The first Peace Corps Volunteers to Colombia (but not the first PCVs; they went to Ghana), are interviewed at their Peace Corps Reunion at their old Training Site. The guys, and they were all guys, gathered this weekend in New Jersey. A few of the RPCVs do look like Couch Potatoes, but don’t we all? Even the Peace Corps couldn’t keep us forever on the cutting edge. Take a look as NBC’s Ron Allen talks to them and a few of the other early PCVs who went to West Africa.
Archives for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
These last few days I have been having the pleasure of reading Stanley Meisler’s When The World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and its First Fifty Years. (The book will be published in February but you can go on-line now to Amazon.com and order your copy.)
There are a lot of gems in Stan’s narrative, background stories on questions you might have had on ‘why in the hell is the Peace Corps doing this?,’ etc. that Meisler, a former foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, now answers for you.
What I liked especially is the way Stan summed up the story on the agency in a short and telling, and I believe, very true statement, writing in his Introduction:
“The Peace Corps has one great inner resource. The strength of the Peace Corps has always depended on the energy and commitment of the Volunteers. No matter how asinine the director in Washington, no matter how much the U.S. president despises the agency, no matter how faulty and lackluster the program in their countries, most volunteers have persevered, determined to do the best they can. That quality has persuaded many countries to ask for more Volunteers, year after year.”
Thanks, Stan, for telling it like it is.
[On the 35th anniversary of the Peace Corps, in March of 1996, Mark Gearan, then Director of the agency, had the wisdom to stage three days of celebration for the agency in Washington, D.C. One event was at the Mayflower Hotel--where the agency was hatched in a suite of hotel rooms--was a dinner and speeches by key figures in the creation of the agency and in the administration.
Coming to that event that evening where many of the 'cast of characters' who first brought the Peace Corps into being, including Warren Wiggins. Harris Wofford was there that night and spoke; Sarge Shriver spoke, as did PCV Congressman Sam Farr, former Director Loret Miller Ruppe, and a good friend of Mark Gearan, the Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine K. Albright. Also speaking was Theodore C. Sorensen, speechwriter and special council to President John F. Kennedy. Sorensen wrote most of JFK's speeches, including the one JFK gave at the Cow Palace in San Francisco that mentioned the name "peace corps' for the first time.
That night in D.C. Sorensen delivered, what I believe to be, his last speech on the Peace Corps. I have retyped it into this blog this evening as I think we all need to read it once more, to be impressed by Sorensen's prose and sentiment, and also his wonderful personal connection to the Peace Corps. Today, the White House announced that Ted Sorensen passed away at the age of 82.]
The Honorable Theodore C. Sorensen
John F. Kennedy often invoked the old saying that “success has a hundred fathers and failure is an orphan.” He would be the first to acknowledge that the Peace Corps, one of his proudest achievements, had a hundred fathers: a bill by Hubert Humphrey, a speech by James M. Gavin, an article by Milton Shapp, the example of the Mormons and a dozen other religious organizations, a petition from Michigan University students responding to his impromptu midnight challenge, and dozens of others.
This child first took breath, I’m proud to say, a few days before the Presidential election of 1960 in a campaign speech in which I had a hand, a speech on world peace in San Francisco on the night of November 2, when nominee Kennedy called for a “Peace Corps of talented…men and women, willing and able to serve their country” as teachers or engineers or doctors or nurses in developing nationsaround the globe. This proposal entered the official national agenda in his first State of the Union Address as President on January 30, 1961, when he called for the “formation of a National Peace Corps, enlisting the services of all those…who have indicated their desire to contribute their skills, their efforts, and a part of their lives…to help foreign lands meet their urgent needs for trained personnel.”
Thirty-five years ago today, less than four months after he first launched the idea in San Francisco, it became a reality. On the same day that he sent to Congress proposed legislation to establish a permanent independent agency, President Kennedy–unwilling to wait for Congress to act–exercised his own initiative an authority, as he did on many occasions, and established the Peace Corps by Executive Order, thereby, enabling it to be organized, fully operational and in the field by the time that bill passed six months later.
He wanted to get it underway before its detractors gained ground. And there were detractors. Many in the opposition party opposed it. Many liberals demeaned it. Many conservatives dismissed it. Many Communist governments denounced it. The Agency for International Development wanted to control it, the CIA wanted to use it. Leaders in some neutral nations, even those most in need to help, heaped ridicule upon it.
But John Kennedy and Sargent Shriver persisted. They persuaded. They prevailed. The legislation and appropriation passed the Congress, and each year of his Presidency the number of Volunteers increased; the number of countries served increased; and the President’s pride in his creation, in these ambassadors of American idealism, increased beyond all measure. He took every opportunity to meet with returning Volunteers and to sing their praises to others. Tragically, his time for pride and pleasure in this epitome of the “New Frontier” spirit–like his time in office–was all too short. After his death, Peace Corps members in some countries were called “Kennedy’s children.” And I feel that all of you, all one hundred and forth thousand of you, are truly Kennedy’s children.
But the Peace Corps’ real history lies not in the story of its birth but in the story of its life, not in the archives of the White House or Capitol Hill but in the deeds of its Volunteers, in their fulfillment of President Kennedy’s original mandate. Tonight, history asks not why or how the Peace Corps was established, but whether it has succeeded, and whether its founder’s expectations have been realized. I know no better way of answering those questions then to compare the words of my favorite President with the words of my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer, to compare the hopes of the original dreamer with the experience of one who is living out that dream today.
