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.”
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Story updated April 7 at 19:30 Eastern.
Jonathan Pearson is Advocacy Director for National Peace Corps Association
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 email@example.com.
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
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
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.
Acting Director Carol Spahn on the state of the Peace Corps in 2021. see more
No Volunteers in the field. Battling COVID-19 — and the global rollout of virtual volunteering. Remarks and Q&A with Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Pictured: In Morocco, partners and volunteer participants team up as part of the Virtual Service Pilot — which has fostered collaboration on projects around the world since October 2020. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Morocco.
Carol Spahn has served as acting director of the Peace Corps since January 2021. She previously served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 and later as country director for Malawi and chief of operations for the Africa region. She spoke on September 23, 2021, as part of the opening evening of Peace Corps Connect 2021. The Q&A was moderated by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Below is an edited version of their conversation. Watch the entire conversation here.
Carol Spahn: I can think of nothing more important than being here today with the Peace Corps family. It is such a gift to be part of this community that continues to show up years and decades later, to be with each other and to work together to make the world a better place, to make the agency the best that it can be. We value you. We are listening, we are here with you. And we really thank you for your support. I know that most of you have a burning question on your minds, which is: When will Volunteers get back out into service? I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the enormity of the pandemic’s impacts on health, safety, and well-being around the world, as well as the disproportionate impact that it has had on many of the countries where Volunteers served. We are all anxious to get out there and be a part of the solution. Finding the balance between the health and safety of our Volunteers in our communities has been one of the biggest challenges of my time as acting director.
When we first evacuated Volunteers in March 2020 — in itself an amazing feat; we evacuated almost 7,000 Volunteers in just eight days — we thought we would turn around and get Volunteers back into service three or four months later, after COVID passed. We got to work putting procedures in place, setting up expedited applications, and working hard to make sure that we were ready. As we were gearing up to get Volunteers back into service, we hit the second wave of the pandemic. So we pulled back.
When I took this position in January 2021, we thought, We will get Volunteers vaccinated, and we will be able to get them right back out into service. Then the delta variant hit. At this time, we recognize that COVID will be with us for some time. None of us expected to be having this conversation still, 18 months after the evacuation of Volunteers.
We are evaluating every country individually. We have seen how they’ve handled the pandemic — and multiple waves — in their own communities. We are assessing their health systems as well as other factors, like medical evacuation hubs, and the availability and stability of those hubs. We have several countries that are making it through our very rigorous process. We are hopeful that we will be able to get some Volunteers out toward the beginning of 2022. But we know that the pandemic does continue to throw us curveballs. We will get Volunteers out as soon as it is safe to do so.
When I think about this time, I think about what cultural anthropologists call a liminal experience. This is a disorienting period when things are neither here nor there, when things have been so disrupted that we are forced to think about things differently. And this is not just Peace Corps. This is happening around the world.
We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.
But when I think about Peace Corps’ role in the world and our rich history, there are so many examples of how Peace Corps has helped to rebuild countries following civil war, disasters; how we came in after apartheid, after the end of the Cold War, and much more. We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.
Peace Corps Volunteers know how to listen first, to see what’s possible, to inspire collaboration, to challenge the status quo, and to handle uncertainty. We withstand adversity, we learn through hardship, we adapt to changing circumstances, we innovate, we partner, we fail, and we come back again, until the problem has been solved. In fact, we demand to be challenged, to have our beliefs questioned, to ask hard questions, and to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And we make lifelong friends around the world along the way.
I’ve been so inspired during this time to see how the broad Peace Corps community has stepped up, surrounded by so many of you — and so many staff members — whose very nature it is to raise your hand, to jump off the sidelines, to approach obstacles, and to get in there and solve problems. I am grateful to the 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers who closed their service in August after contributing to the domestic whole-of-government efforts to reach underserved communities with critical health information and access. The stories from this partnership with FEMA, only the second time that Peace Corps has deployed domestically in our history, have been amazing.
Evacuated from Ukraine in March 2020, Kevin Lawson served as a Response Volunteer in 2021 in the U.S. to battle COVID-19. Photo by Meghan White / Peace Corps
We have Volunteers who reached out to a homeless community in Oregon. The people there did not want to go to the vaccination site. So what does a Volunteer do? They went back to the vaccination site and brought the doctors and nurses to the people. We have Volunteers who used Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages to reach people — to build trust and connections in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S.
