Communications Intern posted an articleAn invitation to listen, learn — and roll up our sleeves see more
An invitation to listen, learn — and roll up our sleeves.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Let’s start with a story about an invitation. There’s that historic letter from JFK below, sent to the first would-be Volunteers. And let me tell you about Laurel Hunt, a recent engineering grad from University of Minnesota, and the years of Peace Corps service she has yet to undertake in Peru, working with a community on health and sanitation. Return to March 2020: “Friday the 13th was my last day at work,” Hunt writes. “As I packed up my desk that afternoon, I got a phone call from Washington, D.C. A frazzled-sounding Peace Corps employee told me that my Peru 35 group would be delayed at least 30 days.”
COVID-19 was burning its way across the globe, countries shuttering airports and closing borders. Two days later, Peace Corps announced a global evacuation of all Volunteers.
Peace Corps was something Laurel Hunt had her heart set on since junior high. While earning her engineering degree, she co-founded and served as president of Out in STEM. “As a queer woman in engineering, I’m used to feeling out of place,” she says. Peace Corps would no doubt bring more of that sense of displacement, in ways humbling and unexpected — and, so the story goes, lessons in patience, flexibility, resilience.
“I don’t know what my future holds, and the uncertainty is tough,” Hunt wrote a year ago. “For right now, all I can do now is wait, support my community, and wash my hands. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a safe place to stay and enough savings to make it through a few months in limbo.”
On her blog she wrote with admiration about returned Volunteers who, as the global evacuation was taking place, rallied to help the evacuees. There was a Facebook group focused on providing that support; within days, its membership swelled to 6,000 members, and then 14,000. Hunt pitched in as an administrator for the group.
She hoped, as so many did, that the pandemic might be tamed — and that Volunteers would return to their sites later in the year. By summer it was clear that wouldn’t happen. Hunt took a job at a seafood processor in Alaska for a few months. She returned to Minnesota. The firm where she had been working offered her a job again, while she waited to hear when she might begin Peace Corps service.
“The uncertainty is tough,” wrote would-be Volunteer Laurel Hunt. So she established a group to support others in the same boat: Peace Corps Invitees in Limbo.
Many hundreds of others were in the same boat, waiting. So Hunt formed a Facebook group to give them a place to share updates (what’s the latest on departure for your country?) and to offer advice and support and a shared sense of what it was to be living with this uncertainty while other forces in life exerted their gravitational pull. Hunt christened the group Peace Corps Invitees in Limbo.
When the first Peace Corps Volunteers received their letters of invitation from President Kennedy 60 years ago, they were embarking on something uncertain and new. When Volunteers arrive once more in countries around the world, the communities and individuals who serve there will begin a journey very different from what has come before. I have heard from one of my former students — Olena Halapchuk-Tarnavska, who is now on the faculty at Lesya Ukrainka Volyn National University in western Ukraine and who has been training incoming groups of Volunteers for years — that they are eager for Volunteers to return. Those sentiments have been heard from every country where Volunteers were serving. But how things will be different remains to be seen.
When the first Peace Corps Volunteers received their letters of invitation from President Kennedy 60 years ago, they were embarking on something uncertain and new. When Volunteers arrive once more in countries around the world, the communities and individuals who serve there will begin a journey very different from what has come before.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of Peace Corps beginnings, in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView we also lean hard on what Peace Corps might be — and what place it has in a changed world. And not only Peace Corps, because this audacious endeavor — independent from the exponentially larger USAID and State Department, thanks to the vision and efforts of the early architects of the agency — does not exist in a vacuum. Which brings us to the words on our cover: The Time Is Now! For what? To commit as never before to a sense of service with a sense of solidarity, building up communities across the United States and around the world, fostering the personal connections that deepen our awareness and understanding — of shared humanity, of what equity and justice mean, and, for better or for worse, a common fate on this planet.
The thing about service and solidarity is that these are not a one-and-done commitment, boxes to be checked. For this work, there’s a standing invitation.
Letter image courtesy Maureen Carroll Collection, Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Archives and Special Collections
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.Write him.
This essay appears in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine. Sign up for a print subscription by joining National Peace Corps Association. You can also download the WorldView App for free here: worldviewmagazine.org
Steven Saum posted an articleIn an election year marked by crisis, here’s how you can help expand and protect voter participationThese organizations welcome help in their vital mission to ensure we all have the right to vote. see more
Tools for constructive conversations about the election. Plus organizations seeking volunteers — and offering a few paid positions. Their vital mission: expand and protect voter participation.