“We will only send abroad Americans,” said President Kennedy “who have a real job to do–and who are qualified to do that job.” They would, he had made clear on that November night in San Francisco, be “well qualified through rigorous standards, and well trained in the languages, skills and customs they will need to know…not only talented young men and women but Americans of whatever age who wish to serve the great republic and serve the cause of freedom.”
Last July, my favorite Volunteer described her sixty fellow trainees in Morocco: “They are friendly, smart, funny and, of course, adventurous, with a real sense of solidarity and extraordinarily diverse backgrounds and skills. The majority are twenty-somethings, but there are a couple of thirty-somethings, fifty and sixty-somethings, as well as a seventy-something. There is also a blind Volunteer–talk about courageous!”
Later that same month, she wrote: “It is so exciting to put my knowledge of Arabic to real use. Training is very intense–four hours of language and two hours of technical training every day, six days a week for ten weeks. My job will consist largely of counseling rural Moroccan women on maternal and child health, including family planning, a job that I not only care about but that I think I can accomplish.” And in November, she wrote from her site: “Yesterday, I vaccinated babies all morning. Earlier today, I gave my presentation on diarrhea and oral dehydration, and the conversation evolved into a discussion of nutrition. This afternoon I have a presentation about the merits of breast feeding. I really felt I was doing my job.”
“I am convinced,” said John Kennedy in San Francisco, “that our men and women in this country of ours are anxious to respond to public service, are dedicated to freedom, and are able to join in a worldwide struggle against poverty and disease and ignorance.”
In this spirit, my favorite Volunteer wrote last August: “Life here is hard by American standards–there is no electricity or running water. The health center is insufficiently supplied and a large number of women give birth at home, without ever receiving prenatal care.” And last September, she wrote: “An eleven-year-old girl, Aziza, stops by my house a couple of times a week. Today, her mother wanted me to come for lunch. I observed how sickly her one-year old sister looked, and the mother informed me that the little girl had diarrhea. I returned to the house after work with packets of oral rehydration salt.”
“Life in the Peace Corps,” said President Kennedy on March 1, 1961, “will not be easy. Men and women will be expected to work and live along-side the nationals of the country in which they are stationed–doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.”
Last July, my favorite Volunteer wrote about “the wind from the Sahara, a scorchingly hot, dry wind that blows constantly, rendering daily life like life under a blow dryer!” The following month, spending a week with a local family as part of her training, she wrote: “The family I live with is great. The father is a farmer of sheep and olive trees, and full of questions about the U.S.A. The mother has shown me how to bake bread in a pan over a fire, and how to milk their cow and has said that she will cry when I leave tomorrow.” Then, in November, she wrote: “Winter arrived in the desert. There is a chill which not even the warmth of the ever-present sun can dispel. In a house that is virtually the great outdoors, many layers of clothing are a must. The desert climate is harsh, no matter what he season might be.” And still later that month she wrote: “The weather is cold, but people are fortified by harira, a thick soup, for both breakfast and dinner, with couscous or tajine, a stew, at lunch, and multiple cups of tea and coffee. In the past five days, I have eaten meals in seven different homes.”
“But if the life will not be easy,” said my favorite President on March 1, 1961, “it will be rich and satisfying. For every American who participates in the Peace Corps will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”
True to his prediction, my favorite Volunteer wrote as early as August about a presentation she had made on family planning that she felt had been a great success. “About ten women gathered and they were full of questions and very interested. I really felt like I was doing my job, and that this was why I was here.” In September, on site at last, she wrote: “I don’t believe how much I have learned in a week! I have weighted new-borns, visited homes of women and gave the oral polio vaccine to hundreds of babies.” After a brief Thanksgiving break, she wrote last November: “I’m glad to be back in Tinzouline. I now feel what two months ago seemed nearly impossible: that this is my home.” And in January, after bringing her services to a nearby village, she wrote that it had “neither running water nor electricity, but its inhabitants are generous and friendly. I arrived not knowing a soul but left feeling as if I had many new friends.” One month ago today, she wrote about her observance of Ramadan, about her fluency in Arabic, about the meals she shared at sundown with so many families, concluding once again: “In short, I feel at home….(signed) Your loving daughter, Juliet.”
I am proud of my daughter. I am proud of my small part in the establishment of the Peace Corps. I am proud of this and other legacies left by the President I loved and served, John F. Kennedy. And I am reminded that his speech in San Francisco concluded with one of his favorite perorations, invoking Archimedes’ words in explaining the principle of the lever: “Give me a fulcrum, and I will move the world.”
[One last note. Juliet Sorensen was recruited out of the New York Regional Office. Her recruiter was Matt Losak (Losotho 1985-88).] Today, Juliet is married and living in Chicago and working as a lawyer. She is also involved in working with the Chicago area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Matt Losak lives in the Washington, D.C., and is involved with the PCVs of D.C. Both of these PCVs continue to be fulcrums for the Peace Corps.]
“I thought he was a bit of a nerd,” said RPCV Stacey McKeever.
That was the line that caught my attention in the detailed profile (written by Rosalie R. Radomsky) in the wedding section of The New York Times this Sunday. (NO, I don’t usually read that section, but a friend of ours was also married this weekend.)
So I started to read about Stacey McKeever and Charles Fogelman who were married yesterday in New York by a friend of theirs, a Universal Life minister, at a bar/event space in Brooklyn. (That’s the way we do things in NYC!)