Likewise, I’m profoundly grateful to our 240 Virtual Service Pilot participants. Through this engagement, you’ve challenged the status quo and demonstrated that, through technology, we can realize impact and that partnerships can be sustained. Participants serving virtually in Nepal are supporting government health and agricultural workers to combat growing food insecurity and economic hardship attributable to COVID-19. Virtual service participants in the Eastern Caribbean have developed a blended learning program, and they’re training teachers across four countries to use digital and online learning to help students return to learning and recover from educational disruptions. This virtual service program can tear down barriers to service, both for volunteers who can’t serve overseas and for communities that, for health safety or other logistical reasons, can’t host volunteers in person.
For the latest round of this pilot, we have returned Volunteers from every decade — the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and beyond — returning to their country of service virtually, to support them during this time. It is such an amazing tribute to the legacy of Peace Corps, and the real commitment that is not just those two years when a Volunteer serves, but that really extends a lifetime.
In the community of Mantasoa in Madagascar, Peace Corps staff helped launch a vaccination campaign. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the tremendous work being done by our staff around the world. Since the global evacuation, our staff have been working tirelessly to keep advancing Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship. The working partnerships that have emerged organically during this time are remarkable.
In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16. In Timor Leste, staff have been partners to the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and have translated COVID-19 information and guidelines into Tetum and nine other local languages, promoting equitable access to health information throughout the country.
In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16.
Almost every single post around the world is directly contributing at this time to the objectives of the United States’ COVID-19 global response and recovery framework. Technology has been key during this time, not only for the virtual service, but also for our staff. In North Macedonia, after completing our eight-week course developer certificate practicum, our staff partnered with the Ministry of Education and delivered workshops to all 25,000 educators from 1,000 public schools in the country so that they could educate their students virtually. Meanwhile, our global agency has poured time and attention into strengthening our systems.
This time without Volunteers in the field has given us a unique opportunity to make strategic improvements. And I would encourage all to sign up for “Inside Peace Corps,” a newsletter we’re putting out that pulls back the curtain so that you can see improvements that we are making. There are too many to list at this time, but I do want to raise a couple.
First, keeping equity at the heart of our work, we continue to ramp up our intercultural competence, diversity, equity and inclusion practice. We have gained invaluable insights from our RPCV community through the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report through our barrier analysis in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have implemented unconscious bias training for all staff around the world. We will be requiring this training for Volunteers before they go out into service. We are approving a new position that will focus on retention, looking at Volunteers in the pipeline to ensure that we understand what the barriers are for our Volunteers of color, our applicants of color who are applying to the Peace Corps, and that we are at a place to remove those barriers.
We also have a new programming, training, and evaluation system that looks at core competencies — and among those are ICDE&I competencies, through which we are intentionally building accountability to our host countries. These will be used globally, and Volunteers will all be evaluated on a standardized set of ICDE&I competencies, which set clear levels of how Volunteers are expected to master technical skills and demonstrate the agency’s values through their assignments.
There is so much that is going on in this space. You will see a lot of it in our strategic plan when that is released. [It was released December 3. —Ed.] One of the big ideas we were asked to consider in the 2020 “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was around ethical storytelling. We’ve taken this recommendation seriously and are developing an ethical storytelling toolkit for staff, Volunteers, and RPCVs. That will equip us all with the awareness and communication tools necessary to keep our host communities at the heart of our storytelling. Through this work, we aspire to achieve a more ethical and equitable storytelling standard that extends across all of the Peace Corps network, and ensures that Peace Corps members have a sense of belonging and that we are honoring identity throughout.
Finally, I know that many of you have deep concerns about our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program. We are committed to strengthening this program and have been taking a long, hard look at where it can be improved. We’ve taken several actions already that are aimed to reinforce this system, and that also respect the rights, the privacy, and the needs of any Volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault. I am very proud of the advances that the agency has made in this space. And I’m very personally committed and accountable for this work.
I want to end by quoting from a speech that President Biden gave at the U.N. General Assembly. He said, “There is a clear and urgent choice we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures. And whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come.”
This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change.
This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change. But we can create a Peace Corps that transcends the experience we all know and love to create a new and improved Peace Corps, one that encompasses the diverse, equitable, and inclusive vision we have — a vision of an agency that is able to respond quickly to shifting realities, and utilize a variety of creative tools and modalities to combat some of the greatest threats of our lifetime.
We are all inextricably linked to that legacy.
Questions from the community: diversity, virtual service, reducing the risk of sexual assault, and more
Glenn Blumhorst: You mentioned the Peace Corps Connect to the Future summit and report and specific things the agency is implementing, such as ethical storytelling. Are there other recommendations that stand out and that you have been working to implement?
Spahn: It is a report I go back to frequently. As we went through our strategic planning process, it was one of many inputs we factored in. Giving priority to hiring people of color: We will have specific goals and objectives around that, and implementing systems for how to do outreach more intentionally into different communities, both for staff and for Volunteers. We would love to engage the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in helping us do that. There are recommendations about providing financial assistance. We are looking to pilot programming this year to see how we can support Volunteers who might not be able to pay upfront costs of medical clearance. Is there a way we can provide vouchers or other financial support so they do not need to carry costs until they can be reimbursed? We have been partnering with AARP for how to recruit all kinds of diversity into Peace Corps.
Blumhorst: The report was shared with of Congress. Some reforms and improvements and provisions that emanated from that report are in H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, introduced by Congressman Garamendi.
The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place.
Spahn: The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place. The bill really does have a lot of provisions that are very supportive of our Volunteers and our community.
Blumhorst: You touched on a topic that’s one that we really want to lean in on, and listen in on — sexual assault risk reduction and response. What is the status of the congressionally-mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council that is charged with assessing Peace Corps’ efforts to address sexual assault and offer best practices?
Spahn: The council has been meeting since May, several times a month. We’ve asked them to look back over the last five years at recommendations of the council, assess where we are, and see what is relevant from those prior recommendations: where we still have work to do, what are the most important things going forward. They will be preparing a report for us before the end of the year, and we will make that report public. [The report was released in November. — Ed.] I want to thank those advisory council members. Those are unpaid positions — people who care deeply about Peace Corps — and we put a big task in front of them this year. We have also put out a call for proposals and will be having a review of the overall structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program to make sure it is structured in the best way, that we are a continuously learning organization. There is no entity that can say, We have the best way to really meet sexual assault survivors where they are. We are all learning, we’re all growing, and we are committed to listening, improving, and putting systems in place so we can be the best that we can be.
Blumhorst: We recognize the role of staff in the field, preparing the way for Volunteers to return. Meanwhile, tell us about virtual volunteering. What have you learned from current programs?
Spahn: It has shown tremendous promise for how Volunteers can stay engaged long after service, supporting communities in a variety of ways. The beauty of virtual service is that there might be people who can’t clear medically who would still have an option to serve. We might have people with very specific skills a country is looking for, who might not be able to leave home for two years — but could contribute in other ways. We have regions that can’t be reached due to safety and security issues. We saw this with Paraguay — an ecotourism organization and national park site Volunteers were not able to reach for a variety of reasons. There is now a virtual Volunteer helping through radio programming and other ways to support environmental programs.
Will it ever replace the two-year Volunteers and that on-the-ground connection? No. That is where the magic of Peace Corps happens, in living and working together side by side for an extended period of time. But will it be a terrific supplement, using all of the tools that we have at our disposal? Absolutely.
The hardest part is that balancing act — knowing the need at this pivotal time in history… knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and how to do that safely.
The hardest part is really that balancing act — knowing what the need is that’s out there at this pivotal time in history, part of a global pandemic, the likes of which we will hopefully never see again in our lifetime; and knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and struggling through the details to make sure that we can do that safely. That has been the biggest challenge. One of the biggest barriers has been stable access to medical evacuation hubs. We’re setting up backup options and agreements. We’re all here for the mission of Peace Corps, to be out in communities and supporting world peace and friendship. The highs have been seeing innovation and how people have stepped up in many ways: what staff in the field are doing in the absence of Volunteers, and staff at headquarters buckling down to get systems in place so that when we’re ready, we really are the best that we can be.
