Share your story—whether it’s video, pictures, text. This is just a beginning. see more
On March 15 more than 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers were told they needed to leave the communities they had called home—an unprecedented global evacuation. They were uprooted from the lives and work they had come to know, sometimes without the opportunity to even say goodbye. They are returning to a country in crisis.
National Peace Corps Association is working to ensure they have the resources they need during these uncertain and difficult times. We also want to make sure the world hears their stories.
We are gathering here first-person videos and stories, as well as interviews with evacuated Volunteers from around the world.
We invite you to participate, too. We want to share your story—whether it’s video, pictures, text, or you’d like to talk to one of our writers. This is just a beginning.
Home: Originally the Midwest — now North Las Vegas, Nevada
English Education and Community Development Volunteer
“To me, Peace Corps wasn’t just about teaching languages. It was about promoting equity.”
Home: Amherst, Massachusetts
Peace Corps Health Extension Volunteer
“Peace Corps work is so powerful because it’s work we do together with our communities, based on their priorities. It’s work that can become sustainable as we share knowledge and learn together.”
Home: Sharon, Massachusetts
Teaching English, Leadership, and Life Skills (TELLS) Volunteer helping teachers improve their skills and develop new teaching methodologies. She had one hour to pack before evacuating. Now she is a contact tracer with Partners In Health.
"I'm still hoping to go back to Panama one way or another, mostly because I feel very indebted to the whole country and I really want to pay that back...I can only hope that we have the opportunity to do that moving forward."
Home: Rochester, New York by way of Arlington, Virginia
Community health Volunteer in a rural community, focusing on water, sanitation, and nutrition.
“Even though I am back in the United States, I continue to work with the women’s group on this project, believing it could provide real change for these women.”
Home: Medford, New Jersey
Teaching information communication technology and art classes to deaf students in northern Namibia.
“I would also like for Peace Corps Volunteers to help empower deaf and hard-of-hearing people to let them know that they are just as capable as hearing people in achieving their dreams, and to not let anything hold them back.”
Home: San Francisco, California
Working on economic empowerment of women in Colombia — helping women who harvest cacao and turn that into chocolate products*
“These women [entrepreneurs] have been fighting really hard … a lot of people telling them they can’t.”
*Through NPCA's Community Fund, Elyse's project was fully funded!
Home: Rochester, New York
Post-secondary English educator at the University of Mahajanga
“I left behind the most extraordinary community … If it is not possible to personally reinstate or return to Metangula, I hope that Peace Corps is able to reinstate its programs in Mozambique so that Metangula will receive another volunteer in the future.”
Home: Greensboro, North Carolina
Youth Development Volunteer in Apostolove, Dnipropetrovs'ka oblast
“Ukrainians and I are asking the same question: When will I come back? And more important: When will Peace Corps come back?”
Home: Kansas City, Missouri
Three-time Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English — and had hoped to extend to three years of service in Nepal. Previously served in Thailand and Mongolia.
“I left students behind — many that were lower level students that most teachers had written off. … Many of them have begun to be excited about learning … I want to return as soon as possible.”
Home: Louisville, Kentucky
Serving as a community health services promoter
“I left behind the most extraordinary community … If it is not possible to personally reinstate or return to Metangula, I hope that Peace Corps is able to reinstate its programs in Mozambique so that Metangula will receive another volunteer in the future.”
Home: Greater Washington, DC Area
Serving as an English teaching and gender education Volunteer
“We need to get the Peace Corps opened up again as soon as possible. … [They’re] doing incredible work, especially supporting girls’ education.”
Home: Thousand Oaks, California
Working as part of Teaching Empowerment for Student Success (TESS) program, teaching alongside a Thai teacher.
“Peace Corps really provides an outlet for creating a global community, and I think there always be a need for that.”
Home: San Francisco, California
Working as a Public Health Education Volunteer
“Mongolia loves Peace Corps! … I really hope that—in enough time—Peace Corps will send Volunteers back and be able to continue the work going on in the country.”
Home: Condon, Oregon
Working with dairy farmers on economic development and entrepreneurship.
“Much of what I was doing seemed like it would soon have promising results.”
Home: Gloucester, Virginia
Teaching English as a foreign language in a school in a small village. Unfinished business: building a resource center for learning English to help students, faculty, and staff.
“I hope everyone stays safe, and I will be back as soon as possible.”
Steven Boyd Saum served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96 and is the editor of WorldView magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WorldView Magazine Earns Top Honors for Editorial and Design Excellence in 2021 FOLIO Magazine AwardsAn EDDIE for a series of stories, and an OZZIE for best cover see more
An EDDIE award recognizing a series of stories about Volunteers evacuated from around the world. And a cover asking “What’s the Role of Peace Corps Now?” These awards mark the first time that the magazine published for the Peace Corps community has earned these top honors.
By NPCA Staff
For the first time in its more than three-decade history, WorldView magazine has brought home top honors in the FOLIO Awards honoring magazine editorial and design excellence. Published by National Peace Corps Association, WorldView is a winner of both an EDDIE and OZZIE in the 2021 awards.
WorldView earned EDDIE top honors for a series of articles in the Summer 2020 edition that tell the stories of Peace Corps Volunteers who were evacuated from around the world in 2020. The series captures the Volunteer experiences and the communities in which they were serving, and the unfinished business they left behind.
The magazine earned OZZIE top honors for the cover of the Fall 2020 edition, featuring an illustration by award-winning artist David Plunkert. With a dove of peace inside a cage-like COVID-19 molecule, the cover asks: “What’s the role of Peace Corps now?” Plunkert’s work has appeared in the pages and on the covers of The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Time, and elsewhere.
The awards were presented on October 14 at the FOLIO gala in New York City. The EDDIES and OZZIES have been presented for more than a quarter century and draw competition from across the United States and internationally. This year marked the return of an in-person awards ceremony. Other top winners this year include California’s ALTA Journal, Variety, environmental news publication Grist, People, National Geographic Kids, and more.
WorldView is edited by Steven Boyd Saum, and Pamela Fogg serves as art director. The recent digital edition also bears the handiwork of Orrin Luc, who serves as digital content manager. And just joining the editorial team is Tiffany James, who comes on board as associate editor, global stories.
“This is an unprecedented time for the Peace Corps, and it’s heartening to see WorldView recognized for the importance and caliber of the work we’re doing,” says Saum. “There are dozens of people who shared their stories to help readers understand what thousands of communities and Volunteers have gone through — and a small but dedicated team of writers who helped give these stories shape and form. Every one of those Volunteers and writers deserve credit for the editorial award.”
As for the award-winning cover, Saum says, “That asks a question we’re still seeking to answer. And just like when Peace Corps Volunteers first embarked on this mission of building world peace and friendship 60 years ago, in the months to come it will be up to the Volunteers — and all of us in the Peace Corps community — to help define that role in a changed world.”
Read the current edition of WorldView — and those editions that have brought accolades — at worldviewmagazine.org.
National Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. see more
By Mark Gearan
The bipartisan, 11-member National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to find ways to increase participation in military, national, and public service and to review the military selective service process. Our goal is to ignite a national conversation about the importance of service as we develop recommendations for the Congress and the President by March 2020.
I am honored to serve as vice chair for national and public service and was privileged to deliver opening remarks during two national service hearings held by the Commission in March 2019. From my years as Peace Corps director, I know RPCVs will have a strong interest in our work and I appreciate this opportunity to update the community on our efforts.
From February to June of this year, the commission held 14 public hearings and released eight staff memoranda on various topics related to our mission. In March, the commission held two hearings on national service and released a staff memorandum summarizing research and outlining potential policy options the commission is considering on increasing Americans’ propensity to participate in national service.