Stacey & Charlie met during Training for Lesotho and while Charles from the very first thought that Stacey was “very pretty, and something about her independence and faith in herself is what drew me in.” Stacey thought Charlie was a nerd.
Of course, at the same time, during Training, Stacey was keeping her distance from all the PCVs. As Charles said, “that made her more interesting. She didn’t want to engage in the childishness of many of us. Her sense of maturity was interesting.” Stacey was also 3 years old than Charlie and the other PCVs.
They were assigned to sites several hours apart, so Charles started ‘hitting on her’ by writing letters. “He wrote me letters every Sunday,” Stacey remembered, “letters are a big deal when you don’t have a phone or Internet.” For her part, just to read his mail, she had to travel an hour to the post office.
She responded sporadically at first, then began writing more often. ”His letters were so sweet. We’d see each other in the capital. When it was the two of us, it was really fun to see him.”
Then Charlie made his move. He invited Stacey to his site. He bought a bottle of cheap South African wine. “I felt so adult and romantic. But the wine tasted terrible. Nevertheless, by the end of the evening it was too late for her to go home…
Their relationship survived reverse culture shock in New York City where he worked in marketing for American Express, and she was a researcher in studies of H.I.V. and drug-resistant tuberculosis in South Africa. They talked to each other in Sesotho and last year, in their tiny Harlem apartment, they had the Queen of Lesotho, who was studying at Columbia, over for dinner. “That was a pretty perfect moment,” recalls Charlie. “It was perfect to unite our life in Lesotho and New York in that wonderful way.”
Well, I’d say they sound like a pretty perfect couple.
[An online magazine for alumni and friends of U-M has a great piece about what is happening at the University of Michigan this week. Check out Joe Serwach story below. He writes for the U-M news service, and also watch the promotional: "The Passing of the Torch" on Youtube.com
Thanks to Andy Trincia ( Romania 2002-04) for sending this along to me.]
Joe Serwach writes:
From John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, presidents have challenged University of Michigan students to change the world. In Kennedy’s case, the transformation was rapid and enduring: The Peace Corps was born.
“It was 50 years ago that a young candidate for president came here to Michigan and delivered a speech that inspired one of the most successful service projects in American history,” Obama told U-M graduates May 1. “And as John F. Kennedy described the ideals behind what would become the Peace Corps, he issued a challenge to the students who had assembled in Ann Arbor on that October night: ‘On your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country,’ he said, ‘will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can.’”
Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, stood on the steps of the Michigan Union at 2 a.m. Oct. 14, 1960, and delivered an impromptu speech before thousands of students who waited for hours in the fall chill. He challenged them to promote peace by working in developing countries around the world. The student response helped rapidly turn the idea into a reality.
Well after midnight on October 14, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy arrived at the steps of the Michigan Union. This week, U-M celebrates 50 years of the Peace Corps, which was first inspired by that speech.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Peace Corps, U-M will host a series of events that include the debut of a new film, “A Passing of the Torch,” a national symposium, shows, guest speakers and reunions.
Alan Guskin, a then-23-year-old graduate student who witnessed Kennedy’s 1960 speech, returns to the Michigan Union at 2 a.m. this Oct. 14 to speak to a crowd celebrating the anniversary. Guskin will detail how he and other students and faculty were inspired enough to take action: they wrote letters, organized groups, conducted petition drives and built momentum that led to the Peace Corps’ establishment by executive order on March 1, 1961.
“A lot of people say the ’60s began after Kennedy was assassinated, but really the student activism with thousands of people getting involved started with that speech,” Guskin said. “We were the ’50s generation that didn’t do much until then. What stimulated us was the sense that the torch was being passed to a new generation. We wanted to do something but we were never stimulated to do something until then.”
Guskin, along with other students and faculty who pushed for the establishment of the corps, participated in selecting the first class and were among the first volunteers sent overseas. Over the past half-century, more than 2,331 U-M alumni have served in the Peace Corps, the fourth-highest total of any university.
Guskin said that activism was evident when Kennedy adviser Chester Bowles came to U-M after the speech and students pressed him to elaborate. Bowles hadn’t heard Kennedy’s impromptu remarks asking students if they would be willing to serve their country by going to places like Ghana but they had been recorded and staffers promptly took action.
The activism also was apparent, Gaskin said, when he took a letter to the Michigan Daily student newspaper’s editor Tom Hayden, who would become a national icon of 1960s student activism as the author of the 1962 Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of Students for a Democratic Society. The Daily was part of the push for the establishment of the corps, Guskin said, noting then-Daily editorial director Phil Power also was part of the effort and an early champion of greater student involvement in university governance.
“The JFK/U-M/Peace Corps story reads like fiction because of the amazing set of circumstances, coincidences and efforts by our students and faculty that enabled it to happen,” said John Greisberger, director of U-M’s International Center. “Student activism and engagement is a point of pride for this university, and what was started in 1960 continues today as thousands of our students every year accept JFK’s challenge “to serve the cause of peace” by engaging in community service locally, nationally and internationally.”
Sargent Shriver, founding director of the organization and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, wrote the Peace Corps probably would “still be just an idea but for the affirmative response of those Michigan students and faculty. Possibly Kennedy would have tried it once more on some other occasion, but without a strong popular response he would have concluded that the idea was impractical or premature. That probably would have ended it then and there. Instead, it was almost a case of spontaneous combustion.”
