Greetings from the West Cascade Peace Corps Association!
WHO KNEW? is a segment that invites RPCVs to submit ideas experiences and/or memories of their PC experience. Our question for this month is "What are some of your favorite Peace Corps memories?" Email your answers to email@example.com or call Keith Beyer at 541-515-6435.
"My teacher, I'm burning!"
Dear fellow members of West Cascade Peace Corps Association,
On Friday, 21 January, I went to Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown to attend the wake for R.Sargent Shriver. I got there at 4 pm, paid my respect to the family, and learned that the "words" would happen at 6:30 pm. So I went home to get a notebook and water and returned to the church. By 6:30 it was totally full and overflowing. Singing "Amazing Grace" set the perfect tone. The cast of speakers was right out of Washington 1960s:
The crowd and the words were touching and inspiring. Just like Sarge inspired all of us to "serve, serve, serve."
He was a terrific human being, responsible for many enduring programs like Peace Corps, Head Start, War on Poverty, Special Olympics, etc. He was a devout Catholic who lived his faith in every way. He considered Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Daniel Berigan as the greatest Catholics because they were pacifists who inspired others through their work and writings.
His casket was a plain, pine box and the four sons, one daughter and Arnold Schwarzenegger carried him out into the freezing cold night as the family sang "America the Beautiful." Not a dry eye in the place.
The next morning I attended the funeral Mass for Shriver at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, MD. Pres. Bill Clinton and VP Joe Biden spoke but the most moving statements came from Shriver's five children who related the deeply human side of their parents, foibles and all. It was lovely. After the 2.5 hour Mass, we moved to the Congressional Country Club for lunch....hundreds, perhaps a thousand of us.
When I was training for Peace Corps in summer 1963 Shriver visited my training site in New Mexico and talked with us. Through the years I met him on several occasions and he always made me feel special. He had an ability to make everyone feel special.
Occasions like this make me pleased to be in DC and able to participate in a moment in history. I thought of you and the thousands of RPCVs who also wished they could have been there to say their goodbyes to this great man.
In the spring of 1963 Sargent Shriver along with at least two staff members visited Asankrangwa, Ghana where I later lived and worked as a PCV. Two volunteers from the first Peace Corps group, Ghana I, lived on the campus of the secondary school just outside of town. They were completing their two years of service as teachers and thinking about what they would do next. Shriver had visited Ghana just two years earlier and worked out the details of Peace Corps Ghana, the first Peace Corps program, with President Kwame Nkrumah. He now wanted to see some projects, especially rural ones, like this one.
The volunteers welcomed him, introduced him to the headmaster and school staff, and showed him around the boarding school, which had about 250 students. Shriver and staff stayed overnight in the homes of the volunteers because the town had no hotel. One of the volunteers, in a recent interview, said that what Shriver really liked though was walking through the small town, being greeted by everyone, and spending time at a local bar. He was warmly welcomed by the district chief and the council of elders, feted with drumming, and taught some traditional dances. All of this occurred while the chief sat on his throne, smiling broadly. A photo in National Geographic (September, 1964) shows it all.
To honor the volunteers, the chief presented Shriver with a leopard skin, the symbol of chieftaincy, to be given to President John Kennedy. In addition, Shriver took away from the visit good impressions of the volunteers' friendship with a traditional ruler and townspeople, and also a monkey that one of the volunteers had been keeping as a pet. In short order he hired the two volunteers as Peace Corps staff. So the visit was judged a great success by everyone.
I arrived in Asankrangwa to teach at the secondary school that fall, after the pervious volunteers had left. At the time I knew nothing about Shriver's visit. But soon I visited the chief's home to greet him and immediately noticed a framed letter from President Kennedy hanging on the wall. President Kennedy had thanked the chief for the leopard skin on beautiful stationary. When I asked about the letter, I learned the story and felt the enthusiasm of the visit from those who had been there.
The chief, who greeted Sargent Shriver and has welcomed many Peace Corps volunteers to his town since, is still in office today. His wife told my family last summer that he requested Peace Corps teachers because he wanted "to open the minds and eyes of the village to the extended world." Sargent Shriver would have been pleased to hear about this level of trust for unknown people and respect for education. It certainly vindicates the path that he set for the Peace Corps and, of course, he hired those early volunteers. I think that the chief is smiling yet over what his village has gained in the last fifty years.
