As a Peace Corps volunteer you meet some amazing people. People you would never have met if you did not leave the comfort of life in the United States to serve as a volunteer. These amazing people come in many forms from fellow volunteers to the Peace Corps staff, your supervisors and counterparts and the people you serve.
To many lifelong friendships are formed as a result of Peace Corps. For many early on a bond is formed with your training group. For my Peace Corps training grow; although we have all gone our separate ways since Peace Corps and moved on with life, we will always be part of Jamaica Peace Corps training group 71. Our group was a diverse group of people with so many talents and abilities. I feel fortunate to have been a part of this group.
So, I was sad when I read on this site the post by Bob Arias that Brandon Valentine had passed away in December. Bob wrote up a review of Brandon’s book 85 Days in Cuba. Brandon and I were in the same training group in Jamaica and he served not far from me. Brandon was a “site rat”, rarely leaving his site. I did see him at the monthly warden meetings held in our parish.
Although I never saw Brandon again after COS, I was aware of his activities after Peace Corps Jamaica. While in Crisis Corps in Jamaica in 2006, Rob, another fellow volunteer from our group was also in Jamaica doing a graduate school internship for Jamaica 4-H. Rob was good friends with Brandon, and Brandon had sent Rob a draft of his book 85 Days in Cuba, and Rob shared it with me.
Although I am saddened by Brandon’s passing, I am inspired by the life he lived. Being the child of two volunteers he truly was a product of Peace Corps and he embraced what Peace Corps is all about. He lived life to its fullest. What a huge loss.
December 2013 was not a good month for Peace Corps group 71. Besides losing Brandon another volunteer from our group died. My good friend Andrew Fisher died as a result of a multi-vehicle collision on a highway in Pennsylvania due to the weather. Andrew’s vehicle was involved early on in the collision and he got out to assist other motorists (being a physician and also being the good person he was who always went out of his way to help others) he was struck by a car. Like Brandon, Andrew leaves behind a wife (Elly Tretheway Fisher, who was also a member of PC Jamaica group 71) and two children. Andrew was a great guy and one of the members of my group who helped me meet the challenges of serving in Jamaica. I cannot say enough good things about the man. Andrew was a great friend and game for adventure. He hiked with me along with Chris Carew across cockpit country in Jamaica - an adventure I chronicled in a tongue in cheek story titled Cockpit Crucible that is published in the compilation “Americans Do Their Business Abroad: The Peace Corps Reader”. Andrew wrote up his own (and more truthful) version which can be found at the following link: http://www.cockpitcountry.com/hikereportandrew.html
The passing of two fellow volunteers who both died too soon reminds me of how important it is to keep in touch with people. I am glad that I knew these two men and never would have met them if not for Peace Corps. They both packed in lives that were probably fuller than many who have lived twice as long.
As I mentioned before as volunteers the people we work with and serve have profound affects on our lives. I first met Corey Jobson when I was still in training in Jamaica. Corey’s mother, Beverly Jobson, was my technical training. As at-risk youth advisors to be Mrs. Jobson wanted us to fully understand the population we would be serving, and one day she had her son Corey come in to talk to us about the challenges faced by young men in Jamaica. Back then I did know that six years later he would be my counterpart. I returned to Jamaica in 2006 as a Crisis Corps volunteer to assist in starting a life skills training center in Ewarton. Corey was my counterpart in this endeavor. Much of what we did back then was sit and what Jamaicans call “reason”. Reasoning involves long discussions in which you look at just about every angle of a topic.
Even before he was my counterpart I knew that Corey had struggled with mental health issues. Despite these struggles Corey has accomplished much despite living in a country that is not very enlightened when it comes to dealing with mental health. While back in Jamaica last November Mrs. Jobson called me to inform me that Corey was hospitalized. As soon as I could I found my way to see him. From what I heard I feared the worse for Corey’s condition, but upon seeing him I found the same ole’ Corey I know. We sat and reasoned like old times. Despite the challenges I believe Corey will persevere. I have high hopes that with his intellect and abilities he will an agent of change in helping Jamaicans become more understanding of mental health issues.
One of Corey Jobson’s accomplishments is the publication of a book of his poetry. He was encouraged by another Peace Corps volunteer, John Keif, to publish his writings. I wrote this review about Corey’s book on Amazon:
Original and brilliant is how I would describe not only Corey, but also his poetry. Corey has taken everything that has influenced him in life and distilled it into pure poetry that is distinctly his own. Like Corey his writing is rich with the experiences of life, and that life is one lived under the hot glaring sun of Jamaica, a place where there are many paradoxes.
Corey’s book can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/l43tuun
After observing Peace Corps week my thoughts are that there is a good reason that after serving in Peace Corps we are all and always will be Peace Corps Volunteers - that is why we call ourselves “Returned Peace Corps Volunteers” and not “Peace Corps Alumni” or “Former Peace Corps Volunteers”. From my recent experiences I can attest that it is the people connections that you make as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the richest part of being a volunteer and you should cherish these connections.