By James Rupert and NPCA Staff
Why does democracy matter? It’s about a system and a culture — and a shared commitment to one another. At a time of national division, Democracy for President is a new nonpartisan initiative to help individuals and communities across the country bolster confidence in the integrity of the 2020 election.
Created by research group More in Common, the Democracy for President website poses some big questions: Can we trust the outcome of the election? How do I talk with someone I don’t agree with? How do I talk about violence and the election?
There are discussion guides, shareable infographics, and op-ed templates about how all Americans — regardless of who they will support in voting up through November 3 — can strengthen democracy.
As evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) search for next steps amid the shocks of evacuation and the COVID crisis, many organizations are seeking folks with PCV-like skills for the vital mission of expanding and protecting voter participation in an election year upended by COVID. The groups below are recruiting (many) volunteers and (a few) staffers. Some have begun a transition to new, COVID-enforced online operations, while others appear likely to need help in that transition. Some groups may welcome PCV language skills in reaching out to minority communities. (Quotes in the descriptions below are from the organizations’ websites; see note at bottom on organizations' IRS classification.)
CC promotes pro-democracy reforms to expand voter participation, reduce the influence of money in politics, and oppose gerrymandering and corruption. It has a program aimed at organizing students. Its website reflects updates on how CC is adapting its operations to COVID. It seeks volunteers for roles including local organizing, phone-bank operations and voter-rights advocacy at local and national levels. It offers training and seeks trainers. CC also lists eight jobs nationwide, plus internships (which are not described) as of May 30. [501(c)(4)]
This coalition (led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) is “recruiting volunteers in a number of states” to promote and protect voter participation. They add: “We recruit volunteers in the states where they live and cannot support deployment to other states.” The group disseminates voting info, monitors polling places on election days, and gathers data for future election reforms. They seek volunteers both with or without legal studies or experience, and they offer some training. Also scroll down here to see 25 their state and local partner organizations that may be working in your area. [501(c)(3)]
This nonprofit runs a campaign called “Respect My Vote!” aimed at young folks of color, notably in cities, non-college-educated, people with felony records, and students and historically black colleges. You can sign up to volunteer here. Their website reflects few recent updates. Their national office (in DC) may have info on what they need as they adapt operations to COVID. [501(c)(3)]
The LWV is the great-grandmother of all U.S. voting rights groups, formed exactly a century ago by the suffragists championing women’s right to vote. The LWV is looking for help in registering voters and in promoting policies to prevent COVID and voter suppression efforts from restricting Americans’ ability to vote in 2020. The LWV works through state and/or local chapters, and you can reach out to your nearby LWV chapter here. [501(c)(3)]
Power the Polls is an initiative powered by Work Elections to recruit poll workers to ensure a safe, fair election for all voters. Power the Polls addresses the need for low-risk and diverse poll workers who can staff in-person voting locations during early voting and on Election Day, and is focusing on healthy, low-risk candidates to ensure that those workers most susceptible to the coronavirus are given the space to take care of their health, while still keeping polling sites open and available for efficient in-person voting. Sign up here.
With support from the music entertainment biz, RTV does voter education work, organizing and voter registration both in the field and online. Their website says they are looking for volunteers and organizers (including “ambassadors” who are asked to commit five hours per week). [501(c)(3)]
The project works for reforms in U.S. criminal justice, notably voting rights for citizens convicted of felonies. It works to restore voting rights for 6 million people whom it found were denied the vote in 2016 (including 1.5 million in Florida, a notable focus for the project’s work) because of state laws disenfranchising them even long after their sentences had been served. Their website suggests volunteering through the project’s state and local partners in all 50 states. [501(c)(3)]
U.S. Vote Foundation has a broad series of online tools to facilitate the voting process, beit in person or by mail. Find information about registering, requesting an absentee ballot, or how to contact their local election administrators at usvotefoundation.org. [501(c)(3)]
This nonprofit is “dedicated to increasing voter registration in the United States among young people, people of color and unmarried women.” It lists no call for volunteers but has four DC-based jobs listed as of May 30. [501(c)(3)]
VL is “focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters.” They are registering voters and promoting Latinx participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. Amid COVID, Voto Latino is looking for people to host local online events—and of course, they need Spanish speakers! You can volunteer here to help with organizing, training, online events and more. [501(c)(4)]
NPCA is sharing this information as a service to our members. NPCA is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse any of these organizations or their activities. Each group above is a nonprofit organization. Those classified by the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)(3) are barred from conducting any political campaign activities. Groups classified as 501(c)(4) are permitted to conduct limited political campaign activities.