In October 2010, as members of the Eugene/Kakegawa Sister City delegation, we traveled to Japan for a stay in Kakegawa City. We also visited sites in Tokyo and Kyoto. After bidding the delegation adieu on the tenth day, we traveled on to Shikoku Island, to visit friends in Tokushima and to Fukui Ken on the West Coast of Japan to visit with relatives in the Mihama district. To say that the trip was exciting and memorable would be an understatement!
A book could be written about the warmth of the people of Kakegawa, and the excitement of participating in their year-end harvest festival. This particular annual festival proceeds through three days, including the dozens of portable temples (yatai), that parade around the city. We were invited to dress in the traditional "yukata" and join the festivities pulling the rope to the cadence of the drummers of "Sakana machi", the Kakegawa Mayors neighborhood portable temple. Another novel could be about the gourmet delights of Japanese food, and there are many.
However, much has already been written about the beauty, culture, food, and the "shinkansen" (bullet train), thus, we want to take a short look into a deeper aspect of Japanese society that we observed, and is often misunderstood by the Western eye.
The Japanese are described as animistic. Animism is generally defined as a belief that everything, including animals, plants, trees, rocks, and natural formations such as mountains, rivers and all other entities in the natural environment have souls or spirits. People are on an equal plain with all of what is seen as the natural world. This aspect encompasses all of life and every aspect of Japanese society.
The Shinto and Buddhist "religions" are belief systems that incorporate the belief that all animate and inanimate life have souls or spirits. The vast majority of the people participate in both Shintoism and Buddhism. Shinto practices emphasize the goodness in this life, while the Buddhist focuses on spiritual development and strives for a deeper insight into the true nature of life and the soul. There are many festivals and rituals to honor and respect the spirits, and an endless number of exquisite temples and shrines.
The "kami", or diety, is a universal belief that everything is a part of the unified creation of body and spirit, and leads to a respect and caring for all of the natural environment. One can see the caring and beauty created in the many gardens in public and private places.
Combine the belief that all life incorporates a belief of "karma" where past actions affect us positively or negatively and present action will affect us in the future. This is a powerful concept learned from an early age. A "good" karma emphasizes compassion, generosity, sympathy, industry and wisdom. Karma determines to what status a person will be born and their status in the next life. What is seen from the Western eye as conformity is no more than people being mindful of their actions on others.
At Kakegawa City we had the fortune of spending a night at a Buddhist temple. We experienced the very delicious vegetarian cuisine prepared by the monks along with the accepted rituals. For example, prior to eating we had to put our hands together and quietly and individually thank the souls of the plants for giving up their souls so that our souls can continue. This is the essence of saying "itadakimasu" before partaking in the food put before us. We ate together, bathed together (sexes seperated by a thin wall), and slept on the floor on tatamis. There was one large room with toilets for both men and women. We all began the day together with two hours of meditation. Is there any mystery on the Japanese work place being organized around teams of people working together as equals?
This year a delegation from Kakegawa City is expected to come to Eugene in July. In 2012, a Eugene delegation will be organized to go to Kakegawa City, a cultural trip we recommend.
Submitted by WCPCA members Bob Watada and Rosa Sakanishi
Visit someplace interesting? Share the experience with other WCPCA members by sending your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greetings from Madagascar.
This is Maya Rao, the health PCV posted in the north of Madagascar who submitted a peace corps partnership proposal for a well building project. I just wanted to thank you all so much for your contribution to the project. Your help was greatly appreciated by the Antsirabe Nord and Antsikory women's groups (and by me as well). I just wanted to let you all know that the first well has already been completed and the second one is on its way to being finished. They both look great. The builders have done a great job and the women's group president has also been wonderful with gathering local community participation and purchasing local materials.
