Over coffee last October in Berkeley, Marian Haley Beil revealed that the 2015 Peace Corps Connect Conference was to be held in….Berkeley. I couldn’t believe my luck – my beloved alma mater and a thirty minute drive from my hometown across the Bay, the destiny of my annual California visits. Confident that my memoir would be ready by the June date, I asked Marian if I could participate in the Peace Corps Writers Worldwide events she’d be planning.
And so it was. I convinced my old Peace Corps friend, Barbara to go, so that, at least, we’d know each other. It was exciting to see those five hundred smiling faces and bobbing heads (the majority grey, like me) at the opening session in Wheeler Hall, where over fifty years ago, I studiously took notes for sociology and physics classes. We looked for familiar faces and names on name tags, many from Colombia, though none from Barb’s and my group (’64 – ’66). I did have one happy reunion with keynote speaker and U.S. Congressman, Sam Farr, with whom I’d helped train a new group of Colombia volunteers.
In the exhibit hall (my old dorm building!) six or seven of us who had published through Peace Corps Writers stood behind a table displaying our books and chatting with interested visitors. The highlight event for me was a writers’ panel organized by Marian. We were four women who briefly described our books and why we felt the need to write down our stories. Marian then pitched us questions and fielded questions from the audience. Far more satisfying than the sale of a few of my books was the number of people who approached me to comment on how much they enjoyed the session.
It was difficult to choose among the simultaneously-held workshops. I was especially inspired by the “Let Girls Learn” initiative, a cooperative mission between Michelle Obama and the Peace Corps.
I came away from the two-day conference impressed and inspired by all the RPCV’s who take seriously the Peace Corps’ Third Goal commitment, continuing to serve and educate both within the United States and abroad, and by the urgency of our mission as RPCV’s to lobby Congress for increased funding to give greater voice to the values of the Peace Corps.