Lasting Value of Peace Corps Service (Washington, D.C.)

 

 

WASHINGTON – Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and members of the diplomatic community March 12 had a forum at the State Department entitled “The Lasting Value of Peace Corps Service.”

Hosted by the State Department employee affinity group Returned Peace Corps Volunteers @ State, the event was held in the Dean Acheson Auditorium and livestreamed for staff at U.S. embassies around the world.

The roundtable conversation and Q&A focused on how Peace Corps service shapes the personal and professional lives of Returned Volunteers.

“Serving in a rural area, being the only American that hundreds of people will ever meet—that is a really powerful thing,” said Emily Armitage, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria before joining the State Department.

Armitage recalled visiting with the people of her village in the months before Bulgaria entered the European Union and how valuable it was to be able to listen to their concerns and hear about their hopes for the future of their country.

“Take every opportunity that’s offered to you as a volunteer,” said Armitage, sharing guidance she offers to undergraduate students who are considering the Peace Corps. “We will never have that same opportunity to integrate.”

Asked about skills he developed during his time as a Volunteer in Cameroon, State Department employee John Underriner cited the resiliency and resourcefulness he discovered while facing challenges far away from home and family.

Those experiences have stayed with him throughout his career, he said. “You needed to develop different ways to do things, different ways to communicate: cross-cultural, language, and non-verbal communication,” said Underriner.

Katherine Harris, also a member of the State Department staff, talked about how she stays in touch with the people she lived and worked with as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic via the apps on her cell phone.

She said hearing from her friends and neighbors in the Caribbean, and their children, enriches her life here in Washington: “They reach out to me just to update me on their daily lives—it’s a connection that can never break.”

This week’s event was the first in what the agency hopes will be a series of conversations with returned Volunteers from across the country to gain insights on the impact of Peace Corps service on their lives.

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  • I certainly would encourage the Agency to pursue this, as nebulous as it may initially seem.

    As I’ve written here before, I was amongst the early volunteers, a mining geologist, served in the very first all-technical project the PC fielded, and served on both sides of the African continent. THAT was an incredibly lucky break, seeing vastly more of Africa and it’s variety than most volunteers would.

    Visiting remote villages with my prospecting crew always was an event, and invariably all the village children smiling, plied me with questions, and followed us around. If the village had an elementary school (usually a small thatched, open room, with birds flying in and out, to the glee of the children) I would be invited to speak to the school-kids. One question frequently asked, was “How far to walk to come to the great pyramids ?” Then, “How big are they ?” “Along the way, are there wicked people who might harm us ? ”

    The years slip by for all of us, and today, some 55 years later, all those enthusiastic school-children are themselves respected elders. i wonder if, as they talk to a new generation of children, they remember the day “The European mahn” came to their village, and took the time to talk to them, and answer all of their questions.

    Today when I talk about those times, American listeners sometimes have a hard time believing that as often as not, in remove bush schools, the children had no pencils or yellow writing pads. Only a small “slate” and a stub of chalk, to copy down what their schoolmaster (that’s “School Mastah”) wrote on the school blackboard. It’s no surprise that in those early days of the PC in Africa, volunteers, working with church groups and schools back home, created the famous “library book and textbook projects”. A way that the folks back home participated — which they enthusiastically did.

    So, “Good Luck, State Dept” with your project. AND find a way to keep us all informed of what you learn.

    John Turnbull :Lower Canoncito, New Mexico Ghana-3 Geology Project and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment. 1963, -64, -65..

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