All the Best,
Charles "Chic" Dambach has written a remarkable and very readable memoir of his experiences in peacebuilding called Exhaust the Limits, The Life and Times of a Global Peacebuilder. Some readers of this newsletter may remember Chic as the President of the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCPRCV) at the time when the organization's name was changed to the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). Chic visited Eugene during the time he was President and you may have met him then. His book covers everything from Chic's student activism, Peace Corps training and service, the Olympics, six years as President of the National Peace Corps Association, working with Peter Yarrow, and the Alliance for Peace Building (AfP). Chic's sense of humor, positivism, drive, and commitment to peacebuilding is illustrated throughout.
As a lover of history and an RPCV, I was completely absorbed by the revelation of RPCV involvement - with leadership from Chic - to establish stability in Rwanda (1994), the resolution of the Ethiopia/Eritrea War (1999), and in the Congo (2002). The final chapters in which he defines peacebuilding in contrast with peace activism held me glued to every word. Have any of you heard about the Global Peace Index? It ranks the nations of the world based on their peacefulness. "The ranking would enable experts to study the history of peaceful countries to understand the qualities and characteristics that enable some nations to live in peace when so many others are consumed with violence." (page 282) Of the 121 countries included in the 2007 Index, would any of you dare to guess where the US ranked? Sad to say, the US isn't even close to the top. Read Chic's book to find out where we stand.
There is hope however in the work of the AfP. In contrast with Chic's statement that his work with the Alliance for Peacebuilding is "possibly" the last chapter of his career (page 259), I hope instead that it will be the first chapter for another book about peacebuilding. Certainly, Chic has the contacts with powerful, like-minded leaders, and there is enormous potential for peacebuilding - a new word for spell check and one which I hope to use frequently. Now, the burning question for me is: what can I do to further peacebuilding? And a challenge for Chic: remember Sisyphus; I think there are more rocks for you to climb. You may contact Chic at email@example.com or call 1-410-703-8650. Please visit the website www.exhaustthelimits.org. It is published by Apprentice House of Loyola University Maryland. The cover photo is from the Peace Corps Colombia newspaper in 1968.
I ordered my copy through Tsunami Books.
If you have read a good book recently that you think would interest other RPCVs, send a book review to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year, Peace Corps' Returned Volunteers Services began offering FREE one-day events in cities where Peace Corps has Regional Recruitment Offices, to further expand support of returned Volunteers throughout the United States. RPCVs learn how to tell their Peace Corps stories in a way that highlights their professional qualifications, participate in hands-on workshops, and interact with potential employers. Visit http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.returned.carres.carevents to learn more.
It isn't surprising that with all the buzz about the 50th some of the buzz won't be positive. Recently, ABC's 20/20 did a segment that covered a couple of Peace Corps issues. The first two of the three segments (listed below) covered the murder of Kate Puzey in Benin in 2009. The third is about women who were raped during their service. Before we go any further, I want to say that I didn't manage to make it through all three pieces. I don't care for the style of 20/20's reporting and found it too difficult to watch (that and if you haven't watched TV in years, the commercials can be a bit hard to swallow).
For those who are interested, a very very brief summary of the Kate Puzey case is that Kate was an English teacher at the same school as a Beninese teacher, named Constant Bio, who also worked for the Peace Corps. His brother, Jacques Bio, had been working for the Peace Corps and in charge of the business volunteers for many years. In Kate's village, people started coming to her asking for help, because Constant, in addition to sleeping with girls in his 7th grade class (which isn't uncommon in Benin) had also raped some girls. They wanted Kate to help. Kate emailed the Peace Corps director in Benin, and Constant was fired. Shortly thereafter, Kate was murdered by Constant (at least, 20/20 says he was the killer). 20/20 alleges that Jacques told Constant that Kate blew the whistle on him.
I served in Benin as an Information Technology volunteer, and I worked for Jacques Bio. He was without a doubt a very caring and kind person. I find it impossible to believe that he would ever have put a volunteer's life in danger. However, I wasn't there, so I don't know what actually happened. What I can pass on is the gossip that has come back from other volunteers from my group who have visited Benin recently. (Please note that we have no evidence to back up this gossip.) What I have heard is that Jacques told the Peace Corps that Constant wasn't right for the Peace Corps and that having him working for them would put him in a difficult situation with regards to familial obligations. The Peace Corps hired Constant anyway. This isn't much and doesn't absolve anyone, but perhaps it gives a little more background. In my opinion, it wouldn't have taken a genius to figure out who had probably blown the whistle on Constant.
