Tiffany James posted an articleJoel Rubin shares his Hanukkah Peace Corps story in Costa Rica. see more
An RPCV shares how his Jewish heritage and the traditions of Hanukkah helped nurture camaraderie and memorable bonds between him and the community he served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica.
By Joel Rubin (Costa Rica 1994–96)
We’re now in the holiday season, including the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. This holiday has always been special to me because it spiritually connects the Jews of today to the Jews of 2,200 years ago, when we fought to maintain our identity and community.
When I joined the Peace Corps, I knew that I’d be going to a distant country to live in a community where I could do productive work. I also knew that my identity as an American would be challenged in ways that I couldn’t predict. But what I didn’t know was that my Peace Corps experience would transcend the professional tasks at hand and my American identity, crossing over into religious connections much deeper under the surface. This meant that while I was on the surface an American volunteer in a Costa Rican village teaching environmental education, just underneath it, I was a Jewish man representing my people in a fully Christian community.
By being open with them, I wasn’t just sharing information; I was creating a bond based in trust in the truest spirit of the Peace Corps.
I felt a special responsibility and need to share this part of me with my host family and the community within which I served, so they could learn about and understand me and my religion, because it’s the lack of understanding and of knowledge that creates distrust and pain. By being open with them, I wasn’t just sharing information; I was creating a bond based in trust in the truest spirit of the Peace Corps. This is because through shared trust, one can truly engage in meaningful service, which was why I chose to live there — and my village embraced me because of it.
Some of my most interesting times in Costa Rica were when I would discuss religion with the local Catholic priest. Or when an evangelical leader would come by to ask me questions about Israel. Or when my village family would invite me to go to church to celebrate a holiday, understanding that religious ritual had meaning for me. Their curiosity about my religion gave me a chance to go deeper into mine, so that I could truly explain the connections and similarities — as well as differences — between us.
But not only was the village an amazing place to be Jewish, so was the country’s capital of San Jose, where a small Jewish community had taken root just prior to the Holocaust, emigrating primarily from Poland in the 1930s. In fact, Jews fled Europe at that time, anticipating the horrors to come, and many thousands ended up in Latin America because the United States, in the midst of antisemitic refugee quotas, blocked those European Jews from entering the country.
But not Costa Rica. This fully Christian country welcomed Polish Jews, giving them a safe place to call home. And these Jews gave back, perfecting the craft of selling garments door to door when they arrived, earning them the nickname “polacos,” which is Spanish for “Polish” and is what door-to-door salespeople are still called in Costa Rica to this day. Since then, Costa Rica has had a female Jewish Vice President and a Jewish Ambassador to the U.S., showing how the country has truly treated Jews as equals.
Joel Rubin during his service in Costa Rica
While in San Jose, I connected with this community, and it became a sort of second home in the country for me. I would travel to San Jose for Peace Corps meetings and stay at the home of a local Jewish family, have Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner with them, and go to the local synagogue. I spent a Passover seder there, speaking three languages — Spanish, English, and Hebrew — at the table. This was my Jewish experience in Costa Rica — not just in the village, but in the capital as well.
Because of this Costa Rican openness, I opened my doors during Jewish holidays to share Jewish celebrations like Hanukkah with my friends in the village. My friends were excited, participated, asked questions, and loved it. I would explain the meaning of the holiday and hold the ceremony of candle lighting, which makes Hanukkah so recognizable and powerful. I also gave them each the opportunity to light a candle, symbolizing the light of the Menorah that lasted for eight days when the Jews of the day, during Greek times, cleaned up the Temple after it had been desecrated. This small act served to remind us of the Hanukkah miracle and bonded us.
Hanukkah is a holiday of celebration for Jews around the world, and in the case of my experience as a Jewish Peace Corps Volunteer in a Christian village in Costa Rica, it provided me with a moment to truly savor liberation, partnership, and equality with my friends in my new home. My religion, despite being different, helped to bring me closer to peace with this village, through the extraordinary creation of the Peace Corps — a Hanukkah miracle worth celebrating.
