Starting on September 2nd, viewers are able to request that their local PBS stations air the film. see more
Starting on September 2, the Peace Corps documentary, A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps will be available on PBS stations across the country. But there are still some regions that will need to request that their local stations air the documentary.
A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps is coming to PBS stations nationwide, starting September 2. You can help make sure this documentary airs in your region. With local PBS stations scheduling programming 2-3 months from air date, the time is now to reach out to your local station.
The PBS World channel will host a nationwide broadcast premiere on Friday, September 29 at 8 p.m. Eastern with repeats on Saturday, September 30 at 3 a.m., 9 a.m., and 3 p.m. Eastern. Your local station program managers will be deciding whether to schedule the film and how often over the next three years. View a list of confirmed stations and air times so far.
That’s where you come in. Call your station today, and ask that A Towering Task, which is distributed by NETA, be included in the line-up. Then, help get the word out about the documentary. This is a great opportunity to educate a broad audience about the history of Peace Corps, its many successes, and the challenges the agency has faced since its founding in 1961. Find your local station here. Request a time slot. Plan to organize a viewing party. Enjoy the show!
Read more about A Towering Task
Guidelines for RPCV Communities to Partner With Your Local Public Television Station
By Will Glasscock
There are more than 150 public television license holders that operate more than 350 stations, reaching 97 percent of the American people. You have a role in ensuring that your local station carries A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps and that the Peace Corps story resonates in your community.
The first — and most important — thing you can do is contact your local station and ask that they air A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps.
Their website will have a “contact” link where you can submit your request that they air A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps.
In addition to requesting that they broadcast A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps, make sure that you include a compelling reason for why it is important that this story is broadcasted. Consider including an anecdote about your service or talk about how Peace Corps service impacted your life.
Ask your friends, family members, and other RPCVs in your community to reach out to the station, too. The more requests that your station receives, the more likely that they will respond.
If you aren’t sure which station you should contact, visit pbs.org. In the top right corner of your screen, you’ll find what station’s coverage area PBS believes you reside in.
If you still don’t know where to start, email Will Glasscock for additional assistance.
Local public television stations are always looking for opportunities to engage with community partners to bring the stories and discussion from the screen to in-person events. If you are part of a formal or informal group of RPCVs in your community, reach out to your station to suggest ways that you could partner to deepen the engagement around the film. Examples of events you could partner with your station on include (but aren’t limited to):
A film screening followed by a panel discussion by RPCVs who have served in different eras of Peace Corps.
A “TED Talk” style event where local RPCVs share brief stories about their service and experience.
In conjunction with the station’s public affairs or civic engagement programming, you could suggest interviews with local RPCVs. You could also assist the station in connecting with local diaspora communities to give that perspective as well, especially for communities that are currently in the headlines (Ukrainians, Ethiopians, Sudanese, and more).
Include small business owners from diaspora communities (for example, ethnic restaurants and food trucks, or visual and performance artists) to join RPCVs for a screening of the film.
A Peace Corps recruitment event staffed by local RPCVs and, possibly, your region’s Peace Corps Recruiter.
Lastly, we will be collecting best practices for stations partnering with local RPCV communities. If you and your local station are working on an event or other unique partnership, please let us know by emailing Will Glasscock.
Senate action provides an opportunity for a Peace Corps funding increase see more
Senate Appropriations Committee Advances Fiscal Year 2024 Spending Package with $448 Million for Peace Corps
By Jonathan Pearson
In a strong bipartisan vote on Thursday, July 20th, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) spending package for international affairs programs that includes $448 million for the Peace Corps — a four percent, $18 million increase over current funding for the agency.
This vote is in sharp contrast to the recommendation of the House Appropriations Committee, which, just last week, approved its version of the State/Foreign Operations (SFOPS) spending package, which included a $20 million (4.6 percent) decrease in funding for the Peace Corps.
The full House and Senate will next have to consider and vote on their largely different SFOPS bills, and then will have to come together to work out the differences.
“National Peace Corps Association congratulates SFOPS Subcommittee Chairman Chris Coons (D-DE) and Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for their tremendous leadership and show of support for the Peace Corps,” said NPCA President and CEO Dan Baker. “We also congratulate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) for this strong, bipartisan recognition of the importance of the Peace Corps and other international affairs programs.
“As we realize Congress still has many steps ahead to finish work on FY 2024 spending bills, we appreciate Senate appropriators for taking this important step in recognizing that the Peace Corps is steadily moving back to pre-pandemic strength, and is a critical component of our national service and foreign policy agenda. It is also important to recognize that in order to fully reach its potential, the Peace Corps needs an even stronger investment to return to more than 7,000 volunteers, and expand service opportunities in additional countries and regions.”
With this recent action, our community has a real opportunity over the coming months to secure a funding increase for the Peace Corps for a second consecutive year. But with sharp divides over federal spending, this won’t be easy. That's why your ongoing advocacy is so important.
- If you have a Senator who serves on the Appropriations Committee, please write or call them with this message: "Thank you for supporting and advancing a recommendation of $448 million for the Peace Corps in Fiscal Year 2024."
- Make plans to meet with your Senators or Representative during our August/September district office meeting initiative. Learn more here, and then fill out this form so we can add your plans to our tracking map.
- Alternatively, sign up to submit an op-ed or letter-to-the-editor supporting the Peace Corps.
A Call to Action with members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees see more
For the first time in many years, both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees are both putting forward recommendations that would reduce funding for our nation’s international affairs programs.
By Jonathan Pearson
More than a month ago, negotiations on the federal debt ceiling which ultimately averted a default of U.S. financial obligations, included an agreement to cap most non-discretionary government spending for the next two years. Now, the Senate and House of Representatives are advancing their respective appropriations bills to fund the federal government for the fiscal year that begins October 1. Our nation's international affairs programs are on the chopping block, though the rate of reductions between the two chambers are much different. And, like many other programs in that account, funding for the Peace Corps could be negatively impacted.
In the House of Representatives
In the House of Representatives, a funding package advanced by the Appropriations subcommittee for State/Foreign Operations (S/FOPS) proposes reduced funding in the next fiscal year (FY 2024) by at least 12 percent over current spending. Taking into account a so-called “clawback” of funds in this account, overall spending could result in a cut as high as 30 percent, drawing this response from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC). National Peace Corps Association is a member of this coalition.
On July 12, the full Appropriations Committee conducted a mostly polite, but highly partisan debate in which the S/FOPS spending package was approved on a party line vote. Most of the debate focused on near or complete funding cuts for the United Nations and climate change programs, abortion and family planning policies, and the U.S. relationship with China and other "adversaries". Peace Corps funding was not raised, but in an earlier document summarizing the spending package, funding for Peace Corps fell under a category titled “Cuts to Wasteful Spending”, and is listed as one of 17 accounts which would see its current FY 2023 funding level reduced to FY 2019 levels. That would return Peace Corps funding to $410.5 million, which would be the same level of funding the agency received in FY 2016.
In the Senate
The Senate Appropriations Committee has also begun its work on FY 2024 spending by releasing its top-line funding levels for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees. The Senate recommendations for each subcommittee are more in line with the negotiated funding levels made in conjunction with the recent debt ceiling agreement, calling for roughly flat funding for the next two fiscal years.
While the Senate S/FOPS subcommittee has not yet determined funding for individual programs, it has been provided with an overall funding target that is just over two percent below current funding. If the subcommittee were to distribute that reduction equitably, Peace Corps would see its current funding of $430 million reduced to approximately $422 million. USGLC released this statement following the recent Senate action. Subcommittee action is expected soon.
We concur with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition that funding for all of our international affairs programs — including the Peace Corps — should be absolutely no less than current funding.
If we simply consider the daily news headlines, it is clear that U.S. engagement with the world is vital, and reducing our engagement is dangerous. As for the Peace Corps, we are excited that the agency has returned roughly 2,000 Volunteers to 53 countries, and has requests to return to as many as 13 more nations. While lawmakers are recognizing the important contributions of the Peace Corps to our global engagement and national service agendas, they must accept the fact that we cannot move forward to meet these growing service opportunities with cuts to funding. Level funding of $430 million for the Peace Corps should be the bare minimum appropriation to continue to move forward. However, to fully meet its renewed potential, a higher investment is clearly necessary.
How Can Individual RPCVs Help? Here’s How:
These developments in the U.S. Senate and House come as National Peace Corps Association prepares for its annual district office meetings drive during the months of August and September.
If you are represented by a member of the Senate or House Appropriations Committees, we need you to contact us at email@example.com and help organize a local meeting with your lawmaker. No previous experience is necessary, and we will help you plan this important outreach in support of the Peace Corps. Thank you!
It's time to start moving this priority legislation towards passage see more
Senators Robert Menendez, Jim Risch, and colleagues have reintroduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2023. If passed, this would be the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Peace Corps agency for the first time in over 20 years.
By Jonathan Pearson
On Wednesday, April 19, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and James Risch (R-ID), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, re-introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (S. 1203), which would be the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Peace Corps in over twenty years. “Today, we’re reintroducing legislation that will reauthorize the Sexual Assault Advisory Council, mandate security briefings, improve whistleblower protections, and add a new authority to suspend Peace Corps personnel without pay in the event of misbehavior — all important efforts to ensure the Peace Corps can better support Volunteers at home and abroad,” said Senator Risch.
“The Peace Corps plays an invaluable role in U.S. public diplomacy, and it is critical that we modernize the program to best support the selfless Volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to fostering peace, cultural exchange, and friendship around the world.”
— Senator Robert Menendez
“The Peace Corps plays an invaluable role in U.S. public diplomacy, and it is critical that we modernize the program to best support the selfless Volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to fostering peace, cultural exchange, and friendship around the world,” said Senator Menendez. Last year, hard work to pass this legislation — which received unanimous support within the Foreign Relations Committee — came up short.
