Skip to Main Content

Ukraine

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    These are the times that ask in stark terms what friendship means. see more

    Peace, friendship, and a people whose anthem is “Ukraine Has Not Perished Yet”

    From the editor of WorldView

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

     

    In the summer of 2019, during early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, I served as an observer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. With a fellow observer from Canada and a driver and interpreter from Kyiv, we visited polling places just northwest of the capital, around a pair of suburban communities — Irpin and Bucha. Irpin in particular had earned a reputation in recent years as a bucolic bedroom community, a place of fresh air and spacious green parks. It is not anymore.

    If you have followed the war in Ukraine, you have heard the names of those cities. The battle for Irpin was hard-fought; Ukrainian forces stopped a Russian advance on Kyiv there, and the shelling was brutal. The carnage came into sharp focus with the image of a family killed while fleeing: Tatiana Perebeinis and her two children — son Nikita, 18, and daughter Alise, 9 — slain when a Russian mortar shell struck. Russian troops promised safe passage out. The mother was an accountant for a tech startup in Silicon Valley. In 2014, she and her family had fled their home in Donetsk after Russian forces invaded there.

    At the end of March, Ukrainian forces retook Irpin. At the beginning of April, they liberated Bucha. It was not a time to celebrate. The scale of atrocities began to take hold: mass graves for hundreds. Bodies of civilians left in the streets, some with hands bound and hooded — victims of execution. It is a time for reckoning with conscience — for all.

    When I first went to Ukraine with the Peace Corps nearly 30 years ago, it was in part because I wanted to understand the enormous changes taking place. This nation of more than 40 million was emerging from decades of authoritarian rule by the Soviet regime. That was after centuries of being colonized and partitioned by the Russian empire and others. With independence in 1991, its language and culture were no longer suppressed; stories long buried could now be told. I could bear witness and, as a writer, help others beyond Ukraine understand in a truly human way. As a teacher — at a university named for the poet Lesya Ukrainka — I could work with students to find their own voices. I understood how important it is to tell your own story, literally and metaphorically. Because there are always those ready to write that story for you — one in which your voice is silent. One in which they shape a cruel plot and ending that you do not want. A story, as we see now, about trying to reestablish an empire. A story based on lies that would literally kill whole families and burn their corpses.

    When the education program for Peace Corps Ukraine was launched, it was managed by Olena Sergeeva. She has gone on to teach in MBA programs in Kyiv and is a partner with consulting firm Amrop. When the war began she was in the States; her teenage daughter had wanted to stay in Kyiv. Then missiles began to fly, and her daughter needed to evacuate. Olena’s elderly mother lives in Zhytomyr, in central Ukraine; she did not want to leave her home. Rockets hit there, too. Olena’s sister is staying to take care of her. The sister’s son enlisted in the military. They were trying to buy body armor for him. (Watch a conversation with Olena Sergeeva here, from the March 2022 Shriver Leadership Summit.)

     

    Olena’s sister is staying to take care of their mother. They’re looking for body armor for her nephew in the military.

     

    All this, because a tyrant declared their country did not exist. His army invaded, began to reduce cities to rubble, and is prosecuting a campaign of terror meant to bury a people and their history. That cannot be how this story ends.

    What of us — will we protect the most vulnerable, challenge impunity, ensure that injustice does not prevail? My friends and former students and colleagues across the country are witnessing terror. They huddle in basements to escape shelling. One mother has seen a cruise missile streak overhead as she fled across the country in a car, a toddler in the back seat. Some are living in occupied cities, not permitted to leave, no humanitarian aid allowed in.

     

    Words and deeds: To protect themselves when Russian rockets strike and shrapnel flies, some residents in photographer Lev Shevchenko’s neighborhood in Kyiv barricaded their windows with books. Photo by Lev Shevchenko

     

    More than 3,400 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Ukraine — part of a mission to build peace and friendship. These are the times that ask in stark terms what friendship means. Ukrainian Peace Corps staff have been working to help their nation. The RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, founded by returned Volunteers, has been tackling advocacy efforts, sending first-aid kits, raising funds. The Friends of Moldova, along with staff in Moldova, are part of efforts to provide food and shelter to refugees.

    In the past weeks, many have heard the national anthem of Ukraine for the first time. Its title translates as “Ukraine Has Not Perished Yet.” That is where this story we are all writing needs to begin.

     

    This essay appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine.


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way. see more

    Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way.

     

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

    This is a hopeful time for the Peace Corps: On March 14, a group of Volunteers arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. Just over a week later, on March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic. They are the first to return to service overseas since March 2020, when Volunteers were evacuated from around the globe because of COVID-19. The contributions of Volunteers serving in Zambia will include partnering with communities to focus on food security and education, along with partnering on efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations.

    We’re thankful for the Volunteers who are helping lead the way, with the support of the Peace Corps community. And we’re deeply grateful for the work that Peace Corps Zambia staff have continued to do during the pandemic — work emblematic of the commitment Peace Corps staff around the world have shown during this unprecedented time.

     

    Returning to Zambia: Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19, in March the first cohort returned to begin service overseas. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Lusaka 

     

    Invitations are out for Volunteers to return to some 30 countries in 2022. Among those who will be serving are Volunteers who were evacuated in 2020, trainees who never had the chance to serve, and new Volunteers. Crucially, they are all returning as part of an agency that has listened to — and acted on — ideas and recommendations from the Peace Corps community for how to ensure that we’re shaping a Peace Corps that better meets the needs of a changed world. Those recommendations came out of conversations that National Peace Corps Association convened and drew together in the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” We’re seeing big steps in the Peace Corps being more intentional in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion; working with a deeper awareness of what makes for ethical storytelling; and better ensuring Volunteer safety and security.

     

    Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.

     

    At the same time, while we are buoyed by the fact that Volunteers are returning to work around the world building the person-to-person relationships in communities where they serve, we must not diminish the scale of the tragedy we are witnessing in Ukraine. More than 10 million people have fled their homes in the face of an invasion and war  they did not provoke and did not want. Across this country and in Europe, thousands of returned Volunteers are working to help Ukrainians in harm’s way.

    Thank you to all of you who are doing what you can in this moment of crisis: from the Friends of Moldova working to provide food, shelter, and transportation to refugees — to the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine putting together first-aid kits, leading advocacy efforts to support Ukraine, and so much more. Since the beginning of the war, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.

     

    Donate to the Friends of Moldova Ukraine Refugee Effort.

     

    At a time like this it’s important to underscore a truth we know: The mission of building peace and friendship is the work of a lifetime.

    That’s a message we need to drive home to Congress right now. With your support, let’s get Congress to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act this year. It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in 20 years. Along with instituting further necessary reforms, it will ensure that as Volunteers return to the field it is with the support of a better and stronger Peace Corps.

     

     

    President Biden will formally nominate Carol Spahn to lead the Peace Corps at a critical time. 

    It is becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a new era — one that desperately needs those committed to Peace Corps ideals. With that in mind, I am heartened by the news we received in early April that President Biden intends to nominate Carol Spahn to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps. A returned Volunteer herself (Romania 1994–96), she began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency for the past 14 months, one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history.

    We have been honored to work with Carol and her strong leadership team over the past year on collaborative efforts to navigate this difficult period of planning for the Peace Corps’ new future. We have full confidence in her commitment to return Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner and offer the next generation of Volunteers a better, stronger Peace Corps ready to meet the global challenges we confront. The continuity of this work is key. We are calling on the Senate to swiftly bring forth this nomination for consideration and bipartisan confirmation.


    Glenn Blumhorst is president and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91. Write him: president@peacecorpsconnect.org

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    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)

     

    Jamie Hopkins, who served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1996–98, leads the Eagan Community Foundation in Minnesota and spearheaded a three-day film festival in support of Ukraine in April and May. Krista Kinnard (Ecuador 2010–21) has been named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Rob Schmitz (China 1996–98) had a stint as guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show. Tommy Vinh Bui (Kazakhstan 2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his Los Angeles community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share news about more awards, medals, and director roles.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.

     

    CHINA

    Rob Schmitz (1996–98) became a guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show in late April. As NPR’s Central Europe Correspondent, Schmitz covers the human stories of a vast region, such as Germany’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic. Before reporting on Europe, Schmitz worked as a foreign correspondent covering China and its economic rise and increasing global influence for a decade. He also authored the award-winning book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road which profiles the lives of individuals residing along a single street in the heart of Shanghai. During his first week as guest host, Schmitz talked with a Shanghai resident who discussed her experience with Shanghai’s zero-COVID strategy and the recent pandemic restrictions. Listen here.

     

     

    COSTA RICA

    Lane Bunkers (1989–91) took on responsibilities as of Peace Corps Country Director of Costa Rica in March. Bunkers steps into this new position a year before Peace Corps Costa Rica’s 60th anniversary and amidst the first wave of Volunteers returning to service overseas. In his director’s welcome, Bunkers wrote, “In Costa Rica, the pandemic impacted the social, economic, and political environment, as it did throughout the world. The country’s recovery will take time, and Peace Corps is well-positioned to support the communities where our Volunteers serve.” He brings an extensive career in leadership and international development, including three years serving as Peace Corps program and training officer in Romania and in the Eastern Caribbean. Prior to his new role, Bunkers worked for Catholic Relief Services for more than two decades. While there he oversaw a $25 million annual budget invested in initiatives ranging from water and food aid for drought-stricken regions to improving educational outcomes for malnourished children.

