Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way. see more
Volunteers have begun to return to service. Yet millions in Ukraine are now in harm’s way.
By Glenn Blumhorst
This is a hopeful time for the Peace Corps: On March 14, a group of Volunteers arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. Just over a week later, on March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic. They are the first to return to service overseas since March 2020, when Volunteers were evacuated from around the globe because of COVID-19. The contributions of Volunteers serving in Zambia will include partnering with communities to focus on food security and education, along with partnering on efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations.
We’re thankful for the Volunteers who are helping lead the way, with the support of the Peace Corps community. And we’re deeply grateful for the work that Peace Corps Zambia staff have continued to do during the pandemic — work emblematic of the commitment Peace Corps staff around the world have shown during this unprecedented time.
Returning to Zambia: Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19, in March the first cohort returned to begin service overseas. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Lusaka
Invitations are out for Volunteers to return to some 30 countries in 2022. Among those who will be serving are Volunteers who were evacuated in 2020, trainees who never had the chance to serve, and new Volunteers. Crucially, they are all returning as part of an agency that has listened to — and acted on — ideas and recommendations from the Peace Corps community for how to ensure that we’re shaping a Peace Corps that better meets the needs of a changed world. Those recommendations came out of conversations that National Peace Corps Association convened and drew together in the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” We’re seeing big steps in the Peace Corps being more intentional in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion; working with a deeper awareness of what makes for ethical storytelling; and better ensuring Volunteer safety and security.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.
At the same time, while we are buoyed by the fact that Volunteers are returning to work around the world building the person-to-person relationships in communities where they serve, we must not diminish the scale of the tragedy we are witnessing in Ukraine. More than 10 million people have fled their homes in the face of an invasion and war they did not provoke and did not want. Across this country and in Europe, thousands of returned Volunteers are working to help Ukrainians in harm’s way.
Thank you to all of you who are doing what you can in this moment of crisis: from the Friends of Moldova working to provide food, shelter, and transportation to refugees — to the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine putting together first-aid kits, leading advocacy efforts to support Ukraine, and so much more. Since the beginning of the war, NPCA has shared information and links to other ways you can help. One of the most important: Do not turn away.
At a time like this it’s important to underscore a truth we know: The mission of building peace and friendship is the work of a lifetime.
That’s a message we need to drive home to Congress right now. With your support, let’s get Congress to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act this year. It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in 20 years. Along with instituting further necessary reforms, it will ensure that as Volunteers return to the field it is with the support of a better and stronger Peace Corps.
President Biden will formally nominate Carol Spahn to lead the Peace Corps at a critical time.
It is becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a new era — one that desperately needs those committed to Peace Corps ideals. With that in mind, I am heartened by the news we received in early April that President Biden intends to nominate Carol Spahn to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps. A returned Volunteer herself (Romania 1994–96), she began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency for the past 14 months, one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history.
We have been honored to work with Carol and her strong leadership team over the past year on collaborative efforts to navigate this difficult period of planning for the Peace Corps’ new future. We have full confidence in her commitment to return Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner and offer the next generation of Volunteers a better, stronger Peace Corps ready to meet the global challenges we confront. The continuity of this work is key. We are calling on the Senate to swiftly bring forth this nomination for consideration and bipartisan confirmation.
Glenn Blumhorst is president and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91. Write him: firstname.lastname@example.org
After a send-off from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, they headed for Zambia and the Dominican Republic. see more
After a send-off from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at the White House, Volunteers headed for Zambia and the Dominican Republic in March. Here are the 24 countries they will be returning to first. More are being added this spring.
By NPCA Staff
Photo courtesy Peace Corps Zambia
Two years after all Peace Corps Volunteers were brought home from service overseas because of COVID-19, Volunteers are returning to posts around the world. On March 14, the first group of Volunteers arrived in Zambia. On March 23, Volunteers arrived in the Dominican Republic — the second group to return to service.
Over the past two years, Peace Corps Zambia staff have supported projects from rural aquaculture and reforestation to education and public health. Volunteers will work in those fields and others, including food security and HIV treatment and prevention. They will also support efforts to disseminate COVID-19 mitigation information and promote access to vaccinations. In the Dominican Republic, Volunteers will focus on supporting communities in efforts to overcome the educational and economic shocks caused by COVID-19.
The news that Volunteers will be returning to two dozen countries in 2022 was confirmed on March 3 at a special event hosted by the agency, “The Peace Corps Reimagined: A Keynote Address and Forum.” Carol Spahn, who has been serving as CEO of the Peace Corps, gave the roll call of posts that had met rigorous new criteria for health and safety, and for which invitations were out for Volunteers to return to service. They are: Belize, Benin, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Mexico, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia.
White House send-off: In March, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden with Volunteers preparing to return to service in Zambia and the Dominican Republic. Photo by Erin Scott / The White House
The Associated Press published a story about Volunteers’ return to service that was picked up around the globe. They spoke with Campbell Martin, a recent graduate of UCLA soon heading to The Gambia to work in education — at a time when all Volunteers will also be contributing to COVID-19 relief efforts. When Martin got the news, “I was absolutely ecstatic,” he said. “This has been a dream of mine ever since I finished high school.”
NBC News published a story recapping key points of the forum as well. Among the returning Volunteers they spoke with is Olivia Diaz, who is returning to Zambia to work on reforestation and community conservation and, as she said, to “deepen roots of connection.”
The first 24: Volunteers are slated to return to all of these countries in 2022, with more being added throughout the spring. Graphic courtesy Peace Corps
The two years in which there have been no Volunteers serving overseas have been far from idle. In addition to work by staff around the world, the agency launched a Virtual Service Pilot, which is ongoing. Last year, more than 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers partnered with FEMA to support community vaccination efforts in the U.S. For its part, National Peace Corps Association supported evacuated Volunteers’ projects in communities around the world through its community fund. NPCA also convened conversations that shaped the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” with an array of recommendations for how to reimagine and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world.
Judging from what Carol Spahn shared about the agency’s strategic plan on March 3, the recommendations in the NPCA-published report have shaped thinking and steered the agency toward a focus on accountability, equity, and transparency. “This is not the same Peace Corps you know from 10 or 20 — or even two years ago,” Spahn said. “We have preserved the enduring ‘magic’ that brings us together again and again — after all these years — to support an agency and a mission we love and care about while fundamentally changing the pieces that make us better.”
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleUnder her leadership, Volunteers have worked with FEMA and have begun to return to service overseas see more
Carol Spahn has led the agency during a challenging time in Peace Corps history. On Wednesday, President Biden announced that he intends to nominate her to serve as the 21st Director of the Peace Corps.
By Jonathan Pearson
Photo from Peace Corps video
In a release issued by the White House on April 6, President Biden announced that he intends to nominate Carol Spahn to serve as Director of the Peace Corps. She began serving as acting director in January 2021 and has led the agency for the past 14 months, one of the most challenging periods in Peace Corps history. Just weeks ago the first Volunteers began returning to service overseas in Zambia and the Dominican Republic, and Volunteers are expected to return to more than 20 countries in the months ahead.
“We congratulate Carol Spahn for her pending nomination as Peace Corps Director, and applaud President Biden for his choice,” said National Peace Corps Association President & CEO Glenn Blumhorst.
“We congratulate Carol Spahn for her pending nomination as Peace Corps Director, and applaud President Biden for his choice,” said National Peace Corps Association President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. “NPCA has been honored to work with Carol and her strong leadership team over the past year on collaborative efforts to navigate this difficult period of planning for the Peace Corps’ new future. We have full confidence in Carol’s commitment to return Volunteers to the field in a responsible manner, and offer the next generation of Volunteers a better, stronger Peace Corps ready to meet the global challenges we confront. The continuity of this work is key, and we urge the Senate to swiftly bring forth this nomination for consideration and bipartisan confirmation.”
Prior to serving as acting director, Spahn served as chief of operations in the Africa Region covering Eastern and Southern Africa, and before that, served a five-year term as country director of Peace Corps Malawi. Her Peace Corps roots extend back to her service as a small business advisor in Romania 1994–96. She has more than 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment including work with Women for Women International — which supports female survivors of war — and Accordia Global Health Foundation — which helps fight infectious disease in Africa.
Leading the Agency at a Challenging Time — and Ensuring It Can Meet the Needs of a Changed World
Last year, under Spahn’s leadership, the agency created a domestic service initiative for only the second time in Peace Corps’ history, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support vaccination campaigns across the United States. The Peace Corps also continued to expand the Virtual Service Pilot, a program launched in late 2020 to match returned Volunteers with partner organizations around the world.
During the past year, some of the agency’s longstanding shortcomings were also brought into focus. One pair of articles by USA Today delved into how the agency has not adequately addressed sexual assault of Volunteers — a problem going back years. After the first of those articles appeared in May 2021, Spahn ordered a five-year review by the independent Sexual Assault Advisory Council. Shortly after that report was completed, it was made public by the agency in fall 2021. Drawing on recommendations that report provided, in March 2022 the agency released a briefing paper and roadmap for how to better address sexual assault reduction and response.
In December 2021 and January 2022, USA Today also published a pair of articles on the highly disturbing killing in 2019 of Rabia Issa, a mother of three in Tanzania who was struck by a car driven by a Peace Corps official. Both the actions of that staff member and the agency’s response sent shock waves throughout the Peace Corps community. Carol Spahn spoke to Peace Corps staff about this tragedy during a global town hall meeting in January. From staff and the wider Peace Corps community the agency has heard calls for greater transparency going forward — and that the agency live up to its ideals.
Spahn has said on multiple occasions that the pandemic has underscored just how vital the mission of the Peace Corps is. “The pandemic has set back years of development progress and produced unprecedented challenges,” she said last October at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “It has also underscored our world’s profound interdependence and shared future. Recovery will require international cooperation not only at the government level, but also at the community level. And that is where the Peace Corps as a trusted community partner will return to service in new and time tested ways.”
“Intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion is at the core of who we are as an agency and what we do. Our approach encourages deep humility and builds transferable skills as our staff and Volunteers partner at a grassroots level with people from 64 different countries.”
Spahn also told the committee that during the suspension of Volunteer service overseas the agency has redoubled its commitment bolster support systems for Volunteers and, crucially, to ensure that a focus on intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (ICDEINA) within Peace Corps is a top priority. “Intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion is at the core of who we are as an agency and what we do,” Spahn said. “Our approach encourages deep humility and builds transferable skills as our staff and Volunteers partner at a grassroots level with people from 64 different countries.”
At those hearings, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks praised Spahn and her leadership team for their work to advance ICDEINA within the agency. And, he noted, his examination shows that the Peace Corps is ahead of many other federal agencies in this regard.
In March 2022, as part of Peace Corps Week — marking the March 1 anniversary of President Kennedy’s executive order establishing the Peace Corps in 1961 — the agency hosted a community forum and announced the first countries to which Volunteers would begin returning to service in 2022. The forum also highlighted further details on ICDEINA plans, including additional staffing to address key issues, expanded training for worldwide staff and future Volunteers, reforms to reduce economic barriers to service, and more.
Next Step: Senate Foreign Relations Committee
After President Biden formally nominates Spahn, she will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing. The Peace Corps director is the last major Biden administration nominee within the jurisdiction of the Foreign Relations Committee to come before that body.
Should Spahn receive approval from the committee, her nomination will go to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
Story updated April 7 at 19:30 Eastern.
Jonathan Pearson is Advocacy Director for National Peace Corps Association
Now is the Time to Double the Peace Corps! A Letter to the President of the United States from Eleven Former Directors of the AgencyNow is the time to build back the Peace Corps better than before. see more
All former living directors of the Peace Corps have joined together to send a ringing message to President Biden: Now is the time. Build Peace Corps back better than before — and over the next five years, put 10,000 Volunteers in the field.
Below is the full text of the letter. Download a PDF of the letter here.
April 26, 2021
President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
We write to you today as a bipartisan, unified group of former directors of the Peace Corps to express our full support for a revitalized Peace Corps, one that advances our nation’s critical foreign policy goal of world peace through international cooperation and service. We believe that now is the right time for the Peace Corps to build back better than it ever was before.
We therefore call on you and your administration to commit to raising the number of Peace Corps Volunteers in the field to a sustained level of 15,000 over the next decade, beginning by increasing the agency’s annual budget to $600 million by FY 2025. This funding level would support our five-year goal of 10,000 volunteers, consistent with bipartisan reauthorization legislation currently advancing in both chambers of Congress. Your support for this long overdue goal would galvanize the American peoples’ spirit of service and international engagement that the Peace Corps represents. Previous presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have endorsed doubling the size of the Peace Corps. Now is the time to fulfill that promise.
As you are aware, more than 240,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps over the past 60 years, cumulatively serving in 142 countries and providing well over three billion hours of service to our nation and the world. Yet due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are currently no Peace Corps Volunteers serving abroad today. Such a situation does untold damage to our strong community-based worldwide presence and the United States’ image abroad. We must send our volunteers back to the field as soon as possible, and we believe you will have strong backing to do so. There is overwhelming support from all host countries for the return of volunteers. They see the history of volunteers joining in public health campaigns to eradicate smallpox, polio, and measles as evidence that the Peace Corps can play a vital role in confronting today’s pandemic as well as the long-lasting consequences of COVID-19 in our partner nations.
