FIRST GIVEN IN 1990, the Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award was named to honor Paul Cowan, a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Ecuador from 1966 to 1967. Cowan wrote The Making of An Un-American about his experiences as a Volunteer in Latin America in the ’60s. A longtime activist and political writer for The Village Voice, Cowan died of leukemia in 1988.
The winner for 2013 Best Non-Fiction book published in 2012 is The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey from the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress by Rajeev Goyal (Nepal 2001–03) published by Beacon Press in 2012.
Beacon Press wrote about this book:
A Peace Corps volunteer’s inspirational story about the power of small change
In 2001, Peace Corps volunteer Rajeev Goyal was sent to Namje, a remote village in the eastern hills of Nepal. Brimming with idealism, he expected to find people living in conditions of misery and suffering; instead, he discovered a village full of happy, compassionate people. After organizing the villagers to build a water-pumping system in the midst of the dangerous Maoist war that had gripped the country, Goyal learned how complex rural development truly is. He also witnessed how the seemingly lowliest villager can hold profound power to influence not only his or her own village but also the highest rungs of government.
Years after this experience, Goyal applied the lessons he learned in Namje to his work on Capitol Hill. Approaching Congress as if it were a Nepalese caste system, Goyal led a grassroots campaign to double the size of the Peace Corps. His unique approach to advocacy included strategically positioning himself outside the men’s room of the capitol building waiting for lawmakers to walk out. As a result of his determined bird-dogging, Goyal managed to make allies of more than a hundred members of Congress and in the process, he ruffled the feathers of some of the most powerful figures in Washington. But due to his efforts, the Peace Corps was granted a $60-million increase in funding, the largest dollar-amount increase in the organizations history.
On this path to victory Goyal endured a number of missteps along the way, and, as he reveals, his idealism at times faded into fear, anger, and frustration. In this honest and inspirational account of his life as an activist, Goyal offers daring ideas for how the Peace Corps and other organizations can be even more relevant to our rapidly changing world. He urges environmentalists, educators, farmers, artists, and designers to come together and contribute their talents. Filled with history, international politics, personal anecdotes, and colorful characters, The Springs of Namje is a unique and inspiring book about the power of small change.
Editorial Reviews of The Springs of Namje:
The role of a Peace Corps volunteer is subtle. W
e live in a community for two years, and usually we continue to stay in touch for years afterward. Most volunteers never build anything. Often we teach, and the value lies in human connections that can’t be measured. And there’s a strong tendency for Peace Corps volunteers to be humble about what we’ve done. Rajeev never would have told me about his work in Namje if I hadn’t asked; other people described the remarkable water project he undertook as a volunteer.
— Peter Hessler, from the foreword to The Springs of Namje
The Springs of Namje tells many stories, including, very movingly, how to try to effect real change in Washington, D.C. It’s about idealism and savvy, and it shows how they can mix powerfully.
— Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
At a time when Washington is characterized by political gridlock, partisan bickering, and an ideological stalemate, Rajeev Goyal’s inspiring story shows that one person can still bring about enormous change for good. His story also shows how programs like the Peace Corps provide a pipeline for the kind of leaders our nation hungers for: innovative, passionate, purpose-driven, and eager to contribute to a society of peace and justice at home and around the world.
— Timothy P. Shriver, PhD, chairman and CEO of Special Olympics
All winners of the Peace Corps Writers awards receive a certificate from Peace Corps Writers and a cash award to supplement their Readjustment Allowance.
CLICK to see the previous winners of the Paul Cowan Award.
To purchase The Springs of Namje from Amazon.com, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that will help support our annual writers awards.