“As a growing number of citizens are returning to service with the Peace Corps, this is exactly the right time to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act. We are grateful to Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, and the other original co-sponsors of this legislation for their leadership.”
— NPCA President & CEO Dan Baker
The re-introduction of this year’s legislation is already showing signs of bipartisan support, with Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Todd Young (R-IN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joining as original co-sponsors. "As a growing number of citizens are returning to service with the Peace Corps, this is exactly the right time to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act,” said NPCA President and CEO Dan Baker. “We are grateful to Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, and the other original co-sponsors of this legislation for their leadership.”
Read the April 19 press release from Senator Menendez.
Read the Senate legislation (S. 1203).
As Senate legislation begins to move, National Peace Corps Association staff and community advocates continue to hold meetings with members of the House of Representatives in an effort to build bi-partisan momentum for House Bill 1273 (H.R. 1273), the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2023. H.R. 1273 was introduced on March 1st – Peace Corps Day – by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Garamendi (D-CA) and fellow Congressman Garret Graves (R-LA). The Senate legislation closely mirrors the language of the House bill.
The Reauthorization Act: What's In? What's Out?
Passage of the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act will need strong bi-partisan support to pass the current Congress. That means increasing co-sponsors, including and especially among members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and with House members who voted to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act last year.
The Senate legislation, like H.R. 1273, has a number of important provisions that support the new generation of Peace Corps Volunteers before, during, and after service:
- Sexual Assault Advisory Council: The important work of the congressionally mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council – currently scheduled to expire later this year – would be extended until October 2028.
- Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE): The legislation codifies two years of NCE for federal employment for all Volunteers who successfully complete their service. It also includes provisions to "stop the NCE clock" for returning Volunteers during periods of federal government shutdowns or hiring freezes, or if the returning Volunteer comes home with service related illness or injuries that don't allow them to work.
- Support for Evacuated Volunteers Who Wish to Serve Again: The Peace Corps will be required to establish a safe return to service process for those whose service is interrupted due mandatory evacuations from catastrophic events or global emergencies like COVID-19.
- In-Service Health Care: The legislation includes provisions to further address consultation and training on malaria prophylactics and their side effects. It also requires the Peace Corps to establish policies to ensure all Volunteers have access to hygiene products.
- Volunteer Protections: The legislation further enumerates procedures and policy to protect Volunteers against reprisal and retaliation.
- Indo-Pacific Region: Under the legislation, the Peace Corps will report on strategies for the expansion of Peace Corps service opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region. It also expands Peace Corps eligibility to include United States citizens who are nationals of American Samoa.
- Suspension Without Pay: The legislation includes a provision allowing the Peace Corps Director to suspend (without pay) any employee determined to have engaged in serious misconduct. The provision includes an appeal process.
- National Advisory Council/DE&I: The legislation would re-establish a high-profile National Advisory Council. Duties would include considering and making recommendations to strengthen diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts at the Peace Corps.
At the same time, securing the necessary bi-partisanship to pass the bill came with difficult and disappointing compromises:
- Peace Corps Funding: While the Peace Corps secured a $20 million funding increase (to $430.5 million) for the current fiscal year, this legislation would authorize funding for the Peace Corps back to $410.5 million through Fiscal Year 2028. (NOTE: On a positive note, if passed, the legislation would statutorily establish $410.5 million as the new minimal funding level for the Peace Corps; Furthermore, Congress still has the ability to appropriate funds above the authorization level each year).
- Workers Compensation: Once again, a longstanding and long overdue effort to provide increased workers compensation to a subset of returning Volunteers who are not able to work upon return due to service related illness/injury has been thwarted, primarily by Republican opposition in the House.
- Student Loans: Among the provisions removed were those that clarified Peace Corps Volunteers are eligible in the federal government's Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Also removed was a provision to allow Volunteers to defer not just federal student loan payments during service, but also interest on those loans.
- Post-Service Health Insurance: A proposal to increase paid post-service health insurance by the Peace Corps from one month to two months, was also removed.
Take Action — Let's Get This Done!
In a divided Congress facing many pressing and controversial policy challenges, there are no guarantees that any particular piece of legislation will pass. That's why we need to redouble our efforts to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act in 2023. You can take action by:
- Flooding Congress With Messages: Visit our Action Center and tell your Representative and Senators that it is time to co-sponsor and pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act!
- Adopting a Lawmaker: Contact us if you are willing to "adopt" one of your representatives through the rest of the year to make sure they are on board with getting this priority Peace Corps legislation passed in 2023.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orrin Luc posted an articleDambach’s efforts in peacebuilding have been recognized by numerous organizations. see more
NPCA President Emeritus Chic Dambach has previously been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Now Oklahoma State University has launched a scholarship program in his honor.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Illustration by Matt Wuerker
October brought a special celebration for a leader in the Peace Corps community. The School of Global Studies at Oklahoma State University announced the creation of the Dambach Peacebuilder Endowed Fellowship, a program for students with a career interest in global peace. Named after OSU alumnus and NPCA President Emeritus Charles “Chic” Dambach, the fellowship will provide funding for students in the school’s graduate program and support a new generation of peacemakers.
At OSU Dambach was also inducted into the Henry G. Bennett Fellowship, an honorary recognition of some three dozen global leaders including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair, Vincente Fox, Harriet Fulbright, and other notables. One special part of the festivities for Dambach, who arrived at OSU in 1962 courtesy a football scholarship: They introduced him at the OSU vs. Texas Tech football game, before a capacity crowd of more than 55,000.
A fishing village in Colombia
Dambach’s college football career was sidelined by a shoulder injury. The Cowboys’ loss on the gridiron was global peacebuilding’s gain: Dambach devoted energy to working with other students to draw attention to issues of political and cultural significance in the mid-’60s. “Even at a very conservative school and against intense pressure from administrators, we mobilized large demonstrations for free speech and against the war,” Dambach recalls. “We played a major role in persuading U.S. Senator Fred Harris to reverse his position and oppose the war. He announced his opposition at one of our rallies where I introduced him.”
The connection with the senator endured: A few years ago, Harris attended the 50th reunion for Dambach and his OSU classmates. It was also Dambach’s longtime friends who, unbeknownst to him, launched the effort to create the fellowship.
Dambach joined the Peace Corps after graduating from college, and he served as a Volunteer in a small fishing village in Colombia 1967–69. He worked with community partners to form a worker’s co-op, obtain loans, build a school, and acquire gear needed for fishing. Decades later, he served as president and CEO of National Peace Corps Association (1992–98) and now carries the title of NPCA President Emeritus.
He also became a national champion kayak racer and served as an official in the Olympic Games for canoe and kayak competitions in 1988, 1992, and 1996.
Charles "Chic" Dambach accepting the Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Fellow award from Dean Randy Kluver at the Dambach Peacebuilder Endowed Fellowship announcement. Photo Courtesy of Oklahoma State University
Nobel Peace Prize nominee
After a long career that included work in sports diplomacy and nonprofit management, Dambach put his skillset in peacebuilding to work with others in the Peace Corps community to help negotiate peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea to end a brutal border war. Later, Dambach served in a similar facilitating role in addressing internal conflicts in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
After leading NPCA, Dambach went on to serve as president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding; interim CEO for Operation Respect; and chief of staff for RPCV Rep. John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68). Dambach has taught at Johns Hopkins, American University, and George Washington Univeristy, and he has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. His personal story and his insights on peacebuilding shape his memoir, Exhaust the Limits, as well as his popular TEDx talk, “Why Not Peace?”
Dambach’s efforts in peacebuilding have been recognized by a multitude of organizations, groups, governments, and individuals. In 2017 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Students obtaining a master’s degree from the School of Global Studies and Partnerships at OSU can apply for the Dambach Peacebuilder Fellowship.
Chic Dambach says he appreciates that to qualify for a scholarship, applicants must possess “both the hearts and the minds of peacebuilders” with plans for a career focused on global peace. “All of it fits nicely with our desire to promote a culture of service,” he says. As for the notion of a fellowship bearing his name, “I am blown away by the honor…But I am willing to embrace the fellowships on behalf of so many good people — Peace Corps people — who continue to make a positive difference in the face of strong headwinds.”
LEARN MORE about the Dambach Endowed Peacebuilder Fellowship: dambachpeacebuilderfellowships.org
A perspective from Guatemala — at the NPCA global ideas summit July 18, 2020 see more
A host country perspective from Guatemala. Remarks from the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Luis Argueta
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Luis Argueta — film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission.
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
We are at an unprecedented situation worldwide because of this pandemic. It is a perfect time to ask some very basic questions about humanity in general and about the Peace Corps in particular.
From what I have seen here in Guatemala, the pandemic has revealed the vast differences between a small group of people who have a lot and the large majority who have very little. It has also revealed in its stark nakedness the structural deficiencies of states like Guatemala, where the economic disparities are tremendous. But also where the neglect of the large population for many, many years has caused the current critical situation where, for over 50 years, people's basic needs like education — and today, it's obvious health — have been not addressed.
Watch: Luis Argueta’s remarks at Peace Corps Connect to the Future
The response in Guatemala has been to create hospitals and to augment the number of beds that can be occupied by people who are ill with the COVID-19. That looks like a great solution. But in a system where we don't have basic access to minimal healthcare, this is not the solution.
By addressing this particular need, and by the Peace Corps focusing on the basic health needs of rural communities, we can start focusing on the future. Because when you need to go to a hospital to treat a minor illness that could be treated by a local health post — when there’s not even a clinic in the rural areas — I think we would be serving the communities in a very different way.
The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege.