     

      

    ECUADOR

    Krista Kinnard (2010–2012) was named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since starting her role as DOL’s chief of emerging technologies in 2021, Kinnard has focused on ways to use artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning to reduce the time employees spend on repetitive tasks. She also collaborated with the department to establish a technology incubator, inviting DOL staff to propose ideas that could benefit agencies and the public. Before working at DOL, Kinnard was the director of the U.S. General Service Administration’s Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence. Her data-driven expertise sharpened during her Peace Corps service where she was able to apply her quantitative skills to real-world problems. Afterward, she pursued a master’s in data analytics and public policy before building AI and machine learning tools for federal clients as a data scientist at IBM.

       

     

    GUYANA

    Nadine RogersDr. Nadine Rogers, who serves as country director for Peace Corps Guyana, is a 2022 recipient of the Global Achievement Award from the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association. “This well-deserved and extraordinary accomplishment highlights her incredible contributions in the international arena," says Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn. Dr. Rogers has almost 30 years of experience in management, health policy implementation, science administration, and education and communications across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously served as a foreign service officer at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator under the U.S. State Department, and for 10 years she worked at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, handling scientific review of multi-million dollar research grant applications focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and services in populations at risk-for or addicted to drugs, both domestically and internationally. She has served the U.S. government across the globe, including in Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, and in the Caribbean.

       

     

    KAZAKHSTAN

    Tommy Vinh Bui (2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week in April for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bui was working as a Los Angeles Teen and Adult Services Librarian when the pandemic shut down libraries. With a love for his community and a penchant for service, he sprang into action seeking ways to help such as donating blood to the Red Cross to help with the blood shortage; delivering convalescent plasma to hospitals around and outside of Los Angeles; assisting Project Roomkey — an initiative started by the California Department of Social Services, providing shelter for unhoused people recovering from or exposed to COVID-19 — in its efforts to help vulnerable people get off the streets and find resources. As part of the last cohort to serve in Kazakhstan, Bui’s Peace Corps service began in March 2011. He served as a community development and education Volunteer until he was evacuated in November of that same year and credits his experience as a major contributor to his personal and professional growth.
     

     

    KENYA

    Josh Josa (2010–12) is a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.

     

     

     

    LESOTHO

    Travis Wohlrab (2013–15) received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for developing a livestream production capability and supporting agency communications programs. This medal recognizes those who significantly improve NASA’s day-to-day operations. Wohlrab is the engagement officer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he has worked since the end of his Peace Corps service. During the onset of COVID-19, Wohlrab used his video production expertise to produce livestream events — such as Town Halls and public outreach events — which were crucial to helping the center continue to disseminate information and operate as it had before the pandemic.

     

     

     

    NEPAL

    Lowell Hurst (1976–78) received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, along with his wife Wendy, from the Pajaro Valley Chamber Of Commerce and Agriculture. Hurst has dedicated his life to education, public service, and volunteerism starting with his Peace Corps service — followed by the more than three decades he spent teaching science and horticulture at Watsonville High School. In 1989, he was elected to the Watsonville City Council, served on the body for three stints over three decades, and served three mayoral terms, retiring from the political arena after his final term.

     

     

     

     

    NICARAGUA

    Heather Laird was appointed the new medical director of Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades (VIM) in April. She first got involved with VIM by serving as a volunteer nurse practitioner in 2013, while working at her full-time job in telemedicine. Laird shifted away from telemedicine to work with patients in person at Mosaic Medical — a community-founded health center focused on making high-quality healthcare available to Central Oregonians, regardless of life circumstances. Inspired by her Peace Corps experience, which allowed her to learn technical skills that would help her community, Laird pursued a master’s in environmental and occupational health sciences at University of Washington before attending University of California, San Francisco, and obtaining a degree to become an adult nurse practitioner. “I am looking forward to harnessing my experience and education to help the underserved in Central Oregon through my role at Volunteers in Medicine,” Laird said.

     

     

    UKRAINE

    Jamie HopkinsIn April and May, Jamie Hopkins (1996–98), who serves as executive director of the Eagan Community Foundation, spearheaded the Twin Cities Ukrainian Film Series. “It’s important for me to tell people about Ukraine,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been trying to do that for 25 years, and for the first time people are really anxious to learn.” Together with the Emagine Theaters, the foundation put on a three-day film fundraiser to benefit a variety of needs in Ukraine, including funding for filmmakers documenting the current war and community foundations in the areas hardest hit. “I want to make sure that opportunity exists today to do that (make Ukrainian films) in the future,” Hopkins said. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Hopkins served as a teacher trainer in the town of Ukrainka in the Kyiv Region — something she describes as “most rewarding experience of my life.” Hopkins has served as the Eagan Community Foundation’s executive director since 2016. She originally joined the foundation as a board member in 2013. 

  • Tiffany James posted an article
    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)

     

    Gloria Blackwell (pictured), who served as a Volunteer in Cameroon 1986–88, was recently named CEO of the American Association of University Women — a nonprofit organization advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research. In April, Colombia bestowed citizenship upon Maureen Orth (Colombia 1964–66) in recognition of her lifetime of work supporting education in the country. Writer Michael Meyer (China 1995–97) recently published Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet, which explores Franklin’s deathbed wager of 2,000 pounds to Boston and Philadelphia with the expectation that the investments be lent out over the following two centuries to tradesmen to jump-start their careers. Plus we share news about fellowships, a new documentary, and poetry in translation from Ukrainian.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.

     

    BELIZE

    Eric Scherer was appointed as state executive director for the USDA Rhode Island Farm Service Agency (FSA) by the Biden Administration in late April. He previously worked as a USDA technical service provider and USDA certified conservation planner, providing technical consulting work for the public and private sector on natural resource issues. Prior to his work as a technical consultant, he served as the executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District, where he provided program leadership for the conservation district programs that focused on conserving and protecting natural resources. Scherer brings to his new role 37 years of federal service experience, including work for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in six states in various positions. As state executive director, he will oversee the delivery of FSA programs to agricultural producers in Rhode Island.

     

     

    CAMEROON

    Gloria Blackwell (1986–88) was named chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) last October. She is also AAUW’s main representative to the United Nations. For nearly two decades, Blackwell managed AAUW’s highly esteemed fellowships and grants program — awarding more than $70 million in funding to women scholars and programs in the U.S. and abroad. Before she joined AAUW in 2004, Blackwell’s extensive experience in fellowship and grant management expanded during her time with Institute of International Education as the director of Africa education programs. While in that position, she oversaw girl’s education programs in Africa and mid-career fellowships for global professionals. In addition to serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, she served as a Peace Corps staff member in Washington, D.C.

     
     

     

    CHINA

    The latest book from Michael Meyer (1995–97) is Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet (Mariner Books), which explores Franklin’s deathbed wager of 2,000 pounds to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia with the expectation that the investments be lent out over the following two centuries to tradesmen to jump-start their careers. In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Meyer shared his own surprise at discovering the story behind this wager. “I didn't know that his will was essentially another chapter of his life,” he said, “that he used his will to settle scores with family, with enemies, and he used his will to pass on his legacy and his values and to place a large bet on the survival of the working class in the United States.” Meyer was among the first Peace Corps Volunteers who served in China. Since serving there, he has written three reported books set in China, starting with The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. His writing has earned him a Whiting Writers’ Award for nonfiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book from the Society of American Travel Writers. Meyer’s stories have appeared in various publications, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the Los Angeles Times, and the Paris Review. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Taiwan in 2021.

     

     

    COLOMBIA

    On April 27, Maureen Orth (1964–66) was honored in a ceremony in which she was sworn in as a citizen of Colombia — in recognition of her lifetime of service to the people of Colombia. That all began with serving in the Peace Corps. By video conference, President of Colombia Iván Duque Márquez administered the oath of citizenship to Orth during an elegant ceremony hosted by Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Juan Carlos Pinzón at his residence. In 2005, at the request of the Secretary of Education of Medellin who asked her to empower the children in her school to become competitive in the 21st century, Orth founded the Marina Orth Foundation. It has since grown to include 21 public and charter schools offering computers for every child K-5, STEM, English, and leadership training, including robotics and coding. In 2015, then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos awarded her the Cruz de San Carlos, Colombia’s highest civilian award for service to the country. She also was awarded the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian of the Year Award from Refugees International.

     

    Elyse Magen (2018–20) assumed a new position in April as program associate for the Udall Foundation — an independent executive branch agency providing programs to promote leadership, education, collaboration, and conflict resolution in the areas of environment, public lands, and natural resources. Magen brings to her new role diverse experience addressing economic, social, and environmental issues by working with diverse communities in the United States and Latin America. While earning her bachelor’s in economics and environmental studies at Tulane University, Magen worked as a peer health educator at the university’s wellness center, and she served as an environmental economics intern at the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador during the summer of 2017. In 2020, Magen was evacuated from her Peace Corps service as a community economic development analyst in Colombia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Refusing to let that be the end of her Volunteer story, she obtained an NPCA Community Fund grant to complete one of her unfinished secondary projects with “Chicas de Transformación,” a womens’ chocolate cooperative in Santa Marta, Colombia. With the support of a NPCA community fund grant, Magen helped the collective build a new workspace and purchase machinery that would allow the cooperative to start selling a new line of chocolate products they were unable to produce before, increasing their profit margins.