Former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Penn., an aide to Kennedy who helped found the organization and taught the first Peace Corps class at U-M, will be on campus Oct. 14. Wofford wrote in his memoir, “Just as it had been the one innovative idea in his campaign, during his thousand days in office it was his primary specific answer to those who asked what they could do for their country.”
Guskin recalls Wofford coming to the Michigan Union in 1961 to speak to the first class of Peace Corps volunteers going to Thailand. Guskin never forgot when Wofford told them not to consider themselves U.S. ambassadors but to instead speak as real Americans, telling the people they met exactly how they felt even if it was negative, because that freedom would send a much more powerful message about what the United States was all about.
“It did change my whole life,” Guskin said of his Peace Corps involvement. “I was a graduate student in social psychology and after watching the debate (Kennedy and Richard Nixon held their third debate hours before JFK arrived at U-M) we were interested in issues but we weren’t activists. But Kennedy challenged us and we got turned on. I remember saying, ‘Wow, that’s exciting.’”
After joining the Peace Corps, “I gained what I call ‘true humility.’ Other people love their cultures as much as you love yours and that changes your way of looking at the world and this country.”
He predicted that many of the members of the class of 2010 would wind up being influenced and inspired by the current president as he was by Kennedy, saying both represent generational change.
“What is certain-what has always been certain-is the ability to shape that destiny,” Obama said at U-M. “If you are willing, as past generations were willing, to contribute part of your life to the life of this country, then I, like President Kennedy, believe we can. Because I believe in you.”
For a listing of events and more information about U-M and the Peace Corps, visit: peacecorps.umich.edu/events.html
NEW ROCHELLE - When Peace Corps volunteers return from teaching English, fighting disease or designing irrigation systems, they have one more job to do: tell the story.
Volunteers are expected to share what they learned about the people and cultures they came to know during their two years abroad. Pelham resident John Coyne, an author, blogger and former volunteer in Ethiopia, has made it his mission to help them do so.
Coyne edits a busy website called Peace Corps Worldwide, where volunteers share their experiences through a network of blogs. The site grew out of a newsletter Coyne created with Marian Haley Beil in 1987 and a smaller website that launched in 1999. Peace Corps Worldwide launched four years ago, with Coyne as editor and Haley Beil as publisher.
There are more than 200,000 former Peace Corps volunteers, and they’ve produced a kind of subgenre of the travelogue. By living and working with people over the course of two years, volunteers come back with rich material.
“It’s a window onto these worlds that the majority of Americans would never have an opportunity to see,” said Coyne, who works as communications manager at the College of New Rochelle. He has written or edited more than 25 novels and non-fiction books. As a Peace Corps staff member in 1995, he edited three books of essays about volunteers’ experiences.
Among the writers who have served in the Peace Corps are novelists Paul Theroux and Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, and magazine writers George Packer, Maureen Orth and Peter Hessler.
The problem is, not everyone knows how to put their experience into words. Some accounts might work as an oral history, Coyne said, but not as literature.
“You grab the reader by the throat,” he advised in a recent post. He doesn’t hold back in his online critiques, saying he wants to encourage high standards.
The website is independent of the Peace Corps itself,and invites discussion about controversies and politics involving the organization. It taps into a talkative community of ex-volunteers who have formed their own groups in places like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Coyne was among the first team of volunteers to serve in Ethiopia, in 1962. Though the corps’ mission hasn’t changed since then, its image has.
“It was a real gamble,” he said of the old perceptions. “We were stepping off the edge of the world, in a sense. Now, kids go to Europe in high school, by themselves.”
Former volunteers will be especially visible next year, when the Peace Corps marks its 50th anniversary. Events are being scheduled by groups across the country. Coyne is organizing a series of readings by former volunteers, and launching a new series of books in the coming weeks.
The first, by Gabon volunteer Bonnie Lee Black, is titled How to Cook a Crocodile.
from the Journal News written by Leah Rae
[This article appeared today, 10-10-2010, in the Chicago Tribune. It was written by John Keilman, a Tribune reporter. As of today I am not seeing signs that the agency understands that the 50th is a great recruitment opportunity. The Peace Corps, of course, is allowed to spend money to recruit, but my guess is that they are afraid of the IG’s office, and the Peace Corps lawyers — a bunch of hanger-ons from the Bush years — who will slap their hands for using the lives and experiences of RPCVs to ’sell’ the idea that the Peace Corps was worthy once, and is still worthy today. Of course these lawyers, and others key people in the Peace Corps administration, never were PCVs, and they do not have a feel for the organization. They just want jobs! I’m sure they are also afraid to volunteer and live the life of a PCV.)
Articles such as this one will begin to appear all over the U.S. in the coming months and we can only hope that the two RPCVs running the agency — Aaron and Carrie — will see the 50th is not only an opportunity to recruit, but it is also an opportunity to grow the number of PCVs.
Republicans are going to take over the House in a few weeks and they are not in a ‘growing the agency’ mood. My guess is that the Tea Baggers will also be ready to shut the Peace Corps down as being a waste of money. Now is the time for the Peace Corps to make a stand and make their case.
Pioneers in the Peace Corps
50 years after Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, some of the earliest volunteers look back with pride
By John Keilman, Tribune reporter
October 9, 2010
It was well after midnight at the University of Michigan when presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a short speech that would, in thousands of small ways, reshape the world.
“How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” he asked a crowd of students 50 years ago this week. “Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?