Something that I have been particularly focusing my work on for the past 12-plus years is migration. And these structural deficiencies — these major differences in the country — have provoked what, to me, is one of the most crucial issues of our times: forced displacement, forced migration and asylum seeking.
The current situation is not making those things better. And even if borders today are closed, once they open — and we hope that will be sooner than later — people will be forced again to leave their homes. So, again, what is the Peace Corps to do at a time like this? I think it is to go and work at the very basic community level and helping better these conditions that are making it impossible for people to stay at home and be with their family and prosper and be healthy.
I don't think that this is a time to be shy about our common links and our historical connections. The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege. And it is to the betterment of everybody we self-reflect on our position in these communities.
At the same time that we self-reflect on our role and our privileges, and the privileges of Volunteers, we should look at the historical ties between the host countries and the U.S. It is a time of many contradictions.
Guatemalan immigrants, and immigrants from many other countries, are today in the U.S. working — and are considered, in many instances, essential workers. However, they also are risking being detained and deported. They're also suffering the effects of the pandemic in larger numbers, as are other minorities and more vulnerable populations in the U.S. We must recognize this.
We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world.
We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world, because of very unfortunate isolationist policies.
So at the same time that we're reaching out to host countries — and hopefully, we will be receiving many more Peace Corps volunteers in the future — they're not issuing visas for my fellow Guatemalans to travel to the U.S. There is the threat of cutting visas even for exchange students who pay full tuition at U.S. universities, let alone temporary workers who go pick the crops in the fields of the U.S. So we must be conscious of these contradictions. And we must relearn the history between our countries.
One of the privileges that we should look at is the fact that, as the pandemic was declared, Peace Corps Volunteers were sent home. Fortunately, they were able to go home and are now with their families. However, this took them away from a place where they had committed to work — and where people without that privilege, that choice, had to remain in a more vulnerable position.
Definitely to me, this is a time of meditation, of self-reflection, and self-analysis — and, as hard as it might seem, to look forward to the future with hope. I wish everybody the best now and in the days to come.
Luis Argueta of Guatemala is a film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission. He is the 2019 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
In a time of global crisis, Lex Rieffel explores new ways forward for Peace Corps. see more
COVID-19 upended systems. Now we’re focused on structural racism like never before. So how can Peace Corps help this nation live up to its ideals?
By Lex Rieffel
Illustration by Sandra Dionsi / Theispot
The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted at the beginning of this year massively disrupted behavior that has for a long time been taken for granted — between people and between nations. Then in May the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under the knee of a policeman sparked unprecedented demonstrations around the world to end systemic racial discrimination and improve social justice.
Years will pass before new patterns of home life and work life become normal and before international relations achieve new forms of openness and interaction. Policies, programs, projects, and institutions will have to be adapted to meet this new reality. It will not be easy. It will require political will not seen since World War II, and a reckoning with racism that precedes the founding of the United States.
As it prepares to celebrate in 2021 its 60th year of working to make the world a better place, the Peace Corps, too, will have to change. Even the three goals announced at its founding will need to be reconsidered:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Perhaps the focus should be less on training and more on meeting global challenges like climate change and conflict.
MY PEACE CORPS GROUP, India XVI, served in the mid-1960s. This was the heyday of the Peace Corps. It had blossomed to become a vibrant agency in less than ten years, with almost 16,000 Volunteers serving in scores of countries. Then the Vietnam War and President Nixon crippled both the supply of volunteers and the demand from host countries, reducing the number of serving Volunteers to under 5,000 in the early 1980s.
A passionate campaign in that decade produced enough bipartisan support in the Congress to stop the decline in the number of Volunteers and begin a slow buildup. However, three successive presidents — Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama — failed to achieve their election campaign pledges to double the number of serving Volunteers from the levels they had inherited; Clinton inherited some 5,400, Obama just over 7,000 — about the number now. There was insufficient support in the Congress for a bigger Peace Corps budget to overcome the opposition of a vocal minority. Voters seemed convinced that U.S. national security depended more on putting boots on the ground overseas than sneakers on the ground.
Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress has strengthened during the Trump Presidency. A bill was introduced in the House last year to defund the Peace Corps and attracted more than 100 votes. It’s easy to imagine the Peace Corps being defunded in a second Trump Administration. But it’s also possible to imagine a stronger Peace Corps emerging under a new president.
Revolutionary and Inclusive
Wearing my economist hat, here is my best guess about the supply and demand for Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of who is elected in November.
It seems likely that more American men and women will be interested in joining the Peace Corps in the coming years because higher education and the job market in the USA have been so greatly disrupted. Even before the pandemic arrived, the job market was being reshaped by artificial intelligence, robotics, and other factors. The “normal” pattern of getting a full-time job with benefits was no longer the default option for many graduates. The gig economy was expanding visibly.
The pandemic has delivered a body blow to higher education that will almost certainly lead to dramatic changes. Already we see far more high school graduates exploring gap year options. More fundamentally, financial constraints are likely to reduce residential enrollment substantially for several years. College dropouts and people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, regardless of their age, may find the Peace Corps and other forms of public service to be appealing options.
The biggest unknown on the supply side is how the current debate on national service will play out. Too few Americans are aware of the existence of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Mandated by the Congress in the authorizing legislation for FY2017, the Commission issued its final report in March 2020, and held its public rollout on June 25. Its recommendations represent “a revolutionary and inclusive approach to service for Americans.”
The National Commission found compelling reasons “to cultivate a widespread culture of service” in the United States. Its report states that bold action is required, not incremental change. Its recommendations begin with “comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten” and extend to making service-year opportunities so ubiquitous that “service becomes a rite of passage for millions of young adults.” If acted upon, the result will enhance national security and strengthen our democratic system.
The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031.
The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031. Among these, it calls for one million to be supported by federal funding, ten times the number currently supported. The Peace Corps is explicitly included in this vision, though the Commission does not recommend a specific number of Peace Corps Volunteers. It does explicitly call for an expansion of Peace Corps Response, making the program more accessible to older Americans and people with disabilities, with increased opportunities for “virtual” volunteering.
The pandemic could actually accelerate the idea of creating a voluntary national service norm, for women as well as men. Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced to scale up AmeriCorps and other domestic service programs. Experts and activists have called for establishing new programs for rapid employment of contact tracers and health workers to stop the pandemic in the USA. The ongoing demonstrations against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have brought forth proposals for new community-based service initiatives. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) created in the Great Depression of the 1930s has been cited as a model for a form of service program that could emerge to reduce the highest unemployment rate the country has seen in the past 75 years: 14.7 percent at the end of April and 13.3 percent at the end of May.
The Peace Corps budget is a tiny part of the federal budget. For example, its appropriation of $410.5 million for FY2020 was less than two-tenths of one percent of the Defense Department’s budget request for weapons procurement. It shouldn’t take much political will in the Congress to double or triple the Peace Corps’ budget if there is growing voter support for national service. The crucial question will then become how many of the men and women seeking a service opportunity will be attracted to living in a foreign country. A big part of the answer will depend on evolving perceptions of the health and security risks of working outside the USA. Quite possibly, fewer Americans will want to spend two years in some remote village in a country they couldn’t find on a map, even with a promise of reliable internet access. On the other hand, some of the recently repatriated Peace Corps volunteers are continuing their service online, and forms of virtual service internationally may become more feasible and attractive.
In short, the supply could conceivably be sufficient to produce a Peace Corps with as many as 100,000 volunteers serving abroad by 2031, but that must be considered a best-case outcome.
The demand from host countries, by contrast, may be insufficient to even maintain the pre-pandemic level of 7,000 volunteers in the field. There will be an early test of this demand: how many of the 60-odd countries hosting volunteers before the pandemic erupted will welcome them back. The process of renegotiating programs with these countries will undoubtedly be challenging.
Who needs the Peace Corps?
In the 1960s, the whole world — even countries in the Communist Bloc — looked up to the USA with envy because of its high standard of living, its rich culture (movies, theaters, museums, etc.), its outstanding universities, its technological advances (putting men on the moon), its fight for civil rights, its enduring democratic political system, its international leadership. Few countries still look up to the USA in this comprehensive way. Over the past two decades or more, we have squandered our position of preeminence.
It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration.
That’s just the beginning of the problem. The process of globalization led by the United States started slowing down with the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001 and halted with the Global Financial Crisis emanating from the USA in 2007–08. By 2015, globalization was unwinding. That was the year the refugee exodus from the Middle East quickly led most European countries to restrict immigration severely. Another big setback came with the Brexit vote in June 2016, followed a few months later by the election of President Trump on an anti-globalization platform. It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration. Climate change is likely to produce more border closing than border opening.
In short, in a world where most governments are preoccupied with addressing internal problems and in which internet access is penetrating into the far corners of the globe, few countries are likely to need Peace Corps volunteers or want them.
At the same time, the rise of China and other countries forces us to reconsider our national security in a world where the U.S. population of 330 million represents barely 4 percent of Earth’s total population of 7.7 billion. Military power cannot possibly be enough to maintain the respect of the rest of the world. To some extent, this power seems to have made the rest fear the USA more than admire it. In this case, America’s national security may depend greatly on how well the rest of the world understands the positive features of our country. Promoting that understanding just happens to be the second goal of the Peace Corps.
FROM A DEEPER DIVE into the risk of border-related conflict in the coming decades emerges an argument that a “whole world peace corps” is needed more than lots of separate national Peace Corps-like programs. Thus, the most ambitious approach to reinventing the Peace Corps might be to transform the existing UN Volunteer program into a World Peace Corps, with every country establishing an affiliate. The U.S. Peace Corps, for example, would be rebranded as “World Peace Corps - USA.”
