy Peace Corps Zambia
Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were brought home from service overseas because of COVID-19, Volunteers are returning to posts around the world. On March 14, the first group of Volunteers arrived in Zambia. On March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic — the second group to return to service.
Over the past two years, Peace Corps Zambia staff have supported projects from rural aquaculture and reforestation to education and public health. Volunteers will work in those fields and others, including food security and HIV treatment and prevention. They will also support efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations. In the Dominican Republic, Volunteers will focus on supporting communities in efforts to overcome the educational and economic shocks caused by COVID-19.
The news that Volunteers will be returning to two dozen countries in 2022 was confirmed on March 3 at a special event hosted by the agency, “The Peace Corps Reimagined: A Keynote Address and Forum.” Carol Spahn, who has been serving as CEO of the Peace Corps, gave the roll call of posts that had met rigorous new criteria for health and safety, and for which invitations were out for Volunteers to return to service. They are: Belize, Benin, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Mexico, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia.
White House send-off: In March, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden with Volunteers preparing to return to service in Zambia and the Dominican Republic. Photo by Erin Scott / The White House
The Associated Press published a story about Volunteers’ return to service that was picked up around the globe. They spoke with Campbell Martin, a recent graduate of UCLA soon heading to The Gambia to work in education — at a time when all Volunteers will also be contributing to COVID-19 relief efforts. When Martin got the news, “I was absolutely ecstatic,” he said. “This has been a dream of mine ever since I finished high school.”
NBC News published a story recapping key points of the forum as well. Among the returning Volunteers they spoke with is Olivia Diaz, who is returning to Zambia to work on reforestation and community conservation and, as she said, to “deepen roots of connection.”
The first 24: Volunteers are slated to return to all of these countries in 2022, with more being added throughout the spring. Graphic courtesy Peace Corps
The two years in which there have been no Volunteers serving overseas have been far from idle. In addition to work by staff around the world, the agency launched a Virtual Service Pilot, which is ongoing. Last year, more than 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers partnered with FEMA to support community vaccination efforts in the U.S. For its part, National Peace Corps Association supported evacuated Volunteers’ projects in communities around the world through its community fund. NPCA also convened conversations that shaped the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” with an array of recommendations for how to reimagine and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world.
Judging from what Carol Spahn shared about the agency’s strategic plan on March 3, the recommendations in the NPCA-published report have shaped thinking and steered the agency toward a focus on accountability, equity, and transparency. “This is not the same Peace Corps you know from 10 or 20 — or even two years ago,” Spahn said. “We have preserved the enduring ‘magic’ that brings us together again and again — after all these years — to support an agency and a mission we love and care about while fundamentally changing the pieces that make us better.”
READ MORE: From the Peace Corps agency, an inside look at Volunteers returning to service in Zambia.
william epstein I did not receive notices of the recent comments until today. Is the dialogue between members being controlled...undercut? Perhaps those of us who are disenchanted with the highhanded behavior... see more I did not receive notices of the recent comments until today. Is the dialogue between members being controlled...undercut? Perhaps those of us who are disenchanted with the highhanded behavior of the NPCA junta should begin to share our concerns with our reps in Washington. Lobbying is not rare skill of the privileged; most can take to it right away. Actually those without prominent positions in weak orgs get a better hearing than those orgs when we present ourselves as concerned citizens rather than experts. I am a very concerned citizen about the crap being dished out by the junta.10 months ago
Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way. see more
Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way.
By Glenn Blumhorst
This is a hopeful time for the Peace Corps: On March 14, a group of Volunteers arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. Just over a week later, on March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic. They are the first to return to service overseas since March 2020, when Volunteers were evacuated from around the globe because of COVID-19. The contributions of Volunteers serving in Zambia will include partnering with communities to focus on food security and education, along with partnering on efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations.
We’re thankful for the Volunteers who are helping lead the way, with the support of the Peace Corps community. And we’re deeply grateful for the work that Peace Corps Zambia staff have continued to do during the pandemic — work emblematic of the commitment Peace Corps staff around the world have shown during this unprecedented time.
Returning to Zambia: Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19, in March the first cohort returned to begin service overseas. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Lusaka
Invitations are out for Volunteers to return to some 30 countries in 2022. Among those who will be serving are Volunteers who were evacuated in 2020, trainees who never had the chance to serve, and new Volunteers. Crucially, they are all returning as part of an agency that has listened to — and acted on — ideas and recommendations from the Peace Corps community for how to ensure that we’re shaping a Peace Corps that better meets the needs of a changed world. Those recommendations came out of conversations that National Peace Corps Association convened and drew together in the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” We’re seeing big steps in the Peace Corps being more intentional in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion; working with a deeper awareness of what makes for ethical storytelling; and better ensuring Volunteer safety and security.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.
At the same time, while we are buoyed by the fact that Volunteers are returning to work around the world building the person-to-person relationships in communities where they serve, we must not diminish the scale of the tragedy we are witnessing in Ukraine. More than 10 million people have fled their homes in the face of an invasion and war they did not provoke and did not want. Across this country and in Europe, thousands of returned Volunteers are working to help Ukrainians in harm’s way.
Thank you to all of you who are doing what you can in this moment of crisis: from the Friends of Moldova working to provide food, shelter, and transportation to refugees — to the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine putting together first-aid kits, leading advocacy efforts to support Ukraine, and so much more. Since the beginning of the war, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.
Donate to the Friends of Moldova Ukraine Refugee Effort.
At a time like this it’s important to underscore a truth we know: The mission of building peace and friendship is the work of a lifetime.
That’s a message we need to drive home to Congress right now. With your support, let’s get Congress to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act this year. It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in 20 years. Along with instituting further necessary reforms, it will ensure that as Volunteers return to the field it is with the support of a better and stronger Peace Corps.
President Biden will formally nominate Carol Spahn to lead the Peace Corps at a critical time.
It is becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a new era — one that desperately needs those committed to Peace Corps ideals. With that in mind, I am heartened by the news we received in early April that President Biden intends to nominate Carol Spahn to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps. A returned Volunteer herself (Romania 1994–96), she began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency for the past 14 months, one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history.
We have been honored to work with Carol and her strong leadership team over the past year on collaborative efforts to navigate this difficult period of planning for the Peace Corps’ new future. We have full confidence in her commitment to return Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner and offer the next generation of Volunteers a better, stronger Peace Corps ready to meet the global challenges we confront. The continuity of this work is key. We are calling on the Senate to swiftly bring forth this nomination for consideration and bipartisan confirmation.
Glenn Blumhorst is president and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91. Write him: email@example.com
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleUnder her leadership, Volunteers have worked with FEMA and have begun to return to service overseas see more
Carol Spahn has led the agency during a challenging time in Peace Corps history. On Wednesday, President Biden announced that he intends to nominate her to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps.
By Jonathan Pearson
Photo from Peace Corps video
In a release issued by the White House on April 6, President Biden announced that he intends to nominate Carol Spahn to serve as Director of the Peace Corps. She began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency for the past 14 months, one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history. Just weeks ago the first Volunteers began returning to service overseas in Zambia and the Dominican Republic, and Volunteers are expected to return to more than 20 countries in the months ahead.
“We congratulate Carol Spahn for her pending nomination as Peace Corps Director, and applaud President Biden for his choice,” said National Peace Corps Association President & CEO Glenn Blumhorst.
“We congratulate Carol Spahn for her pending nomination as Peace Corps Director, and applaud President Biden for his choice,” said National Peace Corps Association President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. “NPCA has been honored to work with Carol and her strong leadership team over the past year on collaborative efforts to navigate this difficult period of planning for the Peace Corps’ new future. We have full confidence in Carol’s commitment to return Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner, and offer the next generation of Volunteers a better, stronger Peace Corps ready to meet the global challenges we confront. The continuity of this work is key, and we urge the Senate to swiftly bring forth this nomination for consideration and bipartisan confirmation.”
Prior to serving as acting director, Spahn served as chief of operations in the Africa Region covering Eastern and Southern Africa, and before that, served a five-year term as country director of Peace Corps Malawi. Her Peace Corps roots extend back to her service as a small business advisor in Romania 1994–96. She has more than 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment including work with Women for Women International — which supports female survivors of war — and Accordia Global Health Foundation — which helps fight infectious disease in Africa.
Leading the Agency at a Challenging Time — and Ensuring It Can Meet the Needs of a Changed World
Last year, under Spahn’s leadership, the agency created a domestic service initiative for only the second time in Peace Corps’ history, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support vaccination campaigns across the United States. The Peace Corps also continued to expand the Virtual Service Pilot, a program launched in late 2020 to match returned Volunteers with partner organizations around the world.
During the past year, some of the agency’s longstanding shortcomings were also brought into focus. One pair of articles by USA Today delved into how the agency has not adequately addressed sexual assault of Volunteers — a problem going back years. After the first of those articles appeared in May 2021, Spahn ordered a five-year review by the independent Sexual Assault Advisory Council. Shortly after that report was completed, it was made public by the agency in fall 2021. Drawing on recommendations that report provided, in March 2022 the agency released a briefing paper and roadmap for how to better address sexual assault reduction and response.
In December 2021 and January 2022, USA Today also published a pair of articles on the highly disturbing killing in 2019 of Rabia Issa, a mother of three in Tanzania who was struck by a car driven by a Peace Corps official. Both the actions of that staff member and the agency’s response sent shock waves throughout the Peace Corps community. Carol Spahn spoke to Peace Corps staff about this tragedy during a global town hall meeting in January. From staff and the wider Peace Corps community the agency has heard calls for greater transparency going forward — and that the agency live up to its ideals.
Spahn has said on multiple occasions that the pandemic has underscored just how vital the mission of the Peace Corps is. “The pandemic has set back years of development progress and produced unprecedented challenges,” she said last October at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “It has also underscored our world’s profound interdependence and shared future. Recovery will require international cooperation not only at the government level, but also at the community level. And that is where the Peace Corps as a trusted community partner will return to service in new and time tested ways.”
“Intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion is at the core of who we are as an agency and what we do. Our approach encourages deep humility and builds transferable skills as our staff and Volunteers partner at a grassroots level with people from 64 different countries.”
Spahn also told the committee that during the suspension of Volunteer service overseas the agency has redoubled its commitment bolster support systems for Volunteers and, crucially, to ensure that a focus on intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (ICDEINA) within Peace Corps is a top priority. “Intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion is at the core of who we are as an agency and what we do,” Spahn said. “Our approach encourages deep humility and builds transferable skills as our staff and Volunteers partner at a grassroots level with people from 64 different countries.”
At those hearings, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks praised Spahn and her leadership team for their work to advance ICDEINA within the agency. And, he noted, his examination shows that the Peace Corps is ahead of many other federal agencies in this regard.
In March 2022, as part of Peace Corps Week — marking the March 1 anniversary of President Kennedy’s executive order establishing the Peace Corps in 1961 — the agency hosted a community forum and announced the first countries to which Volunteers would begin returning to service in 2022. The forum also highlighted further details on ICDEINA plans, including additional staffing to address key issues, expanded training for worldwide staff and future Volunteers, reforms to reduce economic barriers to service, and more.