     

     

    GUINEA

    Jessica Pickering (2019–20) is a 2022 Templeton Fellow within the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Africa Program. In May 2022, she graduated from Tulane University with a master’s degree in homeland security and a certificate in intelligence. From the University of Washington in Seattle, she received her bachelor’s in international affairs, focusing on foreign policy, diplomacy, peace, and security. Her research interests include international security, foreign policy, and the effects of gender equity, climate change, and governance on policy and stability in West Africa.
     

     

     

     

    MOROCCO

    Mathew Crichton (2016–17) is now a senior consultant at Deloitte, advising government and public sector clients through critical and complex issues. From 2018–22, Crichton served as an IT and Training Specialist with the Peace Corps Agency and president of its employee union.

     

     

     

     

     

    MOZAMBIQUE

    Charles Vorkas (2002–04) is a faculty member at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. With a diverse background in research and international patient care, Vorkas is leading efforts in his newly-established lab to better understand disease resistance. It was while serving as a Volunteer in Mozambique that he witnessed the effects of infectious diseases and was often in contact with individuals who were suffering from diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. “It definitely confirmed that this was a major global health problem that I would like to help to address in my career,” Vorkas said.

     

     

     

      

    ROMANIA

    Matt Sarnecki (2004–06), a journalist, producer and film director at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, had a world premiere in May at Hot Docs 2022 in the International Spectrum Section of his documentary film, “The Killing of a Journalist.” It tells the story of a young investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, who were brutally murdered in their home in Slovakia in February 2018. Their deaths inspired the biggest protests in Slovakia since the fall of communism. The story took an unexpected turn when a source leaked the secret murder case file to the murdered journalist’s colleagues. It included the computers and encrypted communications of the assassination’s alleged mastermind, a businessman closely connected to the country’s ruling party. Trawling these encrypted messages, journalists discovered that their country had been captured by corrupt oligarchs, judges, and law enforcement officials.

     

     

     

    UKRAINE

    Ali Kinsella (2008–11), together with Dzvinia Orlowsky, is the translator of the poetry collection Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow (Lost Horse Press, 2021) by Ukrainian writer Natalka Bilotserkivets. Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow brings together selected works written over the last four decades. Having established an English language following largely on the merits of a single poem, Bilotserkivets’s larger body of work continues to be relatively unknown. Natalka Bilotserkivets was an active participant in Ukraine’s Renaissance of the late-Soviet and early independence period. Ali Kinsella has been translating from Ukrainian for eight years. Her published works include essays, poetry, monographs, and subtitles to various films. She holds an M.A. from Columbia University, where she wrote a thesis on the intersection of feminism and nationalism in small states. She lived in Ukraine for nearly five years. She is currently in Chicago, where she also sometimes works as a baker. The collection is shortlisted for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize.

     

     

    PEACE CORPS STAFF

    Kechi Achebe, who directs Office of Global Health and HIV for the Peace Corps, was recently among those honored as part of a special event recognizing leaders in the Nigerian Diaspora in the United States. Themed “The Pride of Our Ancestry; The Strength of Our Diaspora,” the event was hosted by the Nigerian Physicians Advocacy Group and Constituency for Africa and included special guest Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general at the World Trade Organization. “There is no greater blessing than to be honored by your own community,” Achebe said. “I stand on the shoulders of women and other global health leaders who started the fight for global health equity for all, especially for disadvantaged communities all over the world.” Achebe has served in her role with the Peace Corps since December 2020. She previously led leadership posts with Africare and Save the Children.

     

     

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Bring your Peace Corps experience to a wider world. see more

    Bring your Peace Corps experience to a wider world. 

     

    The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience seeks to preserve Peace Corps stories and objects donated by Volunteers: museumofthepeacecorpsexperience.org

    The Peace Corps Oral History project has trained interviewers ready to capture your story. They have extended a special invitation to those who served in Ukraine to tell stories of people and places they know, and of efforts to help those in harm’s way: peacecorpsoralhistory.org

     

     

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    More than 10 million people have fled their homes since Ukraine was invaded by Russia in February see more

    More than 10 million people have fled their homes since Ukraine was invaded by Russia on February 24.

     

    In March, four million people were already refugees beyond Ukraine’s borders. Two million of them were children.

    Not since World War II has the world seen a humanitarian crisis escalate so quickly. The devastation in cities like Kharkiv and Chernihiv and Mariupol is cruel and horrific. Amid this war, members of the Peace Corps community have been rallying to help those in harm’s way.

    There is one responsibility we all share: Do not look away.

     

     

     

    Leaving home: Two young children and their mother on a train prepare to depart L’viv, Ukraine, for Poland on March 4, 2022. Photo by REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Alamy

     

     

    Read more on the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

    Why Ukraine Matters: Read, Listen, Understand — A Few Voices from the Peace Corps Community

    The War of Aggression Against Ukraine Must Stop: A statement from National Peace Corps Association on the Russian invasion of Ukraine |  By Steven Boyd Saum, Jeffrey Janis, and Gretchen Upholt

    Listen and Watch: Conversations and Podcasts on Ukraine from the Peace Corps Community

    The Future Is Unwritten | By Steven Boyd Saum

    President’s Letter: Time of Hope, Time of Crisis | By Glenn Blumhorst

     

    Story updated May 2, 2022.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Voices from Ukraine, the U.S., and the U.K. see more

    TERRELL J. STARR | Host of the “Black Diplomats” podcast

    Just before Russia invaded Ukraine, Starr wrote for Foreign Policy: “This is what Ukrainians understand and progressives don’t about Putin: Diplomacy doesn’t mean anything if your adversary can kill you and steal your land without consequence.” Starr was a Volunteer in Georgia 2003–05, had a Fulbright in Ukraine, and is a fellow with the Atlantic Council. His highly personal coverage from Ukraine has earned hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter. Recent conversations on his podcast: Oleg Volsky, mayor of a town north of L’viv; former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; and Irina Klimova, a Ukrainian woman being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma whom he helped travel to Lithuania, where she can receive ongoing treatment.

    Explore and listen: blackdiplomats.net

    Follow him on Twitter at @terrelljstarr

     

    CHRISTOPHER J. MILLER | On “Pod Save the World,” RFERL, and more

    Miller has more than a decade’s experience living and working in Ukraine, as both a Peace Corps Volunteer (2010–12) and journalist. A correspondent for BuzzFeed News through March 2022, he is now writing for Politico. He has done valuable on-the-ground reporting on the front lines of war in the Donbas for years. Hear his voice on several “Pod Save the World” and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty podcasts in recent weeks — on the eve of the Russian invasion, as Kyiv fell under siege, and as the war escalated.

    A recent conversation: bit.ly/rferl-ukraine

    Follow him on Twitter at @ChristopherJM 

     

     

    OLENA SERGEEVA | The Invasion of Ukraine: Standing with Those in Harm’s Way

    A conversation from the NPCA Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2022. Sergeeva’s home is Kyiv; she speaks of family members in cities attacked by Russian forces and unable to flee the war. She was the first education program manager for Peace Corps Ukraine and is now a partner with consulting firm Amrop.

    Watch: bit.ly/npca-olena-sergeeva

     

     

     

     

    RORY FINNIN | Vladimir Putin’s Abuses of History and more

    “What do we see when we take modern Ukrainian nationhood seriously, on its own terms? We see a social and cultural movement with an anticolonial backbone and a suspicion of state institutions led by strongmen.” In an essay in February for Politico, scholar Rory Finnin offered readers a deeper dive into the history of Ukraine. Finnin is an associate professor at the University of Cambridge and served with the Peace Corps in Ukraine 1995–97. Ignorance feeds aggression, Finnin reminds readers; he calls for us to see Ukraine for what it is: “a massive, pivotal, unique country whose people are once again at a front line of democratic freedom.” On an episode of the podcast “The Gateway,” he discusses Putin’s abuses of history — which shape the future Putin is trying to force upon the people of Ukraine.

    Listen: bit.ly/abuse-of-history

     

     

    TIMOTHY SNYDER, ARNE WESTAD, and NELLIE PETLICK  | War in Ukraine

    The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University hosted a panel discussion on March 4 focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In conversation: historians Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands, The Road to Unfreedom) and Arne Westad (The Cold War: A World History), as well as graduate student Nellie Petlick (pictured), who brought to the conversation recent first-hand experience living in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Vinnytsia region central Ukraine.

    bit.ly/war-in-ukraine-panel

     

     

     

     

    A version of this story appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Michael E. O’Hanlon’s most recent volume of strategy recommendations emphasizes restraint. see more

    The Art of War in an Age of Peace

    U.S. Grand Strategy and Resolute Restraint

    By Michael E. O’Hanlon

    Yale University Press

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Published last year, Michael E. O’Hanlon’s most recent volume of strategy recommendations for U.S. global engagement has a title that’s been overtaken by events: In this “age of peace,” Russia has launched the largest invasion of another country since World War II. The gist of O’Hanlon’s counsel is “resolute restraint” with “an equal emphasis on both words.” That means avoiding overextension without retrenchment; either would make the world less stable and more dangerous. How does that counsel square with the current U.S. grand strategy? Essentially, there hasn’t been a consensus on one since the end of the Cold War, O’Hanlon argues. That’s the problem.