By contrast, the least ambitious vision for the post-pandemic Peace Corps would be to re-establish its recent level of 7,000 serving volunteers, making the adjustments necessary to restore programs with previous host countries and find some new ones. This should be doable — though it’s important not to underestimate the complexities that will arise.
So, what is the most impactful and politically feasible approach that the large “Peace Corps family” should pursue? A time of crisis like today’s provides an ideal opportunity to assess and debate alternatives. For this reason, the National Peace Corps Association is convening a summit on July 18 to explore the future of Peace Corps — and the broader Peace Corps community.
Among options worth considering: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them.
There are a number of options worth considering between a World Peace Corps and reverting to the barely visible program of the past 40 years. Most important among them may be two-way service programs: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them. This was part of Sargent Shriver’s vision back in the 1960s, but it was a nonstarter with the U.S. Congress. Now we have to ask ourselves why any country negotiating with the Peace Corps would fail to insist on a two-way program.
The resistance, sadly, will be within the USA, despite the fact that there is an abundance of service work that men and women from foreign countries could usefully do here. Disaster relief is just one obvious area. Few Americans know that thousands of individuals in Ireland raised more than $3 million for the Navajo nation to help fight the pandemic. Firefighters have come from as far away as Australia to battle wildfires in California and other states.
Teaching is probably the most interesting area for two-way service. Think of the benefits of having at least one foreign teacher in every middle school and high school in the USA. They could teach foreign languages, geography, music, sports, and more. Their counterparts, Americans serving as volunteer teachers abroad, would do the same.
This could be the easiest way to build on the Third Goal of the Peace Corps in the post-pandemic world: helping Americans to better understand people in the rest of the world. It would also represent a strong step to counter allegations that the Peace Corps is a manifestation of “white saviorism.”
Such a two-way teaching program could be established within the State Department (like the Fulbright and the Humphrey programs) or under the Corporation for National and Community Service. But there is one glaring problem here.
Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress won’t go away in a post-Trump administration. A bigger, better, bolder Peace Corps in its current form as a federal agency may well be a political nonstarter even under a Democratic administration. If so, converting the Peace Corps from a U.S. government agency to an independent, private sector NGO might represent the best chance to build an international service program that continues to be “the best face of America overseas.”
With a nonpartisan board of trustees composed of eminent personalities, this NGO could be generously funded by individual donors, foundations, and corporations, as well as receiving core grants from the federal budget. Largely freed from government fetters, it could iterate toward an array of programs of international service that contribute materially to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Operating within this organization, the Peace Corps could remain the gold standard of international service.
Yet now we have a fresh challenge — which is also coming to terms with a very old problem. To remain the gold standard, the Peace Corps will have to become more diverse, more inclusive. The report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has noted that our existing federal service programs have primarily benefited people from better educated and higher income families. This is true about the Peace Corps as much as other programs.
I hope readers will not simply “stay tuned” for a report from the National Peace Corps Association following the July 18 summit. I hope they will weigh in with constructive comments. For sure, there will be no consensus on how the Peace Corps should evolve, but I believe that the members of the Peace Corps family — more than 200,000 strong — are in the best position to understand the challenges and find a sensible way forward.
Lex Rieffel (India 1965–67) is a nonresident fellow with the Stimson Center. He served two years of active duty in the U.S. Navy before joining the Peace Corps. He has been an economist with the Treasury Department and USAID, a senior advisor for the Institute of International Finance, and a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Evacuated Volunteers and one with half a century of leadership experience in conversation see more
Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers and one with half a century of leadership experience in conversation. The big question: How can we transform this moment in Peace Corps history?
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. Four Volunteers joined NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst in conversation to discuss their experiences — and tackle some questions about how the believe Peace Corps — and the Peace Corps community — needs to change. Here’s the discussion — with video highlights throughout. And a video of the full conversation.
Marieme Foote, Evacuated RPCV | Benin 2018–20
Rok Locksley, Evacuated RPCV | Philippines 2018–20
Juana Bordas | RPCV Chile 1966–68
In conversation with
Glenn Blumhorst, President & CEO, NPCA | RPCV Guatemala 1988–91
Marieme Foote: I'm a second generation Peace Corps Volunteer who was evacuated due to COVID-19 from Benin, where I served in the agricultural field from 2019-2020. First, as others have done before me today, I would like to start off by sharing condolences: Congressmen John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were giants during the Civil Rights Movement and should continue to serve as an inspiration for our current conversation. Congressman John Lewis said, "Never be afraid to make some noise and get in trouble, necessary trouble."
If you want NPCA and the Peace Corps to move into a better future, we need to push for radical shifts in order to continue to push the envelope. If not, we risk losing Peace Corps to time.
So to start off, I will also introduce some of the panelists that I've worked with. When we returned from getting evacuated, we formed a group with Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and we created a report that received over 450 responses on the experiences of evacuated Volunteers. And we’ve used this report to advocate to Congress on behalf of volunteers for PUA, healthcare, and other different topics.
I'm joined by Rok Locksley. Rok volunteered in the Philippines as a coral reef preservation Volunteer from 2018 to 2020. He also served in Moldova from 2005 to 2008, and was a Peace Corps recruiter from 2009 to 2016. And we're also joined by Juana Bordas.
Juana Bordas: Intergenerational leadership is a key thing in all communities of people of color. I'm Juana, and I served in the Peace Corps way back in the ’60s, 1964 to ’66. And I've had an illustrious career since, we might say. It's been 54 years since I was in the Peace Corps. So I do want to share all of the things that have kind of happened since then that were based on my decision, which is a decision all of us made: We made a decision to serve and to and to put our lives in the service of humanity. And I think that's what makes people powerful, has made me powerful, and Peace Corps powerful. I've spent my career building organizations for communities of color, particularly Latinos and Latina women, and also doing work in race and equity and trying to build the compassionate, good society.
Glenn Blumhorst: First I just want to say thank you so much, Marieme. This panel is something I was really looking forward to. As we kind of started talking about this, it seemed like the right way to do this was just to say: This is your panel discussion and make it what you want, and put together something to reflect on all these big ideas that we have — and your thoughts as the next generation of Peace Corps Volunteers. I'm glad you invited me to be a part of the conversation, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your reflections. The questions you put together are really important — not just for you, but for all of us. And I'm looking forward to hearing your answers. This is directed to everyone for a brief response. As we envision the reentry process for Volunteers, what do you think are the most important things to consider when supporting Volunteers in the future post service?
WATCH: Rok Locksley — Lessons from Reentry
Difficulty Upon Reentry
Rok Locksley: I'll take that one. I served in ’05-’08 and then I served again in ’18 to ’20, so I was evacuated. But the first time that I finished my service, I came back into the 2008 economic depression. I started doing a lot of research, especially when I went to work for the agency. (Thank you, Jody Olson, for helping me get a job, back when we had an RPCV Career Center, to make all that happen!) Peace Corps has known for a very long time that returned Volunteers have had more difficulty upon reentry, rather than going into service. In fact, the Peace Corps like itself termed “reentry” in a paper in the ’90s. They took it from the NASA program, because reentry is recognized as a very difficult process — as difficult as as leaving the earth.
There was a paper written in the ’90s called "Psychological and Readjustment Problems Associated with Emergency Evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers." That really nailed down what some of the problems were. This is where we started to see that Peace Corps, recognizing through its own surveys and own research, that Volunteers were having trouble with reentry to start with — but then evacuated Volunteers were seeing double the amount of difficulties.
So, 265 Volunteers were evacuated from Liberia, Philippines, and Yemen. The evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers coined the term that this was a "crisis of reentry." Fifty-one percent of all RPCVs found reentry very difficult, and that was the highest difficulty rating on the survey. All evacuees from this 1990s survey got a debriefing conference as part of Close of Service (COS), and that's how they got these surveys. Basically, the stats are: 30 percent of RPCVs experienced some sort of depression, where 60 percent of evacuated Volunteers experience depression. Then we see the stats doubling: 30 percent for a feeling of disorientation; 12 percent for periods of crying; 39 percent for a difficult transition back; 26 percent difficulty making decisions; 15 percent reported avoidance of thinking about Peace Corps as an experience; and 12 percent reported disturbing dreams. Take all those percentages and double them, and that's generally what evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers have been dealing with.
We are given three months of training to integrate into a community. At best we're given a three-day Close of Service conference to readjust to the States, but then no real support from the agency when we land.
We are given three months of training to integrate into a community. At best we're given a three-day COS conference to readjust to the States, but then no real support from the agency when we land. And especially with the discontinuation of RPCV Career Center, pretty much all we have is our RPCV groups and NPCA to help us make this transition. What we need to do is really provide a landing pad for RPCVs — because we know it's difficult. The agency knows it's difficult. And I think there are two ways to do this.
The first is that we have to flood the world with our stories. We have to talk about return on investment on Volunteers, and how do we measure that. But our greatest return on investment is the stories of Peace Corps Volunteers. So, if you don't have the fact that you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in your staff file at work, put it in there. When I was interviewing people [as a recruiter], the most common response to my question "How did you hear about Peace Corps?" was: a teacher, my parents, or I had a friend that served, my uncle or aunt served. So people were coming to us not because of our recruitment efforts, commercials, or radio spots; they were coming to us because of one-on-one connections that they'd had with people who shared these very beautiful, very intimate stories.
Our stories are really our greatest resource. We need to be sharing those at all opportunities. That's so that we can both inspire people into service, and then when they return, they know to look for RPCV groups who can help them find jobs and help them make this transition, so we can start to minimize that trauma.