National service is defined in the commission’s mandate as “civilian participation in any non-governmental capacity, including with private for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations (including with appropriate faith-based organizations), that pursues and enhances the common good and meets the needs of communities, the states, or the nation in sectors related to security, health, care for the elderly, and other areas considered appropriate by the Commission.”
National Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. The Commission is also considering ways to include faith-based, non-profit, and private-sector organizations in creating and promoting national service opportunities.
As the vice chair for national and public service, former Peace Corps director, and a former college president, our hearings on national service were close to my heart, especially as we hosted them at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. President George H.W. Bush lived his life in service to others and as a leader who believed service could unite Americans. He served as a champion of national service, and it was an honor for the commission to host both hearings at the school that honors his legacy. And I note with pride, that Texas is fourth in the list of top Peace Corps volunteer-producing states with 350 individuals serving in the Peace Corps in 2018.
Reducing Barriers to Service
A study commissioned by Service Year Alliance in 2015 demonstrated that fewer than one third of 14 to 24-year-olds are aware of service year options. The Commission wants to assure access to these opportunities for all Americans. To do this, the Commission is interested in minimizing barriers to serve, such as stipends and benefits. Improving access to national service will ensure that the diversity of national service volunteers reflects that of the nation.
When the Peace Corps was established in 1961, it was an innovative and bold idea. Today, more than 230,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers demonstrate the enduring strength of that idea. Peace Corps Volunteers have represented the United States in 141 countries and have left behind a legacy of peace and friendship.
At our hearing, Michelle Brooks, Peace Corps chief of staff, testified and argued that federal government investment in programs such as Peace Corps and the various programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service ultimately results in the development of passionate and informed global citizens. Each Peace Corps Volunteer returns to the United States with a proven track record of working in a cross-cultural setting and appreciating and respecting the richness of working across differences.
Brooks also shared recommendations the agency would like the commission to consider. Two of those suggestions were: extending Noncompetitive Eligibility status to three years for RPCVs, bringing it in line with most other authorities granting that status; and an NCE Service Registry, an idea Peace Corps is piloting with two federal agencies.
Ms. Brooks’ full testimony can be found on the Commission’s website at www.inspire2serve.gov. Do you have additional recommendations to those provided by the Peace Corps during our March hearings on national service?
Join the Discussion
I invite you to join us in this important conversation. Our hope is to spark a movement: every American — especially young Americans — inspired and eager to serve. Talk to your friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues and fellow returned Volunteers about the commission, your service experience, and how we can create more national service opportunities for Americans. We want to hear from all of you!
Share your ideas with the commission through our website on any aspect of the commission’s mission. For example, how can we create more national service opportunities for Americans, and how can we improve the current national service policies and processes?
Stay up to date on the commission’s activities and download the Interim Report at www.inspire2serve.gov. Our final report will be released in March 2020 with recommendations for the national service community — and that includes Peace Corps. Stay tuned! We also invite you to follow the commission on Facebook and Twitter via @Inspire2ServeUS and join the digital conversation on service by using the hashtag #Inspire2Serve.
Mark Gearan currently serves as the vice chair for National and Public Service for the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School and served as the 14th director of the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1999.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.
Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria Changed Charles Larson’s Worldview. So He Embarked on a Life-long Journey to Bring Works by African Writers to U.S. Readers.As a scholar, he profoundly shaped the study of African literature. And contributed to WorldView. see more
A remembrance: As a scholar, he profoundly shaped the study of African literature. And his work illuminated the pages of WorldView magazine for years.
By David Arnold
Charles Larson. Photo courtesy the Larson family.
When his papers were archived at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, African literature scholar Charles R. Larson told an interviewer that in two years teaching as a Peace Corps Volunteer, “Nigeria totally altered my worldview. When I returned home I was determined to see that works by African writers were reprinted in American editions.” He was true to that determination.
Larson, who served in the Peace Corps from 1962 to 1964 and died in May, was for more than 50 years a major influence in a movement to introduce the works of African writers to university classrooms across America — and to New York book publishing. He taught literature at American University in Washington, D.C. for 46 years.
For more than 50 years Charles Larson was a major influence in a movement to introduce the works of African writers to university classrooms across America — and to New York book publishing.
Longtime readers of WorldView were also beneficiaries when for 11 years Larson was our magazine’s books and fiction editor. He proposed the position when we first met at a 1995 Peace Corps gathering at the American University gymnasium. National Peace Corps Association had turned the magazine’s attention to giving its readers news, opinion, and reporting about current social, political, and cultural dynamism of the countries where we had served as Volunteers.
'Larson’s proposal was a perfect fit for the magazine and provided us with fresh and wide-ranging literary voices from the rest of the world. Beginning with his own article in 1996 about Nigeria’s celebrated writer and executed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, Larson organized a cohort of returned Volunteers, academics, and published novelists, and poets and intellectuals from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East to review half a dozen books in each issue of our magazine. We were enriched even more by his acquisition of WorldView rights to fiction from the likes of Somalia’s Nuruddin Farah, Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh, Haiti’s Edwidge Danticat, Indian writer Meena Nayak, and many more.
Charles Larson broadened our worldview. The family requests that he be remembered by donations to National Peace Corps Association.
David Arnold is editor emeritus of WorldView magazine.
Communications Intern 2 posted an articleRPCVs bring forward their rewarding experiences following Worldview see more
Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other missives: Readers respond to the stories in words and images in the winter 2021 edition of WorldView. We’re happy to continue the conversation here and on all those nifty social media platforms. One way to write us: email@example.com
Retool, then reengage
The pandemic offers a unique opportunity for Peace Corps to critically evaluate programs. It’s tempting to just send back returned Volunteers to previous assignments—and probably easiest from utilizing appropriated funding. But I hope there will be a pause, and a rethinking about how best to use the skills and idealism of some of America’s best.
WorldView is spectacular! I just received the winter issue. Wow! I get a lot of magazines, but WorldView is just head and shoulders above all of them.
Country Director, Liberia 1976–77
Important connections — the NPCA email newsletter, WorldView. Connections make a difference! My Peace Corps experience 55 years ago has strengthened in my perspectives and actions over the years. Always learning, always valuable.
After perusing the latest WorldView, I was wondering if you had considered a letter to the editor campaign in which returned PCVs would highlight Peace Corps’ 60th anniversary and explain the current status of the program and plans to return Volunteers to the field.
In addition, have you considered contacting current and past presidents and their spouses, inviting them to become patrons of the Peace Corps and advocates of its work, while requesting their support with Congress and the public at large? Many thanks for your great efforts in keeping alive and well the ideals of the Peace Corps that inspired me and so many others to serve.
Dominican Republic (1962–64)
“Ask not…” Annotating JFK’s Inaugural address
I watched and heard the words while working as a nurse aide in January ’62. In April I sent an inquiry, sent in the application, trained that summer, and was in country by fall. Still the best thing I ever did. Would do it again, but I’m 77!
I am dumbfounded why you did not include this paragraph from the inaugural in your article:
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required — not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
Within an inaugural address that people would parse as if it were the Gettysburg address, it would be difficult not to read Kennedy’s pledge as a statement to the world of why he would be creating a “Peace Corps” … which he did by executive order about 45 days later. Within the confines of two sentences, Kennedy spoke directly to what many then called the “Third World” and set out the principles of the pledge he was making and what would govern a Peace Corps: We would come not as “helpers” but as equals, “to help them help themselves,” not limited by an arbitrary time requirement, but “for whatever period is required”… and most important we come not out of some self-interest but out of the moral responsibility that comes from being a citizen of the world … because it is right.