SHARE YOUR STORY
Do you have a memorable Hanukkah story from your Peace Corps service? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment below.
Joel Rubin is Vice President for Global Policy and Public Affairs at National Peace Corps Association. He served as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Costa Rica (1994–96).
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Change the way you map the world around you, and you might see and hear and taste anew. see more
Mapmaking with fabrics and dances and sloths
By Nathalie Vadnais
Consider the map. We’ve all used one to get from point A to point B, to navigate the geography of the place in which we find ourselves. We also live in a world profoundly shaped by the arbitrary drawing of borders on colonial maps decades or centuries ago. But change the way you map the world around you, and you might see and hear and taste anew. That’s an idea that resonates with the Peace Corps community — which is why Hannah Engel-Rebitzer launched the World Maps Collaborative, through which she partners with mapmaking artists in a dozen countries to help them reach global audiences.
“Mixing traditional cartography with the abstract and experimental, our maps celebrate local culture and voices,” she writes. She served as a small business development Volunteer in Costa Rica 2010–12. That experience showed her the challenges artists faced in exporting their work.
“Mixing traditional cartography with the abstract and experimental, our maps celebrate local culture and voices,” says Hannah Engel-Rebitzer.
She later lived in Malawi while her husband, Taylor Stearman, worked with the Peace Corps there. For the World Maps Collaborative, she partners with artists throughout Africa and Central America to show the interaction of modern life with much older boundaries — and how these interactions transform local languages, cultures, and traditions. It’s a cartography infused with a deeply personal and artistic relationship between people and place.
The artists featured here create their maps through painting, sketching, and digital media. Each artist receives a base commission for their work and receives a majority of the profits from each sale. The platform picked up momentum just before COVID-19 hit — providing support for artists when they needed it. Engel-Rebitzer is also interested in working with the Peace Corps network to broaden artist participation.
Central America by Carlos Violante and Alejandra Marroquin. Follow them on Instagram: @delirioestudio
For a map of Central America, Carlos Violante and Alejandra Marroquin used hand-drawn sketches and bright colors and designs to highlight the rich diversity of the rainforests, jungles, beaches, mountains, and farmlands. Some animals featured—from toucans to tree frogs—are unfortunately at risk because of unsustainable hunting and fishing practices, deforestation, and climate change.
El Salvador is home for the two artists, who met at university, where both studied design. They run a studio, Delirio, and they share a deep love for their home and a respect for nature. For this map, “Our focus was mainly the biodiversity of the region,” Carlos says. “Even when the territory is not that big, it is home for thousands of species of plants and animals.”
Their artistic contributions feed off one another; the result here is truly playful. That matters, says Carlos. “There’s a new generation of artists, designers, and creative people in general that want to generate work inspired on their own culture instead of trying to replicate European and American aesthetics,” he says. “It feels fresh, authentic, and almost like a cultural re-vindication of those aspects of our identity that are looked down upon by the first world.”
Rwanda by Izabiriza Moise. Follow him on Instagram: @kuuruart.space
Izabiriza Moise believes in the power of storytelling to connect us. “Who we are as Rwandans and what [we’ve] been through” are central to his map, he says, which depicts Rwanda’s 30 districts using pieces of fabric and acrylic on canvas.
With this map and much of the work he does, Izabiriza Moise wants to show that his country is defined by far more than tragedy. “Whatever happens, we become again. We have a rich history and unity, and we are using what we have.”
Moise is largely a self-taught artist. With two friends, he founded Kuuru Art Space in the capital, Kigali. It is a place for young artists to experiment and receive support. Moise’s own community art projects include murals at orphanages and hospitals. In 2020, he participated in projects to support mental health with the University of Global Health Equity in Kigali. “If that art can heal me, it can heal others,” he says.
With this map and much of the work he does, he wants to show that his country is defined by far more than tragedy. “Whatever happens, we become again. We have a rich history and unity, and we are using what we have.”