    “Restraint should characterize the nation’s decisions on the use of force, including whether to go to war and whether to escalate once involved in combat,” he writes. Resoluteness, in addition to defining commitments to the security interests of allies, “should also characterize the country’s commitment to a global rules-based order that promotes interdependence among nations while strongly opposing interstate conflict or the pursuit of territorial aggrandizement by other powers. We can be more patient, and accept incremental progress, on building a more liberal order (featuring more democracies and greater universal respect for human rights). The liberal or progressive agenda can and should be pursued but largely through diplomatic and other soft-power instruments of statecraft.”

    But as 2022 has made clear, the Putin regime explicitly intends to upend that rules-based order.

    The U.S. has a responsibility to provide leadership, O’Hanlon notes, “guided by moral principles, strong institutions in Washington and throughout the country, a supportive citizenry, and good judgment on the part of leaders.” Yet he acknowledges that governments — including that of the United States — “can still make major mistakes ... in situations characterized by sycophantic aides, groupthink, or narcissistic leaders.”

     

    Michael O’Hanlon adds “a second dimension of 4+1 threats,” which are “nuclear, biological and pandemic, digital, climactic, and internal-societal dangers ... The last on the list is America’s own social and economic and political cohesion.”

     

    O’Hanlon is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1982–84. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Lawrence D. Freedman suggests this book “could serve as a guide for U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security team as they prepare for the challenges of the next few years.” Those challenges, as O’Hanlon outlines, include the “4+1” list the Pentagon has identified: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and transnational violent extremism. O’Hanlon adds “a second dimension of 4+1 threats,” which are “nuclear, biological and pandemic, digital, climactic, and internal-societal dangers ... The last on the list is America’s own social and economic and political cohesion.”

    That last one is the wild card in dealing with everything else on both lists. And perhaps it holds the key to whether peace can again define this new era we’re entering. Months before Putin amassed 130,00-plus troops on the borders of Ukraine, O’Hanlon assessed, “The world is becoming more dangerous again today.” Indeed, O’Hanlon has more than a little to say about Russia, and where a policy of resolute restraint might guide actions taken by the United States, NATO, and the European Union. “A strategy of deterrence by punishment can still work,” he argued, notiing, “So far at least, there are no brazen invasions of huge landmasses.”

    But now there have been exactly such a brazen invasion — one that has wrought destruction unlike anything Europe has seen since the Second World War. And we have already seen atrocities that give lie to the mantra “never again.” 

    In the opening pages of his book, O’Hanlon cites President Kennedy’s estimation that “there could be 20 nuclear-weapons states by the mid-1960s and perhaps as many as 25 by the 1970s.” But, Hanlon notes, “Two decades into the 21st century, there are only nine countries in possession of the bomb.” One of them is of course Russia, which makes great power conflict particularly fraught. One of them used to be Ukraine — which gave up its nuclear arsenal in the mid-1990s in exchange for security and territorial assurances by the U.S. and Russia. That’s one reason, O’Hanlon and many others note, we owe a debt of gratitude — and responsibility — to Ukraine.
     

    A shorter version of this review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. This story was updated April 30, 2022.


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    A statement from National Peace Corps Association see more

    We in the Peace Corps community stand in solidarity with the people and communities in Ukraine who are now in harm’s way.

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum, Jeffrey Janis, and Gretchen Upholt

     

    Early this morning, Ukraine — a free and independent nation — became the victim of an unprovoked war of aggression launched by Vladimir Putin, who ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops to invade. Missiles and shells have fallen in cities across the country. Apartment buildings and hospitals have been hit. Civilians have been terrorized and killed, while many thousands huddle in bomb shelters and metro stations. Meanwhile, brave citizens are lining up to give blood, knowing that it will be needed in days to come.

    We in the Peace Corps community unequivocally condemn these acts of brutal violence and call for the invasion to cease immediately. This is a war Ukrainians did not start and do not want. Many Russian citizens do not want this war either, and some have been arrested for protesting it. And we fear that as horrific as the acts have been already, the scale of violence and the level of brutality to come could be far worse. 

     

    We in the Peace Corps community unequivocally condemn these acts of brutal violence and call for the invasion to cease immediately. This is a war Ukrainians did not start and do not want.

     

    We are three of the 3,419 Peace Corps Volunteers who served in communities across an independent Ukraine over the past 30 years — from Kyiv to the Carpathians, Crimea to Chernihiv, L’viv to Luhansk, Odessa to Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv to Kherson. We and other Volunteers have learned Ukrainian and Russian and other languages, worked in communities as educators and to help build institutions. We have celebrated independence day with friends and colleagues for decades and sought to nurture understanding across divides. And we have learned the Ukrainian national anthem and sung of “cherished freedom;” a translation of the anthem’s title is “Ukraine Has Not Perished Yet.” 

    Volunteers have gone on to work as journalists and diplomats, NGO leaders and policymakers, and much more — with more than a few serving as election monitors as Ukraine journeys on the road toward building and sustaining democracy. And as we have been reminded in the United States in recent years, that is work each generation must undertake. 

     

    What you can do now

    In recent weeks, the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, an affiliate group of National Peace Corps Association, asked members of the Peace Corps community to write members of Congress and the White House. “We want to raise awareness and urge the United States government and our European allies to do what is necessary to avert war and protect the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation,” they wrote. “We want to see continued partnership that respects Ukraine’s agency as an independent democracy and outlasts what is only the most recent escalation of persistent aggression from Russia.”

    Indeed, that aggression is now an invasion. But you can and should take action to help. 

     

    WRITE: You can raise your voice in support of a free and independent Ukraine. Read more and take action here. You can modify this letter to acknowledge that war has already begun — and that we must stand with the people of Ukraine and support them in a time of crisis.

     

    STAND WITH UKRAINE IN PERSON: Members of the Peace Corps community across the United States and around the world will be taking part in events happening in the days ahead. Here is a list of events where you can participate. Connect with the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine to find returned Volunteers in communities who will be participating.  

     

    DONATE TO SUPPORT UKRAINIANS IN HARM’S WAY AND TO ASSIST REFUGEES | UPDATED MARCH 11, 2022

    We’ll continue to update this story with other organizations that can assist with aid.

    The U.S. State Department has shared this list with the message, “Many humanitarian organizations are providing urgent assistance to those affected by the crisis in Ukraine. Here are some ways you can help from wherever you are.”

    On March 3 the New York Times published this list of several major organizations that have programs to support Ukraine.

    On March 3 the Ukrainian-American Environmental Association shared this extensive list of U.S.-based and international organizations seeking to help with war relief efforts in Ukraine. The UAEA is co-directed by Kenneth Bossong, who served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 2000–03. 

    Support efforts that are part of the global Jewish response to the crisis and assisting members of the Jewish community in Ukraine, including the Ukraine Crisis Fund and Ukraine Jewish Community Relief Fund

    Nova Ukraine, which is based in Silicon Valley, is focused on humanitarian aid during the war. Read more about them here.

    The RPCV Alliance for Ukraine has put together this list of organizations which are providing assistance in Ukraine. It includes information about each organization and links for making donations. Note that there may be challenges now for Ukraine-based organizations to receive funds.

    Samaritan’s Purse is providing medical supplies in Ukraine and distributing food to refugees in neighboring countries. At least Ukraine RPCV is working with them.  Read more about them here.

     

    Why Ukraine Matters: Read, Listen, Understand — Voices from the Peace Corps Community

    Here are five journalists and scholars who have helped bring valuable reporting and perspectives to understanding current events, history, and policy in Ukraine. These are just a few ideas for where to start. And they have excellent recommendations for others to listen to and follow for a broader and deeper perspective.

     

     

    AS WE FACE A PERILOUS TIME in global events, it bears reminding that the Peace Corps was also founded at a time when catastrophic war loomed on the horizon. While the first groups of Peace Corps Volunteers were being trained in the summer of 1961, the Berlin Wall went up. The following October, the world teetered on the edge of the nuclear abyss with the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

    But that did not bring the mission of the Peace Corps — to build peace and friendship — to an end. Likewise today, as the first groups of Volunteers are preparing to return to service overseas in March, this crisis underscores how important that mission is. We support Ukraine’s right to be a free country as part of our commitment to building a more peaceful and just world.

     

    Story published February 24, 2022 at 19:05 Eastern. Updated March 11, 2022 at 2:00 PM Eastern to include additional ways to help Ukraine.


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView magazine and directs strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Luts’k, Ukraine, 1994–96 and directed academic exchanges for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

    Jeffrey Janis serves on the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. He was a Volunteer in Khmelnitsky, Ukraine 2004–06.

    Gretchen Upholt serves as treasurer for the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She was a Volunteer in Korop, Ukraine 2008–10.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Five journalists and scholars who have helped bring valuable reporting and perspective see more

    Five journalists and scholars who have helped bring valuable reporting and perspectives to understanding current events, history, and policy in Ukraine.
     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    For a better understanding of what’s at stake in Ukraine, here are a few ideas of where to start. Particularly for journalists like Christopher Miller or Terell Starr, who are currently based in Ukraine, use what’s here as a jumping off point: See what they’re reporting day by day — or now, hour-by-hour — on Twitter, and see the sources and connections they follow and recommend.

    As always, especially amid a conflict where disinformation has played a central strategy, take time to read and evaluate stories, videos, and photos before resharing.