Malawi 1968–70; Training program director, Western Samoa 1979
Excellent point and taken. Check out the full address here, along with more annotations by Gordon Radley, Editor Emeritus David Arnold, and others. —Ed.
How Peace Corps inspired Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Love her: She swore in our L4 group in Peace Corps Response Liberia! She will be a fantastic U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., bringing compassion, intelligence, experience, down-to-earth warmth, talent, and a diverse perspective.
Staff and consultant; associate director in Nicaragua 2014–19
I served in Somalia 9. We did our initial training at Leland College in Baker, Louisiana — probably when Linda was a little girl. I’d like to think we might have left an impression on her about Peace Corps.
She was Chief of Mission in Liberia when I was there serving as director of management and operations for Peace Corps reopening the post. She is an extraordinary person and I am glad she is in the position she is in now.
Darren D. Defendeifer
Peace Corps HQ Staff
I worked for her at State and she is one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met.
Anne Rimoin: “A matter of life and death”
Thank you, Anne, for your informative and thoughtful article. Thank you for articulating so eloquently not only the significance of learning to listen to our community, but also how the Peace Corps experience teaches us that vital lesson.
Peace Corps Connect to the Future
After reading the section of the report focused on “Reexamining the Peace Corps’ Second and Third Goals,” I find myself in complete and enthusiastic agreement. I’ve served three complete 27-month tours as a PCV. Being an educator by profession and assigned to the education sector, the First Goal was for me pretty much routine. I loved it — but the real excitement and life-changing experiences were reflected in the Second and Third Goals, which profoundly reflect the humanitarian values of our society.
I have an everlasting love for the language, the culture, and the people of Colombia. Why? The Second and Third Goals of the Peace Corps and the friendships I made. My two-plus years in Morocco gave me an even deeper awareness of our human commonalities. And living in Quito, Ecuador, opened up new perspectives for me on what it means to be human, thanks to lasting friendships with many Ecuadorian Indigenous people, organic farmers, and vegan restaurant owners.
I can’t emphasize enough the immense value of the Peace Corps as a human endeavor, especially in light of the technological dehumanization which we all are having to deal with.
At the present time, I’m waiting and hoping for a clearance from the Office of Medical Services and another assignment. I know we’re all in a sort of limbo until COVID subsides.
Colombia 1966–68; Morocco 2000–02; Ecuador 2017–19
These comments appear 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
Communications Intern 2 posted an articleUnprecedented times, so we’ve set aside the standard playbook for WorldView magazine. see more
The evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers serving around the globe is unprecedented. So is the way our nation is coming to terms with the truth that Black Lives Matter.
By Steven Boyd Saum
For most Peace Corps Volunteers, the news broke on the Ides of March: due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, every single one of them would be coming home. In its 59-year history, Peace Corps had never undertaken a global evacuation. But then, in so many ways, these are unprecedented times.
In one sense, we feel the precariousness of institutions that we want to sustain — and face the truth of those in desperate need of reform. And since the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, protests have swept across this nation and scores of others. We grasp the real possibility of dismantling systemic racism — descendant of that original sin of Black slavery, infused in the founding of America.
So for this edition of WorldView, we’ve set aside the standard playbook. We’ve expanded the print magazine so that we can address at least a little better the enormity of this moment. And we’re bringing you a tale in three parts.
Nepal farewell: Training to become Volunteers, Rachel Ramsey (facing camera) and Elyse Paré had to evacuate instead. Photo by Eddie De La Fuente
Volunteers were yanked from their communities — sometimes with less than an hour’s notice. They want the world to know what they left behind — in terms of people and places and relationships where they were serving. More important, they want others to understand their unfinished business — as Volunteers working alongside colleagues as part of the audacious Peace Corps mission. We bring your stories from every region where Peace Corps was serving in the beginning of 2020 — from Volunteers and counterparts, country directors and families. Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen also recounts how she reached the agonizing decision to recall all Volunteers.
As for the evacuation: It did not come with one fell swoop. First there was China — where COVID-19 began to spread in January. Then Mongolia — where Volunteers were evacuated before the virus had even begun to hit. And, as countries around the world began to shutter airports and lock down travel, the options for Peace Corps diminished by the day — or the hour.
Volunteers returned to a country grappling with pandemic and an economy suffering a meltdown. Most had no job waiting or a clear game plan. Uncertainty and heartbreak they had in spades. This is the hand they were dealt. So how do they play it?
Evacuated Volunteers needed help landing on their feet. National Peace Corps Association rolled out a program to assist. Staff worked with members of Congress to provide essential support for evacuated Volunteers when it comes to health insurance, unemployment compensation, and other assistance. And NPCA ramped up a new way to provide grant funding for projects that Volunteers had to put on hold when they left.
The Peace Corps community sprang into action in many ways — and we bring you stories from some of the ways they have helped. That includes evacuated Volunteers helping one another — and their communities in the United States in a time of crisis.
That national crisis took on a new dimension with Black Lives Matter protests. We’ve seen many returned Volunteers raising their voices against racism and for justice. We bring you those stories, too, very much with the sense of: This is the moment we are in now.
A Reckoning: and What Next?
We convened a series of town hall meetings July 8–16 and a global summit on July 18 to ask some big questions — not only about the future of Peace Corps, but how we live out values of equity and justice here at home and in the work we do around the world. To help spark debate, in this edition Lex Rieffel reframes the structure of the whole Peace Corps endeavor and poses some striking possibilities for a post-pandemic world. We hope you’ll join the conversation in virtual person, and as we carry ideas forward in the months and years to come.
Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView and directs communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.
Communications Intern posted an articleA portrait of Judy Irola see more
A portrait of Judy Irola
By Jordana Comiter
“You can be creative, and you can be managerial and spirited,” Judy Irola said of her work as a cinematographer. Photo by Douglas Kirkland
Judy Irola made history as a producer, director, cinematographer, and educator—and only the third female member of the American Society of Cinematographers. Her first feature, “Northern Lights,” won the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes in 1979. At Sundance her film “An Ambush of Ghosts” won the Cinematography Award, Dramatic Competition. The Peace Corps took her to Niger in 1966. “We came home to a different world in 1968,” Irola recalled. “There were anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, Gloria Steinem had launched the Women’s Liberation Movement, and the Black Panthers were actively engaged in civil rights issues.”
She was tenacious. Her career began in the San Francisco Bay Area with KQED-TV’s documentary film unit. She shot more than 50 features and documentaries. She later earned an endowed chair, teaching at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. She returned to Niger in 2008 to make the documentary “Niger 66: A Peace Corps Diary,” to introduce audiences to the 65 Volunteers who had served with her and the communities where they worked.
From the tribute in Ms. magazine: “Some directors see cinematography as a technical rather than as an artistic job,” she said. “It’s an artistic job—any director of photography will tell you that. What’s important is my vision—how I look at the image. It’s an artistic rendering. Women can do it just as well [as men] or better.”
Judith Carol Irola was born in 1943. She died in February at age 77 of complications from COVID-19. We mourn her passing and cherish the ways she illuminated the world.
Honoring six Returned Volunteers and a civic leader in Chicago see more
Honoring six Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served around the world — and a leader who has worked to close the racial and wealth gaps in the Chicago area.
By NPCA Staff
On December 15 the Peace Corps recognized leaders in the Peace Corps community — and a civic leader with a shared commitment to Peace Corps values — with the Franklin H. Williams Award. The award honors ethnically diverse Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have demonstrated a commitment to civic engagement, service, diversity, inclusion, world peace, and to the Peace Corps’ Third Goal — to strengthen Americans’ understanding of the world and its peoples.
The award was presented to six Returned Volunteers, and a special Director’s Award for Lifelong Service honors was presented to recognize an individual who has not served in the Peace Corps but shares a commitment to building peace and civic involvement.