Next Step: Senate Foreign Relations Committee
After President Biden formally nominates Spahn, she will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing. The Peace Corps director is the last major Biden administration nominee within the jurisdiction of the Foreign Relations Committee to come before that body.
Should Spahn receive approval from the committee, her nomination will go to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
Here is President Biden’s official nomination announcement.
Story updated April 7 at 19:30 Eastern.
Jonathan Pearson is Advocacy Director for National Peace Corps Association
Spahn was approved by the Senate by unanimous consent in December and sworn in on January 11. see more
In a voice vote on December 13, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Carol Spahn to serve as the 21st director of the agency. And in a January 11 ceremony, Spahn took the oath office administered by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi.
By Steven Boyd Saum
It’s official: Carol Spahn has been sworn in as Director of the Peace Corps. In a voice vote on December 13, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Spahn to serve as the 21st director of the agency. And in a January 11 ceremony, Spahn took the oath office administered by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA).
Spahn has led the agency since January 2021, first as acting director and then CEO. Under her tenure, in spring 2021, the agency deployed Volunteers domestically for the second time in its history, to help fight COVID-19. Volunteers began returning to service overseas in March 2022.
Taking the oath: On January 11, Carol Spahn, center, is sworn in as Peace Corps Director by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi, at the podium. Photo Courtesy Peace Corps
President Biden announced his intention to nominate Spahn as director in April 2022. The 251 days that elapsed before the Senate confirmed her was frustrating. But with efforts coordinated by NPCA’s advocacy team, hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community reached out to their senators over the past year to voice their support for Spahn’s confirmation.
Spahn appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 30. Ranking Member James Risch (R-ID) asked for a focus on safety and security of Volunteers. Indeed, during the hearing, Spahn spoke about the importance of safety and security protocols in place to protect the hundreds of Volunteers currently serving. She also spoke of the agency’s priority to ensure Peace Corps service is an option considered by broader and more diverse U.S. communities. Spahn’s opening statement expressed deep gratitude for her “Peace Corps family — including the staff, Volunteers, host families, and counterparts, for the heart and soul with which they carry out our mission every day.”
Volunteers have been invited back to 56 countries, Spahn noted, with some 900 Volunteers serving in the field. “We’re building up gradually and intentionally as we test our safety and security protocols,” she said.
In the U.S., COVID-19 has evolved from pandemic to endemic. But the situation on the ground differs in various countries, with a range of healthcare systems and abilities to respond. When Spahn appeared for her hearing, she had just returned from visiting staff in the Philippines, where outdoor mask mandates had just been lifted. “Our teams there have been supporting COVID vaccination efforts and moves toward normalcy,” she said.
Addressing questions from committee chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Spahn underscored that “there is tremendous value in Peace Corps’ presence overseas,” and that this extends “well beyond Volunteers’ work,” including the symbolic value of their presence. The agency has letters of invitation from ten new countries, she said, including several countries in the Pacific. Spahn acknowledged the very real non-COVID threats that will keep Volunteers from returning to several countries in the immediate future. In Ukraine and Moldova, there remains danger from Russian attacks; fighting and instability in Ethiopia poses a danger.
A week after the hearing, Foreign Relations voted unanimously to send Spahn’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
“What we stand for.”
In introducing Carol Spahn in her confirmation hearing, Sen. Chris Van Hollen said: “The president has picked somebody with vast experience, impeccable character, and sharp intellect…There’s no doubt in my mind that Ms. Spahn has the background and wisdom to excel in this role.”
“The president has picked somebody with vast experience, impeccable character, and sharp intellect…There’s no doubt in my mind that Ms. Spahn has the background and wisdom to excel in this role.”
—Senator Chris Van Hollen
Senator Van Hollen also shared a Peace Corps story of a very personal sort. “The Peace Corps is more than an opportunity for service,” he said. “It’s an important part of our identity as a nation and central to what we stand for. I’ve witnessed that truth firsthand. As many of you know, I grew up in a foreign service family and spent many early years overseas. One memory of that stands out with respect to the Peace Corps.”
As a teenager, he said, “I was traveling with my parents to a remote village in Sri Lanka…There inside a hut hung a portrait of John F. Kennedy. And the reason that portrait was there — even ten years after President Kennedy had been assassinated, and half a world away from the United States of America — was that the Peace Corps had been in that village…helping dig wells, helping with sanitation projects. And that left an imprint and memory on all the villagers about what America stood for: the fact that we could be a force of good and for justice and hope around the world....
“We must continue to live up to that standard. And I am absolutely confident that Carol Spahn can help us do exactly that.”
This story appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.
- Lois Schneider likes this.
The end of the year began a new era — with a swearing-in ceremony in Ha Noi see more
The end of the year began a new era — with a swearing-in ceremony in Ha Noi with Director Carol Spahn.
By Steven Boyd Saum
December 30, 2022, was a historic day for the Peace Corps: In a ceremony in Ha Noi, nine Volunteers were sworn in to serve in Viet Nam by Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn. The Volunteers arrived for training in October 2022 and are the first to serve in the country. Working alongside counterparts, they will be teaching English in secondary schools in Ha Noi.
Participating in the ceremony were officials from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, including Phạm Quang Hưng and Nguyễn Tiến Dũng, respectively director general and deputy director general of the International Cooperation Department. Melissa A. Bishop, Chargé d’Affaires of U.S. Embassy, also took part, as did administrators and teachers from schools where Volunteers will be co-teaching.
Open hearts and minds: Nine Volunteers, hands raised, are sworn in by Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn at the podium. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
Nguyên remarked on the significance of launching the Peace Corps program, even at a modest scale. The country has a population of over 100 million people; 17.5 million are students. Learning foreign languages, including English, is a priority; the country is shifting from seven years to ten years in English language instruction in school. As a Peace Corps Viet Nam report noted, new competency standards have been set for teachers and college graduates. And Viet Nam’s educational system, like so many, has been grappling with consequences of COVID-19, including remote learning and delayed national exams.
“This swearing-in offers us the opportunity to take a moment from our busy lives to appreciate and recognize the power of human connection,” said Carol Spahn. “As the 143rd partner country of the Peace Corps, Viet Nam is a welcome addition to our global community, and I look forward to seeing how Volunteers and teachers work together to inspire the next generation.”
The Work of Hundreds
For the ceremony, Volunteers wore the ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese tunic. They will live with host families, continue to learn Vietnamese, and integrate into life in their communities. When the next group of Volunteers arrive in 2023, some are expected to work in schools in Ho Chi Minh City as well.
The ceremony carries a historic resonance — a fact articulated by Kate Becker, who served as Peace Corps Viet Nam country director through May 2022: “Peace Corps Viet Nam becoming a reality represents decades of work…and has involved hundreds of people who had a collective vision for the significance of bringing Peace Corps to Viet Nam.”
“Peace Corps Viet Nam becoming a reality represents decades of work…and has involved hundreds of people who had a collective vision for the significance of bringing Peace Corps to Viet Nam.”
Indeed, it has been a long journey already. In 2004, nine years after the U.S. and Viet Nam normalized relationships, Viet Nam formally invited the Peace Corps. Assessments and negotiations of a bilateral agreement took a decade. An agreement was inked in May 2016, during President Obama’s landmark visit to Viet Nam, by then Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Viet Nam’s ambassador to the United States, Pham Quang Vinh.
It took until July 2020 for an implementing agreement setting forth the operational plan to be developed and signed. That fall, a Peace Corps Viet Nam leadership team began work in Ha Noi, with recruitment of local staff and U.S. Volunteers beginning in 2021. And now a new chapter in history is being written, with individuals working together in the schools and communities.
“My choice to join the Peace Corps changed everything,” Williams writes. see more
A Life Unimagined: The Rewards of Mission-Driven Service in the Peace Corps and Beyond
By Aaron S. Williams
International Division, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum
Aaron S. Williams grew up in a segregated neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s. When he began studying geography at Chicago Teachers College, it was because the subject would offer him good career opportunities in the public schools. But, as he notes early in the memoir A Life Unimagined, “studying the geography of distant places around the world…the seeds once planted by my father of distant travels began to take root.” That’s not to say his father encouraged him to join the Peace Corps; he didn’t. But his mother and his best friend both did.
“My choice to join the Peace Corps changed everything,” Williams writes. For his mother, too; she would visit him when he was a Volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and over his two decades as a foreign service officer with USAID in Honduras, Haiti, Barbados, and Costa Rica. It was only because of failing health in her older age that she didn’t visit her son and his family in South Africa, where Williams was stationed not long after the end of apartheid. The day after he arrived to begin leading the USAID mission, Williams met President Nelson Mandela.
Rewind for a moment: After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer 1967–70, Williams took on responsibilities for the agency coordinating minority recruitment. He earned an MBA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then went to work in the corporate world, learning the ropes in the food industry. That set him on track for work in U.S. government-supported agribusiness development in Central America.
The capstone of his career in public service came in 2009, when Williams was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as Director of the Peace Corps—the first African-American
man to hold the post. During Williams’ tenure, the Peace Corps marked its 50th anniversary, with celebrations around the world. The agency also secured a historic budget increase and reopened programs in Colombia, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Nepal, and — in the wake of the Arab Spring — Tunisia. In terms of program successes, Williams points to new and expanded initiatives in Africa to address hunger, malaria, and HIV/AIDS — through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President’s Malaria Initiative, Feed the Future Initiative, and Saving Mothers, Giving Life.
Aaron Williams with Senator Harris Wofford at his confirmation hearing in 2009. Wofford was a friend and mentor to Williams, and he introduced Williams that day.
Photo Courtesy of Aaron S. Williams
In terms of challenges, the year 2011 brought intense scrutiny to the agency following an investigation by the ABC news program “20/20” examining how six women serving as Volunteers had been victims of sexual assault. The program also looked at the tragic murder of Volunteer Kate Puzey, after she reported that a teacher at her site in Benin was sexually abusing students. Puzey’s death occurred some months before Williams became director, but the serious questions her murder raised about safety, security, and confidentiality still needed to be addressed. Williams worked with Congress to institute reforms, such as heightened security, and training and support for victims, that led to the passage of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, signed by President Obama in November 2011.
Before his Peace Corps leadership role, Williams served as vice president of international business development for RTI International. In 2012, after stepping down from the directing the Peace Corps, he returned to RTI as executive vice president the International Development Group and now serves as senior advisor emeritus with the organization.
In his public writing in recent years, Williams has called on U.S. foreign affairs agencies to rise to demonstrate leadership in pursuing policies and programs that will improve diversity in their ranks by investing in the diverse human capital of our nation, to reflect the true face of America. And, not surprising, he has been a strong advocate for public service here in the U.S. Indeed, the foreword for his memoir—contributed by Helene Gayle, who formerly led the Chicago Community Trust and now is president of Spelman College, makes the case for that: “I hope that the life and career of Aaron Williams, as portrayed in this book, will inspire future generations of underrepresented groups in our society, both men and women, who seek to make a difference by serving America and the world at large.”