WATCH: Juana Bordas — Peace Corps taught us leadership
Peace Corps Taught Us Leadership
Juana Bordas: I would take a little bit of a different perspective, I think. What I do today is I teach leadership, and I learned it in the Peace Corps. Futurists say there are two trends, two shifts, that we're going through. One is to become a global community, which we do by being in the Peace Corps. The second one is to create the inclusive, diverse, and equitable society. In other words, we're moving towards a multicultural society and world. The young millennials and the generation after them are already there. And I think we reframe the Peace Corps as something that taught us leadership, that made us global citizens, that made us inclusive and able to relate and embrace people of all cultures and ethnic groups and ages and generations, etc.
In the ’90s, I worked with National Peace Corps Association to do a leadership program for Peace Corps Volunteers that were re-entering. But I've been listening some, and I think one of the things that's so important is for us to empower ourselves to understand — because when I came back from the Peace Corps, I went to get my first job, and I had this portfolio because I had been doing micro-enterprise work with women way back then. I had all this stuff, and I go to get interviewed, and the guy stops me and he says, "I'm really sorry, but we only hire people that have a master's degree in social work." This was the state of Wisconsin. Well, this was absolutely bizarre to me. I'm the first person in my family to graduate from college. My mother had a fifth-grade education. I thought this was ridiculous. And I had just come back from the Third World where I thought I had made a contribution. So I slammed my papers on the floor, and I said, "You don't understand. I was born to be a social worker. I was born to do this." And he looks at me and he says, "We can go down to the University of Wisconsin, we'll help you get a master's degree if you'll come back to work for us."
“Guess what? I’m a global citizen. I’ve made contributions across this globe. I’m inclusive. I love culture. I’m here to build this new world that's coming.”
Now, I understand I had certain privilege there for the first time in my life, because I am Latina and I was able to speak Spanish, etc. But I had that sense of empowerment that I got through the Peace Corps. And I invite everyone just to stop for a minute to realize that, yes, it's difficult to come back, particularly under these circumstances. But I think the most important thing we can do as Peace Corps Volunteers is to have that banner that says: "Guess what? I'm a global citizen. I've made contributions across this globe. I'm inclusive. I love culture. I'm here to build this new world that's coming."
Especially today, with our problems in foreign policy, with our problems with the current administration, the work we need to do in the future is absolutely more critical. The other thing I'd like to say is that I've been at this for over 50 years. So it's not, I'm coming back from the Peace Corps and what I'm going to do. It's our lifelong commitment to building peace in the world.
Marieme Foote: I think that what we've all realized, even when we created the WCAPS report: Facebook and social media was definitely huge for us, in terms of bridging those connections. In the future, looking at ways that we can formalize those places where we can get information — a lot of RPCVs were offering help, therapy sessions, all types of help. If you're not on Facebook, you wouldn't know; or if you're not in these specific chats, you wouldn't know. So figuring out how can we get all of this information to all of these groups of Volunteers that need it — I think is definitely something that will be important when considering reentry for the future.
What does the future recruitment process look like?
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you all. It's really great how a community comes together like that organically and helps, and that's what we saw emerge during the evacuation: when the group started forming and talking amongst themselves, and then also speaking with us and helping share with us what their needs and expectations were from the community, from NPCA, and from Peace Corps. So, thank you. Shifting a little bit to recruitment now, the question here is: How were you recruited? What does the future recruitment process need to look like? We've heard some ideas earlier today, but from your perspectives, what would it look like? There is another question that's really mostly for Juana: How can Peace Corps focus its efforts to recruit members who may be experiencing the crab syndrome? I think we'll kick it over to Rok first, if you don't mind, and then go from there.
Rok Locksley: I think, you know, it goes back to the question that was brought up earlier on one of the report outs: Where's the "peace" in Peace Corps, right? For me, peace is not like harmony and no conflict. It is absolutely a place of conflict, difficult questions, expanding our comfort zones, learning about other people and our world that we exist in — those are all peaceful things. What breaks the peace is when we have a disagreement that leads to some sort of violence. So I think that Peace Corps having healthy conversations about how they're going to recruit in the future — the question I was asked a lot as a recruiter was, “What is the Peace Corpse?” Right? So my thing is, like, let's not be the Peace Corpse, because that's not good! We're definitely the Peace Corps, right?
Let’s not be the Peace Corpse, because that’s not good! We’re definitely the Peace Corps, right?
I remember as a recruiter 10 years ago, when we first started our big initiative with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and start increasing our diversity numbers. I was sitting around in a conference room with a bunch of other recruiters; most of us were white, and there was one Black recruiter. And we were talking about strategies of: How do we recruit Black people? Or how do we recruit persons of color and Latino community members? How do we recruit these? How do we talk to these people? And then we were saying, We need to get this Black recruiter to come with us on campus to talk to the Divine Nine, or to talk to the different university groups. And he looks at us and he says, That is like — I recruit on white universities, right? You don't need to be a certain race or color to go recruit these people. But that, it was such an enlightening moment for me — and such a moment where I realized: Even in the Peace Corps, even working as a recruiter, my privileges, and my blinders are so on. Here is this guy — he was laughing at us, like, this is so ridiculous. And that was 10 years ago, when we first started doing it. So recruitment has a long way to go. And it's full of these difficult conversations and lots of apologies.
Glenn Blumhorst: Marieme, you're a child of a Peace Corps Volunteer yourself. Can you share a little bit from that perspective?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — How will Peace Corps and NPCA shift?
Marieme Foote: For me, it's like Peace Corps has always been something that I've always considered as something that I would do, because my father served in Peace Corps in Ethiopia and in Eritrea. I'm one of the few that has that connection, I think. And the fact that there were lower numbers of Volunteers that are people of color, that are Black, Latina — they don't have that kind of connection as other white Volunteers might have. So it's really important to also see how that could affect recruitment.
The other question that I have in terms of recruitment is looking overall at the mission of Peace Corps. When Peace Corps was first created, it was an exciting thing. It was something that was radical, really. And as we go forward and the population in the U.S. changes and a new generation comes about — they're dual national, they're all types of different backgrounds. They also have different expectations, and what they want to do and what they want to be a part of. They're questioning neocolonialism. They're having a lot of questions about Peace Corps overall. So how will Peace Corps and NPCA shift? I know even questions about joining NPCA; a lot of Volunteers that I know that are Black or Asian, or people of color, don't feel like NPCA or Peace Corps is for them. So, how do we expand that discussion and make them also feel like they are a part of this as well? You know, even for me, without the work with WCAPS, I'm not sure if I would have been as involved with NPCA. So I feel like that is a concern that I have, at least for recruitment and getting people involved with NPCA and Peace Corps.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you so much, Marieme. I really appreciate that, because I do believe that it's incumbent upon us to help create a more inclusive and welcoming community here on the part of NPCA for the Peace Corps, the greater Peace Corps community. Juana, did you have anything to add about the question specifically for you related to crab syndrome?
Juana Bordas: Yeah, but I also wanted to go back to some of the discussion I was listening to, to talk about coalition building and partnerships, particularly with communities of color. Because I think the association itself, for example, the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities that serves Hispanic-serving organizations, or the NAACP or some of the other organizations and in our communities that serve people of color — because it's through those organizations, not only can you learn and exchange and grow your power base and your numbers, but it also gives you an entree into into young — well, they don't have to be young, but into people of color that want to serve in this way. The other thing I would like to say about it is that servant leadership — and leadership as service and as social change — are absolutely pivotal in communities of color.
Leadership as service and as social change are absolutely pivotal in communities of color.
When I joined the Peace Corps, I actually joined the year that John F. Kennedy was killed. There was this tremendous upheaval in our communities about what we could do to support this vision that he had: about young people going and learning about the world and contributing. Today we have similar kinds of reasons for us to be able to go global and to try to help and work with communities. Of course, we all know we learn more than we get.
The crab syndrome, for people that don't know what it is: It's when when you grow up marginalized when you grow up in a society that does not validate your people, your history, your background, who you are, your incredible contributions to this country — you develop what's called the psychology of oppression. In other words, you begin to internalize the negative messages that society has put forth. And that's why identity building and learning our history — we have Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, and all of that, because you have to integrate that into the American fabric if we're truly going to have a multicultural society. Where it comes in with the Peace Corps — well, first of all, I want to say that if you have that sense of ... All I wanted to do when I graduated from college was to give back, because I've been given so much. I'm an immigrant. I came here, I became educated. And so I had that sense of service, which I think is pivotal in communities of color. That's how we've gotten where we are, is to collaborate to help one another, and to serve.
This whole idea of service is a key thing for communities of color. Growing up, I didn't know I was smart; how could I know I was smart if I didn't know the language when I entered school? If I didn't understand the system? (And I do now, by the way.) So you begin to think everybody in your community is not smart — because I didn't have professors, teachers, Congresspeople. So that's the crab syndrome. What can I do? And am I good enough? Are my people not capable of doing it? Identity building becomes really important.
There are so many issues in communities of color that we're kind of caught in the crossfire. So the Peace Corps, in order to be able to really attract leaders in communities of color — for example, DACA students, which would be another political thing, but they're brilliant young people that are dealing with so many issues, and when they come to school, they are so talented. But then they’ve got to deal with immigration in this country. They've got to deal with homelessness. They have to deal with low-income wages, they have to deal with the cost of college education for kids. Somehow the Peace Corps has to be relevant to the many dynamic, critical issues that we face — and connect.
What I learned in Chile I was able to bring back and help start a center for Latina women that had a business center; that followed the micro-enterprise principles I worked on in Peace Corps. So it's that weaving together of the needs and challenges in communities of color. It's building those partnerships. It's making the Peace Corps relevant, and an experience that you can bring back to enrich your own community. And at the same time, for Anglos that come back from the Peace Corps, you need to join organizations and become multicultural yourself so that we can start building those bridges across communities and and fulfill our Third Goal.
What will future generations need?