James Rupert is foreign affairs editor for U.S. Institute of Peace. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco (1980–82) and has been a correspondent and editor for the Washington Post, Newsday, and Bloomberg News.
These listings were updated on October 19, 2020. They were first posted on the NPCA site on April 24, 2020.
Communications Intern posted an articlePC counterparts: one person in the community tasked with helping make this endeavor possible see more
Every Volunteer has a counterpart. That’s Peace Corps lingo for one person in the community tasked with helping make this endeavor possible.
Interviews Edited by Steven Boyd Saum and Cynthia Arata
Photo: Sharmae Stringfield (left) Chippie Ngwali. Courtesy Sharmae Stringfield.
Malawi | Sharmae Stringfield, Volunteer
Home: Virginia, United States
The day I had to leave my village in the district of Blantyre was the day the painter I hired finished our mural at the health center: a dedication to sanitation and critical times to wash hands. Seeing as the evacuation was due to a virus that spreads rapidly through a lack of both those things, it was a fitting project to have left behind.
I left my neighbor and best friend, Vincent Zitha. I had less than 24 hours to say goodbyes. My co-workers were health care workers, teachers, community leaders. One of my favorite responsibilities was supervising the local youth club that I helped re-establish. We were able to have two community service projects, and we invited health workers to give talks. The youth absorbed these health messages and turned them into song and plays. After I left, they created a play about coronavirus and performed it at the health center.
We were going to tackle tough issues troubling girls in the community — including dropping out of school due to early pregnancies and young marriages.
I co-facilitated an after-school girls’ club with the chair of their mothers’ group, using the Go Girls curriculum. The day I got the email to evacuate would have been my last day to facilitate. Schools then closed to take precautions against COVID-19. The work I was doing came to a halt; the program was only half complete. The head teacher and I have remained in contact to ensure its completion. Shortly before evacuation, I began a partnership with a local NGO, FACT Malawi. We were going to tackle tough issues troubling girls in the community — including dropping out of school due to early pregnancies and young marriages. Youth of Malawi need programs that cater to teaching young boys how to be gentlemen and teaching young girls how to assert and protect themselves. Communities can benefit from the Peace Corps approach to both community health and environment issues. Our fellow Malawians valued our presence in their country, and they welcomed us with both hands.
Sharmae Stringfield and Mdeka Youth Club. Photo courtesy Sharmae Stringfield.
Malawi | Chipiliro Ngwali, Counterpart
Home: Phalula village in Balaka district
I am married and I have a son, and I am now working under the Ministry of Health as a health surveillance assistant at Mdeka Health Center. We do field work in hard to reach areas: monitoring health of community members, engaging in health talks, and providing immunizations and other preventative medication. Malawi has few health workers in rural centers, so people have limited access. We work in collaboration with Peace Corps; they help fill the gap — and bring volunteers like Sharmae. This made me excited.
In the last few months, there have been so many changes due to coronavirus. Health workers’ efforts have diminished; they are afraid of contracting the virus, since there’s little personal protective equipment. Society discriminates against health workers because of that risk. Many health centers close early to avoid overcrowding. Projects initiated by Sharmae have been affected. Groups she brought together have stopped receiving education she used to provide. Safety measures have prevented the other programs from continuing.
Americans need to understand that the work we did was important … The work that was started doesn’t have to end.
People are still eager to know more and acquire skills Sharmae was teaching. As for the mural Sharmae was working on at the health center: With people being afraid of getting coronavirus, we have been avoiding large gatherings. Instead, we let people view the mural to self-educate. People see the times when it’s critical to wash hands. They see how waterborne illnesses happen. Americans need to understand that the work we did was important. There are skills that were taught and prevention techniques that can be practiced.
The work that was started doesn’t have to end. Peace Corps Volunteers should continue to pass along information on COVID-19 to counterparts who can reach remote areas. They can teach ways of ensuring food security in this time of pandemic. And PCVs can stay in communication with counterparts to try to preserve any work that can continue after the coronavirus is less of a threat.
Malawi: Health mural, Mdeka Health Center. Photo by Sharmae Stringfield.
Panama | Bill Lariviere, Volunteer and José María Barrios, Counterpart
Panama: Volunteer Bill Lariviere (left) and counterpart José María Barrios, admiring the work they organized for a reforestation event in Nuario, Los Santos. Photo by Eli Wittum.
Morocco | Omar Lhamyani, Counterpart
Home: Zagora Province
I was born and raised in a village called Tazarine in southeast Morocco. It was once a green oasis with an economy centered on agriculture; years of drought and desertification have changed the region into more of a commercial area.