Celebrating Fifty Years
AN EXCERPT FROM A LIFE UNIMAGINED BY AARON S. WILLIAMS
The American Airlines Boeing 727 began its descent from our flight that began in Miami, passing at a low altitude over the beauty of lush, emerald-green mountains, aquamarine-colored ocean, and long white beaches. Eventually the sprawling city of Santo Domingo appeared, separated by the Ozama River as it coursed its way into the Caribbean. This country held special memories for Rosa and me—it was my second home and where she was born. We gazed over the country’s natural beauty during another landing in the modern Airport of the Americas, a trip we’d made so many times since 1969. This arrival felt very different from my first at the old airport in December 1967 when I was a newly minted PCV.
This return to my beginnings in the Peace Corps highlighted for me the incredible journey that began as a college graduate’s surprising path to adventure. Here, I met my beautiful wife, seated beside me as we returned “home,” back to where my life was transformed. We were going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the warm, friendly relationship created between this nation and the Peace Corps Volunteers who had served here throughout its rich history. That unique, historical bond, forged in the white heat of the Dominican revolution and the U.S. invasion in 1965, had brought about this seminal moment. During that time of strife and struggle, many of the PCVs of that era gained the respect of Dominican citizens by vigorously supporting the country’s revolutionaries and not following the Johnson administration’s official policy during a crucial period in Dominican history.
This return to my beginnings in the Peace Corps highlighted for me the incredible journey that began as a college graduate’s surprising path to adventure.
On this trip, Rosa and I would be participating in a series of events to celebrate, commemorate, and treasure the more than 500 participants who had worked side by side with the Dominican people in the spirit of friendship and peace. Current and former Volunteers and staff would reunite at a three-day conference and share in the success of 50 years of Peace Corps work in the Dominican Republic. This auspicious anniversary also presented us with the chance to engage with Peace Corps Volunteers and staff worldwide and observe the scope and impact of the organization’s 50-year global engagement. I experienced firsthand the warm reception that Peace Corps Volunteers continue to receive worldwide.
Our gracious hosts for these anniversary events were Raul Yzaguirre, U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and country director Art Flanagan. Yzaguirre is an icon in the Hispanic American community and a civil rights activist. He served as the president of the National Council of La Raza from 1974 to 2004 and transformed the organization from a regional advocacy group into a potent national voice for Hispanic communities.
Many returned PCVs made site visits to the towns and villages where they had lived and worked, often hosted by the current PCVs; such a site visit was nostalgic for the former Volunteer and also an exciting historical experience for the local citizens. Rosa and I were very happy to enjoy once again the company of so many friends who shared this collective experience, especially Dave and Anita Kaufmann, Bill and Paula Miller, and Dan and Alicia Mizroch. The men all served as PCVs in the late 1960s, so the celebration also
represented a special homecoming between lifelong friends! Further, we had a joyful reunion with Judy Johnson-Thoms and Victoria Taylor, the PCVs with whom I had served in Monte Plata.
Monte Playa: As a Volunteer in the Dominican Republic, Aaron Williams, left, with his neighborhood buddies and informal language teachers. Photo Courtesy of Aaron S. Williams
Dominican officials, our former counterparts, and many Dominican friends hosted events for Peace Corps participants in the grand style of a “family” reunion. Major Dominican newspapers and broadcast media provided extensive coverage of the celebration. Like many returned PCVs, I had the great pleasure of holding a mini-reunion with my former colleagues from the University Madre y Maestra, many of whom I had not seen since 1970!
We all felt honored to be joined by a special guest, Senator Chris Dodd, a proud returned PCV who served when I did in the Dominican Republic. During his five terms in the U.S. Senate, Chris had always been a great champion of the Peace Corps. For many years, he served as the chairman of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the Peace Corps. Because he had presided over my confirmation hearing, it was especially gratifying to participate in this homecoming with him.
The planning for the Peace Corps’ 50th-anniversary celebrations, both in the United States and overseas, had begun before my appointment, under the previous director Ron Tschetter. Of course, we were enthusiastic about building upon these efforts. We were determined to hold a worldwide celebration that would highlight this significant landmark in the agency’s history and celebrate the legacy of this American success story — it would be a celebration to remember!
I have often reflected on the warm relationships between the Peace Corps and our host countries. The relationships that PCVs fostered for 50 years were indicative of the power of the organization in pursuing its mission of world peace and friendship. The outpouring of admiration, affection, and respect was something to behold as we continued preparing for these global celebrations. In each location, the country director and their staff created scheduled events representing the Peace Corps’ past and present role in each country, resulting in rich and diverse programs.
Those of us at headquarters planned several special events in Washington, D.C., to highlight and honor the Peace Corps legends who had been Sargent Shriver’s colleagues and to welcome the returned PCVs and other staff community back home. At the same time, returned PCV affinity groups — such as Friends of Kenya, Friends of Paraguay, and so forth—held anniversary activities in every state and in scores of colleges and universities across the United States. The national celebration aimed to demonstrate the organization’s continuing role in American life and history.
Overall, our senior staff traveled to 15 countries, 20 states, and 28 cities to celebrate the 50th anniversary. The Peace Corps senior staff worked to ensure broad representation; Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Stacy Rhodes, and I carefully planned our calendars to maximize our participation in major events in each region of the world and across the United States.
Our trips to visit the Volunteers in the host countries were a great privilege, and in my visits I stressed the importance of the individual and collective service of our PCVs and my personal connection with the work of the modern PCV. What a sight it was to see Volunteers on the front lines, working in microbusiness-support organizations to create new women-owned small businesses, teaching math and science in rural primary schools, or distributing mosquito nets in remote villages to fight malaria under our Stomp Out Malaria program, working in HIV/AIDS clinics, or helping small farmers improve irrigation systems.
The variety of PCV assignments was truly spectacular, from leading young girl empowerment clubs in rural Jordan, to coaching junior achievement classes in Nicaragua, teaching math in rural Tanzania, teaching internet technology in high schools in the Dominican Republic, teaching English as a second language in a girls’ school in rural Thailand, working on improved environmental protection practices in Filipino fishing villages, and helping to advise on improved livestock breeding techniques on farms in Ghana. Though I had once been in similar circumstances as a young PCV, I couldn’t help but be impressed by what I saw.
My colleagues and I had the pleasure of participating in several country celebrations during the 50th anniversary year, and it typically involved the following scenario. Of course, a meeting with the president of the host country and/or another senior government official would be first on the list for a country anniversary celebration. Many of these leaders had worked with or had been taught by Peace Corps Volunteers over decades. We also met with the leaders of the vital counterpart organizations, including community groups, government ministries, and the leading nongovernmental organizations in the country. We visited Volunteers at their worksites to observe their activities and attended a dinner or reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador for the PCVs, local dignitaries, and guests.
Another important aspect of my country visits was broad engagement with the national print, radio, and television press through press conferences, individual interviews, or both. In almost every case, returned PCVs who had served in a particular country participated in the events, often in coordination with the returned PCV affinity groups (e.g., in the case of Tanzania, Paraguay, Kenya, or Thailand), along with current PCVs and their guests. A typical visit for an anniversary event would run two days, and Carrie, Stacy, or I attended as the senior Peace Corps representative for a particular celebration.
Ghana is one of the most prominent nations in West Africa, and Sargent Shriver established the first Peace Corps program there in 1961. Its first president was the famous Kwame Nkrumah, who led the country to independence from Great Britain. Known during the colonial era as the Gold Coast, Ghana was also the location of some of the principal slave-trading forts in West Africa. Stacy Rhodes, Jeff West, and I traveled together to Ghana, where we spent three days in a series of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary in this historic Peace Corps country.
After our first day of courtesy meetings with government officials, local counterpart organizations, Volunteers, and staff, we decided to visit a famous fort. It was a heart-wrenching experience for Stacy and me, brothers in service, to stand before the fortress, built as a trading post with slaves as the primary commodity. We could only look out on the vast Atlantic Ocean through the “door of no return” in the bottom of that castle with sadness, knowing that those poor souls had been ripped from their native land. We felt it was necessary to witness the dungeons where they were held captive and the path they were forced to walk as they boarded the ships in the harbor that would take them to the West Indies or the American colonies, separating them forever from their homeland.
These are experiences not easily comprehended from afar, but they represent a crucial part of the human story that needs to be retold and remembered. Ideally, they set the stage for improving the human condition in the future.
One of the highlights of the trip was our participation in the country’s annual teacher day. I joined the vice president of Ghana, John Mahama, for this special event in an upcountry district capital. Stacy, the country director, Mike Koffman, and I were driven two hours from the capital city of Accra to the district capital. Mike had had a tremendous public service career, first as a Marine Corps officer, then as a founder of a nonprofit organization that provided legal services to the homeless in Boston, and then as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts. After his stint as assistant district attorney, he served as a PCV in the Pacific region, and now we were fortunate to have him as our Ghana country director.
In Ghana, the top teachers were selected each year for special recognition. One of the ten teachers chosen that year was a PCV whose parents were both returned PCVs who had served in Latin America. This national ceremony honors outstanding teachers for their exemplary leadership and work that affected and transformed the lives of the students in their care and the community around them. The overall best teacher receives Ghana’s Most Outstanding Teacher Award and a three-bedroom house. The first runner-up receives a four-by-four pickup truck, and the second runner-up receives a sedan; indeed, a very different approach from how we honor teachers in America. I looked forward to participating in this important ceremony, during which the vice president and I would deliver speeches.
When we arrived at the government house in the district capital, I planned to discuss with the vice president a few points regarding the future of the Peace Corps program in Ghana. However, Vice President Mahama, who subsequently was elected president of Ghana in 2012, was more interested in talking about his experience with a PCV during his youth, and I listened to what he had to say with great interest.
He described how, as a young boy, he had attended a small primary school in rural northern Ghana. There were 50 to 60 boys in a very crowded classroom with very few desks and textbooks. They heard one day that a white American was coming to teach them, and they were anxious about this. They had never seen a white man before in their village, and they didn’t even know if they would be able to understand his language.
When the young American PCV came into the classroom, he looked around the class and said that he was going to teach them science. He then asked them, “Do any of you know how far the sun is from the earth?” The boys all stared at the floor; they didn’t understand why he asked this question or why it was important, but either way, they didn’t know the answer.
That day, for future Vice President Mahama, was a turning point in his life when he saw the possibilities of another world. He also told us about several of his friends from his village school in that same class who had gone on to become scientists or engineers.
The PCV walked up to the front of the classroom, took out a piece of chalk, and wrote down on the blackboard the number ninety-three; he put a comma behind it and then proceeded to write zeros on the front blackboard until he quickly ran out of room, and then he continued to put zeros on the walls of that small room, returning to the ninety-three on the blackboard. Then he exclaimed, in a loud voice, “It’s ninety-three million miles from the earth! Don’t ever forget that!” That day, for future Vice President Mahama, was a turning point in his life when he saw the possibilities of another world. He also told us about several of his friends from his village school in that same class who had gone on to become scientists or engineers.
