A monthly newsletter of The West Cascade Peace Corps Association in Oregon's Southern Willamette Valley
Last month's newsletter featured an article by a volunteer from Peru, but I neglected to mention her name. The article was by Annie Embertson; Voluntaria de Cuerpo de Paz; San Juan de Lacamaca, Peru. Thanks again, Annie, for your article!
Dear West Cascade Peace Corps Association,
I want to send you all a big thank you for helping us fund our English Resource library. I apologize for not writing earlier, but I was waiting for the action to commence so that I could provide you with a real update. A lot has happened in the past month. The repairs in the library have been completed, the bookshelves have been painted, the linoleum has been laid, the yellow wallpaper has been glued, and a new lock has been installed. We traveled to Kyiv to purchase the books, which have now been catalogued, stamped, and put on the shelves. Everything is finally in place.
While all of this work was going on, my students were very excited and could not wait for the library. Last week, after lots of hard work, the library finally opened. The library has only been open for about a week and a half now and we already have readers from the 3'rd -11'th grades. Over 45 books have been checked, students can often be found studying English in their free time, and their enthusiasm for learning English has grown.
One of my younger students, in the six grade wrote you a very sweet letter. I will send it to you via mail, but I know that you prefer e-mails so I have typed it for you here.
Dear West Cascade Peace Corps Association,
I am Olha. I have been studying in the 6 class. My favorite lesson is English. I really want study English. And I thank you for yoor help. These books help me learn English. Our new English library is the most beautiful place in our school. Thank you for boying os these books. I dream to go to America and see exciting attractions. Books are our friends! That's why every time you have a question – read a book, and it will help you solve the problem you have faced with.
When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years
This history of the Peace Corps follows two threads — the work of the Volunteers overseas and the tensions of the policymaking in Washington. I have tried to move from one to another as smoothly as possible. They are, of course, interconnected. The incessant campaign to increase the size of the Peace Corps in the early days, for example, sometimes led to fraternity-like clusters of Volunteers in the main cities.
I have also tried to be selective. Any attempt at an exhaustive history would bog down and become meaningless. More than 200,000 Volunteers have served in 139 countries. The varieties of the interplay of lives and experiences are enormous.
The ups and downs in Washington have also been too numerous to understand easily. During the nine presidencies of the first fifty years of the Peace Corps, there have been eighteen Peace Corps directors. The Washington part of my narrative deals mainly with those who left important imprints on the Peace Corps and on those involved in controversies that tell us a great deal about the meaning of the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps has sometimes bent its programs to meet the whims of the White House. In the 1980s, Honduras received the largest Peace Corps program in the world as a reward for letting the US use the country as a base for the Contras attacking the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. When the Cold War ended, the Peace Corps foolishly rushed volunteers to Eastern Europe as agents of capitalism. During both the Vietnam and the Iraq wars, many volunteers wondered if they were serving overseas as the smile on the face of the imperial American tiger.
A good deal of my narrative explores this tension between the independence of the Peace Corps and the demands of American foreign policy. This tension reflects a great danger, for the Peace Corps would lose its credibility and its acceptance if it lost its independence.
The Peace Corps has one great inner resource. The strength of the Peace Cops has always depended on the energy and commitment of the Volunteers. No matter how asinine the director in Washington, no matter how much the agency is despised by a president, no matter how faulty and lackluster the program in their country, most volunteers have persevered, determined to do the best they can.
One aspect of the story astounded me as I studied the Peace Corps after so many years away, and that is the impressive array of talent among former Volunteers. The alumni roster includes two senators and nine members of the House of Representatives, two governors, three mayors, twenty ambassadors, a host of university presidents, the board chairmen of Levi Strauss and the Chicago Bears, and the founders of the Nature Company and Netflix. Novelist Paul Theroux, television news anchor Chris Matthews, and New Yorker writer George Packer are also former Volunteers. It is obvious that the United States itself has benefitted a great deal from the Peace Corps.
I was not there at the madcap, exciting, glorious beginning. I started my work at Peace Corps headquarters just after the election of Lyndon B. Johnson to a full term as president, a year after the assassination of President Kennedy.
The Peace Corps was different — an oasis of idealism and goodness in the vast Washington bureaucracy. Everyone, even Washington correspondents, loved the Peace Corps. The Volunteers were looked on as heroic figures.