I was introduced to Peace Corps in 2010. I have worked with three cohorts of Volunteers as a language and cross-cultural facilitator, counterpart, and language tutor, and as member of the multimedia committee creating and translating content that showcases the amazing work Volunteers and community youth are doing.
This work is life-changing for the youth in my community, just as it was for me.
We focus on youth in development. This work is life-changing for the youth in my community, just as it was for me. As a young high school student I participated in a linguistics camp in my town where I felt the influence of PCVs. They were role models for me.
Most recently I worked with Gio Giraldo. She worked with community members and focused on girls’ empowerment with the Dar Chabab Youth Club. She is an accomplished soccer player and trained withcollegiate and professional athletes in the U.S. That was new and fascinating, especially for the girls in Tazarine. It is rare to see boys and girls playing sports together in rural villages. Gio wanted to create a space for girls to feel welcome to play soccer. Now I see boys and girls playing competitive soccer games together.
We are lucky in Tazarine to have had PCVs for more than 10 years. They help students improve their English skills and connect us to resources, such as scholarships. Ideas and perspectives that Volunteers have brought have influenced and inspired us.
When I first heard of the evacuation, I couldn’t believe it. But I knew the situation could become more difficult. The community understands why Gio had to leave; her family must want her near in this time. We hope the sadness we feel seeing Gio go will be temporary — but her impact on our community will continue to thrive.
Community members ask about Gio all the time—and if she will come back. Mostly the girls from the community ask me if they will continue their soccer project with Gio. Her kindness, and the way she carried out her service, made the community trust and respect her.
Omar Lhamyani. Photo by Giovana Giraldo.
Morocco | Giovana Giraldo, Volunteer
Home: Miami metropolitan area, United States
They called the region the gateway—the entrance to big cities from Sahara country. Doors open up to the desert. There are beautiful canyons and a blend of cultures. I arrived last year. We were excited about a grant proposal from the U.S. Embassy to organize a summer leadership program for youth. I was coaching a girls soccer team that started off as pick-up soccer; the dream was to develop it into an organized association. Soccer can be great for integration. I’ve played all my life. Opportunities I’ve had are due to people coming together to make things happen. That was my goal in Morocco. There was amazing talent. Traveling has shown me that talent is equally distributed but not necessarily opportunity.
Omar is a selfless and motivated person. He is incredible. Peace Corps influenced him when he was younger; he has repaid that tenfold.
Omar is a selfless and motivated person. He is incredible. Peace Corps influenced him when he was younger; he has repaid that tenfold. Anyone who reached out — he would connect and help.
Other counterparts I worked with were also focused on providing opportunities. I like to think the work will go on without me being there. Though evacuation has thrown all my emotions into a washing machine. I’m disappointed because of the timing. Sad because of what it all meant to me. For Moroccan staff, Peace Corps means livelihoods, careers. They were nothing but supportive and positive. I feel like I’ve lost a little family.
Girls hiking expedition. Photo by Giovana Giraldo.
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Rachel Mannino posted an articleThank you to our #GivingTuesday Champions! see more
After the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday (November 28th) is a time to give back. The Peace Corps community needs your help this #GivingTuesday, so we can continue to support our members all year long!
In this challenging political environment, the Peace Corps community has to push incredibly hard to galvanize support for the Peace Corps in Congress. It was tough this year, when the White House and the House budget both cut Peace Corps funding by $12 million. However, thanks to the hard work of our community advocates, the Senate voted to level fund the agency. We’re still fighting for that level $410 million budget. Donations made during #GivingTuesday will help fund our advocacy efforts in 2018. We will continue building our network of volunteer advocacy coordinators across the country, and provide better technology to help our members reach out to Congressional leadership. We will also implement another day of action on the Hill.
NPCA #GivingTuesday Champions have committed to enlisting 10 people to donate $10 or more on #GivingTuesday and to sharing their Peace Corps stories to increase awareness and raise support. You can help, too. Here’s how:
- Sign up to be a #GivingTuesday Champion by emailing Rachel@peacecorpsconnect.org.
- Donate to the advocacy fund, and tell others about why you gave your contribution.
- Share our #GivingTuesday social media posts on your profiles, along with your own Peace Corps story, and ask your friends and family for donations.
Thank you for all you do to support NPCA. We need your passion for our advocacy work now more than ever!
Thank you #GivingTuesday Champions!
David A. Miron
Kristina J. Owens
Tyler Lloyd from My PC Story
Maine Peace Corps Association - #GivingTuesday outreach coordinated by Nicole Lewis and Valerie Young