(The CNN videos are great eulogies at the Funeral, especially Clinton’s)
John Coyne Babbles
Don Beil (Somalia 1964–66) shares thoughts on the wake held for Sargent Shriver in Washington, DC this past Friday.
Robert Sargent Shriver Wake
Open to the public
Friday, January 21
4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church
THE CHURCH DOORS DID NOT OPEN UNTIL 4:00 p.m., so having arrived 20 long minutes early I stood outside with a small group of mourners in the bitter cold. A handful of photographers and videographers waited across the street. For unknown reasons, other than to have something to keep them moving in the cold — even if it was only a finger — they took pictures of the short line. Perhaps it was my uneasiness at being this close to something religious that signaled something of interest to them.
Accompanied by police sirens, a hearse arrived followed by a large white limousine-labeled bus. Shrivers, apparently — for most are unknown to me, piled out of the bus, perhaps 25 or 30 in all. Almost all were children — thin, handsome, long hair. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was among them. Although I did not recognize her at that point, probably Maria was there too; later, once inside I realized who she was.
People near me in line — who all appeared to be in their 70s — were talking about when they served with, and then worked for, the Peace Corps. Although I too had been a Volunteer as well as worked for the Peace Corps in the 1960s I had learned long ago never to brag about how long ago it was. My wife had been an Ethiopia I from 1962 to 1964, two years before me, and had been at PC headquarters before me (she had in fact hired me), so it has always been useless for me to even think of bragging about how long ago I had served; there was always someone nearby who had been-there-done-that before I had.
Talk in the line then turned to important social movements — the Peace Corps and AA (”I’ve been 25 years without a drink” I heard) being the two topics discussed.
Several trucks went by with telescoping satellite antennae. The church is in Georgetown, where even the plentiful Smart cars of DC have difficulty finding a space to park.
The church doors opened, and those lovely Shriver children — some of the 19 grandchildren of the Shrivers I learned later — were so gracious. “Thank you for coming. Thank you for coming.”
As a watcher, I sat in the back while others who knew what to do at a wake waited in line down the middle aisle. The former Governor and his wife (I had by then realized who she was) were simply wonderful, moving slowly down the middle aisle in genuine conversation with one after another of the mourners. Simply very gracious.
I studied the small memorial card. That handsome Shriver smile on the front side framed in white, on the other, the following.
ROBERT SARGENT SHRIVER, JR.
November 9, 1915 – January 18, 2011
And now these three remain: faith, hope
and love. But the greatest of
these is love.
I hope you remember to believe in things
’til you die. I hope you remember to be
guided by beliefs powerful enough to
change the world. I hope you remember
the example of the Peace Corps
Volunteer, the Head Start parent, the
Special Olympics athlete. They, each in
their own way, are waging peace.
Maybe you will even remember me and
my family . . . remember the importance of
family — of giving and receiving — of love.
You have such a chance!
Oh, how I wish I were you!!!
Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr
Yale University Class Day
People in church began to recognize each other. Hugs. Pats on the back. The up and down rubbing of one’s hand on the upper arm of another — a warm gesture of understanding and connection.
It was a crowd with canes, many walking with the steps of age — a time to realize how long ago it was that Mr. Shriver had changed our society — and our lives, and now a time when young people have no idea of who the Kennedys are (were?) — the composition of the audience was far from a surprise. Many, to turn their heads, had to turn their whole bodies, as the necks of age no longer swivel without pain. The numbers for whom Mr. Shriver was a hero have dwindled.
The line in the middle aisle was moving very slowly, and although the crowd was never large it was very steady. It was a well-dressed crowd — unusual really for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers — so the crowd was not all RPCVs. Heavy coats were never removed throughout the evening as the church never warmed.
I passed on joining the reception line. What would I say? Mr. Shriver’s was for me a life in which he lived his words: “serve, serve, serve.” I had nothing more to say.
I signed the guest book for both my wife and myself, as she had asked in advance. So one name was a no-show.
It was a lively talkative crowd — yes, a celebration — not a hushed group.
Around the church, poster-size photos stood on easels. Fishing. Weddings. Families. Smiles.
As I watched the center aisle, it seemed that the hands moving warmly on upper-arms lingered longer on Mr. Schwarzenegger’s upper-arm than on others.
I asked when the program would begin. 6:30 p.m., meaning I would have been there for two and a half hours in the cold before the program began. I ducked out to The Tombs (no irony meant) a block away for a large warm — not hot — bowl of chili.