From the government house, we went on to the stadium to participate in the teacher day festivities. Marching bands and students from all around the area welcomed us and an audience of thousands on the impressive parade grounds of the city. The vice president and I shook hands with and gave the awards to each of the winners, and we had a chance to meet the young PCV who had been selected as one of the winners. It was a long but satisfying day, and I’ll always remember my visit to this historic Peace Corps country.
I have equally vivid memories of traveling to a small village in Ghana, where we visited a young PCV from Kansas, Derek Burke. As I recall, he grew up on a farm, and now, in this remote and arid region of the country, he worked with the local farmers on a tree planting project, helping them to plant thousands of acacia trees. As we slowly walked into the village, we were welcomed by the hypnotic sounds of ceremonial drumming and greeted by more than 200 villagers. I loved seeing the smiling children as we met the village elders and local government officials. We then held a town hall meeting under an enormous baobab tree — a tree large enough to provide shade for all assembled.
As we departed, I was asked to visit with the patriarch of the village, who hadn’t been able to join us due to his failing health. He lived in a small hut on the outskirts of the village. The PCV and I went to his bedside. I can still feel the firm grip of the frail-looking gentleman, who appeared to be in his late 80s. He held my hand as he thanked me through a translator for visiting his village and for the “gift” of the young American PCV whom everyone loved. As I drove away, I thought about the symbolic importance of sending one Volunteer to serve in a remote village in Ghana and how he walked in the steps of those who came 50 years before him, in service to the country and the building of friendship in the name of the United States.
On a spectacularly beautiful day in June 2011, our plane landed in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, after a short stop in Arusha, near Mt. Kilimanjaro, where the majestic mountains loomed large from the airplane window. Esther Benjamin, Elisa Montoya, and Jeff West accompanied me. Dar es Salaam is a name that conjures up visions of Zanzibar and the ancient trading routes between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. This nation, formed by the union of Tanganyika (colonial name) and the island of Zanzibar, has some fifty-five million citizens and is 60 percent Christian and over 30 percent Muslim, with two official languages: Swahili and English.
Tanzania was led into historic independence by the legendary Julius Nyerere, known as the “father of the nation,” who campaigned for Tanganyikan independence from the British Empire.4 Influenced by the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, Nyerere preached nonviolent protest to achieve this aim. His administration pursued decolonization and the “Africanization” of the civil service while promoting unity between indigenous Africans and Asian and European minorities.
The outstanding country program was led by one of our most experienced country directors, Andrea Wojna-Diagne, who received strong support from Alfonso Lenhardt, the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.
In Tanzania, we started our visit by meeting with President Kikwete and his senior officials. It was a pleasure to learn that the president, as a young elementary school student, had been taught by a Peace Corps Volunteer. He had a very positive view of the Peace Corps, and he recognized its importance to the relationship between the United States and his country.
We started our visit by meeting with President Kikwete and his senior officials. It was a pleasure to learn that the president, as a young elementary school student, had been taught by a Peace Corps volunteer. He had a very positive view of the Peace Corps, and he recognized its importance to the relationship between the United States and his country.
We went upcountry to visit a volunteer who was a high school math teacher in a very remote part of Tanzania. In many places in the developing world, it’s challenging to find and hire science and math teachers for rural communities, who are desperately needed, as without these subjects, the students in this region would not be able to complete the coursework required to take the qualifying exams for university applications. The school principal and our PCV were very proud of the role he played in this school and of the astronomy program he created to introduce his students to this area of science.
Upon our return to Dar, we had the pleasure of attending a lovely dinner hosted by the ambassador and participating in a fiftieth-anniversary gala, organized by Peace Corps staff and the PCVs. Due to a touch of serendipity, there happened to be several Peace Corps volunteers in Tanzania who were graduates of performing arts programs in universities and colleges across the United States. They created, planned, rehearsed, and staged a magnificent performance about the history of the Peace Corps in Tanzania. The audience included current PCVs, returned volunteers, Tanzanian government officials, Peace Corps partners, and special guests. From my humble viewpoint, it was a Broadway-caliber stage performance. It included concert singing, highly skilled theatrical performances, original music scores by soloist performers, and poetry readings as odes to Tanzanian–U.S. friendship. There we were, on the beautiful lawn and garden grounds of the U.S. Embassy, being entertained by this incredibly talented group of volunteers who expressed their love for Tanzania in the most heartfelt, dramatic fashion possible.
In November of 2011, my team and I traveled to the Philippines to celebrate the joint fiftieth anniversary of USAID and the Peace Corps. My colleagues Elisa Montoya, Esther Benjamin, and Jeff West accompanied me on this trip. As in Thailand, Ghana, and Tanzania, the Peace Corps program in the Philippines was legendary, again launched by Sargent Shriver nearly fifty years earlier.
Benigno Aquino III was the son of prominent political leaders Benigno Aquino Jr. and Corazon Aquino, the former president of the Philippines.5 President Aquino was a strong supporter of the Peace Corps. In his youth, he had become friends with several PCVs in his hometown and had met many PCVs during his mother’s presidency.
Our ambassador, Harry Thomas, a distinguished veteran diplomat, had served as the head of the Foreign Service as director-general. USAID mission director Gloria Steele was also a veteran USAID officer and former colleague who had held several senior positions at headquarters. She had the honor of being the first Filipina American to serve in this position. Needless to say, Gloria was well known throughout the country and highly regarded across the Philippines. Our terrific country director, Denny Robertson, represented the Peace Corps.
The president graciously hosted a luncheon for our group in the historic Malacañang Palace, his official residence and principal workplace— the White House of the Philippines. Many meetings between Filipino and U.S. government officials have taken place there over the years of the countries’ bilateral relationship. We had a delightful, wide-ranging conversation with the president and his staff in which he made clear his great appreciation for PCVs’ years of service. He was pleased that we were there to celebrate the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of this highly respected American organization.
Excerpt adapted from A Life Unimagined: The Rewards of Mission-Driven Service in the Peace Corps and Beyond by Aaron S. Williams with Deb Childs. © 2021 University of Wisconsin-Madison International Division
UPDATE: Here Are More than 40 Countries Where Peace Corps Volunteers Have Returned to Service. And More Where They Have Been Invited to Return.And in October, the first Volunteers are expected to arrive in Viet Nam. see more
Hundreds of Volunteers are now serving alongside communities across the globe. And later this month, the first group of Volunteers ever is expected to arrive in Viet Nam.
By Dan Baker
Image courtesy Peace Corps
Peace Corps Volunteers are returning to serve alongside communities throughout the world. Hundreds of Volunteers have returned to more than 40 countries around the globe, with more returning in the weeks ahead. In the past couple weeks alone, in South America, Volunteers have returned to serve alongside communities in Guyana. They have arrived in South Africa. And they have returned to Mongolia.
These Volunteers’ work with local partners includes education to advance literacy, collaboration on community development, and efforts to nurture environmental stewardship and foster health and family-life education in local communities. Many are new Volunteers — and some, like Daniel Lindbergh Lang, waited two and a half years to return (in his case, to Mongolia) after being brought back to the U.S. because of COVID-19.
In the most recent edition of WorldView magazine, we shared news of where Volunteers had returned. Here we’re delighted to share with you a full update showing where Volunteers have returned — and where they have been invited to return.
Map courtesy Peace Corps. Additional editing by Orrin Luc
We’re grateful for all of those in the Peace Corps community who have bolstered NPCA’s efforts to support evacuated Volunteers over the past two years. Working with NPCA, this community also helped lay the groundwork for new agency policies and legislation that will ensure a better, stronger, and more inclusive Peace Corps. You’ve raised your voices and provided critical financial support.
If you tuned in to our Annual General Membership Meeting last month, you heard some news that we’ve been eagerly awaiting for years: In October, the first cohort of Volunteers is expected to arrive in Viet Nam!
Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn reiterated that point at a recent meeting with returned Volunteers who work in the federal government. You can watch that conversation here. It includes the update on the countries where Volunteers have returned — and where invitations are out for them to serve once more.
In front of us now is the important task of ensuring that the U.S. Senate passes the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act — to bring home important reforms and better support for Volunteers. With Volunteers returning to service, it’s also important that Carol Spahn is confirmed as Peace Corps Director. To fuel these efforts, I hope you’ll join NPCA as a Mission Partner if you haven’t already. And, if you can, make a gift to ensure that we carry forward our work for a new generation of Volunteers.
Welcoming the first Volunteers to return to South Africa in two years. Photo courtesy Peace Corps South Africa
Where Volunteers Have Returned: Posts with Volunteers or Trainees
(As of October 21, 2022)
Albania & Montenegro (Peace Corps post includes both countries)
Eastern Caribbean (Peace Corps post includes four countries: Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Grenada)
Where Volunteers Have Been Invited to Serve
(as of October 21, 2022)
DAN BAKER is Interim President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Bolivia (1999–2002) and Timor Leste (2002–03), and has served on Peace Corps staff in Washington, D.C., Costa Rica, and Ethiopia. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Communications Intern 2 posted an articlePeace Corps Posters: In Portland, Oregon, ArtReach Gallery and the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience Host an Exhibit Spanning Six Decades‘Posting Peace’ brings together posters from 1961 to 2022 see more
Posting Peace in Portland
Peace Corps Posters 1961–2022
If you’re near Portland, Oregon, before October 16, be sure to visit ArtReach Gallery for the exhibit Posting Peace. Co-hosted by the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience, it features six decades of Peace Corps posters and maps. The exhibit and an accompanying book are curated by gallery director Sheldon Hurst.
Collectors in Oregon, California, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere contributed. The exhibit is also made possible thanks to First Congregational UCC, Portland Peace Corps Association, and NPCA.
Special events connected to the exhibit take place in September and October. On September 18, former Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen delivers the Oliver Lecture. On October 6, Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn — who has been nominated by President Biden to serve as Peace Corps Director — gives a talk on “Answering the Call to Serve Today.” And on October 16, for the closing reception, the gallery hosts a screening of A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Alana DeJoseph.
Poster images courtesy Museum of the Peace Corps Experience and ArtReach Gallery
Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more
News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Kit Evans-Ford (pictured), who served as a Volunteer in St. Kitts & Nevis 2007–08, was awarded the 2022 Tom Locke Innovative Leader Award for her efforts to provide refuge and support for women healing from sexual violence. Hoang Thai Tao (Mozambique 2011–13) spoke at the 2022 Peace Corps Thought Leaders Forum in July, sharing his perspective on harnessing emerging technology trends to maximize social impact and economic development. Internationally acclaimed photographer Alissa Everett (Senegal 1995–97) has produced a digital catalog of her latest exhibition, Covering Beauty, which seeks to capture “moments of unexpected beauty” within places of conflict. We share news about more awards, honors, books, and new roles from the White House to The New York Times.
Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
Jennifer Rochon (1992–94) was confirmed to a seat in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She is the first judge nominated by President Biden to the district to be confirmed and fits with his track record of appointing judges with varied professional backgrounds. Prior to her nomination, Rochon had served as the Girl Scouts of America general counsel since 2013. She brings to the new role 13 years of experience as a litigation partner for Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where she handled antitrust cases and false advertising disputes. When describing how her previous work has prepared her, Rochan says, “Judges have an important role in society in terms of making sure people get a full and fair process. As a litigator, I experienced that in advocating for my clients, but I always thought it would be fantastic to be able to be in a position to make sure people receive that type of process.”
Hoor Qureshi (2019–20) was promoted from staff assistant to Chief of Staff for the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy — a department that manages the President’s online communications across social media, digital influencers, and creative production. Being a 2019 Mercer University graduate who double-majored in global health studies and global development studies, Qureshi joined the Peace Corps, where she taught life skills and career guidance to Botswana’s youth. When it comes to her preparation for the Peace Corps, she credits her professors in the Department of International and Global Studies with whom she took many trips abroad to South Africa, Dubai, and Japan. That international travel during her undergraduate experience shaped her perspective of the world. Prior to working with the Office of Digital Strategy, Qureshi was an online community organizer for a couple political campaigns — including President Biden’s 2020 campaign — cultivating relationships with and distributing information to online communities.
John Thorndike (1967–68) recently published his biographical novel, The World Against Her Skin: A Son’s Novel. The book tells the story of Thorndike’s mother, exploring her life, struggles, and marriages while taking on delicate subjects such as addiction and sexual abuse. This book follows the heels of his award-winning memoir The Last of His Mind, in which he discusses the heart-wrenching fight his father — former managing editor of Life magazine — fought against Alzheimer’s, losing his ability to think, speak, and write.
Megan McCrea (2007–09) has been hired by The New York Times as senior staff editor of its Special Sections wing of the Print Hub. A Brooklyn-based journalist, she has worked as an editor at Via and Sunset magazines and has written about travel, people, arts and culture, and food and drink for more than a decade. As an editor, she has shaped written pieces exploring topics such as the evolution of Oakland and the best-kept secrets in Yellowstone. McCrea’s Peace Corps experience informed her writing, motivating her to co-author Other Places Publishing’s guidebook to her country of service, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. Her stories have appeared in publications such as Better Homes & Gardens, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Condé Nast Traveler.
Justin Bibee (2012–14) is among the forty 2022 honorees celebrated by the Providence Business News, which select based on career success and involvement within their communities. Bibee is a refugee resettlement case manager.
Liz Fanning (1993–95) received the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Awards in May. Every five years, Peace Corps presents the JFK Service Awards to honor members of the Peace Corps network whose contributions go above and beyond for the agency and America every day. Fanning is the Founder and Executive Director of CorpsAfrica, which she launched in 2011 to give emerging leaders in Africa the same opportunities she had to learn, grow, and make an impact. She has worked for a wide range of nonprofit organizations during her career, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Schoolhouse Supplies, and the Near East Foundation.
Hoang Thai Tao (2011–13) spoke at the 2022 Peace Corps Thought Leaders Forum — among professionals in the fields of international development and technology who shared their perspectives on leveraging emerging technology trends to maximize social impact and economic development. The panel also discussed how Peace Corps Volunteers can contribute to this endeavor.
Ron Ranson (1964–66), a lecturer in the University of California San Diego’s theatre and dance department for more than two decades, produced the documentary Tattooed Trucks of Nepal — Horn Please. Ranson’s 40-minute documentary pays tribute to the quirky tradition that finds Nepali truckers going to great, creative lengths to turn their vehicles into rolling pieces of uplifting art. His exploration began after he was intrigued by an article in a Nepali newspaper about truck and bus painting. He worked with Nepali filmmakers Sudarson Karki and Dhawa Gyanjen Tsumba, who also collaborated with him on an earlier film project, The Prayer Flags of Nepal. Tattooed Trucks of Nepal has won numerous awards, including for Ranson’s voice-over narration as well as the film’s editing, cinematography, and music. In 2021, the film won Best Documentary honors at multiple festivals, including the Cannes World Film Festival and the New Wave Film Festival in London.
Jenn Rowley (2014–16) and Joe Daniels (2013–15) recently trained Nicaraguan contractors to make the famous Peace Corps improved wood ovens with Sister Communities of San Ramon, Nicaragua. Vented to the outside, these eco-friendly ovens keep smoke and other residue from polluting the air inside buildings. Rowley and Daniels met during their Volunteer service, both assigned to the department of Matagalpa. Five years later, Daniels called Rowley inviting her to help train contractors on how to make these wooden stoves, to which she immediately agreed. With previous experience building 18 eco-friendly stoves as an environmental Volunteer, Daniels was familiar with these projects, through which families would purchase 20 percent of the materials while volunteers helped procure the rest of the locally sourced materials. By the end of their stay in Nicaragua, Rowley and Daniels worked with local contractors to build six ovens with 14 additional ovens in the process of being completed.
Karla Yvette Sierra (2010–12, Response 2012–13) received the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Awards in May. Born in El Paso, Texas, to Mexican American parents, Sierra graduated from Colorado Christian University with a bachelor’s in business administration and a minor in computer information systems. Elected by her peers and professors, Sierra was appointed to serve as the Chi Beta Sigma president as well as the secretary for the student government association. Sierra volunteered with Westside Ministries as a youth counselor in inner city Denver. Shortly after completing her Master of Business Administration at the University of Texas at El Paso, she started working for Media News Group’s El Paso Times before being promoted to The Gazette in Colorado. Sierra served as a Volunteer in Panama for three years as a community economic development consultant focused on efforts to reduce poverty, increase awareness of HIV and AIDS, and assist in the implementation of sustainable projects that would benefit her Panamanian counterparts. Her Peace Corps experience serving the Hispanic community fuels her on-going work and civic engagement with Hispanic communities in the United States.
Roberto. M. “Ambet” Yangco, who has worked with Peace Corps staff in the Philippines since 2002, is a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Service Award. A social worker by training, he started his career as an HIV/AIDS outreach worker for Children’s Laboratory Foundation. He then served as a street educator in a shelter for street children and worked for World Vision as a community development officer. Twenty years ago, Yangco joined Peace Corps Philippines as a youth sector technical trainer. It wasn’t long before he moved up to regional program manager; then sector manager for Peace Corps’ Community, Youth, and Family Program; and now associate director for programming and training during the pandemic.
Carol Spahn (1994–96) was officially nominated by President Biden for the position of Director of the Peace Corps in April. She began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency since, during one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history. Prior to serving as acting director and now CEO of the Peace Corps, Spahn served as chief of operations in the Africa Region covering Eastern and Southern Africa, and before that, served a five-year term as country director of Peace Corps Malawi. Her Peace Corps roots extend back to her service as a small business advisor in Romania 1994–96. She has more than 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment including work with Women for Women International — which supports female survivors of war — and Accordia Global Health Foundation — which helps fight infectious disease in Africa. A date for a confirmation hearing on her nomination has not yet been scheduled.
ST. KITTS AND NEVIS
Kit Evans-Ford (2007–08) was awarded the 2022 Tom Locke Innovative Leader Award from the Wesleyan Investive — a national nonprofit that has invested in innovative spiritual leadership for 50 years. Evans-Ford is an adjunct professor in the department of theology at St. Ambrose University and an action outreach organizer for Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, which specializes in nonviolence training. As a survivor of and witness to sexual violence with 14 years of experience in nonviolence education, Evans-Ford also founded Argrow’s House of Healing and Hope, a social enterprise supporting the healing journey of female survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence. “This work is not easy. It is a lifetime commitment that takes a lot of energy and personal resources,” Evans-Ford said, after becoming one of four spiritual leaders to receive this year’s award. “To be blessed by this award is very affirming and lets me know this work is not in vain.”
Dr. Mamadou Diaw, who served with Peace Corps staff in Senegal 1993–2019, is a recipient of the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Award. Born in Dakar, he studied abroad and graduated in forestry sciences and natural resource management from the University of Florence and the Overseas Agronomic Institute of Florence. He joined the Peace Corps in 1993 as Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for Natural Resource Management. In that capacity, he managed agroforestry, environmental education, park and wildlife, and ecotourism projects. From 1996 to 2001, he served as the coordinator of the USAID funded Community Training Center Program. In 2008, he switched sectors, becoming Senior APCD Health and Environmental Education. He received a master’s degree in environmental health in 2014 from the University of Versailles, and a doctorate in community health from the University of Paris Saclay, at the age of 62. Dr. Diaw coached more than 1,000 Volunteers and several APCDs from the Africa region, notably supporting Peace Corps initiatives in the field of malaria and maternal and child health. He retired from Peace Corps toward the end of 2019 and is currently working as an independent consultant.
Alissa Everett (1995–97), a critically acclaimed photographer, has produced a digital catalog of her latest exhibition, Covering Beauty, which is on display for the 59th Venice Biennale as part of Personal Structures at the European Cultural Centre until November 2022. Covering Beauty draws upon work spanning Everett’s entire career — from the war in Iraq to the latest conflict in Ukraine, traveling with the International Organisation for Migration to capture humanitarian response efforts. “I would describe myself as a documentary photographer rather than conflict photographer,” Everett says. “What speaks to me the most are moments of unexpected beauty that happen in our daily lives, in both conflict and non-conflict zones.”
Genevieve de los Santos Evenhouse (2007–08; Guyana, 2008–09; Uganda, 2015–16,) was one of the five recipients of the 2022 John F. Kennedy Service Awards for tirelessly embodying the spirit of service to help advance world peace and friendship. She grew up in the Philippines, then emigrated to the United States in 1997. Evenhouse pursued a career at the intersection of nursing, public service, and volunteerism, earning her doctor of nursing practice in 2020 — while continuing to serve as a full-time school nurse for the San Francisco Unified School District, where she has served since 2009.
Holly Rendle (1996–97) co-founded Books 4 Zambia, leveraging the connections made during her Peace Corps tour in the country to provide books to communities lacking these educational materials. She and her husband have sent supplies to the African country several times over the last two decades under the name Project Zambia.
Carol Spahn Has Been Nominated to Serve as Peace Corps Director. Read Our Letter of Support — and Take Action.NPCA wholeheartedly supports the nomination of Carol Spahn. see more
Today National Peace Corps Association sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee supporting Carol Spahn’s nomination to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps. Here’s what we said. And here’s how you can help ensure a better and stronger Peace Corps for the future.
By Jonathan Pearson
Photo courtesy Peace Corps
In April President Biden officially nominated Carol Spahn to serve as Director of the Peace Corps. She began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency through one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history. In the weeks ahead, Spahn is expected to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing. While we’re waiting for the date of the hearing to be announced, NPCA sent a letter to the committee supporting Spahn’s nomination.
“NPCA has been honored to work with CEO Spahn and her strong leadership team during the past 18 months,” we write. “We have full confidence in her commitment to the continued redeployment of Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner, and are confident that the next generation of Volunteers will experience a better, stronger Peace Corps prepared to meet new global challenges.”