I soon found out how different the Peace Corps was. On my first day of work at the division of evaluation, I walked out of my office at the scheduled closing hour and noticed that no one else was leaving. So I slipped into the office of Richard Richter, the future ABC television news producer who was one of my colleagues, and asked him what was going on. He laughed and explained that everyone liked to show their commitment by working well past closing time and coming in on Saturdays. Since he had already finished his work for the day, he agreed with me that it seemed pointless to hang around, and we headed to the bank of elevators. As we did so, our boss, Charles Peters, spotted us from afar. "What do you two guys think this is?" he bellowed. "The Department of Agriculture?"
After I left the Peace Corps and joined the Los Angeles Times, I still watched the Peace Corps, most closely when I was based in Africa. I called on Peace Corps staff and Volunteers whenever I could. Sometimes old friends on the staff treated me as if I still worked for the Peace Corps. These contacts proved vital in Ethiopia where the authoritarian regime of Emperor Haile Selassie was unraveling because of student fury — a phenomenon that was ignored by almost all Americans on the scene except for the Peace Corps Volunteers and staff. I have devoted a chapter in this book to the little known but remarkable story of the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.
I have tried throughout this history to set down a narrative. I have not shied from adding analysis to illuminate the story, but it is the story that interested me most. It has been an exciting, even astonishing yet sometimes combative fifty years, and I have tried to capture the story that powered that mood.
On Wednesday, May 4, CREATE! Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment will hold a "Solar Pumps for Senegal" fundraiser at Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette Street in Eugene starting at 6 pm. All proceeds will go towards the purchase of solar water pumping systems to increase food production by cooperative groups in village community gardens; animal watering; and for potable drinking water in the villages of Ndiaakkhaye and Fass Kane in rural Senegal.
The event will feature a presentation by Ronald Taylor, CREATE! founding Board Member and donor; testimonials from the field about the conditions of life in rural West Africa and the importance of water provision for human and agricultural use; and a photo demonstration of a solar water pumping project in Nigeria. There will also be West African music and refreshments. There is no cost to attend.
CREATE! is a Eugene-based 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 2008 by Executive Director Barry R. Wheeler (RPCV: Togo 1984-87) and Director of Development and WCPCA member Louise Ruhr. CREATE! is currently working with seven villages in rural Senegal to alleviate the impact of climate change in the sectors of water provision and storage; local food production; and renewable energy and energy conservation.
West Cascade's Discussion Group, Salon Ouagadougou, will be meeting to discuss how individuals can by themselves further the cause of peace. We're going to invite people from some local groups involved in this movement to join us. It should be an interesting discussion! We'll be meeting at 6:30pm at the New Day Bakery at 449 Blair Street.
The family of Robert L. Steiner Jr., the first Peace Corps Director in Afghanistan, would like to announce his 90th birthday on May 21st 2011. We would like to invite everyone who knows him or has ever met him to send a note of congratulations, or a memory, or poetry, or anything that you might want to have included in an album that we will give to him on his birthday. He is fine and younger than he has ever been. Tashakor and zenda bashid. Please send to me at email@example.com.
To everyone who turned out as volunteers for Food For Lane County's Chef's Night Out, I want to extend a great, big thank you. Seventeen of us showed for an evening of exquisite cuisine sampling followed by an hour or so of hard work. As you can tell from the following email, our efforts were very much appreciated by Food for Lane County. Thanks again.
From Food for Lane County
Oh my gosh! Your group rocks! Thank you so so much for making this the best year ever. Mark from Hult said it was the fastest, most organized, cleanest break-down he had ever seen for an event of that size! Actually we hear the whole event was the best ever and that a good time was had by all. We're so blessed to have the support of an organization like yours and we're more grateful that you can possibly know (most folks wouldn't even hear of coming out that late in the evening!). We're already planning for the Dinner/Auction scheduled for Saturday Oct. 1 and are looking forward to seeing you all then. So we'll be in touch later along the way.Sincerely,
Here are some great books for this 50th Anniversary Year of the Peace Corps and web sites for more info and/or reviews.
Happy reading and remembering. Peace & Aloha, Sam Greer
Delegates will be on a 11 day tour, October 4-14, 2011. Stay in modern hotels, inns and Japanese homes. Tour Tokyo and Kyoto. Participate in Kakegawa's 3 day annual Autumn Festival and experience a home stay with a local family. Bilingual assistance at every step. See Japan during its most beautiful time of year. Current estimate of cost is $2,895 per person which includes all transportation from Eugene and back, and lodging and meals. Contact Jim at (541) 554-1376 or firstname.lastname@example.org. "This is a fun filled trip which will provide you with a rich cultural experience of Japan" RPCV Bob Watada.