There is overwhelming support from all host countries for the return of volunteers. They see the history of volunteers joining in public health campaigns to eradicate smallpox, polio, and measles as evidence that the Peace Corps can play a vital role in confronting today’s pandemic as well as the long-lasting consequences of COVID-19 in our partner nations.
Throughout our decades of bipartisan leadership of the Peace Corps, we benefitted from deep bipartisan congressional support for the agency. We served both Republican and Democratic presidents and understood, as you do, that the Peace Corps is an American innovation, not a partisan one. When Americans volunteer abroad, they are not seen as Democrats or Republicans; they are seen as Americans.
That is why we are encouraged by renewed bipartisan leadership in Congress to maintain that bipartisan tradition for the Peace Corps. New legislation, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 1456), which has been introduced by Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Garret Graves (R-LA), will advance the policy goals we seek. We call on you to fully support this legislation, as well as the anticipated Senate companion legislation, so that it can be quickly sent to your desk for your signature into law.
This bill is visionary. It creates a clear blueprint for the agency’s future, one that we all share, to ramp up volunteer numbers to meet the tremendous challenges faced by our international partners while facilitating the American peoples’ reengagement with the world.
This bill is visionary. It creates a clear blueprint for the agency’s future, one that we all share, to ramp up volunteer numbers to meet the tremendous challenges faced by our international partners while facilitating the American peoples’ reengagement with the world. Critical reforms are included in the bill that reflect the longstanding requests of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community. These include enhancements to the provision of health care, with special attention to women’s health and safety; mental health care; readjustment allowance; volunteer security; whistleblower protections; and post-service hiring opportunities.
The bill’s provisions demonstrate that Congress is listening to the Peace Corps community, which provided significant input into the bill, ensuring a better experience for the volunteer, agency, and host country. Your support for the bill’s vision and policy prescriptions will show the Peace Corps community that you, too, understand their needs and support their hopes for a renewed Peace Corps.
In closing: Now is the time, under your leadership, to take a bold stroke to renew the original promise of the Peace Corps expressed in 1960 by President John F. Kennedy when he called upon young Americans to dedicate themselves to the cause of peace and friendship. We honor that vision and the vigorous support that all his successors have provided. We hope that in the days ahead, you, given your longstanding support for the Peace Corps, will join them in advocating for a reimagined, reshaped, and retooled Peace Corps for a changed world.
Nicholas Craw (1973–74)
Richard Celeste (1979–81)
Elaine Chao (1991–92)
Carol Bellamy (1993–95)
Mark Gearan (1995–99)
Mark Schneider (1999–2001)
Gaddi Vasquez (2002–06)
Ronald Tschetter (2006–09)
Aaron Williams (2009–12)
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (2014–17)
Josephine (Jody) Olsen (2018–21)
Download a PDF of the letter from Peace Corps Directors to President Biden here.
An Update from Acting Director Carol Spahn at the Shriver Leadership Summit see more
An Update from Acting Director Carol Spahn
Carol Spahn served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 as a small business advisor, as country director for Peace Corps Malawi, and as chief of operations in the Africa Region, covering eastern and southern Africa. She has held roles at Women for Women International, Accordia Global Health Foundation, and Small Enterprise Assistance Funds. Here are edited excerpts of her remarks at NPCA’s Sargent Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2021.
IN MY FIVE-YEAR TOUR AS COUNTRY DIRECTOR IN MALAWI, I swore in around 500 Volunteers. During each swearing-in ceremony, I reminded Volunteers that their service was not an adventure but a journey. One of my favorite things to witness was their growth and development — not just language skills or cultural competence, relationships or projects. I’m talking about observable growth in their character, awareness, humility, and global citizenship. They stepped off the plane eager and bright-eyed but walked back with wisdom and respect, and often tears of sadness to leave. The same journey was apparent amongst our host country staff: What started as a job became a passion for community development and intercultural exchange.
Peace Corps and our mission have never been more relevant. But in order to meet this moment, we must adapt.
For 60 years Peace Corps has been on a journey of development and growth, improvement and constant learning — the journey of a million miles, places, and people around the globe. The pace has been steady and the steps deliberate. As I have participated in panels throughout Peace Corps Week, particularly one with all living former directors, I have been struck by how Peace Corps has responded and adapted across the decades: to diseases like smallpox, polio, guinea worm, and HIV; and to historic events like the end of the Cold War. Given what the world has been through the past year, I can say without hesitation that Peace Corps and our mission have never been more relevant. But in order to meet this moment, we must adapt.
A welcome: Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn, right, while serving as country director in Malawi. Photo courtesy of Peace Corps
What we see ahead
Our top priority is returning Volunteers to service as soon as conditions allow. Localized situations continue to shift daily, especially with changes related to vaccine accessibility and new variants of the virus. We’re unfortunately not yet able to offer a firm time frame for when Volunteers will return. However, we continue to assess each country’s situation based on robust medical, security, programmatic, administrative, and logistical criteria. We are very aware of evacuated Volunteers’ strong desire to return, along with a large and growing cohort of invitees anxious to begin their journeys.
Every one of our host countries has enthusiastically expressed their interest in our return. We are planning to reopen El Salvador; we have staff in place to launch Peace Corps in Viet Nam. Recruitment teams, now fully virtual, are working tirelessly, and we continue to receive new applications — not at pre-COVID levels, but significant given the pandemic and the pause in our operations. We expect interest to pick up even more once Volunteers start going back.
Returning Volunteers to service in a world where the ground has fundamentally shifted has required that we reimagine and reengineer almost everything we do.
Last week we announced we will require all Volunteers to receive a COVID vaccine before going into service. This decision was made not only to protect the health and safety of Volunteers but also host country staff and communities. Staff at each post will have the opportunity to be vaccinated prior to the return of Volunteers. Many staff have already been vaccinated; one host country government added our staff to their vaccine priority list — a testament to the value of our contribution.
Returning Volunteers to service in a world where the ground has fundamentally shifted has required that we reimagine and reengineer almost everything we do. This includes granular things like safety standards at training locations, to broader fundamentals of how to stay true to our core approach of people-to-people relationship-building when safety measures require social distancing. We have established systems to control for all the things that we can control for — and to be flexible in all the ways we can be flexible. I’ve seen photos of staff members getting their vaccines; these and the COVAX plane landing in Ghana this week have given us hope that we are rounding the corner.
Virtual and Grassroot
I’ve gotten the “So what are you all doing if you don’t have Volunteers in the field?” question a lot. Our Volunteers are our lifeblood. We feel their absence intensely and deeply. And the needs in the countries we serve have not gone away.
We’ve used this time strategically so that we can build back better — in ways big and small, including not-so-glamorous but critical things like cybersecurity and system upgrades. One positive aspect of moving into the Zoom world: We are in phase two of a Virtual Service Pilot program that involves 20 posts and 85 participants. Evacuated returned Volunteers, trainees, and returned Response Volunteers are donating 12 to 15 hours a week in countries they served in, for a period of 12 weeks. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and we believe there is tremendous potential for the future.
As an example of the virtual work being done, I’ll tell you about returning volunteer Samara, who coordinated with a local nonprofit in Costa Rica, whose goal is to create a domestic version of the Peace Corps, appropriately called the Costa Rica Corps. This organization was looking for help establishing their own pool of volunteers and matching them with counterparts. Samara was able to help them virtually to craft a volunteer profile and application brochure which will be used to train and interview interested volunteers.
Teams around the world are also getting creative with training and reporting; more than 600 staff from headquarters and the field have been trained in developing and implementing blended learning strategies. Teams mentored by host country nationals from other countries or HQ staff have developed 150 blended learning training projects. This has tremendous potential to reinvent how we do training — and utilize expertise across borders. Volunteers will be working with updated logical project frameworks and held to new reporting standards. By late this year, they will have a reporting system that will provide a personal dashboard on metrics. Program managers will be able to report consolidated results to host country partners and ministries. This has the power to transform how we relate with communities and Volunteers in the field.
There’s innovative work being done by staff to meet the needs of communities we serve — from contact tracing to virtual workshops to working with farmers. In Ukraine, post staff have repurposed PEPFAR funding to implement a cross-regional program supporting the most vulnerable youth through food vouchers and HIV/AIDS case counseling calls. In Malawi, staff and counterparts have continued in-person HIV prevention work for youth through Grassroot Soccer; they have tested new approaches following COVID protocols; and they continue to support partners through providing personal protective equipment and other resources so counterparts can safely continue work in rural communities.
Inequity and pandemic response
We have asked every post to meet with their ministries of health and partners in country to determine how we can help support their pandemic response. This will differ across countries, depending on needs, but we anticipate every Volunteer will have a role to play. The head of the World Health Organization has said that the world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure due to unfair vaccine rollouts. And COVID has shown us once again the vast inequities in global health. To the extent that Peace Corps can play a role at the invitation of the countries we serve, we will be there.
COVID has shown us once again the vast inequities in global health. To the extent that Peace Corps can play a role at the invitation of the countries we serve, we will be there.
In addition to a dramatic reckoning around health inequity, we have a moment of reckoning on racial justice. The Peace Corps at its core is about honoring diversity around the world. It’s about building relationships and opportunity, and fostering equity and inclusion. It is important to all of us — staff, Volunteers, host communities — that our workplace, our volunteer system, and our culture reflect these values. We will be looking for Peace Corps to be a leader in addressing systemic racism.
At various points throughout our history, we have been called to do more, and we have stepped up, but we know that we have room to grow. In 2010 then-director Aaron Williams called on Peace Corps to diversify recruiting across race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and religion. At the time, 19 percent of Volunteers identified as a minority. In the last decade that has grown to 34 percent. Five years ago, we started doing intensive intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and inclusion training for entire post teams. This was a one-week foundations course. Last year we rolled out a pocket model that includes a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens as Volunteers undertake participatory community assessments. And we tripled the medical reimbursement for applicants to ensure that this was not a barrier to service.
I share this with you to honor the work that has been done up to this point. That said, we have heard recommendations brought forth by NPCA and through letters written by passionate and interested stakeholders across the Peace Corps community. We are listening. And we acknowledge the need to continue to address inequities, to reach out to underserved communities, to address gaps in training, to examine support structures during service. Our task force is busy developing recommendations on staffing, and pre-service and in-service support. We have barrier analysis underway looking at hiring, promotion, retention, and other staffing practices. A mandatory training course on unconscious bias will be launched on April 1 for all staff. This is just the beginning.
As we carry out this work, we are cognizant of the need to balance a collective sense of urgency with a need to be intentional, so that the changes we implement will be both effective and sustainable. Systemic change requires deliberate steps and endurance.
The “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was an enormous undertaking, and I want to commend everyone who was involved. We have read it, and I have shared it with agency leadership. It is striking how much overlap there is among the actions or initiatives already enacted or underway at Peace Corps; the input we received from the field and our community through our task force for diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the content of this report. We need to meet this historic moment on so many levels. We will be kicking off our strategic planning process shortly with new agency leadership, and this report will help to inform those deliberations as we chart the path for the future.
Ahead on this journey
We also recognize the critical importance of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community and celebrating the domestic dividend — the role that those Volunteers play more broadly in society, and specifically in international development. Perhaps even more important, these RPCVs bring perspective, problem-solving skills, and deep respect to their roles as parents, neighbors, and global citizens. How important those qualities are during this time of tremendous divisiveness — and when we have been incredibly isolated, as individuals and as communities. Our Office of the Third Goal is working closely with NPCA to help tell the story more broadly of the contributions of Volunteers as they return to the U.S. following service.
This will be an agency that promotes world peace and friendship at a time when the world so badly craves mutual respect, solidarity, and community.
We are preparing for a future that demonstrates how the agency, during a time of uncertainty, builds back better, and is more relevant than ever. This will be an agency that safely returns, just as it safely evacuated. An agency that is truly representative of the United States and all its people. An agency that builds on its strong history and foundation of embracing difference. An agency that is part of the global solution to the COVID pandemic. And an agency that promotes world peace and friendship at a time when the world so badly craves mutual respect, solidarity, and community.
Peace Corps service may look different in the future — from how Volunteers serve to how they are trained. But we will be there in a spirit of partnership and with humility.
Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more
News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (pictured left), a former Peace Corps director, begins a new position as president and CEO of Global Communities — an organization whose recent efforts include working in partnership with communities in Ukraine to provide essential non-food items, mental health support, and assistance to internally displaced persons. President Biden appoints Lisa E. Delplace as a member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to help oversee the cultural and historic preservation of the District of Columbia. A new director of operations for a Panama-based tour company. Two RPCVs receive awards for their commitment to leadership and global citizenship.
Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
Ryan Stock (2007–09), a political ecologist, is the 2021–22 recipient of the Faculty Emerging Leadership Award at Northern Michigan University. He is an assistant professor in the Earth, Environmental, and Geographical Sciences Department. With an extensive list of published works, Stock has several ongoing research projects including environmental injustices of solar PV life cycle, climate adaptation and vulnerability of farmers in India, gendered livelihoods and solar development in Ghana, and climate policy in South Asia. Stock has held many leadership roles promoting environmental sustainability, gender inclusion, student involvement, and anti-racism. He was the impetus for the NMU Carbon Neutrality Task Force which aims to create a carbon neutral campus by 2050 by improving waste and recycling, protecting freshwater resources, promoting education and awareness, and building local partnerships. Stock is a member of the Sustainability Advisory Council. Off-campus, he serves as a member of the Marquette County Climate Action Task Force and advocates for the City of Marquette to commit to carbon neutrality through its Climate Action Resolution.