“NPCA has been honored to work with CEO Spahn and her strong leadership team during the past 18 months,” we write. “We have full confidence in her commitment to the continued redeployment of Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner, and are confident that the next generation of Volunteers will experience a better, stronger Peace Corps prepared to meet new global challenges.”
Read NPCA’s letter below. Then, write to your Senators and ask them to confirm Carol Spahn to lead the Peace Corps.
June 23, 2022
The Honorable Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6225
The Honorable James Risch (R-ID)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6225
Dear Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Risch,
We write to express National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) wholehearted support of the nomination of Carol Spahn to become the twenty-first Director of the Peace Corps. We urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move swiftly to support this nomination and work for full Senate confirmation of Chief Executive Officer Spahn as soon as possible.
NPCA has been honored to work with CEO Spahn and her strong leadership team during the past 18 months. This has been an incredibly challenging time of planning for the Peace Corps’ future in the face of a global pandemic. During this time, we have been deeply impressed by CEO Spahn’s leadership and collaboration with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) community. We have full confidence in her commitment to the continued redeployment of Volunteers to the field (which began this past March) in a responsible manner. We are confident that her leadership, coupled with passage of significant Peace Corps reauthorization legislation before Congress, will ensure that the next generation of Volunteers will experience a better, stronger Peace Corps prepared to meet new global challenges.
Because of her leadership during arguably the most difficult period in the Peace Corps’ history, we believe President Biden was wise in putting forth this nomination. While our nation — and particularly the world — are not fully free of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is hope that the number of Peace Corps Volunteers returning to service will steadily grow through 2022 and 2023.
As CEO Spahn noted last fall during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), the work of these redeployed volunteers will include addressing the pandemic. “The pandemic has set back years of development progress and produced unprecedented challenges. It has also underscored our world’s profound interdependence and shared future. Recovery will require international cooperation not only at the government level, but also at the community level. And that is where the Peace Corps as a trusted community partner will return to service in new and time tested ways.”
CEO Spahn has also demonstrated robust leadership on key policy and management issues that are as necessary as they are challenging. Her request last fall to the Sexual Assault Advisory Council to review and update recommendations of the past five years, the public posting of that report, and her outreach to the Peace Corps community to share its concerns and proposals proves her strong commitment to the issue. It is this type of transparency, which she is guiding, that will help support survivors and lower the risks of sexual violence.
Similarly, the Peace Corps is receiving praise for its efforts to advance intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within its ranks. During that same HFAC hearing, Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks praised recent agency work in this regard, saying “I understand also that the Peace Corps has instituted this robust program that you've talked about in your opening statement, intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and that you've been leading these efforts. You know, and you probably, from my examination, are ahead of a lot of other agencies”.
The issues outlined above and many more critical to the Peace Corps community were included in NPCA’s Peace Corps Connect to the Future report (November 2020), which reflected a series of community conversations and town hall meetings with more than 1,000 RPCVs about the future of the Peace Corps. We have been very pleased with the way CEO Spahn has embraced the report and its recommendations, many of which have been implemented over the past year.
Lastly, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Romania 1994–96), former Country Director, and Chief of Operations for Peace Corps’ Southern and Eastern Africa region, we at NPCA believe that Carol Spahn possesses the background, dedication, and proven track record to move the Peace Corps forward. We respectfully request that your committee move her nomination swiftly to the full Senate for its consideration and ultimate confirmation.
Interim President & CEO
National Peace Corps Association
Interim Chair – Board of Directors
National Peace Corps Association
MORE: Read the letter as a PDF here.
Write Your Senators to Support the Nomination
Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him here.
Communications Intern posted an articleUpdates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more
News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (pictured left), a former Peace Corps director, begins a new position as president and CEO of Global Communities — an organization whose recent efforts include working in partnership with communities in Ukraine to provide essential non-food items, mental health support, and assistance to internally displaced persons. President Biden appoints Lisa E. Delplace as a member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to help oversee the cultural and historic preservation of the District of Columbia. A new director of operations for a Panama-based tour company. Two RPCVs receive awards for their commitment to leadership and global citizenship.
Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
Ryan Stock (2007–09), a political ecologist, is the 2021–22 recipient of the Faculty Emerging Leadership Award at Northern Michigan University. He is an assistant professor in the Earth, Environmental, and Geographical Sciences Department. With an extensive list of published works, Stock has several ongoing research projects including environmental injustices of solar PV life cycle, climate adaptation and vulnerability of farmers in India, gendered livelihoods and solar development in Ghana, and climate policy in South Asia. Stock has held many leadership roles promoting environmental sustainability, gender inclusion, student involvement, and anti-racism. He was the impetus for the NMU Carbon Neutrality Task Force which aims to create a carbon neutral campus by 2050 by improving waste and recycling, protecting freshwater resources, promoting education and awareness, and building local partnerships. Stock is a member of the Sustainability Advisory Council. Off-campus, he serves as a member of the Marquette County Climate Action Task Force and advocates for the City of Marquette to commit to carbon neutrality through its Climate Action Resolution.
Lisa E. Delplace (1982–84) was appointed as the newest member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts by President Biden. She is principal and CEO of the Washington, D.C.–based landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden (OvS). In this new position, Delplace will represent landscape architects, a role which was previously missing from the commission. She is tasked with preserving and enhancing the District of Columbia’s visual and cultural character as well as helping to plan for public spaces, monuments, climate change–related issues, and security matters. Her previous work ranges from sculpture parks to urban redevelopments and examines the compelling structural relationship between architecture and landscape. She is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects Council of Fellows — one of the highest honors ASLA bestows upon members — and she is a visiting critic and lecturer at various universities and organizations. In addition to her Peace Corps service in Kenya, she has international experience working in Europe and the Middle East.
Madeline Uraneck (2006–09), a long-term contributor to international education and service, has received the 2022 Global Citizenship Award from the Wisconsin Council of Social Studies. The recipient of this award exemplifies social studies principles by improving the quality of life for others and promoting the common good. Uraneck has traveled to more than 60 countries, studied six languages, and willingly self-identifies as a “global citizen”. As a well-respected educator, Uraneck values the connections she makes within other cultures, learning languages from children and meeting kind strangers. She has won several awards including DPI by Goldman Sachs Foundation Award for State Leadership and Council of Chief State School Officers for International Education. She is a professional member, presenter, and key-note speaker for Wisconsin Council for Social Studies and has authored Planning Curriculum in International Education and How to Make a Life, a story of her interactions with a Tibetan refugee family in Madison, Wisconsin.
Mary Johnson has been selected as a 2022 GenEd Teacher Fellow and will embark on a ten-day intensive professional development program in July. The fellowship, which is based at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, offers professional development workshops about human rights and genocide with a closer look at the Armenian experience. Johnson is an affiliate and adjunct professor for Stockton University’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies, a program that prepares its graduates for careers in education, museums, and organizations that aim to stop and prevent mass atrocities. For more than three decades, Johnson was the senior historian for Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that challenges students and teachers to confront racism and prejudice, where she facilitated seminars and workshops, wrote curricula, and conducted research.
Megan Thompson (2018–19) is the newly appointed director of operations for Retire in Panama, a full-service relocation tour company known for its innovative approach to supporting expatriate residents with their relocation and resettlement needs. Retire in Panama also shares educational resources to connect prospective clients and current clients with housing, financial planning assistance, and access to Panama’s history and culture. Thompson brings to the new roles a strong leadership foundation gained during the two-year advisory position she held with the company, and she brings a unique cultural understanding of Panama gained from her experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer who worked on environmental conservation, recycling and trash services, and sexual wellness education. In her new role, Thompson will oversee all aspects of operations, including personnel and contractor management, client services, tours and logistics.
Mary Alice Serafini (1969–72) retired in March 2022 from her position as assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and executive director of the Pat Walker Health Center at the University of Arkansas. As a Volunteer in Sierra Leone and Niger, she served as a teacher before starting her employment at the University of Arkansas in 1991 as the assistant director of administration for the Health Center. Recognized for her support and advocacy for international students and scholars, Serafini has been committed in her leadership programs focused on student diversity and inclusion. She is a longtime member of the NASPA, the professional association of student affairs, and helps inspire undergraduates to see student affairs as a viable career path through the NUFP Mentor Program. During her time with the university, Serafini championed for the counseling center’s expansion, which included the addition of mental health and wellness promotion, the growth of counseling staff, and the creation of designated, welcoming space within the Pat Walker Health Center. Her compassionate leadership and service to others earned Serafini the respect and love of her colleagues and students. During her retirement, she plans to continue volunteering and engaging in public policy.
Juhi Desai (2018–20) has been elected president of the Student Bar Association at the University of Virginia Law School. Before entering law school, she served as an elementary school teacher in South Africa with the Peace Corps and was evacuated in March 2020 because of COVID-19. Prior to serving with the Peace Corps, she taught civics and economics, AP U.S. history, and world history at a high school outside Boston. As an attorney she plans to work as a public defender and notes that “the United States is the most incarcerated nation in the world.”
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (1981–83) will assume the role of president and CEO of Global Communities on October 1, 2022. She has been serving as president of the organization since September 2021. Last year Global Communities also completed a merger with Project Concern International, where Hessler-Radelet had been serving as president and CEO. Global Communities is devoted to providing a more equitable future through humanitarian assistance, sustainable development, and financial solutions. Currently, the organization is working in partnership with communities in Ukraine to provide physical and mental health support and to assist internally displaced persons. Hessler-Radelet has worked in previous global leadership positions as director, acting director, and deputy director of the Peace Corps. Before being appointed as Director of the Peace Corps by President Obama, Hessler-Radelet oversaw public health programs in 85 countries as the vice president and director of John Snow, Inc., a public health management consulting and research organization. Hessler-Radelet brings to her new role decades of global health experience which includes serving as the lead consultant on the first Five Year Global HIV/AIDS Strategy for the President George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), working with USAID in Indonesia on maternal and child health and HIV programming, founding the Special Olympics in The Gambia, and being the third generation in her family to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
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).
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.
We need to have a diverse and talented corps of professionals in our foreign affairs agencies see more
We need to have a diverse and talented corps of professionals in our foreign affairs agencies — and in the wider development community. That matters when it comes to leadership and credibility alike.
By Aaron Williams
Peace Corps Director 2009–12
The beauty and inherent value of the Peace Corps is that it provides a different approach to America’s overseas engagement. Volunteers live in local communities, speak the national and local languages, and have great respect for the culture of the host country. Working at the grassroots level for two or more years, Peace Corps Volunteers have a unique platform for acquiring cultural agility. They have the opportunity to build relationships, to understand the priorities of the communities and organizations where they work, and to play a role in assisting these communities in reaching their goals. This connection to the people they serve is the essence of Peace Corps service, where mutual learning and understanding occurs. And the Volunteer gains the ability to be engaged in a hands-on development process.
If an individual’s career goal is to become a global citizen, then this is precisely the type of experience that will challenge you. And the Peace Corps has historically been a pathway to a career in diplomacy and development. My career certainly is an example of that. I served in the Agency for International Development USAID as a foreign service officer for 22 years as both a mission director and a senior official at headquarters. Then during the Obama administration, I had the distinct honor of serving as the Director of the Peace Corps. And I've always considered it to be a sacred trust to lead this iconic American agency. And of course, it's always been a distinct honor to represent the United States of America.