When I got back, the crowd was much larger. Steny Hoyer. John Kerry. Harris Wofford. David Axelrod. Caroline Kennedy, another back row sitter, sat at the other end of my row. Senator Kerry stood speaking informally with a woman in the aisle next to me; she prepared to leave him a note and was about to write in the white space when the Senator admonished her not to write on a memorial card.
People were asked to sit so that the program could begin.
The church was full, probably 500 seated, another 100 standing at the back, and more in the choir loft above.
“Please stand.” Amazing Grace. Speakers.
Steny Hoyer: We are all Sarge’s children. . . . He had a passion for people.
C. Payne Lucas: Sarge reminds me of Nelson Mandela. . . . There was not enough of him to go around.
Maureen Orth: Former PCVs owe him for what was, for so many of us, the best period of our lives.
“My name is Chris Dodd, Dominican Republic VI.” (Politicians — the constant me-generation.)
Colman McCarthy: As speech writers we give our speakers their quotes, those pearls that they repeat so smoothly. With Sarge, it was the reverse — he always told me what quotes to use in upcoming speeches I prepared for him.
George McGovern: Sarge consoled my wife and me — “we lost 49 states but never lost our souls.”
Bill Moyers: Sarge was a magnet for trust, and trusted us with a calling. LBJ told me “the way to sell the PC was to sell Sarge.”
Maria and her four brothers: Thank you. My father believed in faith, hope, and love; they have the greatest power.
A spokesperson for the Shriver Family suggested that the best place to send a note or card to the family would be:
1133 19th Street
Washington, D.C. 20036
[If you could, please forward this address onto RPCV friends. Not everyone checks this website (well, it is an imperfect world).]
Speaking at the wake this afternoon/evening will be Bill Moyers, first Deputy Director of the Peace Corps; Maureen Orth (Colombia PCV); C. P. Lucas (CD Niger, and African Regional Director 1962-67); Colman McCarthy, and others.
OPEN TO PUBLIC
Friday, January 21
4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church
Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace and teaches courses on nonviolence at four Washington area universities and two high schools. He is a long time friend of the Peace Corps, and, of course, Sargent Shriver.
Sargent Shriver: A life of grace
by Colman McCarthy
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
IT TOOK ONLY A WALK with Sargent Shriver to learn how deeply loved and loving he was. Former Peace Corps volunteers, from the early days of the program that he began in 1961, or ones just back from stints in Third World outposts, would stop Sarge to thank him, embrace him and tell him stories about their life-changing service.
Countless others approached him on airport concourses, city sidewalks and elsewhere: people whose lives were changed because of the anti-poverty programs that Shriver started in the Johnson administration - Legal Services, Head Start, Job Corps, Community Action,VISTA, Upward Bound. Or the parents of children in Special Olympics, the program began by Shriver and his wife, Eunice, that revolutionized the way we treat those with mental disabilities. Occasionally, it was someone from Massachusetts who voted for the McGovern-Shriver ticket in the 1972 presidential campaign - Massachusetts and the District being the only places they won while the rest of America, narcotized, backed the soon-to-be disgraced Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
In the three years - 1966-69 - that I worked as Sarge’s speechwriter, traveling companion and suitcase carrier, I saw hundreds of these random moments. Hale and always effulgent, Sarge gave full attention to each greeter. It was a style of honest generosity that came naturally, a pole removed from the grip-and-grin fakeries of American politics.
At his death Tuesday, after years of Alzheimer’s disease, the legions with whom Shriver had shared himself were no doubt recalling those chance run-ins as encounters with grace.
It was certainly that way for me. In the summer of 1966, I was roaming the country writing freelance articles about the civil rights movement: a week in Cicero, Ill., where Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to integrate housing; a week in Mound Bayou, Miss., an all-black Delta community scraping by. I sold a story to the National Catholic Reporter, a nascent liberal weekly already on its way to becoming a beacon of conscience-based journalism.
Sarge happened to read it. He tracked me down, not to jab back about the program of his I had criticized but to say that he had a staff opening for “a no-man, because I already have enough yes-men.” He was running the newly created Office of Economic Opportunity and needed help with speeches, he said. He invited me to Washington for an interview.
I thought my chances were nil. Months before, I had emerged from a Trappist monastery in Georgia where strictly cloistered priests and brothers were God’s inmates. Five years with no newspapers, magazines, television or other damnable frivolities, I’d been bricked out of secular society. Why would Shriver hire me?