Lisa E. Delplace (1982–84) was appointed as the newest member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts by President Biden. She is principal and CEO of the Washington, D.C.–based landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden (OvS). In this new position, Delplace will represent landscape architects, a role which was previously missing from the commission. She is tasked with preserving and enhancing the District of Columbia’s visual and cultural character as well as helping to plan for public spaces, monuments, climate change–related issues, and security matters. Her previous work ranges from sculpture parks to urban redevelopments and examines the compelling structural relationship between architecture and landscape. She is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects Council of Fellows — one of the highest honors ASLA bestows upon members — and she is a visiting critic and lecturer at various universities and organizations. In addition to her Peace Corps service in Kenya, she has international experience working in Europe and the Middle East.
Madeline Uraneck (2006–09), a long-term contributor to international education and service, has received the 2022 Global Citizenship Award from the Wisconsin Council of Social Studies. The recipient of this award exemplifies social studies principles by improving the quality of life for others and promoting the common good. Uraneck has traveled to more than 60 countries, studied six languages, and willingly self-identifies as a “global citizen”. As a well-respected educator, Uraneck values the connections she makes within other cultures, learning languages from children and meeting kind strangers. She has won several awards including DPI by Goldman Sachs Foundation Award for State Leadership and Council of Chief State School Officers for International Education. She is a professional member, presenter, and key-note speaker for Wisconsin Council for Social Studies and has authored Planning Curriculum in International Education and How to Make a Life, a story of her interactions with a Tibetan refugee family in Madison, Wisconsin.
Mary Johnson has been selected as a 2022 GenEd Teacher Fellow and will embark on a ten-day intensive professional development program in July. The fellowship, which is based at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, offers professional development workshops about human rights and genocide with a closer look at the Armenian experience. Johnson is an affiliate and adjunct professor for Stockton University’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies, a program that prepares its graduates for careers in education, museums, and organizations that aim to stop and prevent mass atrocities. For more than three decades, Johnson was the senior historian for Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that challenges students and teachers to confront racism and prejudice, where she facilitated seminars and workshops, wrote curricula, and conducted research.
Megan Thompson (2018–19) is the newly appointed director of operations for Retire in Panama, a full-service relocation tour company known for its innovative approach to supporting expatriate residents with their relocation and resettlement needs. Retire in Panama also shares educational resources to connect prospective clients and current clients with housing, financial planning assistance, and access to Panama’s history and culture. Thompson brings to the new roles a strong leadership foundation gained during the two-year advisory position she held with the company, and she brings a unique cultural understanding of Panama gained from her experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer who worked on environmental conservation, recycling and trash services, and sexual wellness education. In her new role, Thompson will oversee all aspects of operations, including personnel and contractor management, client services, tours and logistics.
Mary Alice Serafini (1969–72) retired in March 2022 from her position as assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and executive director of the Pat Walker Health Center at the University of Arkansas. As a Volunteer in Sierra Leone and Niger, she served as a teacher before starting her employment at the University of Arkansas in 1991 as the assistant director of administration for the Health Center. Recognized for her support and advocacy for international students and scholars, Serafini has been committed in her leadership programs focused on student diversity and inclusion. She is a longtime member of the NASPA, the professional association of student affairs, and helps inspire undergraduates to see student affairs as a viable career path through the NUFP Mentor Program. During her time with the university, Serafini championed for the counseling center’s expansion, which included the addition of mental health and wellness promotion, the growth of counseling staff, and the creation of designated, welcoming space within the Pat Walker Health Center. Her compassionate leadership and service to others earned Serafini the respect and love of her colleagues and students. During her retirement, she plans to continue volunteering and engaging in public policy.
Juhi Desai (2018–20) has been elected president of the Student Bar Association at the University of Virginia Law School. Before entering law school, she served as an elementary school teacher in South Africa with the Peace Corps and was evacuated in March 2020 because of COVID-19. Prior to serving with the Peace Corps, she taught civics and economics, AP U.S. history, and world history at a high school outside Boston. As an attorney she plans to work as a public defender and notes that “the United States is the most incarcerated nation in the world.”
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (1981–83) will assume the role of president and CEO of Global Communities on October 1, 2022. She has been serving as president of the organization since September 2021. Last year Global Communities also completed a merger with Project Concern International, where Hessler-Radelet had been serving as president and CEO. Global Communities is devoted to providing a more equitable future through humanitarian assistance, sustainable development, and financial solutions. Currently, the organization is working in partnership with communities in Ukraine to provide physical and mental health support and to assist internally displaced persons. Hessler-Radelet has worked in previous global leadership positions as director, acting director, and deputy director of the Peace Corps. Before being appointed as Director of the Peace Corps by President Obama, Hessler-Radelet oversaw public health programs in 85 countries as the vice president and director of John Snow, Inc., a public health management consulting and research organization. Hessler-Radelet brings to her new role decades of global health experience which includes serving as the lead consultant on the first Five Year Global HIV/AIDS Strategy for the President George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), working with USAID in Indonesia on maternal and child health and HIV programming, founding the Special Olympics in The Gambia, and being the third generation in her family to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders have a conversation on Peace Corps, race, and more. see more
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Leading in a Time of Adversity. A conversation convened as Part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Image by Shutterstock
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are currently the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S., but the story of the U.S. AAPI population dates back decades — and is often overlooked. As the community faces an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and the widening income gap between the wealthiest and poorest, their role in politics and social justice is increasingly important.
The AAPI story is also complex — 22 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages, and other characteristics. Their unique perspectives and experiences have also played critical roles in American diplomacy across the globe.
For Peace Corps Connect 2021, we brought together three women who have served or are serving as political leaders to talk with returned Volunteer Mary Owen-Thomas. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation on September 23, 2021. Watch the entire conversation here.
Rep. Grace Meng
Member, U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s sixth district — the first Asian American to represent her state in Congress.
Julia Chang Bloch
Former U.S. ambassador to Nepal — the first Asian American to serve as a U.S. ambassador to any country. Founder and president of U.S.-China Education Trust. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia (1964–66).
Former Director of the Peace Corps (1991–92). Former Secretary of Labor — the first Asian American to hold a cabinet-level post. Former Secretary of Transportation.
Moderated by Mary Owen-Thomas
Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines (2005–06) and secretary of the NPCA Board of Directors.
Mary Owen-Thomas: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. This is not a recent story — and it’s often overlooked. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, and I happen to be Filipino American.
During my service, people would say, “Oh, we didn’t get a real American.” I used to think, I’m from Detroit! I’m curious if you’ve ever encountered this in your international work.
Julia Chang Bloch: With the Peace Corps, I was sent to Borneo, in Sabah, Malaysia. I was a teacher at a Chinese middle school that had been a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The day I arrived on campus, there was a hush in the audience. I don’t speak Cantonese, but I could understand a bit, and I heard: “Why did they send us a Japanese?” I did not know the school had been a prisoner of war camp. They introduced me. I said a few words in English, then a few words in Mandarin. And they said, “Oh, she’s Chinese.”
I heard a little girl say to her father, “You promised me I could meet the American ambassador. I don’t see him.”
In Nepal, where I was ambassador, when I arrived and met the Chinese ambassador, he said, “Ah, China now has two of us.” I said, “There’s a twist, however. I am a Chinese American.” He laughed, and we became friends thereafter. On one of my trips into the western regions, where there were a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers and very poor villages, I was welcomed lavishly by one village. I heard a little girl say to her father, “You promised I could meet the American ambassador. I don’t see him.” He said to her, “There she is.” “Oh, no,” she said. “She is not the American ambassador. She’s Nepali.”
Those are examples of why AAPI representation in foreign affairs is important. We should look like America, abroad, in our embassies. We can show the world that we are in fact diverse and rich culturally.
Mary Owen-Thomas: Secretary Chao, at the Labor Department you launched the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit, and the annual Opportunity Conference. The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting the employment data on Asians in America as a distinct category — a first. You ensured that labor law materials were translated into multiple languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Talk about how those came about.
Elaine Chao: Many of us have commented about the lack of diversity in top management, even in the federal government. There seems to be a bamboo ceiling — Asian Americans not breaking into the executive suite. I started the Asian Pacific American Federal Advancement Forum to equip, train, prepare Asian Americans to go into senior ranks of the federal government.
The Opportunity Conference was for communities of color, people who have traditionally been underserved in the federal government, in the federal procurement areas. Thirdly, in 2003 we finally broke out Asians and Asian American unemployment numbers for the first time. That’s how we know Asian Americans have the lowest unemployment rate. Labor laws are complicated, so we started a process translating labor laws into Asian, East Asian, and South Asian languages, so that people would understand their obligations to protect the workforce.
We are often seen as invisible. In Congress, there are many times I’ll be in a room — and this is bipartisan, unfortunately — where people will be talking about different communities, and they literally leave AAPIs out. We are not mentioned, acknowledged, or recognized.
Grace Meng: I am not a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I am honored to be here. My former legislative director, Helen Beaudreau (Georgia 2004–06, The Philippines 2010–11), is a twice-Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I am incredibly grateful for all of your service to our country, and literally representing America at every corner of the globe.
I was born and raised here. This past year and a half has been a wake-up call for our community. Asian Americans have been discriminated against long before — starting with legislation that Congress passed, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, to Japanese American citizens being put in internment camps. We have too often been viewed as outsiders or foreigners.
I live in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse counties in the country, and still have experiences where people ask where I learned to speak English so well, or where am I really from. When I was elected to the state legislature, some of us were watching the news — a group of people fighting. One colleague turned to me and said, “Well, Grace knows karate, I’m sure she can save us.”
By the way, I don’t know karate.
We are often seen as invisible. In Congress, there are many times I’ll be in a room — and this is bipartisan, unfortunately — where people will be talking about different communities, and they literally leave AAPIs out. We are not mentioned, acknowledged, or recognized. I didn’t necessarily come to Congress just to represent the AAPI community. But there are many tables we’re sitting at, where if we did not speak up for the AAPI community, no one else would.
At the root of hate
Julia Chang Bloch: I believe at the root of this anti-Asian hate is ignorance about the AAPI community. It’s a consequence of the exclusion, erasure, and invisibility of Asian Americans in K–12 school curricula. We need to increase education about the history of anti-Asian racism, as well as contributions of Asian Americans to society. Representative Meng, you should talk about your legislation.
Grace Meng: My first legislation, when I was in the state legislature, was to work on getting Lunar New Year and Eid on public school holidays in New York City. When I was in elementary school, we got off for Rosh Hashanah; don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have two days off. But I had to go to school on Lunar New Year. I thought that was incredibly unfair in a city like New York. Ultimately, it changed through our mayor.
In textbooks, maybe there was a paragraph or two about how Asian Americans fit into our American history. There wasn’t much. One of my goals is to ensure that Asian American students recognize in ways that I didn’t that they are just as American as anyone else. I used to be embarrassed about my parents working in a restaurant, or that they didn’t dress like the other parents.
Data is empowering. We can’t administer government programs without understanding where they go, who receives them, how many resources are devoted to what groups.
Julia Chang Bloch: I wonder about data collection. We’re categorized as AAPI — all lumped together. And data, I believe, is collected that way at the national, state, and local levels. Is there some way to disaggregate this data collection and recognize the differences?
Elaine Chao: A very good question. Data is empowering. We can’t administer government programs without understanding where they go, who receives them, how many resources are devoted to what groups.
Two obstacles stand in the way. One is resources. Unless there is thinking about how to do this in a systemic, long-term fashion, getting resources is difficult; these are expensive undertakings. Two, there’s sometimes political resistance. Pew Charitable Trust, in 2012, did an excellent job: the first major demographic study on the Asian American population in the United States. But we’re coming up on 10 years. That needs to be revisited.
Role models vs. stereotypes
Elaine Chao: Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch and Pauline Tsui started the organization Chinese American Women. I remember coming to Washington as a young pup and seeing these fantastic, empowering women. They blazed so many trails. They gave voice to Asian American women.
I come from a family of six daughters. I credit my parents for empowering their daughters from an early age. They told us that if you work hard, you can do whatever you want to do. We’ve got to offer more inspiration and be more supportive.
Julia Chang Bloch: Pauline Tsui has unfortunately passed away. She had a foundation, which gave us support to establish a series on Asian women trailblazers. Our inaugural program featured Secretary Chao and Representative Judy Chu, because it was about government and service. Our next one is focused on higher education. Our third will be on journalism.
I want, however, to leave you with this thought. The Page Act of 1875 barred women from China, Japan, and all other Asian countries from entering the United States. Why? Because the thought was they brought prostitution. The stereotyping of Asian women has been insidious and harmful to our achieving positions of authority and leadership. That’s led also to horrible stereotypes that have exoticized and sexualized Asian women. Think about the women who were killed in Atlanta.
That intersection of racism and misogyny that has existed for way too long is something we need to continue to combat.
Grace Meng: There was the automatic assumption, in the beginning, that they were sex workers — these stereotypes were being circulated. I had the opportunity with some of my colleagues to go to Atlanta and meet some of the victims’ families, to hear their stories. That really gave me a wake-up call. I talked about my own upbringing for the first time.
I remember when my parents, who worked in a restaurant, came to school, and they were dressed like they worked in a restaurant. I was too embarrassed to say hello. Being in Atlanta, talking to those families, made me realize the sacrifices that Asian American women at all levels have faced so that we could have the opportunity to be educated here, to get jobs, to serve our country. And that intersection of racism and misogyny that has existed for way too long is something that we need to continue to combat.