The 20/20 reports on Kate and the rapes have generated a lot of discussion about the Peace Corps. I have seen at least one blog post (on About.com) in which a mother now thinks that her daughter shouldn't join the Peace Corps because the organization is so irresponsible. The Peace Corps certainly has its faults, but I don't believe that a callous disregard for volunteer safety is one of them. Anyway, if you'd like to talk about this more, join us at the discussion group (the next one is on Thursday, February 3rd).
Felicia Kenney (Benin, 2003-2004)
Last week the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) reached out to Aaron Williams, the Peace Corps Director, to ask for information on specific actions that are being taken by the agency to address questions raised by ABC's 20/20 segment about Volunteer safety and security. The Director has provided an update, posted to our website. Also in the page is some additional some safety and security resource information. We'll continue to provide the Peace Corps community with information on this important issue.
The U.S. Peace Corps has halted its aid program in Niger and evacuated its volunteers over security concerns after two French nationals were abducted and killed there by Al Qaeda-linked militants. It marks the first time the Washington-backed aid group has suspended its activities in the impoverished West African state since 1962, highlighting the growing threat from gunmen operating in its northern desert regions.
"The Peace Corps has suspended its activities and its volunteers (...) have already left the country," an official at the U.S. embassy in Niamey told Reuters on Thursday. All 98 volunteers in the country have been evacuated, according to a release on the Peace Corps Web site.
Niger is among the world's poorest countries with the average citizen living on less than $1 per day, though its resource riches have drawn billions of dollars in planned investments in uranium and oil extraction.
Two Frenchmen were abducted and killed in Niger earlier this month in an attack claimed by Al Qaeda. Five other French nationals were taken hostage in September, including a worker for French nuclear firm Areva. There are no signs mining or energy companies plan to withdraw staff from the country, although Areva last year pulled some expatriate workers back to the capital Niamey from the remote mining areas. The vast and largely lawless country has been run by soldiers since a February 2010 coup, but elections aimed at restoring civilian rule are scheduled this month.
For a crisp, blunt dialogue about Peace Corps service, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-wDq17zyN0.
High on the plains of the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan our Peace Corps smallpox vaccinating team and our Afghan counterparts were preparing to go to a remote village not accessible by Land Rover or lorry. Everybody was milling around, getting together the supplies of vaccine and bifurcated needles. We were somewhat excited by the fact that we were probably going to an area that had never before seen hortjees (foreigners).
The horses were saddled up and we were waiting to see which horse would be given to each vaccinator. Two of us were already on our steeds (or nags, whatever the case may be) and were waiting for our fellow vaccinator, Leonora, before taking off. There was a flurry of activity as an embarassed Afghan gentleman, not used to dealing with or touching a woman not of his own family, offered to help Leonora onto her horse. He offered his hands as a step-up. Leonora is very left-handed and had a difficult time adjusting to eating only with her right hand, as the left hand is used for purposes other than eating (if you know what I mean). Food is partaken by rolling the rice and and meat into a little ball and popping it into one's mouth - but I digress.
Somehow, Leonora got her wrong foot into the embarrassed Afghan's hands and ended up facing the horse's ass! There was momentary silence while the Afghans surveyed this horijee and her awkward situation. Then the ordinarily composed Afghan men tee-heed, and then laughed, and then roared as they held their stomachs and wiped tears of laughter from their eyes. There were no telephones, fax machines, newspapers or any other means of communication in this remote part of the world, but whenever we went to a new village, people would have already heard the story of the horijee getting on the horse backwards and ask which one of us was it. What a memory!
Beryl Brinkman was a founding member of the Eugene-based WCPCA and served on the board of the National Peace Corps Association in Washington D.C. Brinkman was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan in the late 1960's. She traveled by horse, donkey and camel to remote villages to vaccinate women and children against small pox. Her work helped eventually eradicate the deadly disease. She traveled the world, made hundreds of friends, and dedicated her life to fighting poverty and building peace.
