Published at Coloradoan.com
Fort Collins author assembles Peace Corps anthologies
By Stacy Nick
IN 1967, 21-YEAR-OLD JANE ALBRITTON traveled to India as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. It was an experience that changed her life and how she saw the world around her. Forty years later, it motivated her to tackle another adventure: putting her experiences, and those of other Peace Corps volunteers, on paper.
With the help of fellow Peace Corps volunteers, Albritton put together a series of four anthologies featuring 200 stories from Volunteers who served all over the world to celebrate and honor 50 years of the Peace Corps.
“I started getting old, actually,” Albritton joked as to why she decided to start the project. After years of “pestering” others to record their histories, it occurred to her that her and her fellow Volunteers’ stories might be lost if they weren’t written down.
Albritton, a Fort Collins writer and editor who teaches online courses for Colorado State University in business writing and magazine writing, worked with other Volunteers to launch a website asking for Peace Corps Volunteers to share their stories. And share they did.
Soon came a flood of Volunteer stories — some sad, some inspirational, some funny, enough to fill four volumes covering the regions of the world where Volunteers have served: Africa, the Americas, the heart of Eurasia and Asia and the Pacific. Like most things worth doing, putting together the books did not come easy.
“It took every bit of the four years (leading up to the 50th anniversary in 2011); I could not have imagined how much work it would be,” Albritton said. “If the stories hadn’t been so incredible and so moving — I think I know them all by heart now — I could have said this is too hard but they were just too good.”
On Friday, Albritton will host a special reading at the Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures to celebrate the Peace Corps at 50 Anniversary Project.
“The museum is just a really fitting place to bring the books home; Maury would have loved this museum — he was an internationalist to the core,” Albritton said. In 1961, CSU researchers Maury Albertson and Pauline Birky-Kreutzer published one of the original feasibility studies that led to the creation of the Peace Corps.
Local actors Chris Jeracki and Nikki Gibbs, who is joining the Peace Corps, will read the stories, breathing new life into them.
“These stories are meant to be read out loud,” Albritton said, adding that having younger actors read the stories gives them a better sense of time and place. “Most of us were so young when we volunteered — I went to India when I was 21; if I read my story now, it wouldn’t have the same impact as if a 20-year-old woman read it.”
Albritton’s story, found in “Even the Smallest Crab has Teeth” — which chronicles the tales of Volunteers in Asia and the Pacific — is about her path to awareness.
“India is a complicated place and it was a real struggle for me to try to understand what it all meant,” she said. “Hinduism is so wildly different from our Judeo-Christian beliefs. Volunteer work doesn’t factor in for them, and it seemed like such a heartless place . . . it was a holy man at a tea stand on the road that just cracked it open for me.”
When Albritton approached her to write a story about her experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Melissa Basta already had the first part done.
“I had written it down years ago in my journal,” said Basta, who volunteered in Haiti in 1996. Outlining the start of a new adventure was easy, it was writing about her second trip to Haiti — six months after the 2010 earthquake — that was tough.
“That was pretty emotional,” she said. “The first trip — you’re excited for a new adventure — and the second was really out of a need to make sense of the destruction and to identify ways that I could help.”
One thing Albritton said she learned from the project was how deeply Peace Corps Volunteers’ lives are affected by their experiences, particularly in their willingness to continue giving and helping others later on.
“They see needs differently,” she said. “They see a challenge and say, ‘well, I can do that.’ I think that’s how I felt about this publishing project. I felt like, ‘well, I can do that.” I had no idea how but I asked for help and after four years, there they are.”
Additional Facts PEACE CORPS AT 50 ANNIVERSARY PROJECT READING
When: 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 2
Where: Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures, 200 W. Mountain Ave., Fort Collins
Cost: (special First Friday admission) $2.50 for adults; $1.50 for seniors and students; 50 cents for children ages 3 to 12 and free for children ages 2 and younger
Information: (970) 221-4600 or GlobalVillageMuseum.com.
For more information about the story project, visit PeaceCorpsat50.org.