“On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.”
Thus was born the idea of the Peace Corps, and when Kennedy took office the next year, he swiftly made it a reality. He called for volunteers to spend two years improving the health, education and economic prospects of some of the poorest people on earth - and, not coincidentally in those Cold War years, to burnish America’s global reputation.
Thousands of Americans stepped forward. One was Nomenee Robinson, then a young architect and city planner working in Chicago’s Water Department.
He had an itch for adventure and a desire to help others. And by the autumn of 1961, he was in India’s Punjab state, assisting with building projects in a country struggling to gain its footing after centuries of colonial rule.
Life there was hard. Robinson had to use bricks made of sand and straw and just a dab of cement. He was on constant guard not to offend his hosts with an easygoing joke. And once, while he was building trekking huts in the Himalayas, his pack horses were killed by wild animals.
Yet through every difficulty, his enthusiasm never flagged.
“There was a challenge in understanding how to work with another culture,” he said. “That excited me.”
Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s uncle, is one of five Chicago-area residents who shared their memories of the early days of the Peace Corps with the Tribune. Volunteering in the glow of Camelot, their optimism was tested by rough conditions and occasional doubts about whether they were really making a difference.
There was no doubt, though, about the enormous difference the Peace Corps made in their own lives. It forged a global consciousness and a service-minded attitude that stayed with them for decades.
Robinson, now 73, a retired businessman turned Peace Corps recruiter, was reminded of that just the other day. Walking through downtown, he spotted a turbaned Sikh and greeted the man in Punjabi.
“The guy flipped,” he recalled. “He said, ‘Wow, you talk just like a villager!’ I don’t have enough of the language left, but when I see a Sikh, I can say enough to warm his heart. I can take that to the grave with me.”
Virginia DeLancey, 70 Nigeria, 1962-64
Growing up in Cleveland, Virginia DeLancey was as sheltered as could be. When her friends scattered during college vacation breaks, her parents ordered her home, not wanting her to be out in the world unsupervised.
Soon after graduation, though, she and her new husband broke away by joining the Peace Corps. They were assigned to Nigeria, a country they knew little about.
They wound up in Buguma, a town in the Niger Delta that was a 21/2-hour motorized canoe ride away from the nearest sizable city. She was assigned a teaching job in a private business school and ended up instructing students in everything from English to sewing to “netball,” an English version of basketball.
The school was, to be polite, minimalist: Its walls and roof were made of corrugated metal, and when rain poured from the sky, the noise was deafening.
“We ended up doing a whole lot of shouting while we were teaching,” she said.
The school also had a library that consisted of a single bookcase holding a volume of Shakespeare and a few books supplied by the Russian Embassy. She managed to wheedle donations from American bibliophiles, and by the time her service ended, the books took up an entire room. The students named it the DeLancey Library.
DeLancey went on to get a doctorate in economics, and spent years teaching and doing research in Cameroon, Egypt and Somalia. Now living in Morton Grove, she still does occasional consulting on international development.
“I never would have dreamed it,” she said of her decades of globe hopping. “(The Peace Corps) causes a lot of changes in your life. Changes you never expected.”
Jim Wolter, 71 Malaysia, 1961-66
The telegram informing Jim Wolter that he had been accepted into the Peace Corps arrived at a fortuitous moment.
“I was actually supposed to get married, but my fiancee and I weren’t really sure about that,” he said. “So for me, (joining the corps) was a socially acceptable way of standing up to my mother and prospective mother-in-law.”
He was 22, a Chicago kid who had traveled only as far as DeKalb, when a plane whisked him off to Malaysia. He emerged into a blast of heat and humidity and a vista so green that it looked artificial.
He was given a science teaching assignment in a small coastal town, and each morning he would cycle to the market to buy goat organs that his students could dissect - or, in some cases, take home for dinner.
He later moved to a school that supposedly needed a math teacher. But when he got there, he found students who were so advanced that they didn’t need his help. They earned some of the nation’s highest scores on a standardized test, but when he was praised for his teaching genius, he protested that he hadn’t really done anything. “I got a reputation as a great math teacher - and very modest,” he said.
He stayed a teacher when he came home - joined by a wife, it so happened, he met in Malaysia - and pursued a career in special education. Even stateside, the lessons he learned in the heat of the tropics proved invaluable.
“Problem solving, getting resources, working with people and having absolute confidence you can handle anything thrown your way - that’s what the Peace Corps did for me,” he said.
Barbara Janes, 71 Pakistan, 1961-63
Before Barbara Janes was sent to Pakistan, she spent a few weeks in Puerto Rico in a sort of tropical boot camp. She learned to stay afloat in the water for hours, rappelled down the side of a dam and spent a night alone in the jungle, sleeping in the glow of bioluminescent plants.
It might have seemed like strange preparation for a teaching job, but it was in keeping with the indomitable spirit that infused many of the early Peace Corps volunteers.
“When I graduated from college, we thought that the adults had ruined this world,” she said. “‘Get out of the way, give us six months and we’ll solve all your problems.’ What I realized several years later is that it’s not going to happen. You just pick your niche and try to influence it, and you do the best you can in that small area. If enough people do that, more change will happen.”
She taught biology and science at women’s colleges and designed a program that trained students to become teachers, instructing rural villagers in health and sanitation.
She never knew how effective that program had been, and she left the country wishing she could have done more. A few years ago, after a long teaching career on the North Shore, she decided to try again.