In 1994, the WCPCA put out "The Funniest Job You'll Ever Love", an anthology of Peace Corps humor. This book was a great fundraiser and was made up of the stories of members. Now, we'd like to do it again, and we'll need your stories for the next edition.
(WCPCA Note: Just so you know, I have looked this guy up, and he does appear to be who he says he is. For those who might have worried.... -- Felicia)
Greetings, and apologies up front for the impersonal nature of this note. I am working on a project about U.S. assistance efforts in southern Afghanistan in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I'm looking to talk to Peace Corps volunteers who served in Helmand and Kandahar provinces during that period to develop a better understanding of U.S. aid work at the time. I'd also like learn more about what that part of Afghanistan was like back then, and how it felt as a young American to be working there. If you served in either place and would be willing to share some of your recollections with me, please drop me a line.
The National Peace Corps Association, in conjunction with the Peace Corps Regional Recruitment Offices and select Member Groups, is coordinating a series of 50th Anniversary Regional Expos nationwide in 2011. Each Expo will feature exhibits from RPCVs showcasing their work around the world, remarks from both Peace Corps and NPCA, and discussion sessions for interested applicants and RPCVs. Expos are free and open to the public. Visit http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/resources/peace-corps-50th-anniversary/50thexpos/ to find out specific details about that Expo and to register – hope to see you there!
From The Board
Our March 1 celebration is only four weeks away! We will rally at 12 noon at Broadway Plaza to celebrate and commemorate, to the music of Samba Ja. We will gather again that evening at 7 pm at Cozmic Pizza ($10 entry) and enjoy the music of Casera and Macaco Velho. We welcome you to join us, and please invite representatives of the 139 Peace Corps host countries!
At our January 28 pot luck many of you signed up to volunteer, doing everything from cutting cake to clean up. There are more volunteer jobs available! If you are not already on our list, please write to: email@example.com. See you in four weeks! For more information:
We join the nation in mourning the death of R. Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps on January 18th. His work will be acknowledged and his death will be mourned by the Peace Corps community throughout the world, both Americans and citizens of other countries whose lives have been touched by the work of Peace Corps Volunteers. As WCPCA celebrates "Peace Corps 50 in Eugene" with activities throughout this year, we will remember Sargent Shriver and his legacy.
On Friday, February 11th, 2-4 pm, a panel of WCPCA members will give a presentation to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Oregon (OLLI) entitled, The Peace Corps at 50: "Will you still need me when I'm 64?"
WCPCA members who don't belong to OLLI are invited to attend and are asked to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. The presentation will take place at OLLI headquarters in the Baker Center, 975 High Street, Eugene. If you aren't an OLLI member please park on the street.
Many thanks from WCPCA to Tom and Nancy English for hosting the January potluck which over fifty people attended. We had delicious food and a great time socializing.
Our program presenter was Chris Chaplin who is currently a student in the U of O School of Law and who was a PCV in Kazakhstan, 2007-2009. Chris worked as a university instructor in English. He described his work and his efforts to learn the Kazakh language and develop friendships with his colleagues. We were especially impressed with a project of one of his classes to translate the play "To Kill a Mocking Bird" from English into Kazakh. Many thanks to Chris as well.
We sold nearly all of the 200 international calendars that we ordered in 2010. We've set aside a few to give as gifts.
WCPCA just renewed its affiliation with NPCA. For an annual fee of $90 we receive many benefits. Based upon information about our activities and financial status the NPCA vouches for WCPCA as a legitimate organization and thus offers RPCVs the opportunity to join both organizations through its website. Between 20 and 30 of our members join and renew through NPCA each year.
Through the NPCA's online Group Leaders Forum and at NPCA's annual general meetings we gain opportunities to communicate with RPCV and "Friends of" groups throughout the country. We are invited to participate in NPCA's national advocacy and education efforts. And this year we'll have the opportunity to take part in NPCA's 50th anniversary activities and to publicize our own through its website.
WCPCA member, Joe Hindman, is the northwest regional representative to the NPCA board. He represents our views in person and keeps us informed of NPCA activities. Thanks, Joe!