Julia Chang Bloch: We’ve talked about the sexualized, exoticized, and objectified stereotype — the Suzie Wongs and the Madame Butterflys. However, those of us here today, I think would fall into another category: the “dragon lady” stereotype. Any Asian woman of authority is classified as a dragon lady — a derogatory stereotype. Women who are powerful, but also deceitful and manipulating and cruel. Today it’s women who are authoritative and powerful.
Mary Owen-Thomas: Growing up, I was sort of embarrassed of my mom’s thick Filipino accent; she was embarrassed of it, too. I was embarrassed of the food she would send me to school with — rice, mung beans, egg rolls, and fish sauce. And people would ask, “What is that?” Talk about how your self-identity has evolved — and how you view family.
You do not need to have a fancy title to improve the lives of people around you. I became stronger myself and realized that it was my duty, my responsibility, as a daughter of immigrants, to give back to this country and to give back to this community.
Grace Meng: I don’t know if it’s related to being Asian, but I was super shy as a child. And there weren’t a lot of Asians around me. I was the type who would tremble if a teacher called on me; I would try to disappear into the walls. When I meet people who knew me in school, they say, “I cannot believe you’re in politics.”
What gave me strength was getting involved in the community, seeing as a student in high school, college, and law school that I could help people around me. After law school I started a nonprofit with some friends. We had senior citizens come in with their mail once a week, and we would help them read it. It wasn’t rocket science at all.
I tell that story to young people, because you do not need to have a fancy title to improve the lives of people around you. I became stronger myself and realized that it was my duty, my responsibility, as a daughter of immigrants, to give back to this country and to give back to this community.
Julia Chang Bloch: At some point, in most Asian American young people’s lives, you ask yourself whether you are Chinese or American — or, Mary, in your case, whether you’re Filipino or American.
I asked myself that question one year after I arrived in San Francisco from China. I was 10. I entered a forensic contest to speak on being a marginalized citizen. I won the contest, but I didn’t have the answer. At university, I found Chinese student associations I thought would be my answer to my identity. But I did not find myself fitting into the American-born Chinese groups — ABCs — or those fresh off the boat, FOBs. Increasingly, my circle of friends became predominantly white. I perceived the powerlessness of the Chinese in America. I realized that only mainstreaming would make me be able to make a difference in America.
After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps, to pursue my roots and to make a difference in the world. Teaching English at a Chinese middle school gave me the opportunity to find out once and for all whether I was Chinese or American. I think you know the answer.
My ambassadorship made me a Chinese American who straddles the East and the West. And having been a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have always believed that it was my obligation to bring China home to America, and vice versa. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the U.S.-China Education Trust since 1998.
We should say representation matters. Peace Corps matters, too.
WATCH THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION here: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Leading in a Time of Adversity
We need to have a diverse and talented corps of professionals in our foreign affairs agencies see more
We need to have a diverse and talented corps of professionals in our foreign affairs agencies — and in the wider development community. That matters when it comes to leadership and credibility alike.
By Aaron Williams
Peace Corps Director 2009–12
The beauty and inherent value of the Peace Corps is that it provides a different approach to America’s overseas engagement. Volunteers live in local communities, speak the national and local languages, and have great respect for the culture of the host country. Working at the grassroots level for two or more years, Peace Corps Volunteers have a unique platform for acquiring cultural agility. They have the opportunity to build relationships, to understand the priorities of the communities and organizations where they work, and to play a role in assisting these communities in reaching their goals. This connection to the people they serve is the essence of Peace Corps service, where mutual learning and understanding occurs. And the Volunteer gains the ability to be engaged in a hands-on development process.
If an individual’s career goal is to become a global citizen, then this is precisely the type of experience that will challenge you. And the Peace Corps has historically been a pathway to a career in diplomacy and development. My career certainly is an example of that. I served in the Agency for International Development USAID as a foreign service officer for 22 years as both a mission director and a senior official at headquarters. Then during the Obama administration, I had the distinct honor of serving as the Director of the Peace Corps. And I've always considered it to be a sacred trust to lead this iconic American agency. And of course, it's always been a distinct honor to represent the United States of America.
As has been well documented in congressional hearings, through extensive media coverage, and in substantial reports by foreign policy think tanks and other organizations, one thing is crystal clear: The failure to diversify senior positions in our foreign service agencies undermines U.S. credibility abroad.
As an African American, I am a direct beneficiary of the civil rights movement and stand on the shoulders of those giants who sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears fighting for the monumental changes that opened up opportunities for Black and brown people across our country, including in the U.S. Foreign Service. Now, as has been well documented in congressional hearings, through extensive media coverage, and in substantial reports by foreign policy think tanks and other organizations, one thing is crystal clear: The failure to diversify senior positions in our foreign service agencies undermines U.S. credibility abroad. In my view, in order to pursue a robust and effective foreign policy in this ever more challenging world, we need to have a diverse and talented corps of professionals in our foreign affairs agencies.
And that’s why diversity is so important to our nation. We need to portray the true face of America, the rich diversity of our citizens. This diversity will continue to be the foundation for our nation’s progress in all aspects of our society, and a pillar of America’s role in global leadership.
Black Americans are so unrepresented historically in terms of diplomacy and international affairs that we must build a core of leaders to present the true face of America as we interact with the rest of the globe. The more diversity you bring into the C-suite of the foreign policy halls, where the highest ranking senior executives work, the bigger the cadre of people who will have a different perspective of the world and how we should interact with it.
I’ve been involved in the pursuit of diversity from the very beginning of my career, after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I was very fortunate that my first job back in the U.S. was to serve as a minority recruiter in the first such initiative in Peace Corps history. Ever since that first job, I have been an advocate and fighter for diversity in every organization where I’ve worked. And I’ve had a career in three sectors — in government, business, and in the nonprofit world. Based on my experience, and as widely articulated by diversity and inclusion experts, the most important components for promoting diversity are to focus on several areas encompassing access, broad opportunity, retention, and career advancement.
The development community plays a prominent role as principal partners with the U.S. government in the country’s global leadership. They should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our nation.
In my view, the principal foreign affairs agencies — the State Department, USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Peace Corps — should focus on three areas. First, to gain a better understanding of diverse groups in our country. Second, to build effective tools and programs that include mentorships internships, sponsoring viable candidates, and the creation of a pipeline of candidates. And then thirdly, to provide opportunities for growth and promotion within these agencies.
I would hope to see, going forward, that both U.S. government agencies and, more broadly, the numerous foreign affairs organizations for the development community, as we often call it, will seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broad-based policies and programs that will promote diversity in both the U.S. and overseas offices. The development community plays a prominent role as principal partners with the U.S. government in the country’s global leadership. And thus, they should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our nation.
These remarks were delivered on September 14, 2021, as part of “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers,” a series of conversations hosted by the Constituency for Africa and sponsored by National Peace Corps Association. Edited excerpts appear in the 2021 anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Aaron Williams served as a Volunteer in Dominican Republic 1967–70. He was the first African American to serve as USAID’s executive secretary, and the first African American man to direct the Peace Corps.
Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today see more
Some moments that have defined the Peace Corps from 1960 to today. Plus a year-by-year look at countries where Peace Corps programs began.
Researched by Ellery Pollard, Emi Krishnamurthy, Sarah Steindl, Nathalie Vadnais, and Orrin Luc
At right: the 10th-anniversary Peace Corps stamp, issued in 1972. Image courtesy Peace Corps
As part of the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps in 2021, WorldView magazine has published a series of timelines tracking Peace Corps’ beginnings — and we’ve traced the 25-year history of Peace Corps Response. Explore more here:
Annotation: Changing World | The Globe in 1961, the year the Peace Corps was founded
1961: Towering Task Edition | A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged
Peace Corps Response: Snapshots from the First Quarter Century | In 2021 Peace Corps Response marked a quarter century since its founding. Some moments that have defined it.
“Dove of Peace” by Howard Jessor, on the cover of Foreign Service Journal, December 1963 edition. The publication is literally on press, in November 1963, when news breaks that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association
In Greensboro, North Carolina, four Black college students sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and are denied service. A six-month protest results in desegregation of the lunch counter by summer.
Nations gaining independence from Britain and France include Nigeria, Cameroon, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Madagascar, Benin, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Togo, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Mauritania.
“How many of you are willing?” JFK’s campaign speech at the University of Michigan presents the idea of the Peace Corps.
In a speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, John F. Kennedy uses the term “Peace Corps” and calls for revitalizing U.S. global engagement.
JFK at the Cow Palace. Photo courtesy OpenSFHistory.org
John F. Kennedy inaugurated as president. He declares, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Sargent Shriver outlines steps to forming the Peace Corps in a memo to JFK. Central are ideas put forth in “The Towering Task,” a memo by William Josephson and Warren Wiggins.
Executive Order 10924 establishes the Peace Corps. Sargent Shriver is appointed its first director on March 4.
Bay of Pigs invasion
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin training for Colombia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Ghana.
Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom.
Berlin Wall erected overnight.
Sargent Shriver leads the first groups of Peace Corps Volunteers to the Rose Garden for a send-off by President Kennedy.
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives at Accra Airport in Ghana.
Peace Corps Act signed into law by President Kennedy, creating the Peace Corps as an independent agency with a mission to “promote world peace and friendship.”
Newsweek magazine cover: “Peace Corps in Action: Ira Gwin”
In Colombia, a plane crash in the jungle kills more than 30 people — including Larry Radley and David Crozier, the first Peace Corps Volunteers to die during service.
There are 2,816 Volunteers in the field.
Nations gaining independence from Britain, France, and Belgium: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda
Cuban Missile Crisis
Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps appear on the cover of Time.
At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech.
President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas.
Kenya gains independence from Great Britain.
In State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson announces a “War on Poverty” in the U.S.
Mr. Ed the talking horse wants to join the Peace Corps.
Freedom Summer voter registration drive
While still directing the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver begins serving as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Establishes Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents, and Legal Services for the Poor.
Malcolm X assassinated in New York.
The Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights begins — is met with brutal force by police.
LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah overthrown by a military coup.
Sargent Shriver steps down as Peace Corps director. LBJ appoints Jack Vaughn director.
15,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving — the highest number yet. That record still holds.
Guyana, Botswana, and Lesotho gain independence from Great Britain.
Lillian Carter, mother of future president Jimmy Carter, departs for Peace Corps service at the age of 68 as a public health Volunteer in India.
“Volunteers to America” Peace Corps initiative brings people from other countries — including Argentina, Ghana, Nepal, the Philippines, Iran, and Israel — to serve in impoverished areas in the United States. The program lasts until 1971, when it is defunded by Congress.
Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam.
Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis.
Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles.
Soviet Union leads Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends and end the “Prague Spring.”
Joseph Blatchford appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
June 28–July 3
Apollo 11 moon landing
Now we are ten: Released in 1972, this poster by artist Patrick Koeller wins a competition for a design marking the first decade of the Peace Corps. Courtesy West Michigan Graphic Design Archives
First Earth Day
President Nixon orders U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia.
Members of Ohio National Guard fire into crowd of demonstrators at Kent State University; four are killed, nine wounded.
Twelve members of a group calling themselves the Committee of Returned Volunteers enter the fourth-floor offices of the Peace Corps and seal off a wing. They occupy offices for several days and hang a Viet Cong flag through the window.
Greenpeace founded in Canada.
The Pentagon Papers, a study by the U.S. Department of Defense about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, are published in The New York Times.
Executive Order 11603: President Nixon folds the Peace Corps into a new federal volunteer agency, ACTION. Kevin O’Donnell is appointed Peace Corps director.
The first Peace Corps stamp is issued in the U.S.
Police arrest burglars in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Evidence will link the break-in to Nixon’s reelection campaign.
Donald Hess appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
U.S. Supreme Court issues 7–2 decision in Roe v. Wade, ruling that states cannot completely bar a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy.
Nick Craw appointed Peace Corps director by President Nixon.
Endangered Species Act signed into law.
President Nixon resigns.
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie deposed following a Marxist military coup.
First Returned Peace Corps Volunteers elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (Dominican Republic 1966–68) and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (Ethiopia 1962–64).
John Dellenback appointed Peace Corps director by President Ford.
Saigon falls to communist troops from North Vietnam. Mozambique and Comoros gain independence from Portugal and France.
The Concorde takes flight — first supersonic commercial air travel.
The United States celebrates its bicentennial.
Apple II computer, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 introduced, beginning the personal computer craze.
South African activist Steve Biko dies after suffering a massive head injury in police custody.
Carolyn Robertson Payton appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter. She is the first woman and first Black American to serve in that role.
Iranian Revolution begins. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran will be stormed in November 1979.
Rainbow (Gay Pride) flag created by Gilbert Baker.
Peace Corps closes its post in Afghanistan. In December, Soviet troops invade the country.
National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV) founded. It will evolve into National Peace Corps Association.
Richard F. Celeste appointed Peace Corps director by President Carter.
Executive Order 12137: President Carter grants the Peace Corps full autonomy.
The dove at 25: In 1987, this Peace Corps logo adorns a budget presentation to Congress. Volunteers partner with communities to address problems that include “hunger and malnutrition, infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy and limited educational opportunities, inadequate health care, and declining natural resources.” Image courtesy Peace Corps
World Health Assembly declares that smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.