The keynote address was delivered by Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, whose pathbreaking career in the Foreign Service has created new opportunities and possibilities for women and minorities. Abercrombie-Winstanley served with the Peace Corps in Oman, was the first woman to lead a diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia, advised U.S. Cyber Forces on diplomatic priorities, and served as U.S. ambassador to Malta.
The event was hosted and awards were presented by Dr. Darlene Grant, who serves as a special advisor to Dr. Jody Olsen, Director of the Peace Corps. Meet this year’s winners.
Dr. Sabrina T. Cherry
The Gambia 2001–03
Dr. Sabrina T. Cherry has worked for nearly 20 years within the field of public health. Dr. Cherry’s professional experience started as a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa. As a public health practitioner, Dr. Cherry collaborated on Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA) for the Greater Atlanta Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and two rural Georgia hospitals; provided technical assistance to faith-based, mini-grant recipients in Southwest Georgia; and worked on a food insecurity and medication-adherence pilot study for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
Dr. Cherry served as part of a research team that won the 2018 National Economic Development Award awarded by University Economic Development Association Awards of Excellence and is the recipient of the Distinguished Scholarly Engagement and Public Service Award awarded by UNCW. Her primary research interests are the intersection of public health and religion. She earned a Master of Science Public Health degree from the University of South Carolina, a Master of Theological Studies from Emory University, and a Doctor of Public Health, as a well as a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Qualitative Research from the University of Georgia.
Denisha Richardson, a Minnesota native, offers 10+ years of broad base program administration and communications skills. She specializes in transformation and competency; in the areas of power, ability, status, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion, gender rights, youth development and leadership. Her work spans over four continents, in diverse access and living conditions. Richardson is a proud HBCU graduate of Florida Memorial University, where she obtained her bachelor of arts in public relations. She obtained her Master of Sociology with a concentration in Intercultural and Diversity Studies from the University of Cape Town.
In June 2020, she and fellow Fiji Peace Corps Volunteer-turned-business-partner Montrell Sanders founded the Beacon Axiome Group (BAG). Motivated by world events, the BAG was formulated out of their shared experiences, passions, and desires to assist with transforming society to end injustices, anti-blackness, and discrimination. Her work experience includes serving as a Refugee Officer and Immigration Services Officer in the federal service.
From 2015–17, Denisha served as a Community Youth Development Specialist Volunteer in the Republic of Fiji. For ten years she was a mentor and later the Program Coordinator for a diversity and leadership program throughout an independent school district in Minnesota. Her teaching and development experiences extend to South America and South Africa. She previously served as a Congressional intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. In these roles, she has led, planned, implemented, and facilitated efforts to provide training, research, resources, and developmental activities to youth, young adults, and learners.
“I believe in fostering a culture of empowerment that equips others with the skills and knowledge to be not only productive but also provide the opportunity for them to showcase their unique abilities and contributions.”
Jalina Porter is an entrepreneur and strategic communications professional who serves as the Communications Director for Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) in the U.S. House of Representatives. A seasoned communications advisor and foreign policy professional, Jalina has advised non-profit organizations and conducted inclusive communications-based professional development training for over 4,000 working professionals including current elected officials, veterans, global leaders, corporate executives, and congressional staff. Jalina is a current Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, member of The Links, Incorporated, and serves on the Executive Advisory Council of the National Peace Corps Association.
Jalina served as a Volunteer in the Kingdom of Cambodia 2009–11 and has been recognized as a 2018 Next Generation Foreign Policy Leader by New America, a 2019 African-American Foreign Policy Influencer by Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and a 2020 “40 Under 40 Returned Peace Corps Volunteer” by National Peace Corps Association. Jalina earned her B.B.A. in Marketing from Howard University and her Master’s in Global Strategic Communications from Georgetown University. A former professional dancer, Jalina values connecting with others through performing and creative arts, cultural exchanges, and mindfulness practices.
Ella Cheri Bennett
Dominican Republic 1991–93
While in high school during the late 1970s Ella Cheri Bennett was intrigued by the Peace Corps commercial that proclaimed that the Peace Corps was “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” This anthem seemed to speak to her personally. Although she was 29 years old when she joined, she remained faithful to her childhood dream. From 1991 to 1993, she served as a Community Education Volunteer in San Jose de Los Llanos in the Dominican Republic. Her principal project included collaborating with school personnel and the community to plan and implement major physical repairs to Maria Nicolasa Billini School. Bennett also formed the asociación de padres y maestros, the U.S. equivalent to the Parents and Teachers Association. As a team, this group planned and implemented projects to assist in securing funding, in addition to support received from the country’s Ministry of Education, to make school repairs.
Following her Peace Corps service, Bennett continued to serve her community through her work. For more than 17 years, she taught Bilingual Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) in Anson County, North Carolina. While many of her students could not read or write, others were competent scholars that only needed encouragement to complete their high school equivalency (GED) exams. During this time, Bennett also taught English as a Second Language to Spanish speakers from various countries living in Richmond County, NC. These experiences provided an opportunity for Bennett to share her Peace Corps experience and the language that she learned, as well as share her African American culture with others.
Today, Bennett teaches nutrition education to bilingual groups with a focus on encouraging families to make healthy choices to improve their health and prevent chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes that are prevalent in communities of color. The classes also serve as an opportunity for cultural exchange, as families have the opportunity to prepare recipes hands-on and experience ethnic dishes that are made with healthier options.
Twenty-seven years after her Peace Corps service, Bennett remains in contact with her many friends in San Jose de Los Llanos in the Dominican Republic. She also serves on the International Awareness Committee of the Laurinburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Dr. Sheldon Gen
Sheldon Gen is the son of immigrants who fled China’s communist revolution following World War II. He was raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley in Turlock — then a rural agricultural town, where his parents established a successful restaurant. Gen began working in the back of the restaurant at age 8, learning a full range of kitchen skills that would eventually pay his way through college and feed many friendships. He is a first generation college graduate, earning a B.S. in civil engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. This led to a decade of engineering work with federal agencies, including the Peace Corps (Kenya), the U.S. Air Force (Los Angeles AFB), and the Environmental Protection Agency (San Francisco and San Diego) where he was a Presidential Management Fellow. As his engineering career progressed, he earned a MPA degree with honors at the University of Southern California to understand the public service and policy contexts of his engineering projects. These studies engrossed him and eventually led him to complete a PhD in public policy at Georgia Tech (with honors).
In 2003, San Francisco State University hired Gen into a joint appointment between the Public Administration Program and the Political Science Department, focusing on public policy studies. He is now an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. He maintains interests in civil engineering, having worked on many Bay Area public policy issues related to public infrastructure and the environment. He has also kept his kitchen skills sharp, and for five years he was the co-owner and executive chef of Chef Camps, a cooking camp for kids in Sonoma County.
Diamond Butler is a New York native dedicated to youth and community development. Her interests in international affairs sprouted while interning at the International Rescue Committee. After graduating from Cheyney University with a degree in political science, Butler worked on various political campaigns while teaching workshops for the 181st Beautification Project. She then became the Director of Youth Programming and Internships at the United Palace in Washington Heights for several years. She also worked at the YMCA of Greater New York Global Teens program where she had the opportunity to lead students on service-learning trips to California and South Africa. Butler served in the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Comoros while working with various community projects. She is a proud Community School Director for Global Kids at the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA).
Franklin H. Williams Director’s Award for Lifelong Service
Dr. Helene D. Gayle
Helene D. Gayle has been president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, since October 2017. Under her leadership, the Trust has adopted a new strategic focus on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago region.