If you're an RPCV looking to connect with the Philippines during the 50th anniversary year, here is a unique and potentially rewarding opportunity to reflect on the 50th anniversary with a currently serving PCV. PCVs in the Philippines are generating a list of interested RPCVs. After PCVs compile a list of RPCVs, they will connect PCVs with RPCVs who may have served in in similar communities or regions. Together, the PCV and RPCV will collaborate to memorialize volunteer work in a way that "engages and educates" Filipinos about American volunteer efforts here. The work could be as simple as the PCV interviewing the RPCV by email, or it could be as creative as the PCV and RPCV choose. The idea is to compile the work into a "toolbox" that PCVs can use this year to promote the 50th anniversary. PCVs have thought of many different types of projects from creating games to forming digital stories. The idea is to give PCVs as many options as possible when they take their 50th anniversary toolbox on the road in the coming year.
If you are interested in joining this effort, please send your name, years served, former site location, and current email address to Tom Ferrebee at email@example.com. The volunteers leading this effort will attempt to link you with a current PCV in the coming month.
That's not all! It looks like a group of PCVs in Grenada are looking to put together a video of all the PCVs who have served in Grenada. (More information.) Also, plans are underway for a 50th gathering for RPCVs from Honduras. If you are interested, contact Stephen Phelan at Stephen.D.Phelan@gmail.com. Friends of Liberia is putting together an event in Washington during the big party there in September. You can find more information on their website.
If you know of another RPCV Country Group that is doing something cool for the 50th, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, is a short delightful book by Economist Steven D. Levitt, and Journalist/Author Stephen J. Dubner. However, because Levitt is an Economist, that fact, should not sway your opinion of his intriguing findings about real life issues.
Steven Levitt with considerable research shows that the world does in fact work as proposed in economic theory, that we all do what is in our best interest and although most times well hidden will lead to real life economic outcomes. Teachers are not expected to cheat, nor are sumo wrestlers in the national sport of Japan. Yet, Levitt posits that at times in their self-interest, they will cheat. He has considerable evidence to show through econometric analysis that they do cheat when it is in their self-interest.
A major political issue from the mid-1970s through the 1980s was the really scary rise in violent crime across the nation. New York became the murder capital of the world. Presidents and all politicians ran on campaigns of "tough on crime" and proposed all sorts of solutions to the burgeoning national problem. Criminologists suggested a "bloodbath" was in the offing unless something was not done in a hurry. Different policing strategies, more jails and prisons, increased police, tough gun control laws, laws to allow more people to carry guns, crack down on drugs, and every other solution imaginable was proposed and in most cases enacted into law. And, amazingly, in the 1990s the violent crime rate began to drop dramatically in communities across America. Of course, the Criminologists took the credit smugly postulating through the media and in books that their sounding the alarm saved the day.
While all of this may have fit conventional wisdom Steven Levitt credits Jane Doe. In January 1973, the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. According to Levitt, in the first year after Roe v. Wade, over 750,000 women had an abortion in the United States, and the number of abortions continued to climb into the 1980s. Levitt argues that while previously a few wealthy women could afford an illegal operation, Roe v. Wade opened the flood gates to the many poor single women who did not want a baby at the time. This was the population from whence came the criminals, the young growing up in poverty.
Steven Levitt with his inventive and creative mind tackles a number of other controversial issues, asking questions that others have not even thought about.
By WCPCA Board member, Bob Watada, an Economist who can now claim to be a maverick since he understood little of economic theory.
Everyone has heard of the book "Three Cups of Tea". However, a recent report on "60 Minutes" discussed possible factual discrepancies within the book and transparency issues within the author's charity. There has been a lot of back and forth between news organizations and the author and his supporters. It will probably be some time before the truth comes out (if it ever does). Here are some links for those who would like to know more.
We've been thinking about the Peace Corps at 50 this year but, for contrast, you might enjoy hearing about the Peace Corps at 2. Has the vision and early experience of that time been fulfilled?
Your response to this question will surely depend on the time and place of your service. But no matter when you joined the Peace Corps, I think that you'll be interested in the thoughts of Warren W. Wiggins, the first Associate Director of the Peace Corps, in a talk entitled "The World Was Once Flat" that he gave at UC Berkeley on February 28, 1963. You'll find the talk in this .pdf file.
Wiggins thoughts are worthy of our consideration because his ideas were among those that shaped the early Peace Corps as an independent agency, unlike the foreign service. That was a significant point of departure for both Shriver and Wiggins. We might all ask today how their decision shaped the Peace Corps. We might also ponder Wiggins' assertion that volunteerism as an American cultural trait was either created or revived by the Peace Corps.