As has been well documented in congressional hearings, through extensive media coverage, and in substantial reports by foreign policy think tanks and other organizations, one thing is crystal clear: The failure to diversify senior positions in our foreign service agencies undermines U.S. credibility abroad.
As an African American, I am a direct beneficiary of the civil rights movement and stand on the shoulders of those giants who sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears fighting for the monumental changes that opened up opportunities for Black and brown people across our country, including in the U.S. Foreign Service. Now, as has been well documented in congressional hearings, through extensive media coverage, and in substantial reports by foreign policy think tanks and other organizations, one thing is crystal clear: The failure to diversify senior positions in our foreign service agencies undermines U.S. credibility abroad. In my view, in order to pursue a robust and effective foreign policy in this ever more challenging world, we need to have a diverse and talented corps of professionals in our foreign affairs agencies.
And that’s why diversity is so important to our nation. We need to portray the true face of America, the rich diversity of our citizens. This diversity will continue to be the foundation for our nation’s progress in all aspects of our society, and a pillar of America’s role in global leadership.
Black Americans are so unrepresented historically in terms of diplomacy and international affairs that we must build a core of leaders to present the true face of America as we interact with the rest of the globe. The more diversity you bring into the C-suite of the foreign policy halls, where the highest ranking senior executives work, the bigger the cadre of people who will have a different perspective of the world and how we should interact with it.
I’ve been involved in the pursuit of diversity from the very beginning of my career, after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I was very fortunate that my first job back in the U.S. was to serve as a minority recruiter in the first such initiative in Peace Corps history. Ever since that first job, I have been an advocate and fighter for diversity in every organization where I’ve worked. And I’ve had a career in three sectors — in government, business, and in the nonprofit world. Based on my experience, and as widely articulated by diversity and inclusion experts, the most important components for promoting diversity are to focus on several areas encompassing access, broad opportunity, retention, and career advancement.
The development community plays a prominent role as principal partners with the U.S. government in the country’s global leadership. They should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our nation.
In my view, the principal foreign affairs agencies — the State Department, USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Peace Corps — should focus on three areas. First, to gain a better understanding of diverse groups in our country. Second, to build effective tools and programs that include mentorships internships, sponsoring viable candidates, and the creation of a pipeline of candidates. And then thirdly, to provide opportunities for growth and promotion within these agencies.
I would hope to see, going forward, that both U.S. government agencies and, more broadly, the numerous foreign affairs organizations for the development community, as we often call it, will seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broad-based policies and programs that will promote diversity in both the U.S. and overseas offices. The development community plays a prominent role as principal partners with the U.S. government in the country’s global leadership. And thus, they should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our nation.
These remarks were delivered on September 14, 2021, as part of “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers,” a series of conversations hosted by the Constituency for Africa and sponsored by National Peace Corps Association. Edited excerpts appear in the 2021 anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Aaron Williams served as a Volunteer in Dominican Republic 1967–70. He was the first African American to serve as USAID’s executive secretary, and the first African American man to direct the Peace Corps.
Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today see more
Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today. Plus a year-by-year look at countries where Peace Corps programs began.
Researched by Ellery Pollard, Emi Krishnamurthy, Sarah Steindl, Nathalie Vadnais, and Orrin Luc
At right: the 10th-anniversary Peace Corps stamp, issued in 1972. Image courtesy Peace Corps
As part of the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps in 2021, WorldView magazine has published a series of timelines tracking Peace Corps’ beginnings — and we’ve traced the 25-year history of Peace Corps Response. Explore more here:
Annotation: Changing World | The Globe in 1961, the year the Peace Corps was founded
1961: Towering Task Edition | A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged
Peace Corps Response: Snapshots from the First Quarter Century | In 2021 Peace Corps Response marked a quarter century since its founding. Some moments that have defined it.
“Dove of Peace” by Howard Jessor, on the cover of Foreign Service Journal, December 1963 edition. The publication is literally on press, in November 1963, when news breaks that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association
In Greensboro, North Carolina, four Black college students sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and are denied service. A six-month protest results in desegregation of the lunch counter by summer.
Nations gaining independence from Britain and France include Nigeria, Cameroon, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Madagascar, Benin, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Togo, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Mauritania.
“How many of you are willing?” JFK’s campaign speech at the University of Michigan presents the idea of the Peace Corps.
In a speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, John F. Kennedy uses the term “Peace Corps” and calls for revitalizing U.S. global engagement.
JFK at the Cow Palace. Photo courtesy OpenSFHistory.org
John F. Kennedy inaugurated as president. He declares, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Sargent Shriver outlines steps to forming the Peace Corps in a memo to JFK. Central are ideas put forth in “The Towering Task,” a memo by William Josephson and Warren Wiggins.
Executive Order 10924 establishes the Peace Corps. Sargent Shriver is appointed its first director on March 4.
Bay of Pigs invasion
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin training for Colombia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Ghana.
Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom.
Berlin Wall erected overnight.
Sargent Shriver leads the first groups of Peace Corps Volunteers to the Rose Garden for a send-off by President Kennedy.
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives at Accra Airport in Ghana.
Peace Corps Act signed into law by President Kennedy, creating the Peace Corps as an independent agency with a mission to “promote world peace and friendship.”
Newsweek magazine cover: “Peace Corps in Action: Ira Gwin”
In Colombia, a plane crash in the jungle kills more than 30 people — including Larry Radley and David Crozier, the first Peace Corps Volunteers to die during service.
There are 2,816 Volunteers in the field.
Nations gaining independence from Britain, France, and Belgium: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda
Cuban Missile Crisis
Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps appear on the cover of Time.
At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech.
President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas.
Kenya gains independence from Great Britain.
In State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson announces a “War on Poverty” in the U.S.
Mr. Ed the talking horse wants to join the Peace Corps.
Freedom Summer voter registration drive
While still directing the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver begins serving as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Establishes Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents, and Legal Services for the Poor.
Malcolm X assassinated in New York.
The Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights begins — is met with brutal force by police.
LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah overthrown by a military coup.
Sargent Shriver steps down as Peace Corps director. LBJ appoints Jack Vaughn director.
15,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving — the highest number yet. That record still holds.
Guyana, Botswana, and Lesotho gain independence from Great Britain.
Lillian Carter, mother of future president Jimmy Carter, departs for Peace Corps service at the age of 68 as a public health Volunteer in India.
“Volunteers to America” Peace Corps initiative brings people from other countries — including Argentina, Ghana, Nepal, the Philippines, Iran, and Israel — to serve in impoverished areas in the United States. The program lasts until 1971, when it is defunded by Congress.
Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam.
Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis.
Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles.
Soviet Union leads Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends and end the “Prague Spring.”
Joseph Blatchford appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
June 28–July 3
Apollo 11 moon landing
Now we are ten: Released in 1972, this poster by artist Patrick Koeller wins a competition for a design marking the first decade of the Peace Corps. Courtesy West Michigan Graphic Design Archives
First Earth Day
President Nixon orders U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia.
Members of Ohio National Guard fire into crowd of demonstrators at Kent State University; four are killed, nine wounded.
Twelve members of a group calling themselves the Committee of Returned Volunteers enter the fourth-floor offices of the Peace Corps and seal off a wing. They occupy offices for several days and hang a Viet Cong flag through the window.
Greenpeace founded in Canada.
The Pentagon Papers, a study by the U.S. Department of Defense about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, are published in The New York Times.
Executive Order 11603: President Nixon folds the Peace Corps into a new federal volunteer agency, ACTION. Kevin O’Donnell is appointed Peace Corps director.
The first Peace Corps stamp is issued in the U.S.
Police arrest burglars in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Evidence will link the break-in to Nixon’s reelection campaign.
Donald Hess appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
U.S. Supreme Court issues 7–2 decision in Roe v. Wade, ruling that states cannot completely bar a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy.
Nick Craw appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
Endangered Species Act signed into law.
President Nixon resigns.
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie deposed following a Marxist military coup.
First Returned Peace Corps Volunteers elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (Dominican Republic 1966–68) and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (Ethiopia 1962–64).
John Dellenback appointed Peace Corps director by President Ford.
Saigon falls to communist troops from North Vietnam. Mozambique and Comoros gain independence from Portugal and France.
The Concorde takes flight — first supersonic commercial air travel.
The United States celebrates its bicentennial.
Apple II computer, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 introduced, beginning the personal computer craze.
South African activist Steve Biko dies after suffering a massive head injury in police custody.
Carolyn Robertson Payton appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter. She is the first woman and first Black American to serve in that role.
Iranian Revolution begins. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran will be stormed in November 1979.
Rainbow (Gay Pride) flag created by Gilbert Baker.
Peace Corps closes its post in Afghanistan. In December, Soviet troops invade the country.
National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV) founded. It will evolve into National Peace Corps Association.
Richard F. Celeste appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter.
Executive Order 12137: President Carter grants the Peace Corps full autonomy.
The dove at 25: In 1987, this Peace Corps logo adorns a budget presentation to Congress. Volunteers partner with communities to address problems that include “hunger and malnutrition, infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy and limited educational opportunities, inadequate health care, and declining natural resources.” Image courtesy Peace Corps
World Health Assembly declares that smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.
As Peace Corps marks its 20th anniversary, the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers hosts the first national Peace Corps conference in Washington, D.C.
Loret Miller Ruppe appointed Peace Corps director by President Reagan. She serves eight years, more than any other director before or since.
First case of AIDS identified. In U.S. it is initially called “gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).”
Belize gains independence from Great Britain.
Legislation grants Peace Corps its independence as an agency.
Mexico tells the U.S. it can no longer service its $80 billion debt. Brazil, Argentina, and virtually every other country in Latin America is unable to pay back loans, triggering a regional economic crisis.
The Internet is born when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) adopts the standard TCP/IP protocol of the World Wide Web.
Peace Corps establishes the Small Project Assistance (SPA) program.
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh.
In Bhopal, India, 30 tons of methylisocyanate, an industrial gas used to make pesticide, are released at a Union Carbide plant, killing some 15,000 people.
Loret Miller Ruppe signs a letter of agreement establishing the Coverdell Fellows Program with founder Dr. Beryl Levinger (Colombia 1967–69).
For the first time in Peace Corps history, more women than men begin service as Volunteers.
Letter home: In 1986, Tuvalu commemorates the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. Volunteers began serving in the Pacific island nation in 1977. Courtesy PeaceCorpsOnline.org
Lillian Carter Award established to honor those over the age of 50 who have served and advanced the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. Lillian’s son, President Jimmy Carter, calls the award “a wonderful celebration of what is best about the Peace Corps — offering up some of America’s best to the world, and bringing the world home to other Americans.”
Reactor 4 at Chernobyl explodes in Ukrainian S.S.R. — worst nuclear disaster ever in terms of casualties and cost.
