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Week in Review: Peace Corps News in Unprecedented Times

Unemployment benefits, personal stories of evacuation, and Volunteers serving on the front lines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic

By NPCA Staff
Here are the top stories of the week on the Peace Corps community across the United States — and around the world. And here’s a sampling of opinion pieces and coverage from states and communities that are home to some of the 7,300 evacuated Volunteers — and nearly a quarter million Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Stay up to date throughout the week with our Flipboard stories, and subscribe to the National Peace Corps Association newsletter.  





New York Times, The Hill | Peace Corps Volunteers are eligible for unemployment assistance

The U.S. Labor Department issued special unemployment guidelines which clarifies that evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers are eligible for this assistance.
April 28, 2020
New York TImes: “Peace Corps Volunteers Can Get Unemployment Benefits, Officials Say”

The Hill: “Peace Corps, AmeriCorps volunteers eligible for stimulus unemployment benefits, Labor says”

At the beginning of April, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN) issued a joint Senate/House letter to the Department of Labor asking to clarify that evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers would be eligible for benefits under the “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” act. In a press release quoted in the stories, Senator Van Hollen said: “For decades, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers have served our country at home and abroad — promoting democracy, literacy, development and good will. Today, these men and women — thousands of whom have been recalled — deserve the same safety net provided to others at this moment of need. I’m glad to see the Department of Labor follow Congressional intent and provide the certainty of this relief.”

Representative Phillips said in the release: “The Peace Corps represents the very best in American leadership on a global stage, with volunteers serving alongside communities in their fight against sickness, hunger, and economic insecurity. We must honor that commitment in this time of economic turmoil. I am thankful for the leadership of Senators Wyden and Van Hollen, and for the Department of Labor’s willingness to listen.”


Associated Press | For Peace Corps evacuees, there wasn’t even time for goodbye

April 25, 2020

Associated Press published a story that was then carried around the world — from Time to Voice of America, the New York Times to digital and print media across the United States and internationally.

Peace Corps Volunteer Kelsea Mensh was in the Dominican Republic working on a school improvement project, applying for funding to install hand-washing stations. She was filled with purpose and looked forward to two years of service. Then came evacuation. Jakob Leicthman and Jack Cashmere, who were serving in Ecuador, share their stories as well. The closing quote in the story, from Mensh: “I know a lot of fellow Peace Corps volunteers are searching for jobs now and trying to enter the workforce at one of the worst times to find a job,” she said. “It’s not easy, but there’s a saying in the Dominican Republic, ‘Hay que seguir echando pa’ lante’ — ‘gotta keep moving forward’ — so that’s my mentality now.”


Video: Business Insider Today | More than 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers worldwide were evacuated because of the coronavirus — and many fear they’ll never return

April 28, 2020

Business Insider Today produced video profiles of eight evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers. They speak of the communities and projects they left behind. Many are still holding out hope their service will be resumed. “We were just beginning to make connections with our families and our #community and starting to understand the local language,” said Michael Osorio, a Volunteer in the Philippines. As this story drives home, Volunteers who were serving around the world come from all across the country — so their story is America’s story.


Radio: Marketplace | Peace Corps volunteers return home to a dismal job market and a future in limbo

April 27, 2020
Among the millions of Americans whose lives have been upended by COVID-19 are the 7,300 who volunteer abroad through the Peace Corps. Profiles and stories from Adam Greenberg (Zambia), Stephanie Estrera (Philippines), Tim Feng (Thailand), and Madeline and Clint Kellner (Peru). One key takeaway, as reporter Andy Uhler notes: “For those that are struggling, there’s a network of former Peace Corps volunteers trying to help current volunteers when and where they can. Some have offered places to stay, job opportunities and emotional support.”