For the make-or-break interview, we went to dinner. For four hours, the talk was not about pending legislation, Lyndon Johnson’s White House or Republican attacks on the Peace Corps. Instead, it was theology and spirituality, the turf on which I been trodding, however unsteadily.
Shriver, amazingly, wanted to discuss Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, Hans Kung, Tertullian, Leon Bloy, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and others. He told of inviting Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker to speak at Yale during his student days. A couple of times I couldn’t keep up, as when he riffed on the differences between the early, middle and late writings of Saint Teresa of Avila.
At dinner’s end, Sarge hired me - a flashpoint moment in my life. A spirited public orator, he needed a speechwriter like Stradivari needed help stringing violins. Once at work, I learned that I wasn’t the only one with a background in religion. He was hiring so many former nuns and priests that OEO could have stood for Office of Ecclesiastical Outcasts.
Sarge’s Catholicism ranged from ordinary pieties — a rosary was always in his pocket — to mindfulness of the church’s teachings on social justice and nonviolence.
It infused his thinking, as when he said in 1981 at a reunion of Peace Corps volunteers
“The cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace. Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure, not the reverse. Caring about nuclear war and its victims is the beginning of a cure for our obsession with war. Peace does not comes through strength. Quite the opposite: Strength comes through peace. The practices of peace strengthen us for every vicissitude. . . . The task is immense!”
For four decades, Sarge was my closest friend outside of my family. I said goodbye to him a few days ago during a visit at his apartment. I thanked him for everything. He had difficulty speaking, so he communicated by reaching for my hand. He kissed it and held it for half an hour, without a word between us. None was needed. He was saying that he loved me, the way he told all those people at airports and byways that they, too, were lovable.
Public Funeral Mass, Saturday, January 22
The funeral Mass will be held at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, MD on Saturday, January 22, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington will be the principal celebrant and homilist. Due to the overwhelming outpouring of condolences and public sentiment regarding the impact of Mr. Shriver’s life–and to honor the spirit of their father–the family has decided to open the funeral Mass to the public with the hope that his life’s work will inspire others to continue his legacy of service.
Address: Our Lady of Mercy, 9200 Kentsdale Drive Potomac, Maryland
Stanley Meisler is the author of When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years. Meisler was a foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, the Nation, and Smithsonian, and lives in Washington, D.C.
The family joke was that President John F. Kennedy handed his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, a lemon and Shriver turned it into lemonade. The lemon was the new Peace Corps, and Shriver, who died on Tuesday just six weeks short of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, transformed that lemon in 1961 into the most dynamic, popular and exciting agency of the new administration. The success of the Peace Corps made Shriver a national celebrity.
President Kennedy had not intended the new agency to be so dynamic nor his brother-in-law to be so celebrated. In the hierarchy of the large Kennedy family, brothers-in-law were second class, expected to stifle their own political ambitions until those of the real brothers - Jack, Bobby and Ted - were satisfied. Shriver had mused about running for governor of Illinois in 1960, but the Kennedys quickly squelched this distraction from the main family job of electing Jack president.
The pragmatic Kennedys never quite knew what to make of the idealist Shriver. He struck them not as a tough politico but a dilettante. In Chicago, where he managed the massive Merchandise Mart office building for the family, he had become involved in civil rights causes and served as president of the school board. Some Kennedys joked he was a communist. Bobby Kennedy liked to call him a Boy Scout. In a family where the patriarch, Joe Kennedy, and several of his sons were notorious womanizers, Shriver, according to biographer Scott Stossel, was still a virgin at age 37 when he married Eunice Kennedy.
President Kennedy’s call for a Peace Corps during the campaign had excited college students throughout the country. Many thousands had rushed letters to Washington offering to join the still unformed corps. But Kennedy was wary of thousands of youngsters rushing around the world interfering with his foreign policies. He envisioned a small Peace Corps - a total of several hundred at most, all strictly supervised by veteran officials of the US Agency for International Development (AID). He handed Shriver and his Peace Corps task force a professor’s proposal along these lines and urged his brother-in-law to follow it.
All Shriver’s public relations and sales instincts rebelled against this cautious approach. As Harris Wofford, a member of the task force and a future US Senator, put it, President Kennedy’s model was “contrary to every bone in Shriver’s body and every cell in his brain.” Shriver looked elsewhere for ideas.