As Peace Corps marks its 20th anniversary, the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers hosts the first national Peace Corps conference in Washington, D.C.
Loret Miller Ruppe appointed Peace Corps director by President Reagan. She serves eight years, more than any other director before or since.
First case of AIDS identified. In U.S. it is initially called “gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).”
Belize gains independence from Great Britain.
Legislation grants Peace Corps its independence as an agency.
Mexico tells the U.S. it can no longer service its $80 billion debt. Brazil, Argentina, and virtually every other country in Latin America is unable to pay back loans, triggering a regional economic crisis.
The Internet is born when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) adopts the standard TCP/IP protocol of the World Wide Web.
Peace Corps establishes the Small Project Assistance (SPA) program.
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh.
In Bhopal, India, 30 tons of methylisocyanate, an industrial gas used to make pesticide, are released at a Union Carbide plant, killing some 15,000 people.
Loret Miller Ruppe signs a letter of agreement establishing the Coverdell Fellows Program with founder Dr. Beryl Levinger (Colombia 1967–69).
For the first time in Peace Corps history, more women than men begin service as Volunteers.
Letter home: In 1986, Tuvalu commemorates the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. Volunteers began serving in the Pacific island nation in 1977. Courtesy PeaceCorpsOnline.org
Lillian Carter Award established to honor those over the age of 50 who have served and advanced the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. Lillian’s son, President Jimmy Carter, calls the award “a wonderful celebration of what is best about the Peace Corps — offering up some of America’s best to the world, and bringing the world home to other Americans.”
Reactor 4 at Chernobyl explodes in Ukrainian S.S.R. — worst nuclear disaster ever in terms of casualties and cost.
Wole Soyinka of Nigeria becomes the first African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.
The number of Peace Corps Volunteers serving drops to new low: 5,219. Government mistrust and aftermath of the Vietnam War take their toll.
The Peace Corps and its 120,000 current and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are honored with the Beyond War Award for their commitment to nonviolence.
Black Monday on the U.S. stock market. Dow plummets 508 points, more than 22 percent.
Barbara Jo White (Dominican Republic 1987–89) creates the World Map Project, which has been replicated by Peace Corps Volunteers in countries around the world.
Coffee bearing the Fair Trade label is introduced.
Paul D. Coverdell appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Coverdell establishes World Wise Schools program (WWS) to connect American educators in classrooms with Peace Corps Volunteers.
Berlin Wall falls. On November 17, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia leads to end of communism there. That same date, in El Salvador, a military hit squad murders six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter.
Civil war begins in Liberia, pitting Charles M. Taylor against former subordinate Prince Johnson. Fighting lasts until 1996.
You’ve got mail: In 1993, Fiji celebrates the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in communities there. Courtesy David Downes
Poland’s ruling communist party votes to dissolve. In ensuing elections, Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity Movement and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wins the presidency.
Nelson Mandela freed from prison in South Africa after 27 years.
First Peace Corps Volunteers begin serving in Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
Iraq invades Kuwait.
LGBT RPCV formed in Washington, D.C.
First Gulf War begins, with a U.S.-led coalition driving invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
First website appears on World Wide Web.
Elaine Chao appointed Peace Corps director by President George H.W. Bush.
Soviet Union dissolves.
Former Peace Corps medical officer Mae Jemison travels into space on Shuttle Endeavor. She is first Black American woman in space.
Terrorists detonate a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center, killing 6, wounding more than 100, and causing more than 50,000 people to evacuate.
Following a referendum, Eritrea breaks away from Ethiopia to become an independent nation.
AmeriCorps established by the National and Community Service Trust Act, creating a “domestic Peace Corps.”
Carol Bellamy (Guatemala 1963–65) sworn in as Peace Corps director. She is the first Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to hold the post.
European Union becomes reality.
A new constitution takes effect in South Africa, officially ending the apartheid system.
Domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols park a truck bomb beneath the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At least 168 people are killed in the explosion, including 19 children in a childcare center located in the building.
Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania create Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
Mark D. Gearan appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
Peace Corps sends three Volunteers to Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis — a step toward creation of Crisis Corps.
Crisis Corps officially launched at a Rose Garden ceremony to send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on short-term, high-impact assignments.
Scientists in Scotland clone Dolly the Sheep — the first cloning of a mammal.
Kofi A. Annan becomes Secretary General of the U.N. He is the first sub-Saharan African to hold the post.
First cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers arrives in South Africa.
In Menlo Park, California, grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin launch search engine Google.
NATO airstrikes begin against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, aimed at halting actions by Slobodan Milošević’s government against ethnic Albanians, and forcing it to withdraw from Kosovo.
First commercial camera phone introduced.
Mark L. Schneider (El Salvador 1966–68) appointed Peace Corps director by President Clinton.
“A Common Mission: Peace Corps and Foreign Service” is the theme of the October 2008 edition of Foreign Service Journal, with cover illustration by Philippe Béha /i2iart.com. Courtesy American Foreign Service Association
International Space Station opens.
It is estimated that some 36 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus.
High Atlas Foundation established in Morocco by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to further sustainable development.
Terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Peace Corps recruiting office in Building 6 of WTC is destroyed when the Twin Towers collapse. Volunteers will be evacuated from Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
A U.S.-led coalition begins a bombing campaign against Afghanistan and later begins a ground offensive.
Gaddi H. Vasquez appointed Peace Corps director by President George W. Bush. He is the first Hispanic American to serve as director.
The Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
U.S. invades Iraq; second Gulf War begins.
Sequence mapping of the human genome is completed.
The Peace Corps commits an additional 1,000 Volunteers to fight HIV/AIDS.
The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience project is introduced at the National Peace Corps Association Group Leaders annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Disputed parliamentary elections in nation of Georgia lead to the Rose Revolution.
Disputed presidential elections in Ukraine lead to the Orange Revolution.
A massive earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggers a tsunami, killing more than 200,000. Peace Corps Response Volunteers assist with relief efforts in several nations.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath, Peace Corps Response Volunteers are deployed domestically for the first time to assist with relief efforts.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becomes the first African woman to lead an African nation when she is elected president of Liberia.
Atlas Corps founded to bring individuals on service fellowships to the U.S., earning reputation as a “reverse Peace Corps.”
The International Astronomical Union demotes Pluto to the status of dwarf planet.
Ronald A. Tschetter (India 1966–68) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Apple debuts the iPhone.
Peace Corps Prep program inaugurated at select U.S. colleges.
Crisis Corps is renamed Peace Corps Response — a name that better captures the broad range of assignments Volunteers are undertaking.
Peace Corps returns to Liberia after an absence of nearly two decades.
Barack Obama inaugurated president. National Peace Corps Association leads returned Volunteers in the inaugural parade.
After leaving Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Peace Corps Volunteers return to begin working in secondary education and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Kate Puzey, a Volunteer in Benin, is murdered after reporting the sexual abuse of girls within her community by a Peace Corps staff member.
Joseph Acaba (Dominican Republic 1994–96) becomes first returned Volunteer to serve as a NASA astronaut, making his first trip to space aboard Shuttle Discovery.
Aaron S. Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70) sworn in as Peace Corps director.
Fiftieth anniversary project, launched thanks to a letter from Congressman John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68) to Librarian of Congress James Billington. Among those thanked: Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962–64) of Peace Corps Writers. Courtesy Library of Congress
Total number of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served surpasses 200,000.
National Peace Corps Association introduces new logo.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti, killing some 200,000.
Explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig kills 11 people and spills more than 3 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
Peace Corps HQ begins presenting the Franklin H. Williams Award, named for an early agency leader. Established by the New York recruiting office in 1999, the award recognizes ethnically diverse returned Volunteers committed to promoting understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. The agency reopens programs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone.
ABC news program “20/20” airs “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed,” telling the story of Kate Puzey.
Peace Corps releases 50th-anniversary commemorative print by artist Shepard Fairey.
President Obama signs the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act into law.
CorpsAfrica is launched by RPCV Liz Fanning to give young Africans the opportunity to work with communities in a Peace Corps–style program.
Egypt’s first competitive presidential election. Mohamed Morsi wins. After months of protests, he is overthrown in a coup in July 2013.
RPCV and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens killed in attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Volunteer Nick Castle dies in China after failing to receive adequate medical care; his parents call for Peace Corps reform and begin advocacy work that continues to this day.
Peace Corps approves assignments for same-sex partners.
Nelson Mandela dies.
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. Russia seizes Crimea and then backs separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Western Samoa 1982–83) appointed Peace Corps director by President Obama.
Ebola sweeps across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, eventually killing 11,000 people. Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers in August. Peace Corps staff in Guinea step up to play an instrumental role in contact tracing and training.
Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announce Let Girls Learn, an initiative to expand access to education for girls around the world. Peace Corps begins a close collaboration with the First Lady to address barriers to education for girls.
U.S. Supreme Court rules same-sex marriage is legal.
Peace Corps receives 23,000 applications during the fiscal year, breaking 40-year record.
Terror attacks in Paris kill 130, wound 494. ISIS claims responsibility.
Peace Corps logo gets a makeover, alongside a refreshed brand platform and new website.
#MeToo movement gains prominence after widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Volunteer Bernice Heiderman, serving in Comoros, dies due to undiagnosed malaria. As her story is told, it raises hard questions about how Volunteer illness is handled during service.
Dr. Josephine (Jody) K. Olsen (Tunisia 1966–68) is sworn in as Peace Corps director.
President Trump signs the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act into law. Key provisions: strengthening criteria for hiring overseas medical officers, and supporting Volunteers victimized by sexual assault or other forms of violence.
National Peace Corps Association marks its 40th anniversary.
“A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” documentary premieres at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Peace Corps announces the “graduation” of the program in China.
World Health Organization declares COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unprecedented decision, all Peace Corps Volunteers are evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19.
Killing of George Floyd sparks national and then global protests against racial injustice.
Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen announces Peace Corps program to launch in Viet Nam in 2022.
National Peace Corps Association hosts town halls and ideas summit as part of Peace Corps Connect to the Future. This results in a report on how to reimagine, retool, and reshape the Peace Corps for a changed world.
Peace Corps launches Virtual Service Pilot program for evacuated Volunteers to continue working with countries where they were serving.
A violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol attempts to stop the certification of the presidential election.
Carol Spahn (Romania 1994–96) assumes responsibilities as acting director of the Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (Ethiopia 1966–68). It’s the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades.
Peace Corps deploys Response Volunteers with FEMA at community vaccination centers to fight COVID-19 — only the second time they have served domestically. Staff who continue to serve at posts around the world also partner in efforts to fight COVID-19.
Last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, after two decades of fighting.
NPCA hosts 60th-anniversary Peace Corps Connect. The theme: “Mobilizing for a Lifetime of Service and Impact.”
Volunteers are invited to return to service in five countries.
Peace Corps Place, new headquarters for National Peace Corps Association, to open in Truxton Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C., providing a home for the Peace Corps community with a café and event space.
PEACE CORPS BEGINNINGS: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY
And year by year — beginning in August 1961, and looking toward plans in 2022.
1961 | Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania)
1962 | Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Malaysia, Nepal, Niger, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela
1963 | Costa Rica, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Malawi, Morocco, Panama, Uruguay
1964 | Kenya, Uganda
1966 | Botswana, Chad, Grenada, Guyana, Republic of Korea, Libya, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau, Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis
1967 | Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Dominica, The Gambia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Samoa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga
1968 | Barbados, Benin, Fiji, Nicaragua
1969 | Mauritius, Swaziland (now Eswatini)
1970 | Malta, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo)
1971 | Mali, Solomon Islands
1972 | Central African Republic (CAR)
1973 | Oman, Yemen
1974 | Bahrain, Kiribati, Montserrat, Seychelles
1975 | Rwanda
1977 | Tuvalu
1980 | Anguilla, Turks and Caicos
1981 | Papua New Guinea
1982 | Cook Islands, Haiti
1983 | Burundi
1984 | Sudan
1986 | Marshall Islands
1988 | Cape Verde, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau
1990 | Czechoslovakia (now Czechia and Slovakia), Hungary, Namibia, Poland, São Tomé and Príncipe, Vanuatu
1991 | Bulgaria, Republic of the Congo, Mongolia, Romania, Zimbabwe
1992 | Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
1993 | China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Moldova, Turkmenistan
1994 | Niue, Zambia
1995 | Eritrea, Suriname
1996 | Macedonia (now North Macedonia)
1997 | Jordan, South Africa
1998 | Bangladesh, Mozambique
2000 | Bosnia and Herzegovina
2001 | Georgia
2002 | Timor-Leste
2003 | Azerbaijan
2004 | Mexico
2007 | Cambodia
2014 | Kosovo
2016 | Myanmar
2020 | Montenegro
2022 | Viet Nam
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 12, 2022 at 8:45 a.m. to correct spelling.
Comments or suggestions? Write us. | Story updated December 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM.
Acting Director Carol Spahn on the state of the Peace Corps in 2021. see more
No Volunteers in the field. Battling COVID-19 — and the global rollout of virtual volunteering. Remarks and Q&A with Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn as part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Pictured: In Morocco, partners and volunteer participants team up as part of the Virtual Service Pilot — which has fostered collaboration on projects around the world since October 2020. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Morocco.