Nicaragua by Nasser Mejia Moreno. Follow him on Instagram: @nassermorenoart
Nasser Mejia Moreno painted with acrylics on homemade paper to map places and cultural symbols in Nicaragua. “The social economy of my country is based on agriculture and tourism,” he says. “I tried to portray the places and activities that are associated with both locals and tourists.” The map becomes a place to connect visitors and those who call Nicaragua home.
Moreno did not have access to formal art education in the community of Granada, where he spent most of his early years, but he acquired skills through well-known artistic mentors and by studying art. And art by others is on display in this work, too — from dances to ceramics, making up some of the mosaic pieces of this map.
SEE MORE AND PURCHASE MAPS: theworldmapscollaborative.com
This story appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated September 9, 2022.
Nathalie Vadnais served as an intern with WorldView 2021–22. She is studying international relations at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more
News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Jamie Hopkins, who served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1996–98, leads the Eagan Community Foundation in Minnesota and spearheaded a three-day film festival in support of Ukraine in April and May. Krista Kinnard (Ecuador 2010–21) has been named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Rob Schmitz (China 1996–98) had a stint as guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show. Tommy Vinh Bui (Kazakhstan 2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his Los Angeles community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share news about more awards, medals, and director roles.
Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
Rob Schmitz (1996–98) became a guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show in late April. As NPR’s Central Europe Correspondent, Schmitz covers the human stories of a vast region, such as Germany’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic. Before reporting on Europe, Schmitz worked as a foreign correspondent covering China and its economic rise and increasing global influence for a decade. He also authored the award-winning book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road which profiles the lives of individuals residing along a single street in the heart of Shanghai. During his first week as guest host, Schmitz talked with a Shanghai resident who discussed her experience with Shanghai’s zero-COVID strategy and the recent pandemic restrictions. Listen here.
Lane Bunkers (1989–91) took on responsibilities as of Peace Corps Country Director of Costa Rica in March. Bunkers steps into this new position a year before Peace Corps Costa Rica’s 60th anniversary and amidst the first wave of Volunteers returning to service overseas. In his director’s welcome, Bunkers wrote, “In Costa Rica, the pandemic impacted the social, economic, and political environment, as it did throughout the world. The country’s recovery will take time, and Peace Corps is well-positioned to support the communities where our Volunteers serve.” He brings an extensive career in leadership and international development, including three years serving as Peace Corps program and training officer in Romania and in the Eastern Caribbean. Prior to his new role, Bunkers worked for Catholic Relief Services for more than two decades. While there he oversaw a $25 million annual budget invested in initiatives ranging from water and food aid for drought-stricken regions to improving educational outcomes for malnourished children.
Krista Kinnard (2010–2012) was named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since starting her role as DOL’s chief of emerging technologies in 2021, Kinnard has focused on ways to use artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning to reduce the time employees spend on repetitive tasks. She also collaborated with the department to establish a technology incubator, inviting DOL staff to propose ideas that could benefit agencies and the public. Before working at DOL, Kinnard was the director of the U.S. General Service Administration’s Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence. Her data-driven expertise sharpened during her Peace Corps service where she was able to apply her quantitative skills to real-world problems. Afterward, she pursued a master’s in data analytics and public policy before building AI and machine learning tools for federal clients as a data scientist at IBM.
Dr. Nadine Rogers, who serves as country director for Peace Corps Guyana, is a 2022 recipient of the Global Achievement Award from the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association. “This well-deserved and extraordinary accomplishment highlights her incredible contributions in the international arena," says Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn. Dr. Rogers has almost 30 years of experience in management, health policy implementation, science administration, and education and communications across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously served as a foreign service officer at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator under the U.S. State Department, and for 10 years she worked at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, handling scientific review of multi-million dollar research grant applications focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and services in populations at risk-for or addicted to drugs, both domestically and internationally. She has served the U.S. government across the globe, including in Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, and in the Caribbean.