He found them in a report, “The Towering Task,” written by two young officials of the foreign aid agency that became AID, Warren Wiggins and William Josephson. In many ways, their paper was ridiculous. They proposed sending 50,000 Volunteers to India, 17,000 to the Philippines, 5,000 to 10,000 to Nigeria, and “a few thousand” to Mexico. This kind of massive folly would have choked the Peace Corps senseless at birth.
But Shriver found two vital conclusions in the report: (1) the Peace Corps had to be large enough to make an impact on the developing world, to impress Americans and to accommodate the thousands of young American applicants, and (2) President Kennedy had to move quickly, creating the agency by executive order instead of waiting for congressional legislation. After the task force adopted these recommendations, President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.
But the President still refused to make the Peace Corps independent. Shriver enlisted the help of Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson had once warned Shriver against letting the Peace Corps become part of the foreign policy establishment. “You put the Peace Corps into the Foreign Service and they’ll put striped pants on your people when all you’ll want them to have is a knapsack and a tool kit and a lot of imagination,” Johnson said. He pushed the same argument on Kennedy. Faced with pressure from both his vice president and his brother-in-law, the president gave up and made the Peace Corps independent.
Shriver now had independence and the executive order but nothing else. He had no staff, no programs, no Volunteers, no real Peace Corps. He put everything together in six months in a whirlwind of verve, stamina, risk and enthusiasm. The atmosphere was frenetic, sometimes frantic, and enervating. A staff had to be organized. Governments had to be persuaded to accept Volunteers. Staffers had to devise programs and then travel overseas to make sure there would be jobs for the Volunteers. Applicants had to be selected. Universities had to train Volunteers in language, cultural studies and job skills.
Shriver or “Sarge,” as everyone he hired now called him, hunted for imaginative and unusual people for his staff. He hired two mountain climbers who had conquered K-2 in Pakistan, one to run the program in Nepal, the other in India. When Sarge tried to hire Franklin Williams from the staff of California Attorney General Stanley Mosk, Williams said he could not leave his job that soon. “Yes, you can,” said Shriver. He phoned Mosk right then. “Stanley, we got to have your assistant, Williams,” he said. Mosk gave him up.
Sarge hired Jack Hood Vaughn from AID and then reneged. He had too many people from AID on his staff. But an associate rushed in to Sarge’s office. Did he realize that Vaughn had won the amateur featherweight championship of Michigan, fought professionally in Mexico under the name of Johnny Hood, coached the University of Michigan team, and spared with Sugar Ray Robinson in Detroit? “My God, how did I miss that?” said Shriver. Vaughn was rehired.
Everyone worked long hours. The Washington Post ran a photo showing lights glowing in the Peace Corps building at night while all other government buildings were dark. Staffers leaving the building at midnight sometimes found Shriver in the same elevator.
Sarge was an inspiring, untiring leader. He was always articulate and in command of facts at news conferences and congressional committee hearings. He ran lively staff meetings where new ideas were continually explored and no one feared to contradict anyone else, not even Sarge.
Finally, on August 31, 1961, six months after President Kennedy had signed the executive order, a Pan Am charter flight landed in Accra, Ghana with 50 Peace Corps Volunteers, all teachers. The Volunteers alighted and managed to sing an anthem in Twi, one of the three main indigenous languages of Ghana. Their grasp of Twi was actually woeful, but they did a credible job, after rehearsal on the plane, of impressing their Ghanian welcomers. The teachers were the first Volunteers to reach their assigned country. Sarge’s Peace Corps had been launched.
Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Posted by Peter Hessler
Sargent Shriver and John F. Kennedy greet Peace Corps volunteers, 1962.
R. Sargent Shriver died today, just after the holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., and not long before the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps’ founding. Shriver would have had something to say about both occasions. One of his defining moments occurred in 1960, when he worked on the Presidential campaign for his brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy. Initially, Kennedy avoided expressing support for King, because he worried about losing white votes in the South. In October of that year, King was arrested after an Atlanta sit-in, and he was threatened with a jail sentence on trumped up charges. Coretta Scott King was terrified that her husband would be murdered while in custody-she was pregnant at the time-and she telephoned Harris Wofford, a law professor at Notre Dame University. Wofford called Shriver, who said, “Give me her number and get me out of jail if I’m arrested for speeding.” He knew that Kennedy was at an airport hotel in Chicago, preparing to leave for another campaign stop.