     

     Rory Finnin essay

    How the West Gets Ukraine Wrong — and Helps Putin As a Result

    Rory Finnin for POLITICO

    “What do we see when we take modern Ukrainian nationhood seriously, on its own terms? We see a social and cultural movement with an anticolonial backbone and a suspicion of state institutions led by strongmen.” In a recent essay for POLITICO, scholar Rory Finnin offers readers a deeper dive into the history of Ukraine. Finnin is an associate professor at University of Cambridge and served with the #PeaceCorps in #Ukraine in the 1990s. Ignorance feeds aggression, Finnin notes. “When we work to study Ukraine on its own terms, when we see Ukraine for what it is — a massive, pivotal, unique country whose people are once again at a front line of democratic freedom — we begin to prove [Vladimir Putin] wrong.”

     

     


     Christopher Miller News story

    Russia Has Invaded Ukraine, Threatening The Safety Of Millions

    Christopher Miller for BuzzFeedNews

    Christopher Miller has more than a decade’s experience living and working in Ukraine, as a Peace Corps Volunteer and journalist. Now a correspondent @BuzzFeedNews, he covers national security and extremism. Follow him on Twitter at @ChristopherJM. In his feed you’ll find links to previous articles, including on-the-ground reporting from the front lines of the conflict in Donbas in January 2022 and reporting on when Putin ordered troops into Eastern Ukraine in February.

     

     


     Terrell Starr story

    Why Progressives Should Help Defend Ukraine 

    Acknowledging the United States’ failings doesn’t mean ignoring Russian imperialism.

    Terrell Jermaine Starr for Foreign Policy

    “This is what Ukrainians understand and progressives don’t about Putin: Diplomacy doesn’t mean anything if your adversary can kill you and steal your land without consequence. The United States isn’t the only imperialist nation out there, and Moscow and Beijing won’t transform into paragons of good behavior with Washington off the scene.” That’s Terrell Jermaine Starr writing for Foreign Policy recently — in what became one of the journal’s editor’s picks.

    Starr was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia and has been a Fulbright fellow in Ukraine. A journalist based in Ukraine now and a fellow with the Atlantic Council, he hosts the podcast Black Diplomats. There you’ll find a recent interview with former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul — in which McFaul notes that in all the years he’s been interviewed, he’s never been presented questions quite like the ones Starr asks. Follow Starr on Twitter at @terrelljstarr

     

     


     Casey Michel news story

     

    Why does Russia want to invade Ukraine? To rewrite the post-Cold War order

    Casey Michel for NBCNews.com

    The argument: Moscow’s demands were always about more than the security arrangements in Ukraine. The West can’t say we weren’t warned. “This isn’t a ‘security operation,’ Casey Michel notes. “This is war, in the service of revanchism, at the behest of an imperial regime in Moscow. Things don't get more black and white than this.” And, he says, “Europe is dealing with a madman dictator once more — just as in the 1930s, just as in the 1990s.”

    Michel served with the Peace Corps in northern Kazakhstan about a decade ago. He’s the author of American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History, published in November 2021 by St. Martin’s Press. He is a fellow with the Kleptocracy Initiative in the Hudson Institute. A few more of his recent pieces:

    “Vladimir Putin’s Empire of Delusions” for The New Republic, in which he notes that “in a lengthy screed, the Russian dictator made it clear that his ambitions are to restore his nation’s status as a colonizer of Europe.”

    “How the West Botched Ukraine” for The New Republic. “It wasn’t the drive to bring security to Europe that led to the brink of war. It was providing corrupt autocrats with secure havens for their stolen loot.”

    “The Lesson Stalin Could Teach Putin About Invading a Neighbor” for POLITICO. “A false flag attack. A revanchist dictatorship in the Kremlin. An unprompted invasion of a western neighbor — and a bloody failure for the entire world to see.”

     


     

    Sebastien Roblin crop 

    Russian Troops Just Built A Pontoon Bridge Near Chernobyl

    Sébastien Roblin for Forbes.com

    Sébastien Roblin covers international security in current events and history for a number of publications. Follow him on Twitter at @sebastienroblin to track his and others’ reporting on defense intelligence. He served with the Peace Corps in China 2013–15. Some of his other recent contributions:

    “12 Reasons Why A Russian Attack On Ukraine Looks Imminent” for Forbes.com on February 13, 2022.

    “Russia threatens Ukraine with its troops, so Ben & Jerry's blames the U.S. Perspective needed.” for NBCNews.com. We should strive to discourage another Russian invasion of Ukraine, Roblin argued in this piece published on February 9, 2022. But whether that happens is not a decision driven by Biden but by Putin.

     

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

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


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

     

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

     


    Margo Jones 

    Turkey 1966–67

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

     


    Ron Bloch

    Venezuela 1966–68

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

     


     

    Natalia Joseph

    Ukraine 2019–20

     

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

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

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

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

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

     


     

    Kelsi Seid

    Guyana 2017–19; South Africa 2020

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

    Watch the full conversation here.

     

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

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

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Short-term, high-impact. Now marking 25 years since its founding. see more

    Short-term, high-impact. Now marking 25 years since its founding.

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo by Christian Farnsworth

     

    A quarter century ago, at a midsummer White House Rose Garden ceremony attended by President Bill Clinton and Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, a new type of Peace Corps service was announced to the world: Crisis Corps. Short-term, high-impact, it was, as then-Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan explained, “an effort to harness the enormous experience, skills, motivation, and talents that the Peace Corps, including its returned Volunteer ranks, possesses, and bring them to bear in an organized fashion during such crisis situations.”

    At the outset, all Crisis Corps Volunteers were required to have already served in the Peace Corps. In fact, the program traces much of its origins to grassroots work by returned Volunteers. The National Peace Corps Association Emergency Response Network, activated to help in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, provided powerful inspiration.

     

    IN ITS FIRST YEARS, Crisis Corps enlisted hundreds of Volunteers to serve in places from Bosnia to Guinea to El Salvador. Volunteers worked with communities recovering from conflicts, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more. Following the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand and Sri Lanka, among other countries, in 2004, the largest cohort ever of Crisis Corps Volunteers deployed there. Months later, hundreds more began serving Gulf Coast communities battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — the first time Volunteers served in the United States.

     

    Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

    Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

     

    By 2007 the broadening nature of assignments led the agency to rename the program Peace Corps Response. Assignments last three months to one year, shorter than a standard 27-month term of Peace Corps service. That makes them more feasible for working professionals, who have to take a leave of absence. And, since 2012, Response Volunteers have included individuals who haven’t previously served in the Peace Corps.

     

    Two women in Guinea at World Food Programme distribution of food

    Mothers and daughters pick up gifts of cooking oil as an incentive for school attendance, part of a World Food Programme effort in Guinea documented by Christian Farnsworth, who served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

     

    It’s interesting to note that in 2020 the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a report that called for exploring virtual service assignments for Peace Corps Response, to further open up opportunities for people able and willing to serve but not, perhaps, able to travel to other countries. Indeed, after the evacuation of all Peace Corps Volunteers in March 2020, the Peace Corps agency launched the Virtual Service Pilot — which connected evacuated Volunteers and Response Volunteers with organizations and communities in countries where they had been serving. 

    In May 2021, more than 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers deployed domestically, as part of a partnership with FEMA. “By sending specialized volunteers to targeted assignments, we are helping to advance Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship,” Peace Corps Response Director Sarah Dietch noted. Response Volunteers began serving with community vaccination centers to reach underserved communities — an effort that seems more important with each passing day, as another wave of COVID-19 takes a terrible toll.

     

     

    Ukrainian grandmother in village, photographed in profile

    Grandmother in a Ukrainian village, photographed by Michael Andrews as part of the Baba Yelka project.

     

    In the 25 years since Peace Corps Response began, more than 3,800 Volunteers have served in over 80 countries — and twice in the United States. As we go to press, Response is recruiting for 136 openings, with Volunteers departing “no earlier than late 2021” for Belize and Guyana, undertaking assignments that include literacy specialist, adolescent health specialist, and epidemiology specialist. They’re recruiting for positions departing “no earlier than early 2022” for more than 20 countries, from Mexico to Malawi, Uganda to Ukraine, Georgia to Guatemala, Jamaica to South Africa.

     

     

    Kudu being released into a wild animal park in Guinea

    Kudu released into Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, where Betsy Holtz worked as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer

     

    Response Volunteers were at the vanguard as Peace Corps returned to countries such as Liberia. Civil war forced the program there to close in 1990. In 2007, when Response Volunteers arrived to serve, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia, personally attended the swearing-in ceremony.

    In the pages that follow, we bring you a brief history of the program. Along with milestones, take note of the stories of lives and communities that have been shaped by the experience. It’s no coincidence that there’s a recurring theme of building together, whether that’s infrastructure or shared knowledge, and undergirding it all, that commitment to nurturing peace and friendship. 

     

    Three girls in a village in Panama

    Three girls in Comarca Emberá-Wounaan, eastern Panamá; Eli Wittum documented environmental work in the country, and when he visited this region these three were delighted to pose for a photo.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

     September 12, 2021
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Introducing the Virtual Service Pilot program — reconnecting communities and Volunteers see more

    The evacuation of Volunteers from around the globe interrupted service everywhere. And while Volunteers have yet to return to the field, last year Peace Corps launched a program for communities and Volunteers to work together — virtually.