Glenn Blumhorst: Absolutely, thank you so much, Juana. We've touched a lot here already on diversity and inclusion. But let's drill down on that a little bit more. For each of you, how will diversity and inclusion impact the Peace Corps in the future? And in that, what will the future generation need? How can you answer that?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — How do we not just recruit but retain Volunteers of color?
Marieme Foote: We're looking at stats for Peace Corps. You see diversity — at least the rates of Volunteers that are serving from different backgrounds — are going up and up. However, there isn't really any support in place for a lot of them. And we're also seeing that ET [early termination] rates for those volunteers of color are significantly higher than their white counterparts. So these are the questions that we really we need to be looking at and saying, Why is this the case? It's not just about recruitment. It's about how do we also retain these volunteers? How do we keep them interested? How do we get them involved with NPCA? And how do we do all of that?
Right now, there's great work that Volunteers are doing. I know that there are letters that Volunteers have written to their country offices on racism and discrimination that are going around in the community. Volunteers of color are creating group chats — WhatsApp chats, Facebook groups. They have all of these resources, but they're not compiled in one place. So it's hard for volunteers to have access to all of these things. And it's important for us as well. So I'm thinking about creating seminars, creating spaces for these Volunteers to meet each other, to meet other people who are older, other RPCVs who are working in different types of fields, so that they can get also motivated and feel like Peace Corps and NPCA are for them. So pushing for that, I think and holding NPCA and Peace Corps accountable for that, is something that we all have to do and be responsible for. Which is why it's also so important for Volunteers to get organized and actually advocate — and push these institutions.
Glenn Blumhorst: A great point, Marieme, thank you so much. Because that's what we are — a community-driven organization. And all we do, it should respond to the community and the expectations that you set for us. We're going to move on to the next question — penultimate question. What are the potential barriers you see to joining the Peace Corps or NPCA? How can that impact future Volunteers? So, Rok, do you want to start it off with that one?
WATCH: Rok Locksley — “For me to clear medical cost $6,000.”
Rok Locksley: There's a lot of barriers. For me, personally coming in at 40 years old, for me to clear medical cost $6,000. At the point I had quit my job to join Peace Corps. So I was unemployed and pretty much homeless. I was one backpacking through different countries, but I had no home of record in the United States. So getting back to the States and having to rely on other services, because I had no medical insurance: It was a $6,000 that we just put on our credit cards and then paid off with our readjustment allowance. So that's a major barrier. I know I'm older, I've had some medical issues, but the costs involved with the medical application alone is is prohibitive.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you, Rok. I think that's something we don't think much about — the cost involved for many individuals, particularly if we're not young and as healthy as we were before. Thank you for bringing that perspective to this. Let me ask just for one another person maybe to chime in on that question, and then we'll move to the last question.
Juana Bordas: Well, if I had had to pay $6,000 for medical, I wouldn't have been in the Peace Corps. You know, I had no money. Now students are graduating with debt. So, again, going back to leadership and communities of color, we need to dedicate ourselves to public change, public policy change. This cannot be — that people have to pay. When I found out that happened, because two of my Latino friends joined, I was shocked that it — and that it took so long, because the process wasn't like that in the past. And I think some of these barriers are just ways to not expand the Peace Corps to where it should be at this time, in this multicultural age.
Financial barriers are one of the most significant things that we need to look at — to remove them so that anybody and everybody who wants to serve can, regardless of their economic situation.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you Juana. Financial barriers are, I think, one of the most significant things that we need to look at — to remove them so that anybody and everybody who wants to serve can, regardless of their economic situation. The question we want to ask all of you is: What do you envision the future Peace Corps Volunteer values to be?
WATCH: Marieme Foote — “If we really, really do care about Peace Corps … we also have to be open to changing Peace Corps.”
Marieme Foote: If you look at the next generation, you see even the Black Lives Matter movement, you saw, at least when I went, you saw a huge amount of the next generation there present. And they're calling for change. They're calling for accountability, and all of these things. And if Peace Corps and NPCA and these organizations don't shift, they won't exist.
If Peace Corps and NPCA don’t shift, they won’t exist.
So, if we really, really do care about Peace Corps, we want Peace Corps to exist and to continue, and we care about the mission, we also have to be open to changing Peace Corps and making these radical changes — or also we'll not exist, because the next generation won't accept it. Even when I was joining Peace Corps, I had a lot of questions from my friends: “Why are you joining this organization? You know, there's not a lot of people of color there. It's mostly white people.” There was a lot of just preconceived ideas of what my Peace Corps experience would be. And there was a lot of fear of joining it, and being a part of a neocolonialist [enterprise] — and so if Peace Corps really does want to exist, I think that it does need to shift from the foundation in terms of its mission statement and what it does — and how it does it — is my opinion.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thanks, Marieme, that's a really powerful statement. And I take that to heart, because I think you're absolutely right: If we don't shift, we will not exist. And that's food for thought, very important for us.
WATCH: Rok Locksley — “If Peace Corps wants to remain this cutting edge social justice thing, it cannot remain reactive, as it has been.”
Rok Locksley: OK Peace Corps, the first groups were Kennedy's kids, right? Shriver's kids. And if Kennedy was building Camelot, then Peace Corps is his Excalibur. It was the best thing that was created, and it was on the edge of social justice and change. Now, we know like it's sort of steeped in neocolonialism, white savior complex, those sort of things. But you know, most people didn't have those terminologies back then. But if Peace Corps wants to remain this cutting edge social justice thing, it cannot remain reactive, as it has been. It can't just wait for and prepare for the worst case scenario and be quiet. And during our evacuation, that's all the EPCVs have experienced, is quietness. Our main source of our cutting edge Excalibur has been Facebook. I mean, we need the agency; we want to support you. This thing has hurt us. We gave our lives to this organization, and our hearts are in it. And we believe in social justice and change. So I just want to see Peace Corps return to its roots of being this cutting edge of social justice and change. And I think embracing that would lead to a revolutionary new wave of applicants whose hearts are full, who are young and active and ready to serve — and really, really get to the core of the agency, which is world peace and friendship.
If Kennedy was building Camelot, then Peace Corps is his Excalibur. It was the best thing that was created, and it was on the edge of social justice and change.
Glenn Blumhorst: Juana, I'm going to ask if you have any last words of wisdom or wisdom for us.
Juana Bordas: I just want to say is that we are the association. We are the Peace Corps. You know, I served on the board of NPCA for six years, I developed the leadership program for the association. We want to continue engaging; it's not somebody doing it for us. It's each one of us making that long-term commitment. I want to say it for everybody who's been out in the demonstrations, who's been out there trying to make this change: Keep it up. Because as an elder, I did that in the ’60s. You know, I did that for women, for the Vietnam War, for civil rights, and then there weren't that many people marching.
My last thing is: We have to do this. It's a lifelong commitment. It's up to each one of us. The Peace Corps has prepared us to be leaders in this new global and international and multicultural age. So I would like to see us say, Yes, each one of us is going to step up our commitment. Yes, each one of us decides we're going to do this, we're going to reach out to other communities, we're going to join organizations that aren't white, if we're white; we're going to join different organizations from different perspectives. And we're going to keep this going. And I think it does take an advocacy commitment for all of us to do our part in creating the future.
Glenn Blumhorst: Thank you so much, Juana. That's a great way to end this conversation. I want to thank especially the evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers for organizing this panel, and inviting Juana and myself to be a part of it as well. I've really enjoyed getting to know all of you over the last several weeks and working with you and a number of other evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers. This has just really been a highlight for me. Though I am pained with the way that your service was interrupted and you had to come home, I'm just really amazed at how you have rallied around as a community and supported each other and helped drive the conversations that we're having today. So thank you all so much.
Story updated November 9, 2020.
There is an attentive and caring Peace Corps community that empathizes with you and awaits you see more
Through your personal stories and photos shared by social media over the last few days, an entire Peace Corps community has vicariously lived the shocking reality of 7,000+ serving PCVs evacuating from communities in 60 countries around the world. This traumatic interruption of service is not the way a PCV envisions service to end - with unfinished projects, unsung farewells, unrung COS bells, and unsaid goodbyes.
To the PCV evacuees, my heartfelt sympathy. I share your grief. As you return home, know that there is an empathetic and caring Peace Corps community awaiting you with a collective virtual embrace. We are thousands of returned Peace Corps Volunteers (including many whose service had also been cut short), former staff, host country nationals, family, and friends who care deeply for you.
This unprecedented moment calls for an extraordinary response. Be assured that National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is committed to providing the substantive support services that our RPCVs deserve. We hear you and are responding. In the coming days, you can expect:
- A collaborative effort forged among the Peace Corps agency, NPCA, and the greater Peace Corps community to support evacuated RPCVs upon your arrival.
- The launch of a comprehensive Global Reentry program designed by NPCA especially for evacuated RPCVs with support tailored to your needs and expectations.
- Rollout of an array of academic and career resources to assist evacuated RPCVs in taking the next step in your professional pathway.
- Connections to an emerging RPCV peer support network and your local RPCV groups to provide emotional, moral, and logistical support.
- Updates on how, through NPCA, we can collectively advocate for the benefits and entitlements evacuated RPCVs deserve, as well as ensure the future of the Peace Corps.
For those of us in the Peace Corps community who are able to provide financial leadership, the Benevolent Fund will enable NPCA to support basic needs and longer-term readjustment of evacuated RPCVs.
This is an amazing and resilient Peace Corps community. Thank you for all you do to serve one another and the world.
NPCA President & CEO
RPCV Guatemala 1988-91
Help NPCA Reach More Returned Volunteers
Your financial support of any size will make a BIG difference.