Carol Spahn has served as acting director of the Peace Corps since January 2021. She previously served as a Volunteer in Romania 1994–96 and later as country director for Malawi and chief of operations for the Africa region. She spoke on September 23, 2021, as part of the opening evening of Peace Corps Connect 2021. The Q&A was moderated by Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Below is an edited version of their conversation. Watch the entire conversation here.
Carol Spahn: I can think of nothing more important than being here today with the Peace Corps family. It is such a gift to be part of this community that continues to show up years and decades later, to be with each other and to work together to make the world a better place, to make the agency the best that it can be. We value you. We are listening, we are here with you. And we really thank you for your support. I know that most of you have a burning question on your minds, which is: When will Volunteers get back out into service? I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the enormity of the pandemic’s impacts on health, safety, and well-being around the world, as well as the disproportionate impact that it has had on many of the countries where Volunteers served. We are all anxious to get out there and be a part of the solution. Finding the balance between the health and safety of our Volunteers in our communities has been one of the biggest challenges of my time as acting director.
When we first evacuated Volunteers in March 2020 — in itself an amazing feat; we evacuated almost 7,000 Volunteers in just eight days — we thought we would turn around and get Volunteers back into service three or four months later, after COVID passed. We got to work putting procedures in place, setting up expedited applications, and working hard to make sure that we were ready. As we were gearing up to get Volunteers back into service, we hit the second wave of the pandemic. So we pulled back.
When I took this position in January 2021, we thought, We will get Volunteers vaccinated, and we will be able to get them right back out into service. Then the delta variant hit. At this time, we recognize that COVID will be with us for some time. None of us expected to be having this conversation still, 18 months after the evacuation of Volunteers.
We are evaluating every country individually. We have seen how they’ve handled the pandemic — and multiple waves — in their own communities. We are assessing their health systems as well as other factors, like medical evacuation hubs, and the availability and stability of those hubs. We have several countries that are making it through our very rigorous process. We are hopeful that we will be able to get some Volunteers out toward the beginning of 2022. But we know that the pandemic does continue to throw us curveballs. We will get Volunteers out as soon as it is safe to do so.
When I think about this time, I think about what cultural anthropologists call a liminal experience. This is a disorienting period when things are neither here nor there, when things have been so disrupted that we are forced to think about things differently. And this is not just Peace Corps. This is happening around the world.
We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.
But when I think about Peace Corps’ role in the world and our rich history, there are so many examples of how Peace Corps has helped to rebuild countries following civil war, disasters; how we came in after apartheid, after the end of the Cold War, and much more. We also have a rich history of supporting the prevention and eradication of various diseases, and supporting global health. We will need to adapt to a new reality. But we’ve done it before. And there is no organization and no people like Peace Corps Volunteers who are better prepared in times of the unexpected.
Peace Corps Volunteers know how to listen first, to see what’s possible, to inspire collaboration, to challenge the status quo, and to handle uncertainty. We withstand adversity, we learn through hardship, we adapt to changing circumstances, we innovate, we partner, we fail, and we come back again, until the problem has been solved. In fact, we demand to be challenged, to have our beliefs questioned, to ask hard questions, and to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And we make lifelong friends around the world along the way.
I’ve been so inspired during this time to see how the broad Peace Corps community has stepped up, surrounded by so many of you — and so many staff members — whose very nature it is to raise your hand, to jump off the sidelines, to approach obstacles, and to get in there and solve problems. I am grateful to the 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers who closed their service in August after contributing to the domestic whole-of-government efforts to reach underserved communities with critical health information and access. The stories from this partnership with FEMA, only the second time that Peace Corps has deployed domestically in our history, have been amazing.
Evacuated from Ukraine in March 2020, Kevin Lawson served as a Response Volunteer in 2021 in the U.S. to battle COVID-19. Photo by Meghan White / Peace Corps
We have Volunteers who reached out to a homeless community in Oregon. The people there did not want to go to the vaccination site. So what does a Volunteer do? They went back to the vaccination site and brought the doctors and nurses to the people. We have Volunteers who used Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages to reach people — to build trust and connections in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S.
Likewise, I’m profoundly grateful to our 240 Virtual Service Pilot participants. Through this engagement, you’ve challenged the status quo and demonstrated that, through technology, we can realize impact and that partnerships can be sustained. Participants serving virtually in Nepal are supporting government health and agricultural workers to combat growing food insecurity and economic hardship attributable to COVID-19. Virtual service participants in the Eastern Caribbean have developed a blended learning program, and they’re training teachers across four countries to use digital and online learning to help students return to learning and recover from educational disruptions. This virtual service program can tear down barriers to service, both for volunteers who can’t serve overseas and for communities that, for health safety or other logistical reasons, can’t host volunteers in person.
For the latest round of this pilot, we have returned Volunteers from every decade — the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and beyond — returning to their country of service virtually, to support them during this time. It is such an amazing tribute to the legacy of Peace Corps, and the real commitment that is not just those two years when a Volunteer serves, but that really extends a lifetime.
In the community of Mantasoa in Madagascar, Peace Corps staff helped launch a vaccination campaign. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the tremendous work being done by our staff around the world. Since the global evacuation, our staff have been working tirelessly to keep advancing Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship. The working partnerships that have emerged organically during this time are remarkable.
In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16. In Timor Leste, staff have been partners to the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and have translated COVID-19 information and guidelines into Tetum and nine other local languages, promoting equitable access to health information throughout the country.
In Rwanda, our staff have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct virtual contact tracing to minimize the spread of COVID. This is very similar to the commendable work staff undertook during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014–16.
Almost every single post around the world is directly contributing at this time to the objectives of the United States’ COVID-19 global response and recovery framework. Technology has been key during this time, not only for the virtual service, but also for our staff. In North Macedonia, after completing our eight-week course developer certificate practicum, our staff partnered with the Ministry of Education and delivered workshops to all 25,000 educators from 1,000 public schools in the country so that they could educate their students virtually. Meanwhile, our global agency has poured time and attention into strengthening our systems.
This time without Volunteers in the field has given us a unique opportunity to make strategic improvements. And I would encourage all to sign up for “Inside Peace Corps,” a newsletter we’re putting out that pulls back the curtain so that you can see improvements that we are making. There are too many to list at this time, but I do want to raise a couple.
First, keeping equity at the heart of our work, we continue to ramp up our intercultural competence, diversity, equity and inclusion practice. We have gained invaluable insights from our RPCV community through the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report through our barrier analysis in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have implemented unconscious bias training for all staff around the world. We will be requiring this training for Volunteers before they go out into service. We are approving a new position that will focus on retention, looking at Volunteers in the pipeline to ensure that we understand what the barriers are for our Volunteers of color, our applicants of color who are applying to the Peace Corps, and that we are at a place to remove those barriers.
We also have a new programming, training, and evaluation system that looks at core competencies — and among those are ICDE&I competencies, through which we are intentionally building accountability to our host countries. These will be used globally, and Volunteers will all be evaluated on a standardized set of ICDE&I competencies, which set clear levels of how Volunteers are expected to master technical skills and demonstrate the agency’s values through their assignments.
There is so much that is going on in this space. You will see a lot of it in our strategic plan when that is released. [It was released December 3. —Ed.] One of the big ideas we were asked to consider in the 2020 “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was around ethical storytelling. We’ve taken this recommendation seriously and are developing an ethical storytelling toolkit for staff, Volunteers, and RPCVs. That will equip us all with the awareness and communication tools necessary to keep our host communities at the heart of our storytelling. Through this work, we aspire to achieve a more ethical and equitable storytelling standard that extends across all of the Peace Corps network, and ensures that Peace Corps members have a sense of belonging and that we are honoring identity throughout.
Finally, I know that many of you have deep concerns about our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program. We are committed to strengthening this program and have been taking a long, hard look at where it can be improved. We’ve taken several actions already that are aimed to reinforce this system, and that also respect the rights, the privacy, and the needs of any Volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault. I am very proud of the advances that the agency has made in this space. And I’m very personally committed and accountable for this work.
I want to end by quoting from a speech that President Biden gave at the U.N. General Assembly. He said, “There is a clear and urgent choice we face here, at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world, a decade that will quite literally determine our futures. And whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come.”
This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change.
This is a pivotal moment in our history, and the parallels between where we were in 1961 and where we are now are striking. The core of what we do as Peace Corps — person-to-person exchange, and the value of living and working together — will not change. But we can create a Peace Corps that transcends the experience we all know and love to create a new and improved Peace Corps, one that encompasses the diverse, equitable, and inclusive vision we have — a vision of an agency that is able to respond quickly to shifting realities, and utilize a variety of creative tools and modalities to combat some of the greatest threats of our lifetime.
We are all inextricably linked to that legacy.
Questions from the community: diversity, virtual service, reducing the risk of sexual assault, and more
Glenn Blumhorst: You mentioned the Peace Corps Connect to the Future summit and report and specific things the agency is implementing, such as ethical storytelling. Are there other recommendations that stand out and that you have been working to implement?
Spahn: It is a report I go back to frequently. As we went through our strategic planning process, it was one of many inputs we factored in. Giving priority to hiring people of color: We will have specific goals and objectives around that, and implementing systems for how to do outreach more intentionally into different communities, both for staff and for Volunteers. We would love to engage the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in helping us do that. There are recommendations about providing financial assistance. We are looking to pilot programming this year to see how we can support Volunteers who might not be able to pay upfront costs of medical clearance. Is there a way we can provide vouchers or other financial support so they do not need to carry costs until they can be reimbursed? We have been partnering with AARP for how to recruit all kinds of diversity into Peace Corps.
Blumhorst: The report was shared with of Congress. Some reforms and improvements and provisions that emanated from that report are in H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, introduced by Congressman Garamendi.
The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place.
Spahn: The reauthorization bill is incredibly important; 1999 was the last Peace Corps reauthorization. It’s important that we get a new bill into place. The bill really does have a lot of provisions that are very supportive of our Volunteers and our community.
Blumhorst: You touched on a topic that’s one that we really want to lean in on, and listen in on — sexual assault risk reduction and response. What is the status of the congressionally-mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council that is charged with assessing Peace Corps’ efforts to address sexual assault and offer best practices?
Spahn: The council has been meeting since May, several times a month. We’ve asked them to look back over the last five years at recommendations of the council, assess where we are, and see what is relevant from those prior recommendations: where we still have work to do, what are the most important things going forward. They will be preparing a report for us before the end of the year, and we will make that report public. [The report was released in November. — Ed.] I want to thank those advisory council members. Those are unpaid positions — people who care deeply about Peace Corps — and we put a big task in front of them this year. We have also put out a call for proposals and will be having a review of the overall structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program to make sure it is structured in the best way, that we are a continuously learning organization. There is no entity that can say, We have the best way to really meet sexual assault survivors where they are. We are all learning, we’re all growing, and we are committed to listening, improving, and putting systems in place so we can be the best that we can be.
Blumhorst: We recognize the role of staff in the field, preparing the way for Volunteers to return. Meanwhile, tell us about virtual volunteering. What have you learned from current programs?
Spahn: It has shown tremendous promise for how Volunteers can stay engaged long after service, supporting communities in a variety of ways. The beauty of virtual service is that there might be people who can’t clear medically who would still have an option to serve. We might have people with very specific skills a country is looking for, who might not be able to leave home for two years — but could contribute in other ways. We have regions that can’t be reached due to safety and security issues. We saw this with Paraguay — an ecotourism organization and national park site Volunteers were not able to reach for a variety of reasons. There is now a virtual Volunteer helping through radio programming and other ways to support environmental programs.
Will it ever replace the two-year Volunteers and that on-the-ground connection? No. That is where the magic of Peace Corps happens, in living and working together side by side for an extended period of time. But will it be a terrific supplement, using all of the tools that we have at our disposal? Absolutely.
The hardest part is that balancing act — knowing the need at this pivotal time in history… knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and how to do that safely.
The hardest part is really that balancing act — knowing what the need is that’s out there at this pivotal time in history, part of a global pandemic, the likes of which we will hopefully never see again in our lifetime; and knowing what value Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground can bring, and struggling through the details to make sure that we can do that safely. That has been the biggest challenge. One of the biggest barriers has been stable access to medical evacuation hubs. We’re setting up backup options and agreements. We’re all here for the mission of Peace Corps, to be out in communities and supporting world peace and friendship. The highs have been seeing innovation and how people have stepped up in many ways: what staff in the field are doing in the absence of Volunteers, and staff at headquarters buckling down to get systems in place so that when we’re ready, we really are the best that we can be.
Blumhorst: How does the agency play a role in helping RPCVs have a lifetime of service and impact?
Spahn: I love the theme of this conference, and have seen in so many ways how RPCVs have stepped up. I want to give a special shout-out to Friends of Tonga, who are a 2021 Library of Congress honoree for best practices for their virtual read-aloud program. As Peace Corps, we are looking to engage with RPCVs and through National Peace Corps Association, to really expand and understand the impact. I encourage everyone to complete the survey that NPCA put out, so that we can really understand that and help support it longer term. Our ethical storytelling kit will be a great tool. And we will be looking to work with RPCVs getting out into underrepresented communities around the United States to really elevate awareness of the Peace Corps.
We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine the agency see more
With our allies in Congress, we’re working to ensure that the administration understands this is no time to return to the status quo. We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine, reshape, and retool for a changed world.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Many of us in the Peace Corps community took note of the pledge in President Biden’s inaugural address to “engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And, we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Those words resonate with the Peace Corps mission, not with a sense of “be like us!” but with a sense of solidarity and commitment to working and learning alongside one another, wherever we serve. One of the messages we’re driving home to members of Congress and the Executive Branch: If we’re reengaging with the world, let’s do it with ideals that are supposed to represent what’s best about this country — even as we work in our communities and at the national level to build a more perfect union.