For almost a decade, she was president and CEO of CARE, a leading international humanitarian organization. An expert on global development, humanitarian and health issues, Dr. Gayle spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control, working primarily on HIV/AIDS. She worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation directing programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues. She also launched the McKinsey Social Initiative (now McKinsey.org), a nonprofit that builds partnerships for social impact.
Dr. Gayle earned a B.A. in psychology at Barnard College, an M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.P.H. at the Johns Hopkins University. She has received 18 honorary degrees and holds faculty appointments at the University of Washington and Emory University. She serves on public company and nonprofit boards, including The Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America, ONE Campaign, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Economic Club of Chicago. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Council on Foreign Relations, American Public Health Association, National Academy of Medicine, National Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics. She has authored numerous articles on global and domestic public health issues, poverty alleviation, gender equality, and social justice.
About Franklin H. Williams, the award’s namesake
An early architect of the Peace Corps, Franklin Williams also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. ambassador to Ghana, and he worked for years as an advocate for civil rights. The award was founded in 1999, and past winners include Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative; Ambassador Charles Baquet III; and Sia Barbara Ferguson Kamara, who served as Associate Commission of Health and Human Services.
Peace Corps beginnings: Franklin H. Williams, left, with Sargent Shriver. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
Communications Intern posted an articleEditor 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:
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National Peace Corps Association Operations posted an articleWhat will your commitment to the planet and future generations be? see more
History and ideas from RPCVs for Environmental Action
By Kate Schachter
It began as a teach-in on the environment. After years of attempting to influence Congress to take action for environmental reforms, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, turned to the American public: With actions nationwide, it was time to raise awareness of environmental crises across the country.
On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million people across the nation took part in events large and small: students and teachers, mothers and children, scientists and farmers, labor union members and politicians of all stripes. The day was supposed to be a one-off. Instead, it became known as Earth Day—and it marked the beginning of what became known as the “Environmental Decade.” It was a grassroots movement—with some key organizers offering guidance, including RPCV Bryce Hamilton (Guatemala 63–65).
In the run-up to the first Earth Day, Gaylor Nelson founded Environmental Teach-in, Inc. with a coordinating office in Washington, D.C. He enlisted as co-chairman a Republican member of Congress, Pete McCloskey. Bryce Hamilton was working for a nonprofit, and he immediately volunteered his services to Nelson’s coordinating office.
Hamilton wanted to focus on expanding the vision of teach-ins from colleges to include high school students across the country. He oversaw curriculum development. But in true Peace Corps community engagement fashion, he said, “We don’t try to set any policies here. We want people to determine what the pollution and other environmental problems are in their own area, and then do something about them.” Thousands of schools across the country joined in.
In addition to local actions, a raft of national legislative reforms followed—for clean air and water, OSHA regulations, growing the National Park system, and creating the Environmental Protection Agency.
Bryce Hamilton, 1970. Photo courtesy Bryce Hamilton.
Many of those reforms have since been rolled back. Others are under threat—while the threats of climate change are increasingly clear. In 1970, the CO2 level in the atmosphere was 325.54 parts per million. Today it’s 412.6 ppm. It’s generally understood that the safe level of CO2 is 350 ppm. Today we must not only educate ourselves and others—like our representatives—but also make a commitment to action. This year, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, RPCVs for Environmental Action have partnered with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL) and have formed a Peace Corps Action Team. Join us and take action on Earth Day and every day:
- Consider the 12-month New Year’s resolutions proposed by the Earth Day network, or create your own monthly challenges.
- Listen to our NPCA-sponsored webinar on “Bringing Advocacy Action to the Environment” and hear Brett Cease of CCL explain their work. Educate yourself about how to advocate for the planet.
- Approach your RPCV group board and ask for formal endorsement of H.R.763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Let Brady Fergusson, leader of the PCAT, know you are endorsing. Resolve to make climate change a concern worth advocating for.
- Join us to help promote important initiatives.Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Resolve to find your environmental passion and work for it.
- Offset your carbon footprint by joining ucapture.com/rpcv. Free and easy to use with offsets offered by over 25,000 online retailers from Expedia to Booking, from WalMart to Target.
Earth Day is now a global event. This year it will be celebrated by more than 1 billion people in more than 190 countries. Bryce Hamilton continues to participate in Earth Day events and work on social justice issues. As we went to press, he was still planning go to Washington to celebrate Earth Day in April. Though in this time of crisis, as the prevention of the spread of coronavirus remains a top priority, Earth Day celebrations are either being rescheduled or are being organized as virtual events. Find out more here.
Half a century ago, grassroots action across the country helped change how Americans think about the environment. What will your commitment to the planet and future generations be?
Kate Schachter (Ghana 2004–07) is group leader of RPCVs for Environmental Action. Learn more about the history of Earth Day at nelsonearthday.net, a collaborative website between the University of Wisconsin – Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Historical Society. More info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Spring 2020 issue. Last updated March 30.
The cost of a three-room school on donated land is between US $25,000 - $30,000 today. see more
I first visited Myanmar as a tourist in 1996, a few years after the country’s name changed from Burma. Years later, I was curious to return to Myanmar because I have grown to love Asia’s art, its culture, and Buddhism.
I’ve traveled in more than 100 countries and many of them were very poor, but I never had the impulse to jump in and help solve a problem until the day in 2010 I walked through the hills of Myanmar’s Southern Shan State.
In the market town of Kalaw, I met people working with a local non-government organization called the Rural Development Society. Despite the political and economic challenges of the country now known as Myanmar, this rural development organization has since 1990 been building schools in several surrounding villages. Two more communities were “school ready,” meaning they had a donated school site, a commitment for government teachers, a school committee, a strong desire from parents to see their children educated, and a commitment from villagers to do the unskilled labor to build a school. They needed only funding, organization and a plan to execute the vision.
We went to see one of these villages, the ethnic Danu farming community of Nan Auw which was about one and a half hours over rutted tracks from Kalaw. The villagers had carefully carved out space for a school by redrawing their own house lot boundaries. Two days later the chief of Nan Auw came to Kalaw with a petition signed by all the villagers asking for help. Most of the signatures were ‘X’s. That night I thought long and hard about what it meant to be illiterate in the 21st century: no ability to use the internet, no access to further education, vulnerability to human trafficking and no prospects in life except to be a subsistence farmers like their parents. What could be done to keep the children of Nan Auw from a similar fate? The answer, I realized was to help the village build a school to educate them.
Returning to San Francisco, I talked to my friend Andrew Lederer, another RPCV who served in farm mechanics in Pune, India from 1969 to 1971. Andrew agreed to help raise money to build the Nan Auw school and we created Build a School in Burma to do it. Andrew and I wrote the first checks and started a campaign for donations. To our surprise we quickly raised enough money to build Nan Auw Primary School.
We have gone on to build 45 more schools with villages and partners in Myanmar. Most of our schools are quite similar in design, because of government requirements and the type of materials available in most rural areas of the country. We also seek to build cost-effective, durable buildings that can be maintained with locally available materials and labor skills. This means that buildings are simple. We strive for a brightly lit learning environment, and make sure the school has furniture, a water supply and sanitary toilets.
Neither of us had any real experience raising money. That first year we put up our own donations and wrote to friends, relatives and professional associates asking for contributions. The goal was to raise $18,000 to cover the building costs for Nan Auw Primary School. But generosity foiled our simple-minded plan. Total donations topped $24,000. We decided to find another village needing a school. And so a “one-off” school became an organization.
Andrew and I had long been involved with non-profit organizations; we knew how time-consuming creating a 501(c)3 would be. A professional fundraiser friend suggested we work with a fiscal sponsor to get started, rather than spend our energy becoming a non-profit.