     

    Six months after Peace Corps evacuated all Volunteers from around the world, 45 returned to service under the aegis of the agency: the inaugural cohort of an 10- to 12-week endeavor christened the Virtual Service Pilot program. They were Volunteers and Response Volunteers and trainees. They partnered with communities in nine countries and areas: Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Eastern Caribbean, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Ukraine. And they embarked on projects that included education and health, conservation and youth development.

    An idea whose time has come? In March 2020 — even before COVID-19 brought the Zoomification of so many workplaces—the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a report that explicitly called for exploring virtual volunteering to open up service opportunities to more people in the States. 

    Round one of the Virtual Service Pilot wrapped up in December. The editorial team at WorldView magazine spoke to two Volunteers about their service — first on the ground, and now virtually. And as we go to press, round two of the virtual program, which expanded to 20 countries, just finished.
     


    Luca Mariotti

    SENEGAL

    Home: Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts

    Beginning in 2019, in a town called Karang, on the border with The Gambia, I was a Community Economic Development Volunteer, working with local entrepreneurs and women’s groups, helping them turn local resources like peanuts and mangoes into income-generating products. In an entrepreneurial class I was teaching, five students came forward and were interested in leading a waste management project: writing the business plan, meeting with chiefs and community members, holding cleanup days. In a town of 20,000, there’s no garbage pickup; people burn their trash. A decade ago, a Volunteer set up a waste management project with the mayor’s office — but unfortunately it was disassembled after six months. 

    We talked to local leaders, conducted community surveys, asked if people would be willing to pay — and how much. We realized that a project would have to be private — and ideally would lead to employment in the community. The mayor’s office was allocating a landfill, and I was in the process of of writing a grant.

    Along with that, in a nearby town, Keur Sièt, my counterpart and I were working with a women’s group to add value to peanuts and, through a contact in Dakar, sell to clients in Germany. Then: evacuation.

    One morning at 4 a.m. I got a call from a friend asking if I had checked my phone. “Of course I haven’t,” I said. “Luca,” she said, “we’re going home.”

    Leaving my host family two days later was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.

     

    Host family and entrepreneurs in Keur Sièt, Senegal. From left, the women are Nday, Nday, Fatou, Luca Mariotti, and Soxna Si. Photo courtesy of Luca Mariotti


     

    What sustains us

    I’m from Dublin, Ireland, originally. My dad, Mark Mariotti, served with the Peace Corps in The Gambia — 30 minutes from where I was posted. Ten years ago we went back to his host community; he hadn’t been there in 25 years. He found the door to his host brother’s house. They cried, they embraced. That connection was really powerful.

    Last fall I began a master’s program at Cornell in global development. And I took part in the Virtual Service Pilot program with Peace Corps, working with the chamber of commerce in Sédhiou, Senegal, promoting the value chain for cassava and a superfood called fonio. It has more amino acids than quinoa. It is gluten-free, high in protein and iron, easy to cook, and drought resistant — which is important as climate change increasingly causes food insecurity in sub-Saharan countries.

     

    Fonio is a superfood with more amino acids than quinoa. It is drought resistant and is drawing increasing global interest. But that wasn’t being reflected in Senegal. Now it is.

     

    I contacted most international players in the fonio world. There is growing interest — but that wasn’t being reflected within Senegal. I was led to Malick, a contact with Terra Ingredients, which has been working on the Fonio Project, trying to find producers and, by paying fair prices and reinvesting profits in the community, build a sustainable system. They are constructing a processing plant in Dakar — the first in Senegal. My counterpart, Ndeye Maguette, and I had a number of meetings with Malick, who is sending people to meet with the chamber of commerce and producers. They hope that by the next harvest they will export fonio from these farmers.

    I’m excited to see what happens. I’m also interested in finding ways for us to continue to support projects I started when I was in Senegal. My experience in the Peace Corps really furthered my cultural humility and cultural intelligence. I saw firsthand how similar we all are, and the immense potential that lies in developing countries. I think further investments and confidence in the education systems are going to show incredible results.
     

     


    MiKayla Wolf

    UKRAINE

    Home: Chickasha, Oklahoma 

    I actually wanted to serve with Peace Corps in Swaziland, Africa, where I was originally given an invitation — but I was moved to Ukraine right before the departure date for medical reasons. I did not know anything about Ukraine. But I loved my work with the kids and parents of my organization. I had a wonderful counterpart, and the Peace Corps Ukraine staff were so supportive. I went from doubting if I would stay in Ukraine to deciding to extend one more year.

    I was a Youth Development Volunteer with the All-Ukraine Association of People with Disabilities in Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine. I led clubs and classes for children with disabilities, assisted with games for Special Olympics Ukraine, attended conferences about inclusion, and learned and taught Ukrainian Sign Language.

    When we were evacuated, my counterpart and I were talking about a grant for a project that would benefit parents in our organization. It was close to the beginning of Special Olympic events in Vinnytsia. And the day I was supposed to work with my counterpart on the paperwork for my extension was the day that evacuation was called. 

    The last time I saw my kids and parents from the organization was at a painting class right before evacuation. There is still a lot of work to do in Ukraine regarding inclusion. Given the opportunity to assist online, I wanted to do it. With the Virtual Service Pilot program, I was assigned to my original NGO and worked with the same counterpart. I know my kids well and what they are capable of. 

     

    Ukrainian parents were able to learn strategies and ask questions. I had a young adult female share her story, so the parents could hear about growing up with autism from a child’s perspective.

     

    I led online sessions for children with disabilities to help them develop life skills, communication skills, and socialization skills. I started a monthly discussion between parents in the United States and Ukraine. This provided an opportunity for the American parent of a child with autism to share their story — and what worked and did not work in the USA. Ukrainian parents were able to learn strategies and ask questions. I had a young adult female share her story, so the parents could hear about growing up with autism from a child’s perspective. A Peace Corps Ukraine staff member translates for the parent discussions. 

    In the virtual program, Ukraine had a Volunteer in every sector, including PEPFAR. It was a good experience; I chose to participate in the second phase. I still talk to my host mom, kids and parents from the organization, my counterpart, Peace Corps Ukraine staff, and others from Special Olympics. My counterpart started a project for adults with autism. Through one of the parent talks, she found out about a program in Oklahoma that supports adults with disabilities, and she wants to come visit and see how it is run. 

    What’s ahead? I’m working at the university in my hometown of Chickasha until September 2021. I am also a graduate student at Arizona State University online, where I am studying special education: applied behavior analysis. 

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Editor Steven Saum speaks on issues of the current times and how NPCA can move forward. see more

    Peace Corps teaches us a new way to think about time. Pandemic does, too. So what do we do with this?

    By Steven Boyd Saum

     

    ACROSS THE DECADES and countries and communities where tens of thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers have served, there are a few things we share. One: a new grasp of time. Be it seasons or how we count the days, a revised sense of punctuality or the value of hours in terms of money or daylight, be it devoted to sleep or preparing a meal or hiking to the well, be it in the presence of friends or alone with this self you are becoming — one of the gifts: to be invited into a new way of measuring a life. Step outside of the this, then this, then this. Also a gift: the dawning of the truth that empathy and understanding are not transactional stuff, giver and receiver both richer, stronger, wiser, more human. 

    Now here we are: old strictures of time dissolved, pandemic time warping the distance between today and last Monday until that day is shockingly distant. When time itself has taken on new meaning—or lack thereof. But how? 

    It’s been nearly nine months since most Volunteers around the world got the news — via phone call or email or WhatsApp: Because of COVID-19, they were being evacuated. The pandemic was burning its way across the globe. In this country and others, it still exacts a terrible toll. As we put the fall edition of WorldView magazine to bed, globally there have been 43 million cases and 1.16 million people have died, more than 226,000 lives lost in the United States alone. 

     

    We look to a pandemic a century in the past for lessons on enduring this one. And we behold a future that came too soon. 

     

    We look to a pandemic a century in the past for lessons on enduring this one. And we behold a future that came too soon. 

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, which I call home, this was the year of the Blade Runner sky: Dry lightning sparked hundreds of fires up and down the Golden State, including the largest blaze in recorded history — more than 1 million acres. As summer faded, fires were burning up and down the West Coast of the United States and Canada, fulfillment of Cassandra climate change warnings that would visit themselves upon us within a quarter century if we didn’t do something now. Then here they were. 

    To Louisiana came four named storms: Marco, Laura, Beta, Delta — the second of that lot blowing the fiercest winds of any tropical cyclone in modern history to make landfall on the Bayou State. 

    The arc of a storm, the arc of history, the path of the fire or the pandemic of COVID or hateful racism: Where will we find ourselves in the time that matters? Digging the perimeter to halt the flames, preparing meals for the first responders, helping someone breathe? 

     

    WorldView Fall 2020: What’s the role of Peace Corps now? Cover illustration by David Plunkert.

     

    THIS UNPRECEDENTED MOMENT, 2020 continued. Let us speak of world peace and friendship. We’ve just begun commemorating six decades since this whole audacious Peace Corps endeavor caught the 1960 election-year zeitgeist. Origin story: 2 a.m. at the University of Michigan on a drizzly and chilly October 14, cut to San Francisco’s Cow Palace on November 2, and not even six weeks after inauguration day 1961 there’s the executive order on 3/1/61 — JFK signs the Peace Corps into being. Youthful idealism that set in motion something that could and should be the best of what this nation aspires to be.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, when I was teaching contemporary American literature as a Volunteer in western Ukraine — the independent country then all of three years old — the poem that most fired my students’ imaginations was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting.” It is a litany of an American promise unfulfilled, ideals unmet, but that does not mean giving up: 

    and I am perpetually awaiting 
    a rebirth of wonder

    Because as we studied this Beat poet (now 101!) I asked these future teachers and bankers, singers and city council members, mothers and fathers and citizens — notebooks, please: What are you waiting for? 