Wiggins had a long and accomplished career both in government and the private sector. He died in 2007. Through Google you can find extensive amounts of information about his work.
I look forward to hearing a response to Wiggins' talk from those who read it.
On Wednesday April 27, several RPCVs attended a presentation by three Arab students at the Mills International Center at the University of Oregon. They talked about their countries--Iran, Oman, and Egypt, providing basic facts and pictures, which were quite interesting. For example, who knew that Oman has a region that looks like Oregon, complete with snow in the mountains?
I was impressed by their sense of optimism. And I was surprised by their portrayals of the situation in the Middle East. Perhaps the presenters were merely intent on presenting their countries in a positive light. After all, do most Americans share honest opinions of their government with foreigners? Or are the Arab students simply unaware of the deep forces roiling their countries?
In particular, I was surprised by the Iraqi student's dismissal of sectarian tensions. From my reading of history, this is not uncommon for people of the upper classes, whose economic and social networks transcend sect. But sectarian tensions were obvious during the American occupation of Iraq. And they seem to play a major role in Syria and in Persian Gulf kingdoms, which are all ruled by Sunni monarchs. The Shi'a, whether majority or minority, are the under class and their governments dismiss them with the epithet "Iranians."
The Omani woman's praise of Sultan Qaboos sounded like a reiteration of the official line, something which most prosperous Omanis may have bought into. She described the Sultan's enlightened response to the protests, which was to offer jobs to protesters. This is consistent with what was reported in the press. At the last protest, the military showed up bearing signs--"Line up here for jobs." The protesters all lined up, were enrolled in the military, and then bussed to camps. Some were flown to islands off the coast. I wondered, were the jobs an offer the protesters could not refuse? Are the camps for job training or internment?
In any event, all of us are in the same boat, trying to make sense of a very fluid situation. And none of us has any real idea as to how it will all turn out. But we can all hope that Middle Eastern governments become responsive to the needs and aspirations of all of their people.
Note from Editor: We were all really impressed by the Mills Center and by the presentation. This could be a great resource for RPCVs, as it isn't just for students. It was especially interesting for me to hear from an Egyptian student - not on the panel - who had just arrived from Egypt and could say, "I was there, and this is what happened."
By Virginia Spray, Liberia (1982-84)
Most people know of Rikki Tikki Tavi - Rudyard Kipling's brave and clever mongoose. Well, we lived with him in Liberia, West Africa. We discovered he was also charming, friendly, thieving, and marked his territory by peeing on shoes. In case you havn't seen a mongoose recently, it is a small, sleek animal, like a large ground squirrel.
Carol and I shared a mud block Peace Corps house (meaning it already had screens and a privvy) in Gbarnga. Snakes were said to be plentiful and poisonous, and local lore had it that a mongoose was the best protection. Snakes stayed away from a mongoose, or if a stupid one stumbled near, a mongoose could whip it easily. Carol was terrified of crawling things (cockroaches put her in a frenzy) and insisted we get a mongoose. Well, we never saw a snake near us, but there were times she very nearly decided she could learn to love a snake instead of putting up with Tikki and his mischief.
A mongoose is an explorer. Ours had to examine and take apart everything in the the house. He got into the refrigerator (not a cold one - we had one hour of electricity now and then, at perhaps 2 A.M. or 3:30 P.M.). He examined the trash right down to the bottom, as well as every dish of food put on the table, all the spice cans, tubes or jars of make-up and every sack or package we brought home. He almost over-did it when he not only opened a precious package of cigarettes, but tore open each and every one to be sure nothing edible was rolled up there. If anything was movable, he dragged it to his nest under my bed.
Did I say he was a smart ass? Oh, he was! He followed me two or three times to our privvy and watched me closely. The third morning as I was about to leave, I was amazed to see him climb swiftly up the cement john, sniff around a bit, then reverse ends and neatly deposit his excrement into the proper place. After that, we had only to open doors - no more cleaning up after him.
Our mongoose became somewhat of a celebrity and friends came by to see "the beast." As he went loping toward them tikking happily, we would yell "Pull up your feet!" Otherwise he would mount a shoe to promptly mark his territory.
We already had a small, loving yellow cat, and we weren't sure how mongooses (I still like "mongeese" better) felt about felines. So for two or three days we alternated in-doors and outdoors with them. They stood on opposite sides of the screen door, snarling, clicking and with much stamping by Tikki. The stamping, we decided, was a mongoose's battle cry. Finally we decided to try putting them together. Cautiously I opened the door, and the cat leaped over Tikki and streaked for the living room, with the little beast in hot pursuit. In a few seconds, back they came, Tikki in front this time. From then on they were riotous playmates. One day I motioned Carol to come see them. They were curled up on the couch, the cat licking the small brown head of the mongoose, whose eyes were closed in ecstasy.