Wole Soyinka of Nigeria becomes the first African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.
The number of Peace Corps Volunteers serving drops to new low: 5,219. Government mistrust and aftermath of the Vietnam War take their toll.
The Peace Corps and its 120,000 current and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are honored with the Beyond War Award for their commitment to nonviolence.
Black Monday on the U.S. stock market. Dow plummets 508 points, more than 22 percent.
Barbara Jo White (Dominican Republic 1987–89) creates the World Map Project, which has been replicated by Peace Corps Volunteers in countries around the world.
Coffee bearing the Fair Trade label is introduced.
Paul D. Coverdell appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Coverdell establishes World Wise Schools program (WWS) to connect American educators in classrooms with Peace Corps Volunteers.
Berlin Wall falls. On November 17, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia leads to end of communism there. That same date, in El Salvador, a military hit squad murders six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter.
Civil war begins in Liberia, pitting Charles M. Taylor against former subordinate Prince Johnson. Fighting lasts until 1996.
You’ve got mail: In 1993, Fiji celebrates the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in communities there. Courtesy David Downes
Poland’s ruling communist party votes to dissolve. In ensuing elections, Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity Movement and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wins the presidency.
Nelson Mandela freed from prison in South Africa after 27 years.
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin serving in Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
Iraq invades Kuwait.
LGBT RPCV formed in Washington, D.C.
First Gulf War begins, with a U.S.-led coalition driving invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
First website appears on World Wide Web.
Elaine Chao appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Soviet Union dissolves.
Former Peace Corps medical officer Mae Jemison travels into space on Shuttle Endeavor. She is first Black American woman in space.
Terrorists detonate a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center, killing 6, wounding more than 100, and causing more than 50,000 people to evacuate.
Following a referendum, Eritrea breaks away from Ethiopia to become an independent nation.
AmeriCorps established by the National and Community Service Trust Act, creating a “domestic Peace Corps.”
Carol Bellamy (Guatemala 1963–65) sworn in as Peace Corps director. She is the first Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to hold the post.
European Union becomes reality.
A new constitution takes effect in South Africa, officially ending the apartheid system.
Domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols park a truck bomb beneath the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At least 168 people are killed in the explosion, including 19 children in a childcare center located in the building.
Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania create Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
Mark D. Gearan appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
Peace Corps sends three Volunteers to Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis — a step toward creation of Crisis Corps.
Crisis Corps officially launched at a Rose Garden ceremony to send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on short-term, high-impact assignments.
Scientists in Scotland clone Dolly the Sheep — the first cloning of a mammal.
Kofi A. Annan becomes Secretary General of the U.N. He is the first sub-Saharan African to hold the post.
First cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives in South Africa.
In Menlo Park, California, grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin launch search engine Google.
NATO airstrikes begin against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, aimed at halting actions by Slobodan Milošević’s government against ethnic Albanians, and forcing it to withdraw from Kosovo.
First commercial camera phone introduced.
Mark L. Schneider (El Salvador 1966–68) appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
“A Common Mission: Peace Corps and Foreign Service” is the theme of the October 2008 edition of Foreign Service Journal, with cover illustration by Philippe Béha /i2iart.com. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association
International Space Station opens.
It is estimated that some 36 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus.
High Atlas Foundation established in Morocco by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to further sustainable development.
Terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Peace Corps recruiting office in Building 6 of WTC is destroyed when the Twin Towers collapse. Volunteers will be evacuated from Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
A U.S.-led coalition begins a bombing campaign against Afghanistan and later begins a ground offensive.
Gaddi H. Vasquez appointed Peace Corps director by President George W. Bush. He is the first Hispanic American to serve as director.
The Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
U.S. invades Iraq; second Gulf War begins.
Sequence mapping of the human genome is completed.
The Peace Corps commits an additional 1,000 Volunteers to fight HIV/AIDS.
The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience project is introduced at the National Peace Corps Association Group Leaders annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Disputed parliamentary elections in nation of Georgia lead to the Rose Revolution.
Disputed presidential elections in Ukraine lead to the Orange Revolution.
A massive earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggers a tsunami, killing more than 200,000. Peace Corps Response Volunteers assist with relief efforts in several nations.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath, Peace Corps Response Volunteers are deployed domestically for the first time to assist with relief efforts.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becomes the first African woman to lead an African nation when she is elected president of Liberia.
Atlas Corps founded to bring individuals on service fellowships to the U.S., earning reputation as a “reverse Peace Corps.”
The International Astronomical Union demotes Pluto to the status of dwarf planet.
Ronald A. Tschetter (India 1966–68) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Apple debuts the iPhone.
Peace Corps Prep program inaugurated at select U.S. colleges.
Crisis Corps is renamed Peace Corps Response — a name that better captures the broad range of assignments Volunteers are undertaking.
Peace Corps returns to Liberia after an absence of nearly two decades.
Barack Obama inaugurated president. National Peace Corps Association leads returned Volunteers in the inaugural parade.
After leaving Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Peace Corps Volunteers return to begin working in secondary education and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Kate Puzey, a Volunteer in Benin, is murdered after reporting the sexual abuse of girls within her community by a Peace Corps staff member.
Joseph Acaba (Dominican Republic 1994–96) becomes first returned Volunteer to serve as a NASA astronaut, making his first trip to space aboard Shuttle Discovery.
Aaron S. Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Fiftieth anniversary project, launched thanks to a letter from Congressman John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68) to Librarian of Congress James Billington. Among those thanked: Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962–64) of Peace Corps Writers. Courtesy Library of Congress
Total number of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served surpasses 200,000.
National Peace Corps Association introduces new logo.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti, killing some 200,000.
Explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig kills 11 people and spills more than 3 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
Peace Corps HQ begins presenting the Franklin H. Williams Award, named for an early agency leader. Established by the New York recruiting office in 1999, the award recognizes ethnically diverse returned Volunteers committed to promoting understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. The agency reopens programs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.
ABC news program “20/20” airs “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed,” telling the story of Kate Puzey.
Peace Corps releases 50th-anniversary commemorative print by artist Shepard Fairey.
President Obama signs the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act into law.
CorpsAfrica is launched by RPCV Liz Fanning to give young Africans the opportunity to work with communities in a Peace Corps–style program.
Egypt’s first competitive presidential election. Mohamed Morsi wins. After months of protests, he is overthrown in a coup in July 2013.
RPCV and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens killed in attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Volunteer Nick Castle dies in China after failing to receive adequate medical care; his parents call for Peace Corps reform and begin advocacy work that continues to this day.
Peace Corps approves assignments for same-sex partners.
Nelson Mandela dies.
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. Russia seizes Crimea and then backs separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Western Samoa 1982–83) appointed Peace Corps director by President Obama.
Ebola sweeps across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, eventually killing 11,000 people. Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers in August. Peace Corps staff in Guinea step up to play an instrumental role in contact tracing and training.
Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announce Let Girls Learn, an initiative to expand access to education for girls around the world. Peace Corps begins a close collaboration with the First Lady to address barriers to education for girls.
U.S. Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage is legal.
Peace Corps receives 23,000 applications during the fiscal year, breaking 40-year record.
Terror attacks in Paris kill 130, wound 494. ISIS claims responsibility.
Peace Corps logo gets a makeover, alongside a refreshed brand platform and new website.
#MeToo movement gains prominence after widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Volunteer Bernice Heiderman, serving in Comoros, dies due to undiagnosed malaria. As her story is told, it raises hard questions about how Volunteer illness is handled during service.
Dr. Josephine (Jody) K. Olsen (Tunisia 1966–68) is sworn in as Peace Corps director.
President Trump signs the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act into law. Key provisions: strengthening criteria for hiring overseas medical officers, and supporting Volunteers victimized by sexual assault or other forms of violence.
National Peace Corps Association marks its 40th anniversary.
“A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” documentary premieres at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Peace Corps announces the “graduation” of the program in China.
World Health Organization declares COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unprecedented decision, all Peace Corps Volunteers are evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19.
Killing of George Floyd sparks national and then global protests against racial injustice.
Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen announces Peace Corps program to launch in Viet Nam in 2022.
National Peace Corps Association hosts town halls and ideas summit as part of Peace Corps Connect to the Future. This results in a report on how to reimagine, retool, and reshape the Peace Corps for a changed world.
Peace Corps launches Virtual Service Pilot program for evacuated Volunteers to continue working with countries where they were serving.
A violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol attempts to stop the certification of the presidential election.
Carol Spahn (Romania 1994–96) assumes responsibilities as acting director of the Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68). It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades.
Peace Corps deploys Response Volunteers with FEMA at community vaccination centers to fight COVID-19 — only the second time they have served domestically. Staff who continue to serve at posts around the world also partner in efforts to fight COVID-19.
Last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, after two decades of fighting.
NPCA hosts 60th-anniversary Peace Corps Connect. The theme: “Mobilizing for a Lifetime of Service and Impact.”
Volunteers are invited to return to service in five countries.
Peace Corps Place, new headquarters for National Peace Corps Association, to open in Truxton Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C., providing a home for the Peace Corps community with a café and event space.
PEACE CORPS BEGINNINGS: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY
And year by year — beginning in August 1961, and looking toward plans in 2022.
1961 | Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania)
1962 | Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Malaysia, Nepal, Niger, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela
1963 | Costa Rica, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Malawi, Morocco, Panama, Uruguay
1964 | Kenya, Uganda
1966 | Botswana, Chad, Grenada, Guyana, Republic of Korea, Libya, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau, Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis
1967 | Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Dominica, The Gambia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Samoa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga
1968 | Barbados, Benin, Fiji, Nicaragua
1969 | Mauritius, Swaziland (now Eswatini)
1970 | Malta, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo)
1971 | Mali, Solomon Islands
1972 | Central African Republic (CAR)
1973 | Oman, Yemen
1974 | Bahrain, Kiribati, Montserrat, Seychelles
1975 | Rwanda
1977 | Tuvalu
1980 | Anguilla, Turks and Caicos
1981 | Papua New Guinea
1982 | Cook Islands, Haiti
1983 | Burundi
1984 | Sudan
1986 | Marshall Islands
1988 | Cape Verde, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau
1990 | Czechoslovakia (now Czechia and Slovakia), Hungary, Namibia, Poland, São Tomé and Príncipe, Vanuatu
1991 | Bulgaria, Republic of the Congo, Mongolia, Romania, Zimbabwe
1992 | Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
1993 | China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Moldova, Turkmenistan
1994 | Niue, Zambia
1995 | Eritrea, Suriname
1996 | Macedonia (now North Macedonia)
1997 | Jordan, South Africa
1998 | Bangladesh, Mozambique
2000 | Bosnia and Herzegovina
2001 | Georgia
2002 | Timor-Leste
2003 | Azerbaijan
2004 | Mexico
2007 | Cambodia
2014 | Kosovo
2016 | Myanmar
2020 | Montenegro
2022 | Viet Nam
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 12, 2022 at 8:45 a.m. to correct spelling.
Comments or suggestions? Write us. | Story updated December 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM.