Communications Intern posted an articleSuggestions to the President by eleven former Peace Corps directors see more
Here’s what eleven former Peace Corps directors would say.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps on March 1, University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a conversation with 11 former Peace Corps directors. Topics ranged across the decades, with a focus on this unprecedented moment — pandemic that led to global evacuation — and an eye toward what Peace Corps can and should do for a changed world.
The conversation was moderated by Donna Shalala, former secretary of health and human services and former member of Congress. Shalala served as a Volunteer in Iran 1962–64, when Sargent Shriver was Peace Corps Director. “He came out to visit us. One of the things I remember, other than he was a charismatic character and we had a lot of fun with him, is that he stuck us with the hotel bill. Thirty years later I presented him with that bill — and his wife made him pay it.”
In all seriousness, she noted that amid a time of rancorous political divide, if she had three minutes with the president to talk about the Peace Corps, she would drive home this point: “The Peace Corps has always been bipartisan. It has always had the support of both parties. Some of the most significant budget increases were during a Republican presidency.”
Bolstering support for Peace Corps is something that earns support on both sides of the aisle.
—Steven Boyd Saum
I’d tell the president: Get them back out there as quickly as you can. Number two, use it as a base to build a national service program for the entire United States. And number three, hire everybody who’s a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer for your administration.
My first request would be to double the size of the program, because we clearly have always had the demand, way more than we could ever fill … Peace Corps has remained strong and a very durable brand throughout multiple challenges, multiple crises, multiple attempts to defund the agency, people who tried to submerge it in another agency … It has survived and prospered.
DOUBLE IT! We’ve come to appreciate the importance of public health, both at home and globally, in a much more immediate way. Can we declare a decade committed to global public health, in which the Peace Corps plays a role overseas — and then brings that role home? The public health system here can use great strengthening, and it could become part of a comprehensive national service program.
For a while I was with the Pan American Health Organization, and people told me that Peace Corps Volunteers in Latin America, in Africa, and in countries in other parts of the world, were key in the smallpox eradication program, and Volunteers worked on polio eradication. Looking forward, it seems to me that would be the kind of challenge Volunteers would respond to. COVID is not going away quickly. Peace Corps Volunteers can help, through their ability to bring technology to bear on health communication in countries around the world.
I am a big proponent of universal national service. I would tell the president that we have a blueprint, which is ready to go, for expansion of national service. Now is the time. We need something that created the greatest generation, that brought people together from Tulsa to New York, from Brooklyn to Fresno — and national service can do it. As we look for ways to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, national service would be an ideal platform to expand opportunities for young people around the country.
I’d try to add an initiative that was dear to my heart: the 50-plus initiative, and talk about the fact that the Peace Corps is not only for young people; it’s for those who have had successful careers, and now have years of experience that they have the ability to share with people around the world. I think it would be impactful on the president to hear some of those stories.
The most important point is the proven track record, success, and value of the Peace Corps — to set the foundation to have a discussion about the ultimate objective, which is to grow and expand the Peace Corps. The domestic dividend is the one aspect that I tried to emphasize, particularly, both to the president and on the Hill; the return on that investment far, far exceeds the boundaries or the time of service in country.
My conversations with Sargent Shriver confirmed to me the whole ethos of the Peace Corps was innovation — and making the Volunteer the North Star. Which led me to think through ways that we could contemporize the Peace Corps and make it right for the times. I used to think the domestic dividend was one of the more underreported or unobserved strengths of the Peace Corps.
We know the good work that happens in some of the most desperate places across the planet — what that means to those communities and villages, certainly the Volunteers. We now know the impact on American lives when they return is the brilliance of the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. We’re at a point in our history where the importance of national and community service cannot be more important. It’s what unites us. Volunteers would say that it crosses the boundaries of difference.
We’re at a point in our history where the importance of national and community service cannot be more important. It’s what unites us.
As we celebrate this 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, a major accomplishment in the next ten years can be to enhance the threads of service. We know the demand is there. The interesting question for me now is: What will the next ten, 15, 20 years bring in innovation? During my time, we thought of ways to use short-term assignments, initially Crisis Corps, which became Peace Corps Response. Every director here had a moment where they could build upon that history through innovation, respond to needs.
America’s young people — and those not so young — are looking for ways to make a difference. As to the future of the Peace Corps, we’re going to need everyone’s support to make sure the funding is ample. This anniversary is so joyful — but the 70th will be even more so when the Peace Corps will have been doubled.
Many people don’t really understand what Peace Corps does. So I would share a story that conveys what Peace Corps is really about — a story told me by Alpha Condé [first democratically elected president in Guinea], who early in my tenure as director came to visit with President Obama to celebrate democracy in West Africa. He asked to see me; he had a short period of time in Washington, D.C. I went to his hotel, and we had a very formal meeting and exchanged gifts.
He had to meet with President Obama in just a minute. I jumped up to leave — and he reached for my arm and he said, “Please sit down, because now that we’ve dispensed with the formalities, I want to speak to you from my heart. I want to tell you how Peace Corps has transformed my life — but even more important, how it has changed the lives of my people.
“There was a Peace Corps Volunteer who lived next door to me — the first person who believed I had a future outside the boundaries of my village. His late-night tutoring helped me to pass my national exams. He helped me navigate the journey through university application, financial forms, etc. I would not be president today if not for his support and encouragement.
“But more important, the impact your Volunteers have had on my people: During my campaign for presidency, I visited over 300 villages in Guinea. I went to villages in the far east of my country, where Ebola started. My campaign staff wouldn’t go there — and there were Peace Corps Volunteers. I went to the villages in the north where civil servants refused to be posted — and there were Peace Corps Volunteers. I went to small villages in the center of my country; they are visited occasionally by NGOs, which do great work. But at the end of the day, they get back in their SUVs and go back to Conakry, where they live. Your Peace Corps Volunteers stay.
Alpha Condé, the first democratically elected president of Guinea, said: “Your being there validates my people in a way that sending them money or building them a school could never accomplish. In all honesty, your being there validates my people more than millions of dollars in foreign assistance.”
“By your presence, you tell my people that Americans care, that my people are important, that you’re willing to give us your most precious asset — your sons and daughters — and that they are willing to leave everything that is dear to them to travel thousands of miles from home to learn our language, eat our food, learn about our culture, and work on our priorities. Your being there validates my people in a way that sending them money or building them a school could never accomplish. In all honesty, your being there validates my people more than millions of dollars in foreign assistance.
“My people are so proud to show their culture and their language. They’re so proud to work together with your Volunteers to create a better world together, who give them a hand up and not a handout. And that makes a difference.”
I’d share that story. In this world that has become so divided, presidents need to know about those interpersonal connections. Unless people really understand that, they don’t see a benefit in the Peace Corps. We need to be able to communicate the importance of Peace Corps in a way that is profoundly personal. When I was director, there were more than ten presidents on the continent of Africa alone who said they got their start with a Peace Corps Volunteer. That’s extraordinary.
I was sometimes asked by Volunteers, when I was director, what is their real impact? I assured them that I had the great privilege of seeing the continuum of work from one Volunteer to another — work that’s built upon one another.
What you’re all illustrating is the one-on-one, the humbleness; you learn the language, you learn the community, you are with a family. One example that several of you were involved in: Peace Corps going back to Indonesia. There was a lot of mistrust, and a tiny program — maybe ten Volunteers. We came, we worked, bit by bit by bit. I was able to go back to Indonesia about 15 months ago for a meeting with the Ministry of Education and the other agencies that have come together for Peace Corps in Indonesia. They said, “We want to say to you now, ten years later — we want to open up the next section for the country. We want to bring in 30, 40, 50, 60 more Volunteers. We trust you. We respect you, because you honor and respect us as individuals working in communities.”
Megan Patrick posted an articleHow to support PCVs and RPCVs this year see more
By Sandi Giver
Remember the feeling of being in your country of service for the holidays, far away from home and family? For some, our first holiday season back in the States also evokes a similar sense of disorientation. Because of this, RPCVs can help support other members of the Peace Corps community this time of year.
Some individuals returning home might be medically evacuated from their posts, or dealing with post-service illness, injury or trauma. Others may be struggling to find a job or housing. Still others may find that family or friends don’t “get” their service, or ask questions that require much more than a one sentence response. For these recently returned RPCVs, or those in periods of transition and uncertainty, sometimes fellow RPCVs are best suited to offer understanding and support — especially during the holidays. What can you do this year?
5 Tips to help as an RPCV this holiday season:
1. Find new friends to welcome home. Is there an country of service or local affiliate group you can connect with? A Facebook page or other forms of group communication can be a vehicle to reach out to newly returned PCVs to welcome them home. Within your message of welcome, include an offer to connect via phone, email or in person. Face-to-face conversations may make the most impact to connect with others, but using social media might put the word out faster that your door is open.
2. Host a Holiday or New Year’s Event for New RPCVs. Invite others over who need a place to “escape”, eat, watch holiday movies, and feel connected to those who know the Peace Corps experience first-hand. Something simple, flexible, and welcoming.
3. Create a safe space. Some individuals may still be working through challenges and that is okay. Don’t push for details, but if they are offered, listen and be empathetic. If an individual has the need to step away for a minute, let them. Welcome them back and treat them normally.
4. Share diverse holiday stories. How did your community in service celebrate the holidays? Think about what the holidays mean to you and how that fits into your current life situation. Find the commonalities and unique aspects alike.
5. Be you. The fact that you want to support others and are making an effort is tremendous.
At the end of the day, it’s on all of us to remember and welcome RPCVs who may be facing challenges both during holiday season and throughout the year. That’s why one of the initiatives of the NPCA in 2017 is to begin establishing stronger health support networks for members of our community. That’s also why we have started to raise funds to establish an NPCA Benevolent Fund to assist RPCVs in need. If you are able, please consider a financial gift to the NPCA Benevolence Fund so we can reach our goal of $25,000 needed to successfully launch a fund that will be meaningful and sustainable.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleRead about one person working to provide support to the Peace Corps community. see more
I am Sandi Giver and I know firsthand how vital a support network is for individuals who have experienced injustices.
I am a data point along a data set of others who were sexually assaulted while serving our country as a Peace Corps Volunteer. RPCV survivors like myself face the typical challenges of readjustment after service such as finding employment, housing, and next steps. Combine that with additional challenges such as physical or mental health issues, ongoing legal cases, feelings of isolation or difficulty connecting with others. Life at times can seem very overwhelming and as if in a constant crisis mode.
Thankfully, it doesn't have to stay that way. As RPCVs, we have a rich community that can provide a network of resources and support to RPCV survivors as they continue their healing journey.
For myself, I was able to connect with individuals I had met during medevac to help with some basic needs: an RPCV Benin friend provided a place to stay for a month; an RPCV therapist was able to connect me to an individual who had a part time contract job that worked around my legal case and other obligations; other RPCVs became my adopted family where I felt accepted and belonged.
I know firsthand the generosity and compassion that RPCVs are willing to give. Our service to others did not stop when we COS'ed- now, we need RPCVs to serve and support each other. Through conversations with fellow RPCV survivors, I realized that as a community we can do more. Oftentimes, individuals RPCV survivors interacted with were unaware of what support was needed or tangible ways they could make an impact.
As a social work graduate student, I sought out NPCA and Glenn to see if there was a more formal way I could pay forward the support I received and explore ways to get others involved. I was attracted to NPCA's goal of helping members and affiliate groups thrive, helping them fulfill their potential together.
By creating a more formal RPCV support network, we are committing to support RPCVs where they are to help them thrive. We can be the connectors to support and resources that they need.
If you are as passionate about supporting others as I am, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can see where you fit.
If you are a survivor or friend and are aware of support gaps, please provide info on what support types should be on our radar.
If you want to support RPCV survivors in a financial way, please make a financial contribution to the benevolence fund: Click Here.
As RPCVs, we have a lot to offer. Please join me and others as we commit to support our fellow RPCVs.