Tommy Vinh Bui (2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week in April for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bui was working as a Los Angeles Teen and Adult Services Librarian when the pandemic shut down libraries. With a love for his community and a penchant for service, he sprang into action seeking ways to help such as donating blood to the Red Cross to help with the blood shortage; delivering convalescent plasma to hospitals around and outside of Los Angeles; assisting Project Roomkey — an initiative started by the California Department of Social Services, providing shelter for unhoused people recovering from or exposed to COVID-19 — in its efforts to help vulnerable people get off the streets and find resources. As part of the last cohort to serve in Kazakhstan, Bui’s Peace Corps service began in March 2011. He served as a community development and education Volunteer until he was evacuated in November of that same year and credits his experience as a major contributor to his personal and professional growth.
Josh Josa (2010–12) is a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.
Travis Wohlrab (2013–15) received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for developing a livestream production capability and supporting agency communications programs. This medal recognizes those who significantly improve NASA’s day-to-day operations. Wohlrab is the engagement officer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he has worked since the end of his Peace Corps service. During the onset of COVID-19, Wohlrab used his video production expertise to produce livestream events — such as Town Halls and public outreach events — which were crucial to helping the center continue to disseminate information and operate as it had before the pandemic.
Lowell Hurst (1976–78) received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, along with his wife Wendy, from the Pajaro Valley Chamber Of Commerce and Agriculture. Hurst has dedicated his life to education, public service, and volunteerism starting with his Peace Corps service — followed by the more than three decades he spent teaching science and horticulture at Watsonville High School. In 1989, he was elected to the Watsonville City Council, served on the body for three stints over three decades, and served three mayoral terms, retiring from the political arena after his final term.
Heather Laird was appointed the new medical director of Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades (VIM) in April. She first got involved with VIM by serving as a volunteer nurse practitioner in 2013, while working at her full-time job in telemedicine. Laird shifted away from telemedicine to work with patients in person at Mosaic Medical — a community-founded health center focused on making high-quality healthcare available to Central Oregonians, regardless of life circumstances. Inspired by her Peace Corps experience, which allowed her to learn technical skills that would help her community, Laird pursued a master’s in environmental and occupational health sciences at University of Washington before attending University of California, San Francisco, and obtaining a degree to become an adult nurse practitioner. “I am looking forward to harnessing my experience and education to help the underserved in Central Oregon through my role at Volunteers in Medicine,” Laird said.
In April and May, Jamie Hopkins (1996–98), who serves as executive director of the Eagan Community Foundation, spearheaded the Twin Cities Ukrainian Film Series. “It’s important for me to tell people about Ukraine,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been trying to do that for 25 years, and for the first time people are really anxious to learn.” Together with the Emagine Theaters, the foundation put on a three-day film fundraiser to benefit a variety of needs in Ukraine, including funding for filmmakers documenting the current war and community foundations in the areas hardest hit. “I want to make sure that opportunity exists today to do that (make Ukrainian films) in the future,” Hopkins said. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Hopkins served as a teacher trainer in the town of Ukrainka in the Kyiv Region — something she describes as “most rewarding experience of my life.” Hopkins has served as the Eagan Community Foundation’s executive director since 2016. She originally joined the foundation as a board member in 2013.
American Dreamer: Memoirs of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America and Beyond see more
Memoirs of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America and Beyond
By David Taylor Ives
Reviewed by Jim Skelton
Decades before David Taylor Ives took on responsibilities as the executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute of Quinnipiac University, he served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 1980–82. Included in this first-person chronicle, anchored by that experience, is a foreword by Leymah Gbowee and an introduction by Muhammad Yunus, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates. They introduce Ives as a humble man who believes there is good in humanity and is committed to justice.
Ives grew up in Pierpont, Ohio, a town of 300 people and 3,000 cows, as he puts it, where his father served as the pastor of the Presbyterian church. As a child he contracted polio “weeks before the polio vaccine was widely available.” He was placed in an iron lung and never expected to walk without crutches or braces. His mother believed in exercise; by eighth grade, David was playing baseball. In high school, as a wrestler, he won the conference championship in his weight class.
Nobel Peace Prize laureates Leymah Gbowee and Muhammad Yunus laud David Ives as a humble man committed to justice.
