The Peace Corps

Agency history, current news and stories of the people who are/were both on staff and Volunteers.

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“Famous People I Have Touched” by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala)
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President of Armenia receives US Ambassador Kevin Kristina and Carol Spahn
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BLUE MAGIC ON MUSHROOM ISLAND by David C. Edmonds (Chile)
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UNDERSTANDING IMPERILED EARTH by Todd J. Braje (Tonga)
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“Yang Gil-su” by Giles Ryan (Korea)
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ONCE THERE WAS A FIRE by Stephen Shender (Liberia)
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Rob Schmitz (China) is NPR’s International Correspondent
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2024 Peace Corps Writers Awards
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Peace Corps Deputy Director E. David White Jr. arrives in Nepal
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The Passing of Gary Lynn Garrison (Tunisia)
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PCV Accused of Murdering His Wife in Tanzania
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The Placement Test for PCVs
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Naming the “Peace Corps”
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“Establishing the Peace Corps” by John Coyne (Ethiopia)
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Edward “Ned” Chalker Obituary (Colombia)

“Famous People I Have Touched” by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala)

  by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93) First published in Under the Sun • • •   I was ten years old and my sister was eight when our parents took us to the White House Fourth of July picnic in 1977. Jimmy Carter was scheduled to appear on the White House lawn to shake hands with his 300 or so guests — mostly reporters, like my father, and their families. Walter Mondale, the vice president, would also be present. My father, who worked in the Washington bureau of The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper, prepped us on what to expect. Guests would line up to shake the president’s hand and a photo would be snapped. The process would be orderly and easy. If orderly and easy were synonyms for chaotic, he was right. In the early evening, the president appeared on the lawn, surrounded by four secret service agents. Some guests rushed toward . . .

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President of Armenia receives US Ambassador Kevin Kristina and Carol Spahn

Peace Corps — 22 May, 11:38   Welcoming the guests, the President of the Republic highly appreciated the activities of the US Peace Corps in Armenia for nearly three decades. “I am confident that this visit will also have positive results and contribute to expanding Peace Corps initiatives and programs in various fields. Of course, the activities carried out by the Corps in different regions of Armenia, particularly in education, which is a priority field for the Armenian government, are also appreciated. I think you are well aware of our problems and challenges in the education field; in this regard, your support and jointly implemented programs are precious. Are important,” the president said. Expressing gratitude for the reception, the guests noted that they are happy for the opportunity to be represented in Armenia and support the country’s development. During the meeting, issues related to youth education, leadership training, volunteering, and . . .

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BLUE MAGIC ON MUSHROOM ISLAND by David C. Edmonds (Chile)

  by David C. Edmonds (Chile 1963-65) Add Blue Magic on Mushroom Island to the growing list of magical/realism/romance/ action-adventure thrillers in exotic places by David C. Edmonds! The story Adriana Alvarado, an American TV journalist in Nicaragua, is contemplating another romantic evening with the man she met at an US Embassy soiree when her rendezvous is ruined by a close encounter with gunfire and death. Blood is on her hands — literally — and she’s been in Nicaragua long enough to know that witnesses to assassination do not always live to tell their story. The US Embassy is no help. Neither is the embassy man who stole her heart. They want Adriana to cooperate with the dreaded Directorate of State Security. But if she cooperates, they’ll learn about her past and she’ll be in even greater danger. Her only hope for escape is to pretend to chase a story . . .

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UNDERSTANDING IMPERILED EARTH by Todd J. Braje (Tonga)

  Understanding Imperiled Earth by Todd J. Braje (Tonga 1998-20) Smithsonian Books 208 pages April 2024 $17.99 (Kindle); $22.87 (Hardcover)   This book is a unique introduction to how understanding archaeology can support modern-day sustainability efforts, from restoring forested land to developing fire management strategies, and is an essential and hopeful book for climate-conscious readers. The world faces an uncertain future with the rise of climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, overfishing, and other threats. Understanding Imperiled Earth meets this uncertainty head-on, presenting archaeology and history as critical guides to addressing the modern environmental crisis. Anthropologist Todd J. Braje draws connections between deep history and today’s hot-button environmental news stories to reveal how the study of the ancient past can help build a more sustainable future. The book covers a diverse array of interconnected issues, including: how modern humans have altered the natural world conservation work of Indigenous communities extinction of megafauna like dire . . .