     

    WE ARE HOPING for Volunteers to return to communities around the world, knowing what’s ahead is uncharted for all. Yet ambassadors and colleagues, students and families have all asked: When? Because solidarity, not charity, calls. Yet we know that the safety and security of communities and Volunteers must circumscribe what is possible. And these cannot be empty words. 

    Because we carry with sorrow and compassion a tragic truth underscored in recent weeks. In January 2018, Bernice Heiderman, from Inverness, Illinois, was serving as a Volunteer in Comoros. As a New York Times article detailed this fall, she contracted and died from undiagnosed malaria. Had it been treated, she might have made a full recovery. She was 24 years old. 

    To her loved ones, the Peace Corps community sends the deepest condolences. And a pledge to ensure that the agency does better. As NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst wrote in an open letter, “The current challenge of suspended Peace Corps programming provides a tremendous opportunity—and clear responsibility—for the agency to engage global health experts, Congress, and the broad Peace Corps community in a transparent dialogue on where improvements in volunteer health care are needed and what is needed to implement those improvements ... And we must commit to the care and well-being of these Volunteers in a changed world.” 

    We can do nothing less.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He was as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.
     

    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Five country directors tell the stories of Peace Corps evacuation. see more

    When times are good, being a country director for Peace Corps may be the best job in foreign affairs. This has not been such a time.

    As told to Steven Boyd Saum


     

    Photo: Vyshyvanka Day, when schoolchildren don the traditional Ukrainian shirt — and here, pose as one. Photo by Kevin Lawson

     

    Kim Mansaray | Country Director, Mongolia

    JANUARY AND NEWS OF THE VIRUS came out in China. Mongolia says we’re not sending kids back to school. Our winter break became endless winter break. Then the virus exploded in China, and Mongolia went on hardcore lockdown — borders and flights.

    From time to time in Mongolia, there’s an outbreak of something, then a quarantine — fairly routine. That was on our minds: Watch how this plays out. The clincher was when flights from Seoul were canceled. I talked to the embassy and said, If people need to be medically evacuated, we’re not gonna be able to get them out.

    The farthest part of the country is normally a 40-hour bus ride. It took five days with help from embassy cars to caravan all Volunteers back in. And of course, because it’s Mongolia, there was a blizzard.

    Volunteers just a few months in were put on administrative hold. Then, in mid-March, Washington moved everybody to Close of Service. My Volunteers were giving me grief. I said, I get your frustration and your anger. But this is unchartered territory for Peace Corps.

     

    Should Volunteers return? Are we valued? How do we reset this for the country? They’ve heard communities say: “We want the volunteers back as soon as possible.”

     

    Mongolia on horseback. Photo by Antonio Mercatante

     

    Fast forward to June: Our staff in Mongolia have been out and about and in the countryside, visiting potential sites, picking up luggage that Volunteers left behind. And making honest assessments: Should Volunteers return? Are we valued? How do we reset this for the country? They’ve heard communities say: “We want the Volunteers back as soon as possible.” There’s a real connection. Volunteers are staying in touch with communities. Mongolia is incredibly wired; they use Facebook for everything. 

    Here, they see what’s happening in the U.S. Three, four days a week, people come in my office and ask: “What is going on?” Diplomatically I say, “Our democracy is right out there for you to see. It’s messy and it’s ugly, and it’s been tough.” But they know what the Volunteers have been doing in communities. That resonates here. Mongolia has an incredible commitment to not allowing community spread of COVID-19. They understand why the Volunteers left. And they’re uniformly asking, “When are they coming back?” 

     


    Ukraine: The winter walk to school. Photo by Kevin Lawson

     

    Michael Ketover | Country Director, Ukraine

    FRIDAY THE 13TH of March, still only three cases confirmed in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government acts quickly: bans foreigners from entering, effective in 48 hours; 170 border checkpoints closed. We go to alert stage. Overnight a nationwide lockdown is imposed. We activate standfast. Saturday morning, airports close. Time to evacuate.

    I was in Kryvyi Rih at a training with Volunteers and Ukrainian partners; took the 7-hour train back to Kyiv Saturday morning. Peace Corps in DC agrees on evacuation, finds a charter plane from Jordan, to arrive Monday. PC Ukraine, largest post globally, had 274 Volunteers serving; a large group completed service earlier that winter. Imagine doing this with the full 350 PCVs, I thought. We tell all Volunteers to get to Kyiv by Sunday night; they do. We get them to the airport — which is closed, skeleton staff. Still only seven cases in Ukraine. We wait. Flight delayed several times, then, about midnight, canceled. Hotels were closing. We found rooms in three; staff bought PCVs water and food, since restaurants were closing. 

    Tuesday’s charter: delayed then canceled. The company hadn’t arranged landing fee payment, secured a ground crew, etc. Wednesday: flight delayed several times, then canceled last minute. Despite support from the U.S. Embassy in Amman, the government of Jordan wouldn’t let the plane leave because of new COVID restrictions. Wednesday night I propose asking the U.S. military if we can fly Volunteers out on a military aircraft. And I talk to the CEO of a small startup airline in Ukraine interested in making its first flights to the States. 

    Thursday, 19 cases. We’re getting inquiries from congressional offices about concerned Volunteers’ parents: What’s going on? Thursday: delays, cancellation. Peace Corps HQ locates a different charter company from Spain. I insist on being put directly in touch with them. Thursday night 10:30 p.m., wheels up Madrid. We move PCVs in six different buses, with police and Regional Security Officer escort since it is now illegal to gather more than 10 people. At Kyiv airport, there’s a technical issue: They can’t issue or print boarding passes. So airport staff write them out by hand. Check-in took 10 hours. Friday morning, 6:20 a.m., plane departs. Kyiv to Madrid to Dulles to homes of record.

     

    The real unfinished business is Goal Two: deep relationships Volunteers have been establishing, person-to-person. Friendships and peace-building are the essence of Peace Corps — even more so in a place like Ukraine, a geopolitical epicenter.

     

    When I say we it’s the incredible PC local staff. Many had been through evacuation before, in 2014. I managed an evacuation in Papua New Guinea years ago but much less hectic and with only 22 PCVs. This time I was managing it from my Kyiv apartment — Friday I received notice that I had to self-quarantine because I had returned from Europe within the past two weeks. So I’m calling every Volunteer I could to say goodbye during that overnight check-in. During all this we’re posting on social media every day. This was time for gratitude: to counterparts and local staff, host families and government ministry partners, superstar volunteer wardens and our dear Volunteers. I encouraged the Volunteers to stay in touch with counterparts, work remotely if they could — on grant proposals, civic education with youth, English clubs on Zoom, anything; 100 evacuated PCVs have put in nearly 2,000 hours of virtual volunteering already.

    Staff here have restarted programs before. They are working hard even without PCVs in country to maintain meaningful contact with counterparts. They know how to do it. 

    As for unfinished business, there’s goal one for Peace Corps — work Volunteers do in teaching, youth and organizational development. That’s important, but the real unfinished business is Goal Two: deep relationships Volunteers have been establishing, person-to-person. Friendships and peace-building are the essence of Peace Corps — even more so in a place like Ukraine, a geopolitical epicenter. When I talk to counterparts, local staff , and Volunteers, I emphasize this. Counterparts love it: Work, yes, but also inviting Volunteers to birthday celebrations, funerals, and weddings, berry picking in the forest — that makes this experience unique and awesome. The Third Goal, that’s unfinished: making America less insular — helping Americans appreciate the realities of life in different places. Those three goals, equally important, are the beauty of our wonderful organization. 

     


    Ghana: Gathering for a baby-naming ceremony. Photo by Meg Holladay


    Gordon Brown | Country Director, Ghana

    IT HAD ALREADY BEEN A TOUGH YEAR for us in Ghana. In October, one of our Volunteers, Chidinma Ezeani, died after a tragic gas accident in her home. Thirty-nine Volunteers had to be relocated out of the northern part of the country because of security concerns across the border. Peace Corps Niger is closed because of security; Burkina Faso, too. 

    Then the virus: by March, regular emergency meetings at the embassy. Countries started closing, restricting airspace. It looked like Ghana was going to close — within the span of probably half a day. Sunday night, they said, Go in tomorrow and tell all 80 Volunteers to move. How fast can you do it? Now, our organizational culture in Peace Corps is not like the military: Here are your orders, execute. But in a moment like this, it has to be: Do this now — like now now. 

    My former boss used to say, “Being Peace Corps country director is the best job in foreign affairs.” I started as country director in Benin in 2015, then in Ghana in 2018. Along with the joy of the work also sometimes comes tragedy. So how do you be the best when times are the worst? Executing an evacuation takes massive logistical effort and focus. It was us all together — the Volunteers and the agency — that were able to make that happen. We had planes that were supposed to show up that didn’t. When we did get a plane — well, it had been a tough week for me personally, too. My wife had injured a muscle in her leg. So it’s 80 Volunteers, my wife in a wheelchair, our 3-year-old, our 7-year-old, all of our luggage — you can’t make up that level of difficulty. It was level 10.