That said, if we value the role of the Peace Corps, we have to be serious about reimagining, retooling, and reshaping the agency for a changed world. As the administration appoints new leadership for the agency, it is critical that it brings on board not only a director but top staff who reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice, and that these leaders come equipped with global experience and a deep understanding of — and commitment to — the Peace Corps community.
Equity, experience, and community
At the Peace Corps agency, January 20 marked the departure of Director Jody Olsen, who led the agency during unprecedented times, including the global evacuation of Volunteers in spring 2020. Last fall she was optimistic about Volunteers returning to the field as early as January 2021. But by December it was clear that was no longer a possibility. Plans are now for Volunteers to return in the second half of 2021. The health and safety of communities and Volunteers is paramount.
Carol Spahn has been named Acting Director of the Peace Corps. The Biden Administration has also begun to announce new political appointments. We’re meeting with Spahn and the leadership team as it takes form to ensure that we keep moving forward with the big ideas the Peace Corps community has outlined to meet the needs of a world as it is, not as it was. For Peace Corps, as with so much in this country, now is not the time to return to the status quo. Now is the time for historic changes.
When many hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community came together in summer 2020 for a series of town hall meetings and a global ideas summit, it was with a sense of an agency, a nation, and a world facing multiple crises. From those meetings came “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a community-driven report that brings together big ideas and targeted, actionable recommendations for the agency and the Executive Branch, Congress, and the wider Peace Corps community — particularly NPCA.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential: that many of them address longstanding issues and sorely needed changes, but there never had been the opportunity to undertake them on a major scale. Now is that time.
Whom the Biden Administration appoints to top posts at the agency sends a powerful signal to the community. Will the leaders reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice — and a serious commitment to the quarter million strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community? Members of Congress who have been champions for Peace Corps funding are watching as well.
A roadmap for change
The report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” provides a roadmap for change. While the report is far-ranging in point-by-point recommendations that are grouped into eight separate chapters, here are three overriding themes that emerged. We’re working to ensure that the administration and new staff at the agency take these to heart:
1. The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism.
The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps. Conversely, many in the U.S. bristle when hearing these terms; but it’s important to both recognize the context and address them head-on to enable a more effective and welcome return for Volunteers.
2. The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact.
The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers. NPCA has demonstrated that it is both possible and beneficial to become community-driven to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Community-driven programming will keep the work both current and relevant to the world around us, ensuring that the agency succeeds in its mission in a changed world.
3. Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change.
The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken.
Who is there to lead the change matters. From the Peace Corps community, this message came through clearly: When it comes to the permanent director, they should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States — and communities throughout the world.
In an unprecedented time, the Peace Corps community has come together with an unparalleled response. With the new administration, there are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with years of experience already taking on key roles in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Labor, and National Security Council. These appointments show a value placed on experience and racial equity — and a commitment to leading with the best. Let’s ensure that commitment carries over to Peace Corps as well.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association
Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleNational Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. see more
By Mark Gearan
The bipartisan, 11-member National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to find ways to increase participation in military, national, and public service and to review the military selective service process. Our goal is to ignite a national conversation about the importance of service as we develop recommendations for the Congress and the President by March 2020.
I am honored to serve as vice chair for national and public service and was privileged to deliver opening remarks during two national service hearings held by the Commission in March 2019. From my years as Peace Corps director, I know RPCVs will have a strong interest in our work and I appreciate this opportunity to update the community on our efforts.
From February to June of this year, the commission held 14 public hearings and released eight staff memoranda on various topics related to our mission. In March, the commission held two hearings on national service and released a staff memorandum summarizing research and outlining potential policy options the commission is considering on increasing Americans’ propensity to participate in national service.
National service is defined in the commission’s mandate as “civilian participation in any non-governmental capacity, including with private for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations (including with appropriate faith-based organizations), that pursues and enhances the common good and meets the needs of communities, the states, or the nation in sectors related to security, health, care for the elderly, and other areas considered appropriate by the Commission.”
National Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. The Commission is also considering ways to include faith-based, non-profit, and private-sector organizations in creating and promoting national service opportunities.
As the vice chair for national and public service, former Peace Corps director, and a former college president, our hearings on national service were close to my heart, especially as we hosted them at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. President George H.W. Bush lived his life in service to others and as a leader who believed service could unite Americans. He served as a champion of national service, and it was an honor for the commission to host both hearings at the school that honors his legacy. And I note with pride, that Texas is fourth in the list of top Peace Corps volunteer-producing states with 350 individuals serving in the Peace Corps in 2018.
Reducing Barriers to Service
A study commissioned by Service Year Alliance in 2015 demonstrated that fewer than one third of 14 to 24-year-olds are aware of service year options. The Commission wants to assure access to these opportunities for all Americans. To do this, the Commission is interested in minimizing barriers to serve, such as stipends and benefits. Improving access to national service will ensure that the diversity of national service volunteers reflects that of the nation.
When the Peace Corps was established in 1961, it was an innovative and bold idea. Today, more than 230,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers demonstrate the enduring strength of that idea. Peace Corps Volunteers have represented the United States in 141 countries and have left behind a legacy of peace and friendship.
At our hearing, Michelle Brooks, Peace Corps chief of staff, testified and argued that federal government investment in programs such as Peace Corps and the various programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service ultimately results in the development of passionate and informed global citizens. Each Peace Corps Volunteer returns to the United States with a proven track record of working in a cross-cultural setting and appreciating and respecting the richness of working across differences.
Brooks also shared recommendations the agency would like the commission to consider. Two of those suggestions were: extending Noncompetitive Eligibility status to three years for RPCVs, bringing it in line with most other authorities granting that status; and an NCE Service Registry, an idea Peace Corps is piloting with two federal agencies.
Ms. Brooks’ full testimony can be found on the Commission’s website at www.inspire2serve.gov. Do you have additional recommendations to those provided by the Peace Corps during our March hearings on national service?
Join the Discussion
I invite you to join us in this important conversation. Our hope is to spark a movement: every American — especially young Americans — inspired and eager to serve. Talk to your friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues and fellow returned Volunteers about the commission, your service experience, and how we can create more national service opportunities for Americans. We want to hear from all of you!
Share your ideas with the commission through our website on any aspect of the commission’s mission. For example, how can we create more national service opportunities for Americans, and how can we improve the current national service policies and processes?
Stay up to date on the commission’s activities and download the Interim Report at www.inspire2serve.gov. Our final report will be released in March 2020 with recommendations for the national service community — and that includes Peace Corps. Stay tuned! We also invite you to follow the commission on Facebook and Twitter via @Inspire2ServeUS and join the digital conversation on service by using the hashtag #Inspire2Serve.
Mark Gearan currently serves as the vice chair for National and Public Service for the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School and served as the 14th director of the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1999.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.
Suggestions to the President by eleven former Peace Corps directors see more
Here’s what eleven former Peace Corps directors would say.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps on March 1, University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a conversation with 11 former Peace Corps directors. Topics ranged across the decades, with a focus on this unprecedented moment — pandemic that led to global evacuation — and an eye toward what Peace Corps can and should do for a changed world.
The conversation was moderated by Donna Shalala, former secretary of health and human services and former member of Congress. Shalala served as a Volunteer in Iran 1962–64, when Sargent Shriver was Peace Corps Director. “He came out to visit us. One of the things I remember, other than he was a charismatic character and we had a lot of fun with him, is that he stuck us with the hotel bill. Thirty years later I presented him with that bill — and his wife made him pay it.”
In all seriousness, she noted that amid a time of rancorous political divide, if she had three minutes with the president to talk about the Peace Corps, she would drive home this point: “The Peace Corps has always been bipartisan. It has always had the support of both parties. Some of the most significant budget increases were during a Republican presidency.”
Bolstering support for Peace Corps is something that earns support on both sides of the aisle.
—Steven Boyd Saum
I’d tell the president: Get them back out there as quickly as you can. Number two, use it as a base to build a national service program for the entire United States. And number three, hire everybody who’s a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer for your administration.
My first request would be to double the size of the program, because we clearly have always had the demand, way more than we could ever fill … Peace Corps has remained strong and a very durable brand throughout multiple challenges, multiple crises, multiple attempts to defund the agency, people who tried to submerge it in another agency … It has survived and prospered.
DOUBLE IT! We’ve come to appreciate the importance of public health, both at home and globally, in a much more immediate way. Can we declare a decade committed to global public health, in which the Peace Corps plays a role overseas — and then brings that role home? The public health system here can use great strengthening, and it could become part of a comprehensive national service program.
For a while I was with the Pan American Health Organization, and people told me that Peace Corps Volunteers in Latin America, in Africa, and in countries in other parts of the world, were key in the smallpox eradication program, and Volunteers worked on polio eradication. Looking forward, it seems to me that would be the kind of challenge Volunteers would respond to. COVID is not going away quickly. Peace Corps Volunteers can help, through their ability to bring technology to bear on health communication in countries around the world.
I am a big proponent of universal national service. I would tell the president that we have a blueprint, which is ready to go, for expansion of national service. Now is the time. We need something that created the greatest generation, that brought people together from Tulsa to New York, from Brooklyn to Fresno — and national service can do it. As we look for ways to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, national service would be an ideal platform to expand opportunities for young people around the country.
I’d try to add an initiative that was dear to my heart: the 50-plus initiative, and talk about the fact that the Peace Corps is not only for young people; it’s for those who have had successful careers, and now have years of experience that they have the ability to share with people around the world. I think it would be impactful on the president to hear some of those stories.
The most important point is the proven track record, success, and value of the Peace Corps — to set the foundation to have a discussion about the ultimate objective, which is to grow and expand the Peace Corps. The domestic dividend is the one aspect that I tried to emphasize, particularly, both to the president and on the Hill; the return on that investment far, far exceeds the boundaries or the time of service in country.
My conversations with Sargent Shriver confirmed to me the whole ethos of the Peace Corps was innovation — and making the Volunteer the North Star. Which led me to think through ways that we could contemporize the Peace Corps and make it right for the times. I used to think the domestic dividend was one of the more underreported or unobserved strengths of the Peace Corps.
We know the good work that happens in some of the most desperate places across the planet — what that means to those communities and villages, certainly the Volunteers. We now know the impact on American lives when they return is the brilliance of the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. We’re at a point in our history where the importance of national and community service cannot be more important. It’s what unites us. Volunteers would say that it crosses the boundaries of difference.
We’re at a point in our history where the importance of national and community service cannot be more important. It’s what unites us.
As we celebrate this 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, a major accomplishment in the next ten years can be to enhance the threads of service. We know the demand is there. The interesting question for me now is: What will the next ten, 15, 20 years bring in innovation? During my time, we thought of ways to use short-term assignments, initially Crisis Corps, which became Peace Corps Response. Every director here had a moment where they could build upon that history through innovation, respond to needs.
America’s young people — and those not so young — are looking for ways to make a difference. As to the future of the Peace Corps, we’re going to need everyone’s support to make sure the funding is ample. This anniversary is so joyful — but the 70th will be even more so when the Peace Corps will have been doubled.
Many people don’t really understand what Peace Corps does. So I would share a story that conveys what Peace Corps is really about — a story told me by Alpha Condé [first democratically elected president in Guinea], who early in my tenure as director came to visit with President Obama to celebrate democracy in West Africa. He asked to see me; he had a short period of time in Washington, D.C. I went to his hotel, and we had a very formal meeting and exchanged gifts.
He had to meet with President Obama in just a minute. I jumped up to leave — and he reached for my arm and he said, “Please sit down, because now that we’ve dispensed with the formalities, I want to speak to you from my heart. I want to tell you how Peace Corps has transformed my life — but even more important, how it has changed the lives of my people.
“There was a Peace Corps Volunteer who lived next door to me — the first person who believed I had a future outside the boundaries of my village. His late-night tutoring helped me to pass my national exams. He helped me navigate the journey through university application, financial forms, etc. I would not be president today if not for his support and encouragement.
“But more important, the impact your Volunteers have had on my people: During my campaign for presidency, I visited over 300 villages in Guinea. I went to villages in the far east of my country, where Ebola started. My campaign staff wouldn’t go there — and there were Peace Corps Volunteers. I went to the villages in the north where civil servants refused to be posted — and there were Peace Corps Volunteers. I went to small villages in the center of my country; they are visited occasionally by NGOs, which do great work. But at the end of the day, they get back in their SUVs and go back to Conakry, where they live. Your Peace Corps Volunteers stay.
Alpha Condé, the first democratically elected president of Guinea, said: “Your being there validates my people in a way that sending them money or building them a school could never accomplish. In all honesty, your being there validates my people more than millions of dollars in foreign assistance.”
“By your presence, you tell my people that Americans care, that my people are important, that you’re willing to give us your most precious asset — your sons and daughters — and that they are willing to leave everything that is dear to them to travel thousands of miles from home to learn our language, eat our food, learn about our culture, and work on our priorities. Your being there validates my people in a way that sending them money or building them a school could never accomplish. In all honesty, your being there validates my people more than millions of dollars in foreign assistance.
“My people are so proud to show their culture and their language. They’re so proud to work together with your Volunteers to create a better world together, who give them a hand up and not a handout. And that makes a difference.”