A fiscal sponsor provides its tax-exempt status to non-profit organizations. The fiscal sponsor usually charges a fee and sometimes provides other services, such as an on-line donation platform. Donors can take their tax deduction because of the fiscal sponsors IRS status.
Build a School in Burma is a non-profit organization with a specific focus on education in Myanmar. Our first 40 schools were built for less than $1 million. We were deeply fortunate to hire Naing Lin Swe as our country director. He is a longtime NGO worker who had just left the Karen Women Action Group, our longest active school building partner. Naing Naing’s patient community development skills, as well as his knowledge of construction and his facility in dealing with people at all levels in Myanmar society have been powerful reasons for our success.
We keep our costs down to ensure compliance with all of our board’s policies and IRS rules for each project. Naing Naing is our only employee and a board member contributes the cost of Naing Naing’s salary. When advisory board members like Andrew and I travel to Burma we pay our own expenses. Operating expenses were about 7 percent of last year’s budget. This allowed us to focus on raising money and building schools to build a track record.
Early results strengthened our fundraising and our experience working with communities to build their schools. Donations gradually increased, and we were faced with the problems of growth.
Both Andrew and I have experienced the disappointment of donating to high salaries and perks to executives and seeing the ineffectiveness of many NGO foreign assistance efforts.
We decided to organize Build a School in Burma as an all-volunteer effort and invited people who showed interest and had skills to join us on a volunteer advisory board and to manage web and social media, fundraising, accounting and disbursement, press, managing projects and programs from 9,000 miles away. Most of the seven volunteers providing services are in the United States but we’re now getting increased support from Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Norway.
Over time we have found generous donors who had a personal connection to Burma: Burmese emigrants who left and became successful elsewhere, travelers who had been touched by the graciousness of Myanmar people and wanted to help, Buddhist and Christian individuals and organizations with connections to the country.
Under the Country’s Radar
Myanmar is a challenging environment. It remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. When Build a School in Burma began in 2010 the country was still a xenophobic military dictatorship. At that time, the average 25-year-old had only four years of formal education, the lowest in Asia. Foreigners were viewed with suspicion, and were prohibited from visiting many parts of the country. Transparency International had ranked only Somalia as more corrupt than Myanmar. Roads and communications were poor—many parts of the country lacked cell phone signals. The residue of many of these problems persist, but conditions are slowly improving and the government is devoting more money and effort to education.
Being old Peace Corps Volunteers, we decided on a ‘bottom up’ approach in-country: Build a School in Burma would work with local Myanmar non-government organizations and 18 community-based groups to build the 46 schools completed to date.
We collaborate with the local NGO or religious organization and the school committee, use local materials, designs, contractors and workers. Our goal was to remain “under the radar”, and to empower the local people to resolve problems and deal with the government. To this day we have not had a formal meeting with the Myanmar’s ministry of education. We’re already active in communities to find villages which needed schools that were willing to contribute to building them.
Even now, the violent ethnic conflicts in this country are intense, particularly between the dominant Bamar (Burmese) and the more than 130 minority groups that make up 40 percent of the population. Ethnic conflict is still a risk in many parts of the nation and clashes between ethnic militias and the Burmese Army are a daily occurence.
We‘ve been surprised at how quickly a project can come together. Working directly with communities rather than government ministries has been a key. I don’t think we would ever have considered trying this without the cross-cultural training and experience Andrew and I had from Peace Corps.
Even under these circumstances, problems building schools in Myanmar have been fewer than we first expected. In one or two cases we decided not to build a particular school because we perceived someone had their hand out in getting approvals.
New Schools Over Nine Years
The cost of a three-room school on donated land is between US $25,000 - $30,000 today.
Most of our schools serve non-majority ethnic groups. None of our schools has been damaged in fighting but the bridge to one village school was blown up by the army a few years ago. Rapid urbanization and work abroad means populations are not growing in many rural areas, so a few schools have fewer students than we would like after expanding them. In a few cases the communities have not fully held up their end of the cooperative bargain or cooperation among villagers has broken down during or after construction. So far every school has been completed, is in use and is serving its intended purpose.
We began installing solar electricity in some schools in 2015. Until recently, only about one quarter of Burmese households had electricity from the national grid. As many of our 46 schools are in remote rural communities, most do not have access to power. Electric lights help students study at night, particularly to prepare for national exams given at the end of the 4th, 8th and 10th grades.
Perhaps the most important part of creating a school has been working with the community to discuss how to plan and organize. Cooperating with local partners, we select villages based on their knowledge of places they are already working. We have clear criteria for a school project: need, community participation, sustainability, readiness, interethnic and interreligious cooperation and keeping children together with their families.
A High School
Three years ago Peace Corps came slowly and haltingly to Myanmar. I made a point to seek out the new country director, even before the first volunteers arrived. We offered to collaborate with Peace Corps Burma on education-related projects, but nothing came of that meeting. So when the chance came last year to work with current volunteer Abby Hester, we were excited.
Abby contacted Bob through our Build a School in Burma website. She wrote about the need for a large new building at Thanatpin Basic Education High School near Bego in Southern Myanmar, where she was teaching. Several old buildings needed replacement; some were no longer safe to use. With a proposal drafted by Abby and the school staff and her counterpart, Naing Naing traveled to Thanatpin to assess the school.
The proposal was to build a new two-story, steel structure classroom building in early 2019. Abby’s family donated funds toward the new school building. We hired an experienced contractor to erect a two-story steel frame building and add eight new sanitary toilets and a water supply.
Partnership with local communities and organizations is at the heart of all of our school projects. The Thanatpin community helped plan the building and donated labor and money for new toilets. They also cut a trackway to get materials to the building site.
Thanatpin was a bit non-standard in that the school committee became our partner rather than a third-party NGO. Abby and her counterpart, You You Wah, eased the process as did the work of a couple of particularly strong school committee members.
The project had many twists and turns. Several challenges had to be overcome, including a lack of space and school yard flooding during the rainy season. The site was at the back of the school compound, with no road access and the region was prone to flood in the rainy season. We had to cut a track beside a canal to bring in building materials. The building pad had to be lifted with soil brought from elsewhere in this very flat region. The toilet water supply piping was improperly installed and had to be reversed.
A date had been set for an official celebratory opening just before Abby’s close of service date. We were operating under time pressure. Naing Naing, Abby and the Thanatpin school committee worked diligently to gain approvals, prepare the site and start construction.
On June 1, Build a School in Burma and Thanatpin marked the building’s completion, just in time for the beginning of a new school year. The Deputy Chief of Mission from the U.S. embassy, the Peace Corps country director, several members of the state and national parliaments, local township and education officers, teachers and school staff, Abby’s family, our advisory board members, members of the local community…and most importantly, the students of Thanatpin Basic Education High School, celebrated the new building together.
One of our special guests was David Zweig, an RPCV I served with in Jamaica 38 years ago. When another Jamaica RPCV told him about our Thanatpin school construction project, David offered to contribute the cost of the classroom furniture. We already had a donor for that but I persuaded him to support another nearby school. He contributed enough to build the entire Taw Bot Su primary school and we opened it the day after we opened Thanatpin. David came to attend both school openings and now serves on our Build a School in Burma board.
Robert Cornwell is the founder and executive director of Build a School in Burma. He served in the Peace Corps as an agricultural trainer in St. Mary’s Parish, Jamaica from 1981 to 1983. During his professional career he has advised cities, states and federal agencies on public-private partnerships and capital finance, including the Washington Nationals baseball park in the District of Columbia.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine's Winter 2019 issue.