She has since made several trips to Pakistan to do teacher training workshops. She has helped start a scholarship fund for girls and raised money for earthquake relief. She’s now trying to put together $10,000 to repair schools damaged by last summer’s devastating flood.
Even though Pakistan is viewed with suspicion and alarm by many Americans, she said, she is confident that her Peace Corps experience and recent travels showed the true heart of the country.
“They’re really good people,” she said. “There are (terrorist elements), but most Pakistanis want to live their lives just the way we do. I try to help people understand that.”
Joe Jaycox, 73 Venezuela, 1962-64
Growing up in a poor South Side neighborhood, Joe Jaycox treasured the days when the nuns of St. Ambrose School would treat him and other youngsters to a day at the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum.
He didn’t forget the importance of fun when he was assigned to a poor neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela. He spent 10 hours a day on a basketball court, teaching the game to children who streamed there from across the city. He talked bus owners into taking the kids to the beach; many of them, he said, had never before left the barrio.
It was a wonderfully happy time, which made it all the more difficult to leave.
“I almost cried, because my time was up, and I was going on to Europe and other places,” he said. “These kids, these young men, weren’t going anywhere. They were waving at me as I left. I was a Marine and a big tough guy, but I almost cried and said, ‘I’ve got to do something to help these kids.’”
Decades later, after a career as a furniture salesman, he got his chance. He struck up a friendship with Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel, the White Sox shortstop and Venezuelan native, and together they planned a charitable organization to aid children in the South American nation.
Carrasquel died in 2005 before the group hit its stride, but since then, Jaycox said, the Chico Carrasquel Foundation has raised enough money to stage four trips a year, taking busloads of Caracas children to museums, swimming pools and even a McDonald’s. Humble as those destinations may be, many of the kids have never had the opportunity to go.
“I’ve always had good memories, good thoughts of the (Venezuelan) people,” he said. “That’s lasted for 50 years. … This happens to a lot of Peace Corps volunteers. They just fall in love with the people. So did I.”
At the Ann Arbor City Council meeting on October 4, 2010, the council agreed to close - State Street, from South University to East William - in connection with the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Peace Corps. There will be two events on October 14, 2010, one of them in the early morning, to mark the exact anniversary of the 2 a.m. speech by John F. Kennedy from the steps of the Michigan Union. The later event, at 11 a.m. will include as guest speakers Sen. Harris Wofford, Jack Hood Vaughn, Aaron Williams, Julia Darlow, Mary Sue Coleman and Jennifer Granholm.
The council voted unanimously to approve the street closing.
Looking forward to this year’s 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the University of Michigan is planning many events, including a national symposium on the future of international service and a commemoration of Senator John F. Kennedy’s speech on the steps of the Union. All of these events were organized by the University and not the Peace Corps or the National Peace Corps Association. The events that have been planned to date include:
October 1-November 30
U-M and the Peace Corps: It All Started Here
Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
This dynamic exhibit showcases the unique role of University of Michigan students and faculty in the creation and popularizing of the Peace Corps. As Sargent Shriver said, “It might still be just an idea but for…those Michigan students and faculty.” The exhibit highlights the development of student activism as well as important historical events.
Sponsored by the University of Michigan Library and the International Center.
Serving Others Around the World
Michigan Union, Art Lounge
Enjoy a photo exhibit featuring five decades of U-M alumni experiences in the Peace Corps.
“As I See It” Photo Competition
Michigan Union Lobby, Beanster’s at the Michigan League, and the Piano Lounge in Pierpont Commons
In honor of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary, “Peace” is the theme for October’s “As I See It” photo competition. Students should submit photos by October 7. The exhibit will be up from October 11-21. A Passing of the Torch
7:00-8:30 p.m., Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
A Passing of the Torch is an hour-long documentary that explores the grassroots effort organized by U-M students to push for the creation of the Peace Corps after Senator John F. Kennedy’s inspiring late night speech on the steps of the Michigan Union on October 14, 1960. This film captures the amazing set of circumstances, efforts, and coincidences that occurred, as well as the extraordinary people that made it all happen. The Office of Vice President for Communications commissioned the film, which premieres at this event. The film will then make its national television debut in October on the Big Ten Network, and later in the fall on public television.
Film Screening: Atumpan: The Talking Drums of Ghana
6:30 p.m., African Studies Center: Room 1636, School of Social Work Building, 1080 S. University
The story and sounds of the talking master drums of the Ashanti. In observance of the Peace Corps’ 50th year celebration, James Acheampong, the chief drum maker at the Centre for National Culture of Ghana (Kumasi) crafted a specially commissioned set of Fontomfrom drums-the drums that symbolize the rank and status of chiefs, announce the opening of parliament, and have the capability of speech. Now part of the permanent collection of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the drums will be heard at key points during the U-M celebrations. Sponsors: African Studies Center, Office of the Senior Vice Provost.
National Symposium: The Future of International Service
8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Blau Auditorium Ross School of Business
This symposium focuses on new initiatives and policies related to global service and kicks off a year-long series of events across the nation that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. This event is sponsored by U-M, the Brookings Institution, and the National Peace Corps Association, with support from the Building Bridges Coalition. Public welcome, registration not required; web streaming available.
Paul Theroux: How the Peace Corps Changed My Life
7 p.m., Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
The American travel writer and novelist will discuss the impact of the Peace Corps on his life. Sponsored by LSA Theme Semester (”What Makes Life Worth Living”), Hatcher Graduate Library, and the International Center.