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“Yang Gil-su” by Giles Ryan (Korea)

  by Giles Ryan (Korea 1970 – 72)   When you were a Volunteer did you use your own name in country? Or did you have another name? Every Korea PCV had a Korean name based on a long-standing tradition going back hundreds of years to the earliest Italian foreign missionaries in China, and the Korean language teachers in the training programs simply assumed we each needed a name. The story below draws on this experience in Peace Corps/Korea. Years later, I was married in Korea and my in-laws still call me by this name.  • • •  Yang-sŏnsaeng We all receive a name at birth and carry this name through life. True, we may have a nickname, but typically this is only a shortened form of our formal name. But imagine, if you will, acquiring an entirely different name at a later time in life, and in a different language, and . . .

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ONCE THERE WAS A FIRE by Stephen Shender (Liberia)

• • • Nighttime. 1748. Hawai‘i Island (the Big Island). North Kohala. A child is born in a grass house. Outside, a raging storm muffles his first cries. Soldiers hunt for him amid the gale. Their king has ordered his death because a priest has prophesied that the infant will become a “slayer of chiefs.” But he is spirited away to a remote valley before the soldiers can find him. He will become Hawaii’s greatest warrior. When strange, pale visitors come from beyond the horizon, and other Hawaiians mistake their leader for one of their gods — returned to them in fulfillment of a prophecy — he’ll recognize these newcomers are men. He’ll use their guns and steel to defeat a succession of rivals for rule of the Big Island, and then the rest of the island chain, ending centuries of fratricidal warfare, and founding the Kingdom of Hawaii. Today, Hawaiians remember . . .

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Rob Schmitz (China) is NPR’s International Correspondent

In the news NPR newsletter   Rob Schmitz (China 1996-98) is NPR’s international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany’s levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic. Prior to covering Europe, Schmitz provided award-winning coverage of China for a decade, reporting on the country’s economic rise and increasing global influence. His reporting on China’s impact beyond its borders took him to countries such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Inside China, he’s interviewed elderly revolutionaries, young rappers, and live-streaming celebrity farmers who make up the diverse tapestry of one of the most fascinating countries on the planet. . . .

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2024 Peace Corps Writers Awards

To fulfill our goal of encouraging, recognizing and promoting Peace Corps writers, Writers & Readers is seeking nominations for the outstanding books published in 2023. If you have a book published (or know of a book) published in 2023 that you wish to nominate, please email John Coyne at: jcoyneone@gmail.com .The Awards will be announced in August, 2024. The awards are: 2024 Peace Corps Writer of the Year Award 2024 Peace Corps Writers Maria Thomas Fiction Award 2024 Peace Corps Writers Paul Cowan Non-fictionAward 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Marian Haley Beil Best Book Review Award 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Rowland Scherman Award for Best Photography Book 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Best Peace Corps Memoir 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Poetry Award 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Best Short Story Collection Award 2024 Peace Corps Writers’ Best Young Adult Fiction Award 2024 Peace Corps . . .

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Peace Corps Deputy Director E. David White Jr. arrives in Nepal

    While in Nepal, Deputy Director White will be meeting with government and civil society representatives to thank them for their long-standing support of the Peace Corps program since its founding and discuss plans to expand Peace Corps programming in Nepal. Deputy Director White will also participate in the swearing-in of ten newly arrived Peace Corps Response Volunteers. This is the first ever group of Response Volunteers to serve in Nepal. The Peace Corps Response Program brings U.S. citizen Volunteers with experience targeted to complete short-term (e.g., nine-twelve months), high-impact service assignments in countries that request them. During his visit, Deputy Director White will also meet currently serving Volunteers and their counterparts across Nepal. Volunteers in Nepal work on locally prioritized projects in agriculture, education, and health sectors, learning the Nepali language and other local languages to effectively communicate and engage with communities. Currently, there are forty Peace Corps . . .

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The Passing of Gary Lynn Garrison (Tunisia)

Gary Lynn Garrison (Tunisia 1966-69) died  on May 4, 2024, age 79, in Sarasota, Florida, surrounded by his family. Gary’s life served world peace through international cultural understanding. Born in Pittsburgh, Kansas, on November 2, 1944, he grew up in Kansas, graduating from The Chanute High School in 1962 and from Kansas University in 1966 with BA degrees in French, History, and International Relations. Upon graduation he served three years in the Peace Corps in Tunisia, using his knowledge of French and Arabic to teach English in the secondary schools and becoming a Peace Corps trainer in Yemen. In his first marriage to fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Jeannie Dodson he had daughters Shadia and Emily. He attended the CASA program, an intensive Arabic Studies year at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and then worked briefly in Cairo for the Ford Foundation. He received an MA in comparative education from . . .