Thirty years of connecting Peace Corps Volunteers, educators, and classrooms see more
Thirty years of connecting Peace Corps Volunteers, educators, and classrooms
For three decades the Peace Corps’ Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program has fostered global learning in the United States and around the world. And the program is celebrating its 30th anniversary by bringing more to the classroom: new interactive resources that teach intercultural understanding and global competence to young people.
What’s there? Hundreds of online resources for U.S. learners, teachers, and current and returned Peace Corps volunteers. New lesson plans, activities, stories, and global competence trainings for educators.
World Wise Schools provides easy-to-implement programs that educators can incorporate. They create space for discussion in a global mindset — and tackle barriers and stereotypes. They’re free for anyone to use. And they provide an engaging way for students to learn about countries and communities where Peace Corps volunteers serve.
Lessons and matching
There are lessons on gender bias and STEM-focused resources—and, including the arts, materials on STEAM. Some educators connect with classrooms around the world to work in French and Spanish—others in Arabic, Chinese, or other languages.
The program also brings RPCVs of all stripes into the classroom for visits. Through the Speakers Match program, RPCVs volunteer to share experiences from their service with students—or they take advantage of online resources to create their own event or activity in the classroom.
“Through the World Wise Schools program anyone in the U.S. can see into another society and meet people from across the globe in an intercultural exchange,” says Katie Hamann, a Peace Corps program specialist on the team. Hamann served as a Volunteer in Mali and the Dominican Republic 2011–15. And, she says, “This is key to creating a globally competent classroom, community and world.”
How? Teachers incorporate these materials into existing study units or use them as the centerpiece of an interdisciplinary curriculum. Some RPCVs and PCVs post materials on social media using #wws. World Wise Schools also fosters an appreciation of global issues by facilitating communication between Peace Corps Volunteers and students — via email and WhatsApp, Skype and video chats, and even old-fashioned letters.
In Ohio, students connected with a Volunteer working in Senegal — and they created 80 handmade books in French to send to Senegalese students. In a classroom in Flintridge, California, students tapped their e-connections to write “Once Upon a Time in Cameroon” (or, in French, “Il était une fois au Cameroun”), an adaptation of classic fairy tales about the regional flora and fauna of the country.
Challenge your perspective
Paul D. Coverdell established World Wise Schools in 1989 while serving as director of the Peace Corps. “The world is made a bit smaller through understanding others,” he said. “It takes becoming uncomfortable, being willing to challenge your own perspective, and being curious about new ideas.”
Coverdell was an Atlanta insurance company executive and former Georgia state senator before he was appointed director by President George H.W. Bush. He served for two years until Georgia voters elected him to the U.S. Senate.
Stephanie Scribner (Mali 93-95) teaches fourth grade in East Hartford, Connecticut. She has used World Wise Schools curricula for 20 years. Why? Because, she says, thanks to the program, “My classes feel invigorated and passionate about the world.”
This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Spring 2020 edition.
A MacArthur Fellow takes stock of climate change loss and damage — and immediate solutions see more
FIJI & BEYOND: A MacArthur Fellow takes stock of climate change loss and damage — and immediate solutions
By Stacy Jupiter
Under threat: Low-lying islands and coral cays, like barrier islands Wallis and Futuna, are extremely vulnerable to impacts of sea level rise. Photo by Stacy Jupiter.
In August 2019, as Pacific Island leaders arrived to their annual forum leaders meeting in Tuvalu, an atoll nation of less than 12,000 people with its highest elevation at 15 feet above sea level, they were greeted by children submerged in water in a moat around a model of their sinking island holding a simple message: “Save Tuvalu, save the world.”
The children’s plea was heard. Pacific Island leaders and negotiators went in to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid in early December 2019 feeling empowered, armed with the Kainaki II Declaration in which they called for “all parties to the Paris Agreement … to pursue global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this is critical to the security of our Blue Pacific.”
However, the outcome of the climate negotiations, a watered down text, left many Pacific Islanders distraught. Key decisions, including on funding for “loss and damage” to help countries impacted by climate disasters rebuild and repair, were punted to this year’s climate talks in Glasgow in November.
This matters deeply for Pacific Island nations. Small island developing states in the Pacific and the rest of the world collectively account for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but they are on the front lines of climate impacts.
Small island developing states in the Pacific and the rest of the world collectively account for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but they are on the front lines of climate impacts.
An Australian government report from the Pacific Climate Change Science Program released in 2011 notes that sea level has been rising across the western Pacific at rates exceeding 6 millimeters per year, and nearly double that around parts of Solomon Islands and Federated States of Micronesia. And while there is high year-to-year variability, on average sea surface temperatures have warmed by 0.75 C in this region over the past 50 years. Model projections indicate a widespread increase in the number of heavy rain days, with extreme 1-in-20-year events likely to occur four times per year by 2055 under high emissions scenarios. All of these consequences of climate change have big impacts on islands in the South Pacific.
The impacts of sea-level rise are some of the most visible and alarming. A recent study from Solomon Islands documented the disappearance of five reef islands since the 1940s, with further shoreline erosion on others causing entire community relocations. Low-lying atoll nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati are grappling with existential crises as rising seas destroy infrastructure and cause salinization of groundwater, which affects people’s ability to access drinking water and grow crops. Pacific Island nations have been developing national relocation policies to deal with displacement of people from climate impacts. In 2014, the government of Kiribati purchased land in Fiji to hedge bets against future change.
There are also pressing and yet unanswered questions as to what will happen to a nation’s exclusive economic zone if its land is swallowed by the sea. An exclusive economic zone is the area extending 200 nautical miles from the coast over which a nation has sovereign rights regarding use and exploitation of its marine resources. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework for establishing these maritime boundaries, was written in 1982, long before there was global concern about a warming planet and expanding oceans. How the disappearance of islands that set the baseline for maritime boundaries will affect the ability of Pacific states to control access to marine resources that drive their economy is still unknown.
Moreover, many of these marine resources, such as tuna stocks, are highly migratory and are sensitive to changes in ocean temperature and dissolved oxygen. Scientific models under various future climate simulations indicate that many of the main tuna stocks will move eastward, resulting in decreases of total fisheries catch across the western Pacific by up to 25 percent by 2050. This is of great concern to small island nations, yet big ocean states, such as Kiribati, a country with only 811 square kilometers of land and an exclusive economic zone of well over 3 million square kilometers of sea, where revenue from fisheries makes up about 16 percent of GDP. Regional cooperation will be crucial to ensure that Pacific nations are able to collectively retain livelihood and food security benefits. This should build on the model of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, under which eight Pacific nations have come together to regulate catch of approximately 25 to 30 percent of the world’s tuna supply.
When it rains: Extreme weather will impact coastal villages with flooding, damage to infrastructure, and water-related disease.
Photo by Stacy Jupiter
Changing ocean temperatures are also wreaking havoc on Pacific coral reefs. The corals that build the fantastical and colorful structures that house thousands of fish and invertebrate species upon which Pacific people depend for food are colonial animals, related to jellyfish. The coral animals are particularly sensitive to abrupt changes in ocean temperature, which cause them to expel algae that live in their tissues, making the corals appear white or “bleached.” The world’s coral reefs, including across the Pacific, experienced unprecedented levels of coral bleaching between 2014 and 2017 during a particularly prolonged warming event, which led to high rates of coral mortality. Fortunately, new findings suggest that there are many reefs in the Pacific that have characteristics that make them predisposed to surviving heat waves. These areas are urgent priorities for protection and management. Thousands of communities across the Pacific have already taken action, many with the assistance of local Peace Corps volunteers, through setting up marine protected areas, reducing local fishing effort, and controlling activities on land to minimize added stress from pollution.