Challenges and Opportunities of International Service: A Student Symposium
10 p.m. Oct 13-1 a.m. Oct 14 Pendleton Room, Michigan Union
The creation of the Peace Corps was as much a story of active, engaged, and passionate students as it was about the political and social environment of the time. 50 years on we, the students of this campus, ask ourselves, “How best can we carry the torch of service, activism, and motivation for our generation?” Interested in international issues? Interested in service, both international and domestic? Do you see ways in which your experiences both at the University of Michigan and elsewhere can be leveraged to engage students in important issues?
A Passing of the Torch
1:00-2:00 a.m., Michigan Union steps
Special outdoor screening of A Passing of the Torch immediately before the commemoration of Senator John F. Kennedy’s inspiring late night speech on the steps of the Michigan Union on October 14, 1960. This new documentary captures the amazing set of circumstances, efforts, and coincidences that occurred, as well as the extraordinary people that made it all happen. This screening is sponsored by the Student Symposium, which directly precedes this screening.
First Ceremony on Michigan Union steps
2-2:30 a.m. Michigan Union steps
Meet at the Union steps on the same date and hour of JFK’s speech to 5,000 assembled U-M students. The program will include a performance by the UM Educational Theater Company (UMetc) that tells the story of JFK, U-M, and the Peace Corps. Special guest speakers include Aaron Williams, Director, Peace Corps; Alan Guskin, student leader in 1960 who with others advocated for the creation of the Peace Corps; and Steven Weinberg, current student and founder of Will Work For Food.
Historical Marker Dedication
10:30-10:45 a.m., in front of the U-M Museum of Art
On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s challenge to U-M students to commit to international service, the U-M International Center, the Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit Program,U-M Community Relations, and the City of Ann Arbor will dedicate a historical marker, which tells the story of JFK’s speech on the steps and the subsequent events at U-M that led to the creation of the Peace Corps.
Second Ceremony on Michigan Union steps
11 a.m.-12 p.m. Michigan Union steps
Participate with special guests in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s speech that led to the creation of the Peace Corps. Special guest speakers include former Kennedy aide and architect of the Peace Corps, Sen. Harris Wofford; Jack Hood Vaughn, second director of the Peace Corps and U-M alumnus; Aaron Williams, current director of the Peace Corps; Julia Darlow, chair, U-M Board of Regents and Mary Sue Coleman, U-M President.
Spending Your Days in Ghana: Responding to JFK’s Challenge
1:30-5 p.m. Symposium: Pendleton Room, Michigan Union
JFK asked, “How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” Learn about the U-M’s long history-and exciting future-in Ghana and how both Ghana and U-M have benefited from partnerships in a number of fields including medicine, engineering, technology and museum studies. This symposium, which will be complemented by a performance featuring specially commissioned Ghanaian Fontomfrom drums played by visiting Ghanaian drummers and percussion students of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, is sponsored by the Medical School. Speakers include: Dr. Timothy Johnson, Medical School; Dr. Lisa Newman, Medical School; Dr. Cary Engleberg, Medical School; Prof. Kathleen Sienko, Engineering; and Prof. Ray Silverman, Museum Studies.
Reception for U-M Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs)
4:30-6:00 p.m., Anderson Room, Michigan Union
U-M alumni who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers will be special guests at a reception honoring all U-M alumni for their service to others. Dr. Alan Guskin and three others will receive the Distinguished Alumni Service Award. This event is sponsored by the U-M Alumni Association.
Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams: Inspiring the Next Generation of Volunteers
6:30-7:30 p.m. Kuenzel Room, Michigan Union
Calling all future Peace Corps Volunteers! Peace Corps has thousands of new volunteer positions available for 2011. Learn more about the personal and professional rewards of international Peace Corps service. Hear from the agency’s top representative, Director Aaron William, about his own service as an education volunteer in the Dominican Republic-a pivotal experience that led to a distinguished career in international development. Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, who served in Western Samoa, also will be on hand to share her stories and insights. Please attend and prepare to be inspired to create your own Peace Corps story!
Free and open to the public. Hosted by the Chicago Regional and University of Michigan Peace Corps offices.
Tom Hayden: The Importance of Community Organizing: From the Peace Corps to Barack Obama
8:30-10:00 p.m., Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
This social and political activist, author and politician was editor of the Michigan Daily in 1960 and supported the students who were working for the creation of the Peace Corps. Later, he became active in the civil rights movement and was one of the founders of the student activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Mr. Hayden will discuss student activism in the 1960s compared with student activism today.
History of the Peace Corps: From the Michigan Union Steps to the Present
1:00-2:30 p.m., Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
Hear an eyewitness account of JFK’s speech and the campus events that followed leading to the creation of the Peace Corps, and then hear about the growth and development of the Peace Corps over the past fifty years. Presenters are Alan Guskin (U-M alumnus and RPCV-Thailand), Jody K. Olsen (former Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, RPCV and Visiting Professor at the U. of Maryland), and Stanley Meisler (former Peace Corps staff member and author of When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years). The panel moderator will be Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Deputy Director, Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Authors
3:00-4:30 p.m., Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
U-M alumni who wrote books and or poetry about their Peace Corps experience will discuss the effect and impact of the Peace Corps on their writing. Presenters will include Terry Sack (Bolivia 1963-65); Jan Worth-Nelson (Tonga 1976-78); and John Flynn (Moldova 1993-95). The panel moderator will be Judith Guskin, U-M Alumna, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Thailand), and key leader of student organization that advocated for the creation of the Peace Corps.