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PCV Accused of Murdering His Wife in Tanzania

PCV Accused of Murdering His Wife in Tanzania by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64) OVER THE SIXTY PLUS YEARS OF THE PEACE CORPS more than one PCV has slipped a thick blank-paged journal into their luggage, ready to record their experience while on this great new adventure. Many, of course, think that perhaps someday they’ll turn all the notes into a novel or a memoir. Paul Theroux, for example, used his journals in writing his 1989 novel, My Secret History, which is set partly in Malawi and Uganda. Mike Tidwell turned to his journals when he wrote The Ponds of Kalamabayi about his time in Zaire. And Kathleen Coskran used the journals she kept in Ethiopia for several of her stories in her prize-winning collection, The High Price of Everything. But it was the journal of another PCV, William Kinsey, which first brought Peace Corps writers into international headlines. In 1966, five years after the founding . . .

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The Placement Test for PCVs

In the early days of the Peace Corps there was a Placement Test given to all applicants. Actually it was two tests. A 30-minute General Aptitude Test and a 30-minute Modern Language Aptitude Test. The areas of testing were in Verbal Aptitude, Agriculture, English, Health Sciences, Mechanical Skills, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, World History, Literature, United States History and Institutions, and Modern Language Aptitude. One-hour achievement tests in French and Spanish were also offered during the second hour. The instruction pamphlet that accompanied the tests said that the results would be used “to help find the most appropriate assignment for each applicant.” For those who missed the opportunity to take the tests, which were given — as best I can remember — from 1961 until around 1967, I am including a few of the questions. Lets see if you could still get into the Peace Corps back then. Verbal Aptitude . . .

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Naming the “Peace Corps”

Naming the “Peace Corps” by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64) THOSE OF US WHO follow the history of the Peace Corps agency know the term “peace corps” came to public attention during the 1960 presidential election campaign. In one of JFK’s last major speeches before the November election he called for the creation of a “Peace Corps” to send volunteers to work at the grass-roots level in the developing world. However, the question remains: who said (or wrote) “peace corps” for the very first time? Was it Kennedy? Was it his famous speech writer Ted Sorensen? Or Sarge himself? Like in many situations, the famous term came about when a young kid — a writer! — working quietly away in a back office, dreamed up the language. In this case the kid was a graduate student working between degrees, for the late Senator Hubert Horatio Humphrey. I learned about the history of . . .

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“Establishing the Peace Corps” by John Coyne (Ethiopia)

  Let me start with a quote from Gerard T. Rice’s book, The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps “In 1961 John F. Kennedy took two risky and conflicting initiatives in the Third World. One was to send five hundred additional military advisers into South Vietnam; by 1963 there would be seventeen thousand such advisers. The other was to send five hundred young Americans to teach in the schools and work in the fields of eight developing countries. These were Peace Corps Volunteers. By 1963 there would be seven thousand of them in forty-four countries.” . . . Vietnam scarred the American psyche, leaving memories of pain and defeat, but Kennedy’s other initiative inspired, and continued to inspire hope and understanding among Americans and the rest of the world. In that sense, the Peace Corps was his most affirmative and enduring legacy. A historical framework Gerry Rice, in The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps, points . . .

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Edward “Ned” Chalker Obituary (Colombia)

Edward “Ned” Gould Rowland Chalker II, a Washington, DC resident for over 50 years passed away on April 21, 2024. “Ned” was born on September 30,1938 in Chester CT, to E. Gould Chalker and Florence Christiansen who predeceased him. He graduated with a degree in engineering from Trinity College in Connecticut in 1960. In 1961, Ned joined the newly formed Peace Corps and served in the inaugural group of volunteers in Colombia known as the Columbia 1 Compadres. Ned developed life-long friendships from his tour of duty and continued to help the Colombian community he cherished for the rest of his life. He later helped to establish the Peace Corps Park and Museum in Washington, DC. Ned moved to East St. Lous in 1968 to open a Job Corps program at Westinghouse Consultants. In the early 1970s, he moved to Washington, DC to begin work at what later became the . . .

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