Global Broadcast | The Call to Unite

May 1-2, 2020
The Call to Unite was a 24-hour global celebration of our collective humanity. Oprah Winfrey and Tim Shriver hosted preachers and artists, musicians and humanitarians for a series of conversations and performances. Former U.S. presidents Carter, Bush, and Clinton took part as well. The goal: transform pain into purpose in this time of social distancing through an unparalleled show of global solidarity. NPCA was a proud community partner of this event that featured evacuated Peace Corps Volunteer Sharmae Stringfield connecting via video with her counterpart, Chipiliro Ngwali in Mdeka, Malawi. The event also featured RPCV Meisha Robinson, and National Peace Corps Association President & CEO Glenn Blumhorst contributed a video welcome to spread the word for the event: “We see the Peace Corps community united to serve others,” Blumhorst said.The event was streamed live on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitch, and unite.us.



New Hampshire, Georgia, Texas | Opinion Pieces from Returned and Evacuated Volunteers

“Peace Corps exemplifies of what world needs now” |  New Hampshire Union-Leader 

Physician and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Englund writes: ”With the coronavirus pandemic turning the world upside down, it’s time we begin thinking about our best strategy — once the pandemic is over — for creating a nation that relies less on blame and finger-pointing and more on goodwill, diplomacy and mutual understanding. Fortunately, we already have an institution that has succeeded in doing just that. It’s called the Peace Corps.”


“COVID-19 ended my Peace Corps service, but I’m still grateful” | The Red and the Black, Athens, Georgia

Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteer Brun Beringer was pulled from his community in Georgia — and came home to “the other Georgia.” He writes: “We must remember to give thanks and strive to help each other, however we can, in a spirit of respect and compassion. This spirit is the essence of the Peace Corps, and it is so desperately needed in today’s environment of distrust and anger. Regardless of whether you have any connection to the Peace Corps – now, perhaps more than ever, it is critical to maintain the pursuit of mutual understanding that Peace Corps fosters across the world.”

”We’re all in this together: Be a super transformer” | DailyTrib.com, Texas

Mary Kelly Green, an ophthalmologist who served in the Peace Corps more than two decades ago, reflects on lessons that experience taught for life amidst pandemic: ”Sometimes, in life, you gotta be a super transformer. That was the message the Peace Corps trainer gave us 24 years ago … I never imagined that my time as a Peace Corps volunteer was just a dress rehearsal for being a physician in a global viral pandemic. The ante has been upped.”



Michigan, Arkansas | Profiles of Evacuated Volunteers

“Hear from 3 Metro Detroit Peace Corps volunteers forced to return to U.S. from remote villages” | ClickonDetroit.com

Vaughn Thornton (Indonesia), Madelyn Celvosky (Panama), and Mariam Haidar (Tanzania) share their stories. “In Tanzania, community is a huge, huge, huge thing,” Haidar says. “I think something they are good at is they are selfless. I think we can learn to be selfless.”


“Peace Corps volunteer and Blytheville native returns to U.S. due to COVID-19” | KAIT, Blytheville, Arkansas

Bethany Bell had to leave Rwanda so quickly that she did not get to say goodbye to her 500 students.


California | COVID-19 Response

”UC Davis’ medical student response team collects PPE, machines for healthcare facilities” | The California Aggie, University of California, Davis

Medical student Eve Solomon helps lead the COVID-19 UC Davis Medical Response team. Before starting medical school at UC Davis, Solomon spent two years in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. “This project reminds me of that time, because it is a grassroots effort that requires partnering with community members and local groups to achieve a common goal,” Solomon said. “While COVID-19 and shelter-in-place has been a difficult and trying time for most of us, the high level of community action and the enthusiasm of our donors and recipients has inspired me and given me hope that we will get through this challenge together.”


Stay up to date with the latest news about Peace Corps and COVID-19 global evacuation each day through our Flipboard stories. Here you’ll find a selection of stories from around the world about evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers, efforts to help them here at home, and how they’re helping the United States tackle the COVID-19 pandemic through community service, work as contact tracers, serving on the front lines in medicine, and more.

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