But once Shriver got to Kennedy, he was smart enough to wait. Realizing that the candidate’s advisors would oppose any gesture of support, he kept silent until Kenneth O’Donnell, one of the top aides, went to the bathroom. “Why don’t you telephone Mrs. King and give her your sympathy?” Shriver said, when he was alone with Kennedy. “Negroes don’t expect everything will change tomorrow, no matter who’s elected. But they do want to know whether you care. If you telephone Mrs. King, they will know you understand and will help. You will reach their hearts and give support to a pregnant woman who is afraid her husband will be killed.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Kennedy. “Why not? Do you have her number? Get her on the phone.”
By the time O’Donnell made it off the toilet, the damage was done. Bobby Kennedy later yelled at Shriver for taking such a risk, but even he followed through on his brother’s gesture, calling key officials in Georgia. Within a day, King was released, and he told reporters that Senator Kennedy deserved full credit: “For him to be that courageous shows that he is really acting upon principle and not expediency.” It proved to be a crucial moment in a close campaign, as black voters turned out in large numbers to support Kennedy. (This story is recounted in Stanley Meisler’s new book about the Peace Corps, “When the World Calls,” to be published next month.)
Shriver was a deceptively effective politician. He never won an election, and he was overshadowed by the Kennedys, who discouraged him from seeking office at key moments. Certainly he made an unusual figure in that family. “We’re nicer than the Kennedys,” Shriver’s mother once told a reporter. According to Shriver’s biographer, he was still a virgin when, at the age of thirty-seven, and after five long years of courtship, he married Eunice Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy referred to him as a Boy Scout. Others in the family called him the House Communist. When Kennedy appointed him as the first director of the Peace Corps, many believed it was a sure ticket to obscurity. But Shriver built the agency with remarkable speed; less than six months after the Peace Corps was founded, it sent its first volunteers to Ghana. Shriver proved to be even better at getting publicity. Volunteer assignments were announced in newspapers across America, and even minor staff positions were noted in The New York Times. In 1961, the agency’s first year, The New Yorker published no fewer than five cartoons about the Peace Corps.
Nowadays, former volunteers tend to be wistful about those early days. Shriver left the Peace Corps after only five years-he had instituted a rule that nobody should exceed that span of time at the agency-and he went on to help shape a number of other prominent organizations, including the Special Olympics, Head Start, and VISTA. Meanwhile, the Peace Corps lost popularity during the Vietnam years, and it’s never fully recovered. Today there are barely more than half as many volunteers worldwide as there were during Shriver’s final year. Recently there’s been a successful push for more funding (I wrote about this in the magazine last month), but even the Peace Corps’s staunchest supporters tend to believe that the agency needs major reform. Other programs like Teach for America enjoy much more attention, and despite a half century of work, it’s hard to define exactly how the Peace Corps has affected both the world and American society. In a nation that tends to celebrate momentous events and sweeping change, the Peace Corps has usually been about quieter, more personal interactions. But this was something that Sargent Shriver always understood. As director, he sent writers all around the world to create detailed reports about the various Peace Corps programs, and at bedtime he loved reading about the experiences of individual volunteers. These moments can be hard to capture and communicate; they have a quicksilver quality and sometimes they’re tinged with sadness. In 1963, the day after the funeral of President Kennedy, a beggar approached Donna Shalala, who would someday become the secretary of health and human services, but who at that time was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran. “No, I don’t have any money,” Shalala said, preëmpting the request.
“I don’t want money,” the beggar said. “I just want to tell you how sorry I am that your young president died.”
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/01/sargent-shriver-the-peace-corps-and-martin-luther-king-jr.html#ixzz1BaxOuqVY
I’ve learned late today that the Peace Corps will not be growing to 20,000, 15,000, or even 10,000 Volunteers in the near future. The word has gone forth from Director Aaron Williams to Country Directors worldwide that they have to cut back on their requests for Trainees.
Because of the on-going Continuing Resolution and the subsequent budget worries, Peace Corps Headquarters is scaling back on growth plans. The Agency will level off at 9,500 Volunteers this year and depending upon whatever budget is eventually passed, the overall numbers may drop again. The Obama Administration has told all agencies to scale back their growth plans. And that means you, Peace Corps!
p.s. Don’t worry, you can be assured no staff positions (especially Schedule C appointees) at HQ in Washington, D.C., will be cut!