Blumhorst: How does the agency play a role in helping RPCVs have a lifetime of service and impact?
Spahn: I love the theme of this conference, and have seen in so many ways how RPCVs have stepped up. I want to give a special shout-out to Friends of Tonga, who are a 2021 Library of Congress honoree for best practices for their virtual read-aloud program. As Peace Corps, we are looking to engage with RPCVs and through National Peace Corps Association, to really expand and understand the impact. I encourage everyone to complete the survey that NPCA put out, so that we can really understand that and help support it longer term. Our ethical storytelling kit will be a great tool. And we will be looking to work with RPCVs getting out into underrepresented communities around the United States to really elevate awareness of the Peace Corps.
We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine the agency see more
With our allies in Congress, we’re working to ensure that the administration understands this is no time to return to the status quo. We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine, reshape, and retool for a changed world.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Many of us in the Peace Corps community took note of the pledge in President Biden’s inaugural address to “engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And, we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Those words resonate with the Peace Corps mission, not with a sense of “be like us!” but with a sense of solidarity and commitment to working and learning alongside one another, wherever we serve. One of the messages we’re driving home to members of Congress and the Executive Branch: If we’re reengaging with the world, let’s do it with ideals that are supposed to represent what’s best about this country — even as we work in our communities and at the national level to build a more perfect union.
That said, if we value the role of the Peace Corps, we have to be serious about reimagining, retooling, and reshaping the agency for a changed world. As the administration appoints new leadership for the agency, it is critical that it brings on board not only a director but top staff who reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice, and that these leaders come equipped with global experience and a deep understanding of — and commitment to — the Peace Corps community.
Equity, experience, and community
At the Peace Corps agency, January 20 marked the departure of Director Jody Olsen, who led the agency during unprecedented times, including the global evacuation of Volunteers in spring 2020. Last fall she was optimistic about Volunteers returning to the field as early as January 2021. But by December it was clear that was no longer a possibility. Plans are now for Volunteers to return in the second half of 2021. The health and safety of communities and Volunteers is paramount.
Carol Spahn has been named Acting Director of the Peace Corps. The Biden Administration has also begun to announce new political appointments. We’re meeting with Spahn and the leadership team as it takes form to ensure that we keep moving forward with the big ideas the Peace Corps community has outlined to meet the needs of a world as it is, not as it was. For Peace Corps, as with so much in this country, now is not the time to return to the status quo. Now is the time for historic changes.
When many hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community came together in summer 2020 for a series of town hall meetings and a global ideas summit, it was with a sense of an agency, a nation, and a world facing multiple crises. From those meetings came “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a community-driven report that brings together big ideas and targeted, actionable recommendations for the agency and the Executive Branch, Congress, and the wider Peace Corps community — particularly NPCA.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential: that many of them address longstanding issues and sorely needed changes, but there never had been the opportunity to undertake them on a major scale. Now is that time.
Whom the Biden Administration appoints to top posts at the agency sends a powerful signal to the community. Will the leaders reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice — and a serious commitment to the quarter million strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community? Members of Congress who have been champions for Peace Corps funding are watching as well.
A roadmap for change
The report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” provides a roadmap for change. While the report is far-ranging in point-by-point recommendations that are grouped into eight separate chapters, here are three overriding themes that emerged. We’re working to ensure that the administration and new staff at the agency take these to heart:
1. The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism.
The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps. Conversely, many in the U.S. bristle when hearing these terms; but it’s important to both recognize the context and address them head-on to enable a more effective and welcome return for Volunteers.
2. The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact.
The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers. NPCA has demonstrated that it is both possible and beneficial to become community-driven to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Community-driven programming will keep the work both current and relevant to the world around us, ensuring that the agency succeeds in its mission in a changed world.
3. Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change.
The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken.
Who is there to lead the change matters. From the Peace Corps community, this message came through clearly: When it comes to the permanent director, they should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States — and communities throughout the world.