I’d share that story. In this world that has become so divided, presidents need to know about those interpersonal connections. Unless people really understand that, they don’t see a benefit in the Peace Corps. We need to be able to communicate the importance of Peace Corps in a way that is profoundly personal. When I was director, there were more than ten presidents on the continent of Africa alone who said they got their start with a Peace Corps Volunteer. That’s extraordinary.
I was sometimes asked by Volunteers, when I was director, what is their real impact? I assured them that I had the great privilege of seeing the continuum of work from one Volunteer to another — work that’s built upon one another.
What you’re all illustrating is the one-on-one, the humbleness; you learn the language, you learn the community, you are with a family. One example that several of you were involved in: Peace Corps going back to Indonesia. There was a lot of mistrust, and a tiny program — maybe ten Volunteers. We came, we worked, bit by bit by bit. I was able to go back to Indonesia about 15 months ago for a meeting with the Ministry of Education and the other agencies that have come together for Peace Corps in Indonesia. They said, “We want to say to you now, ten years later — we want to open up the next section for the country. We want to bring in 30, 40, 50, 60 more Volunteers. We trust you. We respect you, because you honor and respect us as individuals working in communities.”
And new appointments to other leadership posts at the agency by the Biden Administration see more
Updated March 4: The Biden Administration continues to fill out political appointments for staff at the agency.
By NPCA Staff
On January 20, Carol Spahn was named Acting Director of the Peace Corps by President Biden. Spahn had been serving as the Peace Corps chief of operations for Africa. She succeeds Jody Olsen, who stepped down as director on January 20.
Spahn has over 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania (1994–96) and country director in Malawi (2014–19). Her work with the nonprofit sector includes experience with Women for Women International — which supports female survivors of war — and Accordia Global Health Foundation — which helps fight infectious disease in Africa.
“It is an honor to serve the Peace Corps and our country,” Spahn said in a release from the agency. “From my time as a volunteer in Romania to my years as a country director in Malawi, I have loved my work for the Peace Corps, the American people, and the people of the countries where I have served. I am grateful the Biden-Harris transition team has accorded me the privilege of serving in this new role.”
A welcome: Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn, right. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
Spahn holds a master’s in international development from George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, and she earned her bachelor’s in accounting and philosophy from the Catholic University of America.
With the scale of tasks before the new administration, it will likely be some months before a new director is appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Someone committed to transformational change
Peace Corps’ first general counsel, Bill Josephson, is co-author with Warren Wiggins of the 1961 report that laid out the scope of what founding the Peace Corps entailed. They called the report A Towering Task.
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, all 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from the countries where they were serving. Currently Volunteers are not projected to return to the field until the second half of 2021. Assessing the challenges of the months ahead, Josephson surmises that relaunching Peace Corps will be an even greater towering task, with the agency requiring extraordinary leadership to return it successfully to the field.
In late 2020, a special advisory council to National Peace Corps Association issued a community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” on how to reimagine, reshape, and retool Peace Corps for a changed world. One of the key points made at the conclusion of the report is this: “The next Peace Corps director should be appointed quickly. They should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency by advancing the recommendations included in this report. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States.”
Additional appointments to date: Updated February 17
As of January 28, there were several public announcements, via the press and social media, of new staff at the Peace Corps agency.
Dave Noble has been named chief of staff for Peace Corps. He had been serving as executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. Under the Obama administration, he served as a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office, and prior to that as deputy chief of staff and White House liaison for NASA.
Scott Beale has been appointed Associate Director of Global Operations for Peace Corps. In 2006 Beale founded Atlas Corps, a volunteer program to connect and empower global leaders through service in the United States. Over the past 15 years, Atlas Corps has brought more than 1,000 individuals from 103 countries to the United States on 12- to 18-month fellowships, earning the organization recognition by some as a “reverse Peace Corps.” Beale has been twice named one of the top nonprofit CEOs in the United States by the Nonprofit Times. President Obama recognized him at the Clinton Global Initiative as part of his administration’s Stand With Civil Society Initiative. And Beale wrote this piece about Atlas Corps for the Summer 2013 edition of WorldView magazine, published by National Peace Corps Association.
Sarah Dietch has been appointed to serve as director of Peace Corps Response, a program that sends U.S. Volunteers with more experience on short-term, high-impact assignments around the world. All Peace Corps Response Volunteers were also evacuated in March 2020 and have yet to return to the field. This year the programs marks its 25th anniversary. Dietch served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia 2017–19, and her professional experience includes work with several government agencies: as a senior advisor for USDA, an assistant administrator for legislative affairs at Transportation Security Administration, and chief of staff for the office of legislative affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
New announcements as of February 17:
Mary Bruce has been named Associate Director for Volunteer Recruitment and Selection. As she notes in her LinkedIn profile, that work includes “rebuilding the pipeline of 7,000 Volunteers in 60+ countries annually, as Peace Corps relaunches its work after evacuating all Volunteers in 2020 due to COVID.” For more than seven years she directed AmeriCorps Alums, a national organization focused on social impact to leverage the experience of those who had served in AmeriCorps. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco 2004–06 and, prior to that, served as a teacher’s aide and tutor with AmeriCorps in Washington, D.C.
Jacklyn Dao Dinneen has been named deputy chief of staff for Peace Corps. Under the Obama administration, she directed gifts and grants management for the Peace Corps and served as White House liaison; she also served within the White House as assistant policy director, and with the Department of Homeland Security. Previous roles include work with Sen. Lincoln Chaffee and Teach for America. For the past four years she served in senior roles with The Partnership, Inc., an organization that was established to focus on the advancement of African Americans in corporate Boston and over the past three decades has grown into an organization that supports multicultural professionals at all levels in an increasingly diverse and global workforce.
News from March 1:
Faith Oltman has been named Director of Communications for Peace Corps. She comes to the agency with experience helming communications for the Columbus City Attorney and with the Ohio State Senate and House of Representatives.
News from May 21:
Victor Sloan has been named Associate Director, Health Services, as reported in Politico. He had been serving as CEO of Sheng Consulting, and he holds a faculty appointment at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University. He served as a Volunteer in Cameroon 1981–83 and notes, “After more than 20+ years in the pharmaceutical industry, I am humbled and honored to have been appointed to serve as Associate Director, Health Services at the Peace Corps. Forty years after I served as a Volunteer in Cameroon, I am thrilled to be returning to the agency to work to ensure the health of Trainees and Volunteers.”
Story last updated June 1 at 10:00 a.m.
And a conversation on Peace Corps ideals in today’s world see more
Williams issues a clarion call for building a more inclusive network for global development. And he explores the arc of Peace Corps history in an interview about the documentary A Towering Task.
By Del Wood and Steven Boyd Saum
We are in an historic moment. The protests against racial injustice that have swept the United States and scores of other countries since the end of May were sparked by the killing of George Floyd — one of so many Black women and men killed by police. The protests erupted with anger and frustration — and not only among Blacks. They have also ushered in the possibility of the United States coming to terms with systemic racism. That transformation needs to be carried over into global development work, writes former Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.
“The diversity of the demonstrators gives me great hope that this could be the pivotal moment in our nation,” Williams observes in an essay published by Devex in June. “They are demanding that we live up to the American dream, and the ideals of democracy, civil rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality that the country was founded on two centuries ago.”
Williams also argues that international organizations have a responsibility to transform how they do their work:
“U.S. international and foreign affairs organizations should rise to this challenge, and seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broad-based policies and programs that will promote diversity and social justice in both their U.S. and overseas offices. They play a prominent role — as principal partners with the U.S. government — in the country’s global leadership, and thus should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our country.”
Williams served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 1967 to 1970 and as Director of the Peace Corps from 2009 to 2012. Read the full essay here.
‘Transformed my life’: Aaron Williams on Peace Corps history and A Towering Task
With the screening of A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps in Florida recently, Aaron Williams sat down for a conversation about the film. He supplements the sweeping history of the Peace Corps in the documentary with personal stories. How he, as a young Black man from the South Side of Chicago, headed into Peace Corps with a nearly all-white cohort of Volunteers. Of the powerful impact Peace Corps had in Ghana — teaching a young man and inspiring him to become a scientist, then later vice president and president. And he makes the case for Peace Corps ideals as offering a way forward: with understanding what it means to be engaged with the world, and to live out those ideals at home.
Here are clips from the conversation with film exhibitor Nat Chediak.
“My entire career … whether I've been in business, I’ve been in government, I’ve been in the nonprofit world — Peace Corps was the trigger for that.”
WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, so I grew up in a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and people expected me to settle down, become a teacher and, you know, have a normal life. Well, I had become intrigued by the Peace Corps by listening to Sargent Shriver’s speeches. And I heard a couple of Kennedy’s speeches. I was still pretty young when Kennedy was president. But I decided, this is something that I should look into. It sounded like something that would be structured, would give me a chance to learn something about outside of the United States, and it turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime. I mean, truly, truly transformed my life. Everything that I’ve done, Nat, has emanated from the Peace Corps. My entire career … whether I've been in business, I’ve been in government, I’ve been in the nonprofit world — Peace Corps was the trigger for that.The other thing about the Peace Corps is that when I arrived out in California, the San Diego State College where I was trained, I was in a group of about 80 or 90 people. I was the only Black person in the group. And I was wondering to myself, those first couple of days, what have I parachuted myself into? I quickly found out, within a week or two weeks there, that I was in the presence of some very special people. People who had self-selected to join in this wonderful enterprise called the Peace Corps, who were interested in making the world a better place, and were open to ideas, to people, to thoughts, and philosophies. That was just amazing. So it was an amazing time. And I trained with some amazing people. Part of our group went to El Salvador, part went to Honduras, the other part went to the Dominican Republic, and we were teacher trainers. So that's how it all emanated. That’s how I ended up in the Peace Corps.
“And that’s when this young man who became vice president, and ultimately president of Ghana, decided he wanted to become a scientist.”
WILLIAMS: There’s also a great commonality. And that’s what you really learn in the Peace Corps, right? You learn about the commonality and things that we worry about: our children, the future, good healthcare, aspirations for our children and our family. And you learn that those are the basic common elements that we all share, no matter where you might be born or live on the globe.
Let me tell you a story. I was in Ghana to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. And I went to an event with the then-vice president of Ghana. He had been taught by a Peace Corps Volunteer when he was a young man in elementary school in a remote part of Ghana. Ghana was one of the first countries where Sargent Shriver established the Peace Corps in 1961. So when we arrived at this event, it was to celebrate the Year of the Teacher in Ghana. And a Peace Corps Volunteer was one of the ten top teachers that was being honored, as a matter of fact. And that Peace Corps Volunteer, by the way, her parents had served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Latin America, you know, years before — so what a marvelous confluence of events. As I was waiting in the government house in this regional city to go out to the event with the vice president, I had a couple of talking points I wanted to share with him about the future of the Peace Corps in Ghana and some things that the ambassador had asked me to share with the vice president. And instead, he wanted to tell me a story about how he met this Peace Corps Volunteer.
So he’s a young man in this classroom. They had never seen a white person before in the village, and they were worried about this new teacher they had heard about. They wondered, would this man even speak English? Could they understand him? What was this gonna be all about? He comes in and he says: How many people here in this room know how far the sun is from the Earth? And they’re thinking, why is he asking us this? Who knows the answer to this question? Everybody put their heads down, nobody answered. He went up to the board and he wrote on the board: “93.” Then he went around this one-room classroom — with these chalk balls — and he kept circling with chalk until he came back around to the front. He says, “Ninety-three million miles. Don’t you ever forget that.”
“And that’s when this young man who became vice president, and ultimately president of Ghana, decided he wanted to become a scientist.”
WILLIAMS: He could have told me anything that day, but that’s the story that he shared with me, which I have never forgotten. It was such a stunning, amazing — and it tells you a lot about the impact of the Peace Corps. Now, lastly, when I got back to the States I did everything I could see if we could find this volunteer who had taught him. And we did!
CHEDIAK: No kidding!
WILLIAMS: When he came over for a summit of African nations with President Obama, we arranged a reunion with the then-vice president and the Peace Corps Volunteer who taught him in Ghana in that rural school.
CHEDIAK: You're kidding. Were you there? Was it very emotional?
WILLIAMS: No, I was not there.
CHEDIAK: Ah, okay. Okay, but I can imagine now I'm, you know, what a beautiful moment that must have been for both of them.
CHEDIAK: Oh, my gosh, that’s incredible. That’s a beautiful story.
WILLIAMS: It’s a miracle they tracked him down. This is 50 years later.
“That’s what we bring to the rich tapestry of America when we return home."
CHEDIAK: Even in these difficult, nationalistic days — and I’m not talking simply about the U.S. — you know, but it’s something that we have seen in other countries that is a troubling concern. You still feel that the goodwill of men will prevail?
WILLIAMS: I think so, and I think the Peace Corps is really my foundation for believing that. Because I’ve seen people prevail against really tough situations — horrendous conditions, right? Fighting disease, fighting poverty, political unrest, civil war, and they come out the other side, in most cases, better than they were in the beginning. Not in all cases, right — but it happens. So, that’s the reason I continue to be optimistic about the future of the world and mankind. And I’m so proud of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served for almost 60 years in countries around the world, who represent the true face of America and who really understand what it means to be engaged with the rest of the world and to become effective and optimistic global citizens. That’s what we bring to the rich tapestry of America when we return home and what we do in our future careers here at home.