     

    Then there’s this big question: How do we stay true to the original mission — the philosophical underpinnings — and make the modern iteration of the Peace Corps? It takes courage to stand up and say, “I believe in being committed to something.”

     

    As hard as this has been, here’s something that I think has become clear to a lot of the Volunteers: You don’t stop being a Volunteer just because you’re no longer at your site in a country. We’ve got the technology now that allows many Volunteers to be connected all the time. But that doesn’t change the fact that you need to be able to communicate with people in front of you. You need to be able to read people’s emotions and speak with them in a way that is that being empathetic to what they’re going through.

    We have to wrestle with what Peace Corps means in the modern world. How does it remain relevant? Ghana is the oldest Peace Corps operation in the world. It started in another era; 1961 was the year of Africa, when some 20 nations became independent. In 1960, the Prime Minister of England, Harold Macmillan gave a speech about “the wind of change” blowing through the continent.

    In Ghana, one question is: How do we keep Peace Corps from seeming like a piece of old furniture? It has always been there. Kwame Nkrumah is always a big hero. John F. Kennedy is a big hero. America and Ghana have always had a close relationship. But how do we renew excitement among the government and people of Ghana — to understand that these Volunteers who are capable and tech-savvy, involved and committed, have something to offer? It’s a welcome challenge. 

    For the agency this is a massive undertaking in terms of charting the way forward: what the focus areas are going to be, what the footprint is going to be — what sectors, sizes, countries? All of that is going to have to be decided on an individual basis. As I like to tell Volunteers: Any victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

    Then there’s this big question: How do we stay true to the original mission — the philosophical underpinnings — and make the modern iteration of the Peace Corps? It takes courage to stand up and say, “I believe in being committed to something.”

     


     

    Morocco: Girls’ hiking expedition. Photo by Gio Giraldo 

     

    Sue Dwyer | Country Director, Morocco

    WHEN WE STARTED an in-service training there were maybe two cases in Morocco — a country of 35 million. But come Friday morning, March 13, I don’t like where this is going. They shut down flights to Italy, are talking about shutting down flights to France — our primary means of getting out. We cancel the last few days of training. We send Volunteers back to their sites, put them on standfast. 

    Saturday morning, I call the Deputy Chief of Mission at the embassy and tell him I think I have to get Volunteers out; if we have to med-evac someone, we’re in trouble. We’ve got 183 Volunteers and Morocco is the size of California. For some Volunteers it takes two days to get back to site; they get a day to pack, say goodbye. In Rabat I figure we’ll have three days for a program to wrap things up. The embassy says you’ve got until next Saturday … then Thursday … then Wednesday. OK, here we go. The Moroccan government keeps moving the time when we can fly. I realize, as this is happening, that I still have some muscles working from my humanitarian aid days; I evacuated NGOs out of Liberia in 1999 during the civil war. 

    A lot of Volunteers email me saying, “Please don’t send us home, we want to be here in solidarity with the Moroccans.” But they come. Some have problems getting back to Rabat — harassment on buses, people saying foreigners brought in COVID. So our Moroccan staff charter buses and send them out to consolidation points. 

     

    This has been traumatic for Moroccan communities that had their Volunteer stripped from them. For the Moroccan staff, for the American staff. But it’s also a time when all of us can reflect on what we’re doing well, what systems need to be strengthened. We get a chance to start fresh.

     

    At the airport we have a charter flight with maybe 225 seats for Volunteers only. They start calling: “My grandmother and my mother are here — and the airport’s closed.” So we say yes. Then: My parents, my aunt , my brother. So we have to finish what we started. Thursday at 2 a.m., the plane takes off. Second-year Volunteers knew they were being COS’d. First-year Volunteers were told they were on administrative hold. While they were flying that changed. They got off the plane, they got a different message. That was soul-crushing.

    Peace Corps Morocco is one of the oldest programs, and currently the only one in the Arab world. We’re the largest youth development program; it’s our sole area of focus. The evacuation was a huge earthquake with all the aftershocks. And it’s not just for Volunteers. We’ve got host families calling and saying, “I can’t reach my volunteer daughter, son” — because their number changed. “When we see what’s happening in the United States, we’re really worried. Are they OK?”

    This has been traumatic for Moroccan communities that had their Volunteer stripped from them. For the Moroccan staff, for the American staff. But it’s also a time when all of us can reflect on what we’re doing well, what systems need to be strengthened. We get a chance to start fresh. If we were to do training in a completely different way, what would that look like? So this is an important time for innovation and rethinking our models

     


    . 

    Paraguay: Scenes from an Instagram feed before evacuation

     

    Howard Lyon | Country Director, Paraguay

    WE KNEW THE VIRUS was on its way, burning across the world. It was going to hit Paraguay sooner or later. Infections had begun in Brazil. At the time we thought maybe we could ride out the storm. But the world was getting stormier. Then with the infections in the United States, we began getting inquiries from parents: “Where’s my daughter?” “What’s your plan?” I had traveled to the region called the Chaco — very isolated and hot, and there was the theory that the virus doesn’t like heat. That was my last trip to the field.

    By March 15 it was very serious. A strange morning, overcast, leaves beginning to fall; autumn was just beginning. Walking to our office I was the only person on the street — a major thoroughfare in Asunción. People were beginning to stay at home; the government was making noises about curfews. We started preparing for lockdown. This happens to be my second evacuation in two years; in 2018 we evacuated Nicaragua — though under very different circumstances. But it’s heartbreaking to take Volunteers from their communities. 

    Sunday night we got the call. We had a week to get 180 Volunteers out. Paraguay is an inland island, surrounded by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. Politically it was isolated for years. You fly to North America through São Paulo, Buenos Aires, or Santiago, and then another connection. We got word that Panama, a central hub to get people to the U.S., was going to close. By Wednesday word was the airport in Asunción might close. We even had a group on a bus to the airport when our travel agency canceled our tickets. So we brought people back to their hotel. Saturday, we got a chartered flight, our last large group. Lockdown began the night before; we weren’t even allowed to leave our homes to say goodbye to them. So it’s all WhatsApp, and we’re calling, we’re saying goodbye in other ways.

     

    THREE MONTHS LATER, Latin America is being harder hit. Volunteers I speak to express gratitude to the country, sadness for leaving their communities here, but also gratitude for being close to their families in the U.S. during this time. In Paraguay, we were on strict lockdown the first month, and that helped. In Peru and Ecuador, it’s a terrible situation. Brazil is horrific. Here the population is about 
7 million. We’re around 1,300 cases now; there have been 12 fatalities. 

    Our staff have been talking to community members and counterparts. They want everybody back. But it’s going to be a different world. In Paraguay, kissing and hugging are a big part of the culture; so is sharing food, or drinking tereré out of the same gourd or straw. That will change. If the opportunity presents itself to return Volunteers, they will be well received by their communities. But we’re going to have to think about how you go in as the foreigner who has been in a country with such high infection rates.

    Another crucial factor: New and returning Volunteers alike have not only lived through an extraordinary world health catastrophe, but the recent murders of Black Americans, which are a consequence of centuries of racism, have brought another time of protest and a time of reckoning. All of us as individuals and as organizations have to look within ourselves and truly recognize that this situation — the mistreatment of people because of race — is the heritage of our country. We have to deal with it. It doesn’t mean everybody’s bad, doesn’t mean everybody’s good. It just means we’ve got to live together. 

     

    The purpose of the Peace Corps is to break down any kind of barrier to understanding each other. This is something everybody in the world is facing. This is not one region. This is not one country. This is not one class.

     

    When the Black Lives Matter movement began a few years ago, there were repercussions in the Peace Corps. Some wanted the agency to answer hard questions. This is now even stronger and more tragic. The economy and unemployment, the illness and who it affects most, and the reckoning with justice: It’s an extraordinary time. So our staff need to be compassionate and understanding. 

    I haven’t been to every country in the world, but I’ve seen a bunch. And I don’t know of any non-racist country, especially in this part of the world. Africa was colonized by Europeans who, to do what they did, dehumanized native populations. That curse has been with us ever since. In this part of the world, when we talk of Europeans — the Spanish and the Portuguese — this conquest was very violent. These nations were born in violence, but they’re trying to reckon with it.

    The purpose of the Peace Corps is to break down any kind of barrier to understanding each other. This is something everybody in the world is facing. This is not one region. This is not one country. This is not one class. Every one of us is facing uncertainties — and we’re social distancing, losing human contact. I hope compassion is what we learn out of all this. It’s not just, OK, lights are on again.

    As I said to the last group flying out, when I called and they put me on speakerphone: We truly love you guys. We love you Volunteers.

     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

    Thank you for reading: We try to bring you stories that matter to our community. We welcome any support you can give for the work we’re doing.

    • Joanne Roll
      Thank you for bringing the "other side" of the Peace Corps evacuation. We have read how difficult it was for each PCV to leave their host country, friends and projects. Now, we can appreciate...
      see more
      Thank you for bringing the "other side" of the Peace Corps evacuation. We have read how difficult it was for each PCV to leave their host country, friends and projects. Now, we can appreciate what a herculean effort was made by PC staff to evacuate all Volunteers, safely.
      1 year ago
    • Michael Burza I sincerely hope as many PCVs can return to their sites as possible.
      1 year ago