Loss of coral reefs means more than just loss of beautiful places to snorkel or fisheries habitat. When reef structures degrade, they lose the ability to reduce wave energy from storm surges. A report released in 2019 by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal Hazards Program indicates that healthy coral reefs in U.S. waters and territories provide more than $1.8 billion in flood protection benefits every year. In the Pacific, storm surges associated with tropical cyclones and heavy rainfall have contributed to huge losses in infrastructure, casualties and, later, outbreaks of water-related disease associated with the flooding events. Tropical Cyclone Pam, which struck Vanuatu in March 2015, caused damage equivalent to 64.1 percent of national GDP, while Tropical Cyclone Winston, which battered Fiji in February 2016, killed 44 people and completely destroyed villages along its path.
Pacific Island countries recognize that building resilience to these climate impacts requires collaboration, coordination, and communication. In 2016, Pacific Island Forum Leaders endorsed the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, a regional policy platform that integrates the disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and ecosystem management sectors. The framework outlines Pacific commitments to low carbon development, improving disaster response, and strengthened systems for adaptation through approaches that encourage people to get out of the silos of their own organizations and cooperate together. Working together also improves how resources are allocated in small island states by focusing on solutions that can simultaneously yield multiple benefits for society.
There are outstanding examples of initiatives across the Pacific that are embracing this transdisciplinary approach to address emerging climate impacts. Through the Watershed Interventions for Systems Health in Fiji (WISH Fiji) project, my organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society, is working with colleagues from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Fiji National University, and multiple Australian research institutions. We are co-designing watershed management with local communities situated along five river basins on Fiji’s two largest islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, as well as on Ovalau Island. These river basins have been hotspots for outbreaks of water-related diseases such as typhoid, leptospirosis, and dengue. We believe that targeted actions to improve watershed condition and sanitation infrastructure will both reduce disease risk in people and also increase the availability and quality of freshwater and marine resources.
For example, one of the project villages has a septic tank sitting on the edge of an eroding riverbank, leaching untreated wastewater into areas used for washing that then drains onto nearshore coral reefs. Relocating and sealing this structure and revegetating the riverbank could reduce the spread of bacterial disease in people, reduce downstream coral disease, and improve habitat for important freshwater and marine fisheries. Such win-win solutions will achieve outcomes for health, food security, and the environment that all improve local capacity to adapt to global change at a fraction of the cost compared with uncoordinated, single sector approaches.
There is urgent need to inspire people to take local action on the ground to protect themselves. One way to do this is by strengthening Pacific Islanders’ connections to people and place.
It’s hard to overstate the enormity of the climate challenges facing Pacific Islanders — almost entirely a consequence of others’ actions. While words spoken by politicians and policy-makers in Paris, Madrid, or Glasgow might eventually help turn the tide of global public opinion to influence meaningful commitments to mitigate climate impacts, right now there is urgent need to inspire people to take local action on the ground to protect themselves. One way to do this is by strengthening Pacific Islanders’ connections to people and place.
Across the Pacific, there are specific terms in many island languages (e.g., vanua in Fijian, ahupuaʻa in Hawaiian, tabinau in Yapese) for geographically linked land and sea spaces over which local people control access and use of resources that are essential for their survival and cultural practices. A key element for any climate adaptation strategy is to raise awareness that people need to have a healthy environment from forest to sea and strong connections to their ancestral place to enable cultural practice. By emphasizing these links, we are able to galvanize people to look after their environment in ways that will ultimately better prepare them for what the future holds.
Stacy Jupiter directs the Melanesia Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society, for which she previously directed the Fiji Country Program. She studied at Harvard and served with the Peace Corps in Gabon 1997–99 before completing a doctorate at University of California at Santa Cruz. Her scientific articles have been published in Nature, PLoS One, the Journal of Marine Biology, and the Journal of Applied Ecology, among other journals. For her work as a marine scientist in the Pacific, she is a 2019 recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine's Spring 2020 edition.
A Towering Task - Peace Corps Film see more
Peace Corps in the American Conversation
By Alana DeJoseph
Nearly six and a half years ago, when we began production on “A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps,” it was important to get this story out. America was forgetting that there was a Peace Corps. Much has changed in the years since. In some ways, it’s not just the Peace Corps we need to talk about now, but why and how America as a whole engages with the rest of the world.
Peace Corps historian John Coyne, who served asa volunteer in Ethiopia 1962–64, talks about the Peace Corps as being mom’s apple pie. It is supposed to be an all-American feel-good story. Maybe that’s why the public has begun to forget about the agency. Where’s the drama?
When I closed my service back in 1994, I wrote a letter to the Peace Corps stating that I wanted to produce a documentary about the agency. I was 24 years old. I didn’t know much beyond my own personal experience. I just had this inkling that there was something to this story that went beyond my own transformation—and it was important.
The story of the Peace Corps prompts a conversation about how we as Americans —and how the United States as a country—relate to the rest of the world. Many Americans will never travel beyond our borders; even fewer will get the chance to be Peace Corps Volunteers. So what is the point of all of that outreach, be it through Peace Corps, the State Department, or even the Pentagon?
It seemed a straightforward question with a straightforward answer—until recent times have shown us that the answer is not that clear to many, and that we as Americans are in sore need of a serious discourse on what global citizenship means. Global issues such as climate change, disease, and migration cannot be dealt with on a national level or while distrusting our neighbors.
When we started production on “A Towering Task,” the necessity of this conversation was already there, although arguably not nearly as urgent. We saw the Peace Corps fading from America’s consciousness at a time when it was needed most. As we produced the film and premiered it in Washington, D.C. on September 22, 2019, it became clear how crucial that conversation is now: Only two days after the premiere, an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump was initiated because of events connected to Ukraine—a country that has also hosted Peace Corps volunteers since 1992 and plays a major role in our documentary.
Liberia: “A Towering Task” director Alana DeJoseph and director of photography Vanessa Carr interview Peace Corps Volunteer Tisania Currie. Photo courtesy Alana DeJoseph
We quickly moved from the thrill of a gala premiere to the urgency to screen this film across the country—and the globe—to as wide an audience as possible. To bring people together from all sorts of backgrounds and fields of interests to consider how America’s history has shaped our interaction with the world, and how an agency such as the Peace Corps has weathered some tough times and come out stronger on the other end.
This is not the first time attempts have been made to end the Peace Corps—whether that be by trying to defund it (unsuccessfully in 2019) or by attempting to subsume it under the State Department (proposed by Senator Rick Scott in fall 2019). And it is not the first time that government officials—and the country as a whole—are unclear on what the Peace Corps’ purpose is in the first place.
Since the premiere, the film has been shown in dozens of venues: universities, embassies, reunions of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, film festivals, and more. We will show the film at retirement communities, middle and high schools, conferences, museums, libraries—anywhere people can learn from the history of this small but important agency. The help of RPCVs has been and will be essential to connect to venues and their constituents. With at least 1,000 screenings over the course of 2020, we will have an impact on the American conversation beyond those who already know how important this story is.
Our distributor, First Run Features, is working on theatrical release. Once the community screenings are up and running we will also work towards broadcast, streaming, video-on-demand, DVD and Blu-ray sales. Let this just be the beginning.
UPDATE April 30, 2020: Beginning May 22, “A Towering Task” begins theatrical release! See the documentary website for more. The film is still available for community screenings as well. In April, Alana DeJoseph and National Peace Corps Association hosted a special free screening for Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.
Alana DeJoseph served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali 1992–94 and has worked in video and film production for over 20 years. For more on the film, including screenings and info on how to host one, visit peacecorpsdocumentary.com — or visit this link about distributing the film from First Run Features. Suggest screening venues to the filmmakers at email@example.com.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine's Spring 2020 edition. Updated 01 May 2020, 19:17.