In an unprecedented time, the Peace Corps community has come together with an unparalleled response. With the new administration, there are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with years of experience already taking on key roles in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Labor, and National Security Council. These appointments show a value placed on experience and racial equity — and a commitment to leading with the best. Let’s ensure that commitment carries over to Peace Corps as well.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association
Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleNational Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. see more
By Mark Gearan
The bipartisan, 11-member National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to find ways to increase participation in military, national, and public service and to review the military selective service process. Our goal is to ignite a national conversation about the importance of service as we develop recommendations for the Congress and the President by March 2020.
I am honored to serve as vice chair for national and public service and was privileged to deliver opening remarks during two national service hearings held by the Commission in March 2019. From my years as Peace Corps director, I know RPCVs will have a strong interest in our work and I appreciate this opportunity to update the community on our efforts.
From February to June of this year, the commission held 14 public hearings and released eight staff memoranda on various topics related to our mission. In March, the commission held two hearings on national service and released a staff memorandum summarizing research and outlining potential policy options the commission is considering on increasing Americans’ propensity to participate in national service.
National service is defined in the commission’s mandate as “civilian participation in any non-governmental capacity, including with private for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations (including with appropriate faith-based organizations), that pursues and enhances the common good and meets the needs of communities, the states, or the nation in sectors related to security, health, care for the elderly, and other areas considered appropriate by the Commission.”
National Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. The Commission is also considering ways to include faith-based, non-profit, and private-sector organizations in creating and promoting national service opportunities.
As the vice chair for national and public service, former Peace Corps director, and a former college president, our hearings on national service were close to my heart, especially as we hosted them at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. President George H.W. Bush lived his life in service to others and as a leader who believed service could unite Americans. He served as a champion of national service, and it was an honor for the commission to host both hearings at the school that honors his legacy. And I note with pride, that Texas is fourth in the list of top Peace Corps volunteer-producing states with 350 individuals serving in the Peace Corps in 2018.
Reducing Barriers to Service
A study commissioned by Service Year Alliance in 2015 demonstrated that fewer than one third of 14 to 24-year-olds are aware of service year options. The Commission wants to assure access to these opportunities for all Americans. To do this, the Commission is interested in minimizing barriers to serve, such as stipends and benefits. Improving access to national service will ensure that the diversity of national service volunteers reflects that of the nation.
When the Peace Corps was established in 1961, it was an innovative and bold idea. Today, more than 230,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers demonstrate the enduring strength of that idea. Peace Corps Volunteers have represented the United States in 141 countries and have left behind a legacy of peace and friendship.
At our hearing, Michelle Brooks, Peace Corps chief of staff, testified and argued that federal government investment in programs such as Peace Corps and the various programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service ultimately results in the development of passionate and informed global citizens. Each Peace Corps Volunteer returns to the United States with a proven track record of working in a cross-cultural setting and appreciating and respecting the richness of working across differences.
Brooks also shared recommendations the agency would like the commission to consider. Two of those suggestions were: extending Noncompetitive Eligibility status to three years for RPCVs, bringing it in line with most other authorities granting that status; and an NCE Service Registry, an idea Peace Corps is piloting with two federal agencies.
Ms. Brooks’ full testimony can be found on the Commission’s website at www.inspire2serve.gov. Do you have additional recommendations to those provided by the Peace Corps during our March hearings on national service?
Join the Discussion
I invite you to join us in this important conversation. Our hope is to spark a movement: every American — especially young Americans — inspired and eager to serve. Talk to your friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues and fellow returned Volunteers about the commission, your service experience, and how we can create more national service opportunities for Americans. We want to hear from all of you!
Share your ideas with the commission through our website on any aspect of the commission’s mission. For example, how can we create more national service opportunities for Americans, and how can we improve the current national service policies and processes?
Stay up to date on the commission’s activities and download the Interim Report at www.inspire2serve.gov. Our final report will be released in March 2020 with recommendations for the national service community — and that includes Peace Corps. Stay tuned! We also invite you to follow the commission on Facebook and Twitter via @Inspire2ServeUS and join the digital conversation on service by using the hashtag #Inspire2Serve.
Mark Gearan currently serves as the vice chair for National and Public Service for the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School and served as the 14th director of the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1999.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.