Steven Saum posted an articleA group to link evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers with the help they need see more
A group to link evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers with the help they need. Sometimes that’s just someone to listen — and hear.
By Steven Boyd Saum
The day after Peace Corps informed Volunteers around the globe that they were being evacuated, a new group took shape to help them: Returned Peace Corps COVID-19 Evacuation Support [Community-Generated] was launched by returned Volunteer Joshua Johnson. The group had 200 members within the first hour. By the end of the day on March 16 that number had grown to 2,000. Soon nearly 10,000 returned Volunteers and parents joined. And a dozen administrators began to chip in to manage it.
There were outpourings of sympathy and dismay and immediate offers of help: A place to stay for self-quarantine in Boston or Tucson, Baltimore or Seattle, Central Pennsylvania or East Tennessee. A welcome home and a ride from the airport in Washington or Syracuse, Columbus or LAX (with free air hugs). A grocery run in New York. Questions about what’s the status of Volunteers evacuating from Ethiopia and Morocco, Indonesia and Panama.
Evacuations differed country by country, and so did instructions from country directors. So questions for the group were legion: about readjustment allowances and benefits, health insurance and reimbursement for those having to self-quarantine in a hotel. There were questions about pets: bringing cats and dogs back home. One wanted to know about transporting his machete. Amid economic meltdown, there were many questions about unemployment and would the evacuated Volunteers be eligible? After all, they were not technically “employees.”
What they were, per a new community-generated acronym: ERPCVs, for Evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Pin our hopes: The community offered places to stay and airport rides, financial help and comfort. Sometimes it was the little things, like lost and found—a Botswana pin scooped from an airport floor in Doha. Photo by Carrie Cowan Angell
There were differences in status: Some were initially placed on administrative hold. Ultimately, all were COS’d — a verbification of the acronym for “close of service.” That status unlocked benefits that otherwise would not have been available to Volunteers kept on hold. But it felt like a gut punch to many. And it led to this Washington Post headline: “The Peace Corps isn’t just bringing home 7,300 volunteers because of the coronavirus. It’s firing them.” Not exactly. But there was this: To formally COS, Volunteers needed medical checkups, which had to be done back home; nationally, non-critical medical appointments were on hiatus.
The Facebook group provided updates and advice; it steered members to the latest news and programs from National Peace Corps Association, as well as new policies rolled out by the Peace Corps agency. Group members have provided job help and resume reviews, interview tips and advice for grad school, opportunities for community service to help battle the pandemic here at home. It became a place to connect as many took to the streets to protest against racial injustice. In June it carried news that evacuated Volunteers could now apply for reinstatement or re-enrollment.
Joshua Johnson, who served as a Volunteer in The Gambia 2009–11, started the group with other RPCVs because they realized they didn’t need to wait for someone else to take action — they could help by bringing the community together and centralizing resources. “Leaving Peace Corps after months of preparation was difficult enough,” Johnson says. “I can only imagine what it is like to be so quickly pulled out of site.”
“Responding to an emergency situation by coming together as a community gets to the heart of Peace Corps values, and really is what we have trained for.” —Joshua Johnson
Joshua Johnson and family. Photo courtesty Joshua Johnson
And Johnson says the kindness he has witnessed has been inspiring. “In reality, responding to an emergency situation by coming together as a community gets to the heart of Peace Corps values, and really is what we have trained for. In the face of an uncertain situation, and with limited resources, we are able to use our creativity and resourcefulness to come together to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”
The group has also been a platform for ideas. “What has really given me the most hope is seeing how the evacuating Volunteers have responded to this,” Johnson says. “Yes, there have been many moments of grief or frustration shared, but I also see a lot of hope as Volunteers have found ingenious ways to continue their project work, and continue to connect with their communities.”
Tasha Prados (Peru 2011–13) contributed to this story.
Quick Take: Peace Corps Efforts to Help Evacuated Volunteers
Volunteer Ana Santos, evacuated from Rwanda
Providing evacuation and readjustment allowances, a wellness stipend, extended health insurance, health and quarantine instructions and resources, information and webinars for federal government job opportunities, job postings for other private sector positions, and graduate school options. Volunteers who were evacuated qualify for Non-Competitive Eligibility (or NCE), which makes it easier from them to join the federal workforce. They qualify for Coverdell Fellowships available for graduate school study. Volunteers who seek to return to their host countries or seek a new assignment will be given expedited consideration over the next year.
Nearly all evacuating Volunteers are finishing Virtual Completion of Service conferences, which provide training to assist Volunteers with their transition back to the United States and allow closure of activities in their countries of service. Courses through LearningSpace, the agency’s internal online learning management system, are already online, with more in the works to help returning Volunteers: prepare for employment; maintain health and well-being; understand COVID-19; and learn the future process for returning to service once circumstances allow.
Federal agency webinars: Thirty and counting to introduce the work of their agencies, especially as it relates to COVID-19 response. Many more have asked to host a webinar and/or present for a second and third time. Hundreds of evacuated Volunteers have participated in each of these events. The Office of Personnel Management has hosted eight sessions covering themes related to working in the federal government, showcasing opportunities available across the country, discussing how to prepare a successful federal resume and navigate USAJobs for their job search. Hundreds of evacuees have benefited. Bulletins that provide answers to pressing concerns and questions and direct Volunteers to an increasing number of resources available from the Peace Corps and other partners and sources, such as the National Peace Corps Association, RPCV Support Groups, Rotary International, universities offering tuition discounts, and hoteliers offering lodging discounts. New info posted daily.
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A perspective from Kenya. July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future. see more
A host country perspective from Kenya. Remarks from the July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.
By Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said
On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said — volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels.
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
Hi everybody, I’m happy to be given this chance to share with you some experiences. I’ll talk about three episodes regarding the Peace Corps. Peace Corps came at the correct time when many countries just gained their independence; the young people who came as Volunteers were disciplined and they really interacted with the community.
People in Kenya knew very little about the United States. With the coming of the Peace Corps Volunteers, who worked mainly in rural areas, people came to know more. And that was during during the Cold War. Discussions took place, and people felt at home with the Volunteers — and the Volunteers themselves felt at home. Thus that aim of the Peace Corps was achieved immediately.
The majority of the Volunteers were teachers, and I'm happy to say that most of the people who went through those schools — special high schools — and because of the Peace Corps, they did well in school and they have really served the community. That's the main aim of the Peace Corps: to empower the people.
Watch: Remarks by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said from July 18
As the years went on, especially in other fields, what Peace Corps Volunteers did was marvelous. In technical terms, whether in agriculture or in otherwise empowering people, they did a good job. The policy of the American government was seen on the ground; to see and talk to people and exchange ideas is when you learn more about the country. And it came as a cultural exchange: We learned technical fields, and we learned more about American culture and American people.
After the Cold War came another era — the era of terrorism, which really affected the work done by Volunteers in several countries. In some countries, the Volunteers couldn't go too deep in some areas. And as things change, especially in Kenya, they had to be pulled out; that was very sad. That also interfered with the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers.
And now there is a reckoning because of this pandemic. I think this a big a big blow to the Peace Corps itself — especially in Kenya, because we were just planning to bring in new Peace Corps Volunteers. We were ready to receive them, after they were pulled out about seven years ago. They were coming back. And unfortunately, all of a sudden this pandemic came.
Now is a very difficult time, especially for the work of the Peace Corps — because the Peace Corps Volunteers work with communities and interact with communities. With this pandemic, we don't know how long it will take. So unfortunately, that interaction is no longer there. Because when people are living together and working together, they learn from each other — and they learn each other's culture, even how to prepare traditional dishes. We shall miss all that.
How can the Peace Corps change and work from outside the country they're supposed to be in? How can the Volunteers work? It's a big challenge. And I think this we have to look at very critically. I don't see Volunteers coming back to the countries in the near future. So I think the best thing is to plan and see how we can interact. What we are doing now through Zoom most these days — people have learned to communicate. People are working from home; is it possible to give some technical advice from home? That's one thing we should look at.
I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
How can we revive or continue with the work that Peace Corps Volunteers were doing? They have left, and I'm sure that local people that are trying to contact them to do some work; it's a continuous train which goes on.
How can we survive during this pandemic? We need to look at ourselves and bring our heads together and see how the work can be done. We have seen it at the national conference taking place. And is it possible, at least to some extent, to carry on with the work we are doing in the stations we were through Zoom?
The other issue is the American situation. Just recently people were really shocked when the [government] said that international students who are there had to come back. I'm very happy that decision was revised. Such decisions sometimes, unfortunately, affect ordinary people who have children there and who are starting their own family; they hope that they will get the education they need in America and then come back. So if all of a sudden they said that "No, because of this pandemic, you have to go back," it becomes difficult.
But also, if I can mention what has happened recently in the States — especially the brutality which is going on: That really affected so many people all over the world. I'm glad that things are being worked out, and I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected.
People are very sensitive, especially in terms of human rights; people are saying that especially that America, this democracy, is usually the first to talk about and harass other countries when there is abuse of human rights. And here people are looking at especially the security guys and themselves doing such things. As human beings, we should all learn to live with each other and respect each other — and work together.
Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya is a volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels. He is the 2013 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
The skateboarding project and learning to paddle together. see more
Nobody wanted it to happen this way. Evacuation stories and the unfinished business of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
The Philippines | Diane Glover
Home: Valdosta, Georgia
When Diane Glover arrived in the Philippines in July 2018, it was a sort of homecoming — to the country where she was born and left at age 11. She was raised by her older sister in Washington state and Georgia. “So many people invested in my success,” she says. Returning that investment seemed natural; empowering girls is something she cares about deeply — especially survivors of sexual violence.
She was a youth development Volunteer in Tacloban City on the island of Leyte. She worked with dozens of street children. One effort was the “skateboarding project,” which rented out skateboards — but not for money. The goal was to get kids into the community office and help them learn. Every minute they participated in reading, writing, or gardening bought a minute of skateboarding. The work taught Glover patience: “I can’t necessarily say, ‘I transformed six lives today.’ Most of the time our success — we don’t see that until down the road.”
“I can’t necessarily say, ‘I transformed six lives today.’ Most of the time our success — we don’t see that until down the road.”
Investing in their success: Diane Glover, left, with kids in Tacloban City. Photo by Diane Glover
With six months left, she was worried about cutting it close with the terms of a grant. There was another project proposal — and wouldn’t it be good to extend for a third year? Then came the email.
The islands of the Philippines are scattered over hundreds of miles; evacuation was decentralized. Peace Corps staff flew from Manila to Cebu City to ensure that Volunteers consolidating there got home safely. “They just wanted to support their Volunteers till the very end.”
Crisis brought home a new lesson: Stop worrying about grants and project deadlines. “The evacuation has given us a snap of realization: Your relationship is your success—the relationship that you create in your community.” Yet suddenly that was gone.
The Philippines | Rok Locksley
Home: Chicago, Illinois
Volunteer Rok Locksley, left, supported Nibarie Nicolas in his projects focused on marine resources. Photo courtesy Rok Locksley
I met Nibarie Nicolas just before our swearing-in ceremony in Manila. I knew him as Ban2x (Ban-Ban). He’s mid-twenties, full of energy, curiosity, and infectious joy. He had recently been hired as fisheries technician for the Municipal Office of San Jose in the Visayas region. He was responsible for local marine resources, programs, and events. He was passionate about working with local fisherfolk. And he was assigned to be my counterpart.
I served as a Volunteer in Moldova (2005–08) and worked as a recruiter for Peace Corps before my wife, Genevieve, and I went back as Volunteers in Philippines. I supported Ban2x in his projects: developing a guardhouse for our marine sanctuary, programs for fisherfolk, agro-tourism events, and education about marine resources.
Within minutes of us meeting, Ban2x asked if I liked dragonboating. I had a vague familiarity; I’m an avid whitewater kayaker. He had assembled a dragonboat team from the fisherfolk communities; he was drummer and captain. They had never paddled before as a team, but they spent days and nights on the water in canoes they call sakayans, fishing the Tañon Strait. They borrowed a boat for their first race and blew the competition out of the water.
Dragonboating became a major part of my life. After a day in the office working on marine policies or presentations, Ban2x and I headed to practice. We paddled until sunset, then sat on the beach and watched stars reclaim the sky. We shared thoughts and dreams and life lessons. We ended each night with traditional goodbyes in Binisayan: “Kitakits”—which isn’t so much “goodbye” as “Until we see each other again.”
Genevieve became fast friends with Ban2x’s grandmother. We attended birthday parties and fiestas with his family. He took time to walk me through basic introductions, made sure I knew how to dress for various occasions, who to thank. While he was tasked with protection of the park, he had never donned SCUBA gear to see it underwater. So I arranged for him to get his diving certifications. Our first dive we saw lobsters, turtles, sharks, and stunning coral formations. When we surfaced, I saw the wonder in his eyes.
We created plans for coastal resource management and a marine protected area. We had big ideas for 2020. As January ended and news of the virus spread, we intensified our work. February rolled in fast. March, I could see the writing on the wall. I tried to wrap up projects and spoke with Ban2x at length about what needed to happen professionally if Genevieve and I left.
“When we surfaced, I saw the wonder in his eyes.” Photo by Rok Locksley
The first week in March we went on lockdown. I talked with Ban2x about evacuation. He wasn’t worried. Peace Corps evacuated us in 2019 to Manila when a typhoon came close. We returned a week later. When we got the call for consolidation in mid-March, I knew it would be the end of my service. I asked Ban2x to come over.
He arrived in his usual chipper demeanor. We talked on the porch, then I brought him into the house and started pointing out things he could take, what to give to the fisherfolk. After I showed him our bicycles, it registered on his face that we were truly leaving.
I firmly believe that one-to-one relationships built at a grassroots level between people who are fundamentally different is the best pathway to world peace. But I forgot how much it hurts to leave your friends.
When people talk about Peace Corps, they are quick to mention Volunteers and service. Maybe they get around to speaking about the three goals or cultural exchange. Most people forget about the actual mission of the agency: world peace and friendship. I firmly believe that one-to-one relationships built at a grassroots level between people who are fundamentally different is the best pathway to world peace. But I forgot how much it hurts to leave your friends.
Ban2x showed up at our house early the next day. He brought his family car to shuttle us to the seaport. We were on the last boat out. We loaded our bags. He pledged to look after our dog. We hung around the port until the last possible minute. Then I grabbed my dragonboat paddle and turned for one last look at my best friend. “It’s not goodbye,” I said, “just until we see each other again.”
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With Your Participation - We can Reach This Goal! see more
UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, President Trump signed into law the $2.2 trillion emergency stimulus package passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier in the day.
Final approval of the emergency stimulus package means $88 million will be forwarded to Peace Corps to assist with the cost of evacuating 7,300 volunteers from 61 countries and support initial transition assistance.
"This funding reinforces the federal commitment to the Peace Corps, and we are grateful for this action to support the agency and its Volunteers during this difficult time", said National Peace Corps Association president and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. "While this package addresses critical short-term issues, we continue to work with Congress as the evacuated RPCVs will face additional challenges in the coming weeks and months."
NPCA is already in communication with congressional offices to discuss next steps for an anticipated next round of legislation. Congress needs to hear from you. That's why we are asking you to take action now with your members of Congress to press for ongoing support for evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
During this extraordinary moment, we require a committed response from the Peace Corps community and the broad, deep reservoir of everyday citizens who believe in the mission and goals of Peace Corps service.
That's why we are issuing a challenge to mobilize and send 100,000 messages to Congress
The final approval of this massive stimulus package is good news for Peace Corps. But our work doesn't end there. Numerous offices are indicating that the bill finalized on Friday—the third stimulus bill passed into law—will not be the last.
Conversations are underway to make sure that future legislation addresses some of the longer term needs evacuees will likely face, including some form of joblessness support, extended health care support where needed, adequate mental health support, possible enhancements to Coverdell Fellowship programs for prospective graduate students, and possible domestic deployment opportunities so skilled Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can help fight the pandemic.
Beyond that, an ongoing mobilization is needed to remind our lawmakers and our fellow citizens that Peace Corps remains open and is preparing to re-deploy as soon as possible.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, take action!
Want to help coordinate advocacy efforts in your community/region? Contact us! email@example.com.
A legendary figure in the launch of the Peace Corps dies at age 92. see more
A legendary figure in the launch of the Peace Corps dies at age 92.
He was a student of Gandhi's methods of bringing political change through non-violent direct action. An associate and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. during the early years of the civil rights movement. A key adviser to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy who facilitated a key meeting between JFK and MLK which eventually led to a critical phone call that is credited with tipping the election to Kennedy.
He was a World War II era veteran. A university president. A United States Senator.
But for tens of thousands of members of the Peace Corps community, Harris Llewellyn Wofford — who died Monday — will always be remembered and revered for his iconic work as one of the architects of the Peace Corps, and his vigorous lifelong commitment to volunteerism and service above self.
"Harris Wofford blessed the world with his never-ending commitment to public service and social justice," said National Peace Corps Association President Glenn Blumhorst. "He truly was a global citizen who embodied Peace Corps values. All who were fortunate enough to have met Harris are mourning his passing, not only because we lost a friend, but also because our nation has lost a man of such high character and goodness."
After JFK's election in 1960, Wofford began work in the new administration as a key civil rights adviser, but was later appointed to assist Sargent Shriver in the formation of the Peace Corps. He served as the agency's special representative to Africa and director of operations in Ethiopia.
At gatherings of the Peace Corps community, Wofford would regularly remind audiences of the bold vision and role of the new agency at its inception. He recalled being on the White House lawn with President Kennedy as a new group of volunteers was leaving for their service. According to Wofford, Kennedy said:
"You know this Peace Corps is going to be really serious when we have 100,000 Volunteers a year. Because in one decade, we'll have a million Americans who will have had first-hand experience in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Then at last, we'll have an intelligent foreign policy because there will be a big constituency of people who understand the world."
Wofford was a member of NPCA's Advisory Council and a regular at NPCA conferences, leadership summits, and advocacy days. His commitment to service went well beyond Peace Corps. He was Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (which included AmeriCorps) from 1995 to 2001. He was a leader in the formation of the Building Bridges Coalition in 2006, bringing together non-governmental organizations, businesses and universities committed to expanding overseas service opportunities. Wofford also served on the boards of several volunteer organizations, including America's Promise, Youth Service America, and the Points of Light Foundation.
In our nation's capital, a city that can be consumed by status and titles, "Senator Wofford" was simply known to all as "Harris." His personal modesty belied his mark on history and many global achievements. Those achievements began in the 1940s, when he formed the Student Federalists while in high school. They continued six decades later, when Wofford assisted another presidential candidate at a critical moment: introducing Barack Obama at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center before a pivotal speech on race in America. They endured in 2016, when his opinion piece in The New York Times spoke of the man who became the second love of his life and the importance of marriage equality.
During the 50th anniversary year of Peace Corps in 2011, NPCA recognized Wofford's lifetime of service to our nation and our world by establishing the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. The award is given annually to an outstanding global leader who grew up and continues to live in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers serve and whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps.
On Saturday, March 2, 2019, we gathered to remember the remarkable life of Harris Wofford at Howard University in Washington, DC. If you were unable to join us, you can watch the service using the link below.
Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleHonoring 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