Sorry, Rajeev. You won the battle (s) but you lost the war.
[This blog was posted this morning by RPCV writer Larry Leamer on Huffington Post website. Larry's most recent book is Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach.]
When I joined the Peace Corps in 1964, Sargent Shriver was my hero. I was stationed two days from a road in the mountains of the Himalayan kingdom and I never met the director of the Peace Corps. But he inspired me. He was “Sarge” to all of us, and we often talked about him. He visited Nepal once, this exuberant, inspiring presence who believed that the only thing higher than Mt. Everest was the human spirit. He thought people were capable of anything, even me. We just had to do it.
When I started my trilogy on the Kennedy family in the late eighties, I got to know Sarge, and I realized it was not easy being married to a Kennedy. Sarge was a Shriver, scion of a distinguished old Baltimore family, but once he married Eunice Kennedy, he was a Kennedy. He wanted to run for governor of Illinois in 1960, but his brother-in-law was running for president, and the Kennedys always came first. When Sarge ran for president in 1976, his brother-in-law Senator Edward Kennedy was less than helpful. The presidency was for a “real” Kennedy not a mock one.
Sarge was an elegant man. His liberalism was passionate and sincere but he lacked the common touch. He was profoundly and authentically religious. Unlike many politicians, he did not use religion. Religion used him. He had serious religious studies on his bed stand and he went to mass every morning. I asked him once why he did so and he said it was because he needed God’s help so much to get through the day. That was not a Sarge most people saw.
Sarge was ninety-five and lived an incredibly rich and productive life, and much of my sadness today is about his greatest creation, the Peace Corps. In 2003, Sarge gave a speech at Yale University in which he said, “We didn’t go far enough! Our dreams were large, but our actions were small. We never really gave the goal of ‘World Wide Peace’ an overwhelming commitment or established a clear, inspiring vision for attaining it. If we had, the world wouldn’t be in the mess we are in, and what could have been should have been.”
The truth is that the organization he founded is in every way diminished. Two years ago I volunteered with a program of the National Peace Corps Association of returned volunteers to try to get Congress to raise the Peace Corps budget dramatically pushing toward President Obama’s announced goal of doubling the corps by the fiftieth anniversary this year. As I got into it, I saw that it wasn’t just the numbers that needed to be increased. The organization needed to be reformed, torn apart and built anew the way Sarge would have done it.
After 9/11 the Peace Corps had lost its way, concerned more with security than change, pulling out of a number of crucial countries, building high walls behind which the directors lived in almost as exalted a fashion as the ambassadors. The attrition rate was horrible, many of the programs deeply flawed. And the bureaucrats in Washington went home early and did not listen to the volunteers.
People like Senator Chris Dodd, himself a returned volunteer, and Senator Patrick Leahy, knew that there were serious problems but they did nothing. Dodd backed off a bill that would have begun the reforms. NPCA took money from the Peace Corps to publish the volunteer magazine and was hopelessly compromised. I coined the slogan “Bold New Peace Corps” to suggest that it was not just money that was needed but change. I called all kinds of national media trying to get them to do a story on what was wrong. Nobody would do anything. A political editor at NPR was at least honest. He said, “Nobody cares.” I kept pushing at NPCA. I upset too many people and nobody at the organization cared about reform. I was pushed out of having any further involvement with the campaign.
Last Friday, in the biggest story the Peace Corps has had in years, ABC’s 20/20 did a devastating report on the 1,078 female volunteers who have been sexually assaulted or raped during the past decade. If I extrapolate correctly from these figures, that means that a woman has roughly a one in twenty five chance of being attacked. These are the Peace Corps figures and one would assume that many women remain quiet. The ABC story reported by Brian Ross and produced by Anna Schecter had six brave women on camera talking about how their abuse did not end once their attacker or attackers left them. In several cases, the Peace Corps shuttled them out of the country and forget them.
ABC also interviewed Chuck Ludlum, a vociferous critic of the Peace Corps who has done prodigious work documenting all kinds of problems. That was clearly not as intriguing a subject to 20/20’s viewers, and his segment was cut. But that story is out there waiting to be done, and 20/20 was only a beginning.
I know that some of my fellow returned volunteers are reading this and thinking, “Why does he write this now on the very day Sarge died.” I write it now because on this evening I remember Sarge as he was and I remember his dream and I know how far away from that we have come.
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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