Engineers in the Peace Corps: A Conversation with College of Engineering Alumni
3:00-5:00 p.m., Chesebrough Auditorium, Chrysler Center (North Campus)
Join College of Engineering Alumni as they share their experiences from the Peace Corps and discuss the role of engineering in service to society. A BBQ reception will follow on the Dell Plaza (located off the North Campus Diag in front of Tishman Hall). This event is sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Society of Global Engineers. For more information, contact Amy Conger by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Hour for RPCVs and Their Families and Friends
5:00-7:00 p.m. Dominick’s on Monroe Street
October 15-November 12
U-M Alumni/Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Exhibition
Slusser Gallery in the Art & Architecture Building on North Campus
Opening reception, October 15, 6-9 p.m. at Slusser Gallery
The University of Michigan School of Art & Design invites submissions of work in all media for a 50th anniversary celebratory exhibition of work by U-M alumni who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Creative work should reflect or respond to the Peace Corps experience. Submitted work will be juried by a committee drawn from the School of Art & Design community.
Football Game and Halftime Program
U-M-affiliated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers will be recognized at halftime during the Homecoming football game. For information about ordering tickets and participating in the halftime program, contact John Greisberger by email at: email@example.com.
October 26 and November 2, 9, and 16
Film Series: International Development Issues-Four Countries
8:00 p.m. North Quad Dining Hall
Issues, problems, successes and failures of international development will be explored by viewing films about four countries followed by discussion. Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai is the inspiring story of the Green Belt Movement and its Nobel Laureate founder (Oct. 26). End of the Rainbow is about the impact of gold mining in Guinea (Nov. 2). Poto Mitan is the story of five Haitian women who struggle against huge obstacles to create change through collective action (Nov. 9). Once in Afghanistan is a film about the work of female Peace Corps vaccinators and its impact on them and Afghans (Nov. 16). This program is co-sponsored by the Global Scholars Program, LSA Theme Semester and the International Center.
Swords into Plowshares: Peace Corps Service in Eastern Europe and Eurasia
12:00-1:30 p.m. 1636 International Institute/School of Social Work Building
U-M graduate students and staff will discuss their Peace Corps experiences in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Presenters include: Rutherford Hubbard, master’s student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies/JD student in law and RPCV (Armenia 2006-08); Mahima Mahadevan, master’s student in public policy and RPCV (Kyrgyz Republic 2004-06); William Nash, immigration specialist (International Center) and RPCV (Ukraine 2001-03); and Maria Smith, master’s student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies/public policy and RPCV (Azerbaijan 2006-08). This event is sponsored by the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and the International Policy Center at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
Sarah Chayes: Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series
5:10 p.m. Michigan Theater
Author Sarah Chayes’ presentation is part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. Ms. Chayes is a former Peace Corps Volunteer and NPR reporter. She has lived in Kandahar, Afghanistan since 2002 where she has established a number of cooperatives to help local farmers. She will discuss the current dilemma in Afghanistan and a plan for its resolution. This program is sponsored by the School of Art and Design, LSA Theme Semester and the International Center.
Provost’s Seminar on Educating Globally Competent Students
(By invitation only)
1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Michigan League
This seminar, sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), is a professional development opportunity for U-M faculty members that will provide opportunities to explore and examine ways to internationalize course material and class discussions in order to increase students’ intercultural competency and maturity, and skills for global citizenship.
Advancing Global Public Health: Presentation of the Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal
2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Ross School of Business, Blau Auditorium. A reception follows.
The second Thomas Francis, Jr. medal will be awarded to Alfred Sommer, M.D., M.H.S., professor of epidemiology, international health, and ophthalmology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His research into Vitamin A deficiency has saved millions of children from blindness and death. Sommer credits the Peace Corps for fueling his initial desire to work overseas, and today he advises many Corps volunteers as they administer Vitamin A. His talk will be followed by a panel discussion.
This coming November Rutgers University will honor the PCVs who trained at Rutgers and went to Colombia with the first group of Volunteers. The Rutgers College Avenue Campus will host a program of guest speakers on November 4, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The next day, a commemorative plaque will be unveiled at 11:00 a.m. at Hegeman Hall in New Brunswick. Thirty-five of the 62 (men only) Colombia One RPCV are planning to attend the cerebration.
Recently the Rutgers Magazine, interviewed Harry Kranz, a 1945 graduate of the College, who was instrumental in getting the Peace Corps Training Program to Rutgers, about his involvement and those early Volunteers.
Kranz was with Shriver on June 25, 1961, when Shriver came to Rutgers to see what “real PCV Trainees” looked like. Kranz, who had been an assistant to Walter Reuther, head of the United Auto Workers Union, had contacted Harris Wofford about going to work at the agency and Shriver hired him to find training sites. Kranz arranged (of course) for Rutgers to train the first volunteers; he then coordinated the orientation activities, and managed the training site.
The magazine interviewed Kranz shortly before his death in July about his involvement in the Peace Corps. What interested me in the interview what this exchange:
Rutgers Magazine: What do you remember about the training at Rutgers?
Colombia One PCVs are endlessly boring about ‘being first’ in the Peace Corps, so now they can claim that they also had the first Trainee De-Selected. But the question now is: Who was that Trainee?
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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