On a family journey through Latin America in 1967, Ives fell in love with the region. He uses letters he wrote to his father to narrate his Peace Corps experience, supplemented with insights gained from decades of hindsight. He narrates daily life in the community of Los Chiles, including fiestas and evenings of conversation — as well as the spillover of civil war from Nicaragua, and suspicions that this Volunteer was a spy.
His career has taken him to posts that include Colorado College and the Louis August Jonas Foundation. He has written on nuclear proliferation and served as executive producer of a 2005 Emmy-winning documentary on Albert Schweitzer. He has worked with leaders like President Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama, and served as the senior advisor to the Permanent Secretariat of the Summits of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. He has himself been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times.
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. It is adapted from a review originally published by Peace Corps Worldwide.
Jim Skelton served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia 1970–72. He was the lead editor on the award-winning volume Eradicating Smallpox in Ethiopia.
Helene Dudley posted an articleRotarians and RPCVs combine their synergies for the greater good. see more
By: Helene Dudley (Colombia 1968-70, Slovakia 1997-99)
Peace Corps and Rotary have a longstanding history individually as well as together. The two communities have compatible values, compatible interests, and compatible approaches to society’s problems. I am one of thousands of Americans with membership in both. I was introduced to Rotary through my work with The Colombia Project, a micro-loan program started by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). After receiving several grants and presenting to the Rotary Club of Coconut Grove, Florida it occurred to me that I should become a member. Soon two more RPCVs working with The Colombia Project joined, followed by a loan administrator in Colombia and then a former Peace Corps Korea language teacher – all because the Coconut Grove Rotary Club supported an RPCV micro-loan program. As an RPCV and Rotarian, I am amazed at the synergies that exist between these two groups.
In 2014, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, who comes from a family of Rotarians, signed two collaborative agreements with Rotary – for pilot projects in the Philippines, Thailand and Togo and to encourage Rotary Clubs to support the Peace Corps partnership program (PCPP).
Subsequent to those agreements, over 30 Rotary Clubs from hometowns of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) serving in Costa Rica have partnered with Costa Rica Rotary Clubs in the Give-A-Book literacy project to provide libraries for schools and communities served by PCVs. Rotarians traveled to Costa Rica to personally present books. Upon returning home, PCVs made presentations to the sponsoring Rotary clubs. In addition to the books, the Peace Corps-Rotary alliance in Costa Rica organizes other humanitarian projects such as an eye clinic organized by two PCVs for March 2017 with Rotarian eye doctors participating from Rotary Clubs in Florida, Indiana, and California.
Collaboration with currently serving Volunteers is off to a good start but even better opportunities exist for Rotary-RPCV collaborations like those with the Denver Rotary Club’s cook stove research in Vanuatu, girls’ education in Senegal and the Coal Creek, Colorado Rotary Club’s water projects in Panama. The full potential for collaborations between Rotary and RPCVs through the NPCA remains largely untapped but ultimately should be even more attractive to Rotarians in providing RPCV partners with proven track records.
One Rotary supported RPCV program, The Colombia Project – TCP Global, builds zero overhead, sustainable micro-loan programs in five countries to date. By partnering with organizations already working effectively at the grassroots level, virtually no overhead is required to manage 30-45 open loans.
Just as the Rotary-Peace Corps Partnership invites Rotary Clubs to support PCPP working with PCVs, an expansion of this collaboration into the Peace Corps community could provide financial support for current and future projects vetted through the National Peace Corps Association's Community Fund such as TCP Global micro-loans, Water Charity, The Village Link, and other projects that involve Rotary in some, but not all implementation sites. Rotarian and RPCV hybrids are coming together to create an affiliate group, so be sure to let us know if you are a Rotarian.
In 2017, there are two unique opportunities to strengthen ties between Rotary and the Peace Corps community. RPCV Rotarians are encouraged to visit the Peace Corps booth at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, GA this June 2017. All Rotarians and members of the Peace Corps community are also encouraged to attend Peace Corps Connect annual conference in Denver, CO this August 2017.
The Peace Corps Community and the Rotarian Community each do a tremendous amount of good in the world. Since projects can have far greater impact when we collaborate with others, imagine what could be accomplished if the two organizations joined forces.