Liberia, at seven degrees above the Equator, has a siesta culture. So every day I stretched out on my bed after lunch. I patted the edge of the bed and called Tikki to come up from his lair and take a nap with me. He would curl up between my arm and body or stretch out flat on my chest. Now, a mongoose has a small trunk-like feature for a nose. When hunting he pokes this proboscis into all cracks and holes to search for possible ants. We were snoring away, when all at once Tikki's head came up. Right in front of him was a hole! Suddenly, Tikki thrust his tiny trunk up my nostril. I let out an outraged yell and he scurried in panic down to his nest. I don't know who was more startled, but he couldn't be coaxed out for several hours.
When we had to move on, we sadly said goodbye and bequeathed him to the next team coming to Gbarnga. I don't know his later history, but I'm sure he entertained them, a decided plus in Peace Corps service.
Virginia Spray is a teacher in ML Vemon, Washington.
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.
From The Board
Friday, June 3, 6-8 pm, at the University of Oregon Many Nations Longhouse (behind UO Law). Bring a dish to share.
West Cascade joins the UO Peace Corps recruitment office to send off the new batch of Peace Corps Volunteers. The first hour of the evening will be a pot luck. The second hour will be presentations. This annual event celebrates soon-to-be Peace Corps volunteers. It is an opportunity to send them off with good food and stories. Invited guests include nominated volunteers,current applicants, and family members. West Cascade members, students, and community members also attend. In addition to a brief presentation by Mayor Piercy there will be two or three international students performing, and possibly a second presentation by a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Join us!
If you missed Mayor Piercy's entry in our Peace Corps 50 in Eugene supplement, here it is:
"I served in Asmara, Ethiopia (now in Eritrea). I taught English, poetry and art at Halle Selassie Secondary School, went on a medical safari, volunteered in a TB center, and worked with lepers. I had a library in my home and there was a revolution beginning in the streets. I hitchhiked along the coast of Africa, through Nigeria, Dahomey (now Benin), Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast (now Cote d'Ivoire). I visited the ancient ruins of Lalebela, Axum, and the Queen of Sheba Bath. My Peace Corps service made me a citizen of the world with great appreciation of other cultures and people. It was a great adventure for a girl who had never traveled. My husband David served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran."
WCPCA members took part in several activities in April including a festive potluck, two panel presentations on the Peace Corps at 50, Africa Day for 9th graders at Eugene's International High School, and contributing to the clean up after the Food for Lane County's fundraiser, Chefs' Night Out. In addition, two WCPCA members attended the annual meeting of northwest RPCV groups in Spokane.
The board extends a heartfelt "thank you" to all who participated. Your contributions are essential to our role to serve our community as we bring the world back home. Details of these activities and the volunteers who took part are below.
Columbia River Peace Corps Association (CRPCA) in Portland will take part in the Grand Floral Parade on June 11th. Plans are for at least 139 RPCVs to take part, each carrying a flag of a former or current Peace Corps host country. WCPCA members are invited to join the march.
The parade route is four miles long and participants will carry a flag to be supplied by CRPCA. Those interested should contact Rich Ireland, email@example.com, of CRPCA for more information. Also let James Cloutier, firstname.lastname@example.org, know of your interest. We might organize a WCPCA contingent to take part.
No wages and no benefits but great satisfaction with your contributions to the success of WCPCA's activities. You'll meet interesting people and learn new skills!! The WCPCA board invites you to take an active role in our work to serve our community and support Peace Corps Partnership projects. Specific jobs that we need to fill are listed below. No experience necessary. You'll learn on the job! If you're willing to help please email Dorothy Soper at email@example.com.
There will be a panel presentation on the Peace Corps at 50 on Thursday evening, May 4th, 7-8:00 pm, at the Knight Library on the U of O campus. The panel is being organized by Linda Zahava, a recruiter in the Seattle PC office. Panelists will be Miriam Aiken, Nick and Julie Bosustow, Justin Overdevest, and Dorothy Soper. The presentation is open to the public.
WCPCA members are especially invited to attend and while at the Knight Library view the Peace Corps at 50 display in the two corridors leading off of the lobby. The display is a powerful commentary on five decades of Peace Corps service by Lane County residents. The role of the University of Oregon and its alums is highlighted.
After the presentation and a viewing of the display, WCPCA members will repair to Pegasus Pizza, 790 E. 14th, for socializing. We hope that you'll join us.