A Profile in Citizenship
by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963–65)
How does one write about the career of Charles “Chic” Dambach –and still do justice to it in 1.5 pages! Let me try, though my effort may prove to be a poor candle in bringing it to light.
Chic, to his global friends and associates, began his journey after graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1967, which he attended on a football scholarship as an outstanding college prospect. According to a review of his memoir Exhaust the Limits, the Life and Times of a Global Peacebuilder by another Volunteer, Bob Arias, Chic came upon racism on the playing fields of his school — and met it head on. It just wasn’t another game for Chic, fighting racist attitudes was his first challenge and he reached out to make a difference, an attitude that infused his professional life thereafter.
Chic then became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia from 1967 to 1969, where he helped build a school and organize a fishing cooperative. He went on to earn an MBA from Wake Forest University’s School of Business in 1977. Thereafter, Chic devoted his entire life’s work to the Sisyphus metaphor for peacebuilding “when the rock falls back, we pick ourselves up, dust off, and always try again”.
Chic recently completed memoir features a lifetime of service and successful initiatives for peace in Africa. His book title is modeled along the themes of Essays on the Myth of Sisyphus in which Albert Camus quotes from the Greek poet and philosopher Pindar: “O my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.” In recognition of Chic’s consistently indispensable initiatives, the Institute for Economics and Peace presented him with the “Leadership and Service for Peace Award” in 2016. In that same year, Chic was named the “2016 Peace Corps Champion” by the National Peace Corps Association affiliate group RPCV/Washington for keeping the spirit of service alive.
But before these achievements, Chic had another life. He was a national champion kayak racer and served on the canoe and kayak competition in the 1986, 1992 and 1995 Olympic Games.
Then, in 1998, Congressman John Garamendi, a former Volunteer in Ethiopia, said to Chic: “my friends are killing each other, and we have to do something about it.” John had the audacious notion that they might be able to help stop the death and destruction in Ethiopia. Chic responded to John: “I have no idea what we can do but let’s give it a try”. Inspired by Camus, Chic “was determined to find a meaningful rock and exhaust the limits of possibilities.”
As Chic writes in his book, “we formed a team of former Peace Corps Volunteers and over the next two years, we worked regularly with the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea. We pressed the case for peace, and became a primary conduit for communications between the adversaries.”
As result of their efforts, when the killing finally stopped, the heads of state from both countries expressed deep appreciation for the RPCVs central role in bringing the war to an end, even though our State Department didn’t appreciate these interventions into ‘their’ territory. The former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was effusive in her praise for their role and success when they were together in Algiers for the Peace Treaty Ceremony. The RPCVs were invited to the Ceremony by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister who thanked them “for creating the momentum and the spirit which made this historic achievement possible.” Still, it took until 2018 for peace to be declared by both parties. After the Treaty was signed, a Washington D. C. street vendor from Eritrea recognized Chic and explained: “I know you . . . you brought peace to my country.” In Chic’s view — their role in the Treaty’s successful negotiations “was a success”.
During his time of relentlessly pushing that proverbial boulder back up a hill every time it tumbled down, Chic held senior positions as Executive Director, Mid-Kansas Community Action Agency, 1967-69; President and CEO of the National Peace Corps Association, 1992–98; as President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, 2005–2011; President and CEO, Operation Respect, 2001–2005; as Chief of Staff to Congressman John Garamendi, 2011-2013; Adjunct Faculty, American University and Johns Hopkins University,2013–present; a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, 2013–present; President Emeritus, National Peace Corps Association, 2016-present; and, nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
Inspired by Camus, Chic managed to find “a meaningful rock and exhaust the limits of his possibilities — to see as much as he could, do as much as he could, know as many people as he could know, and fill every day with value and the joy of life.” Perhaps Chic’s commendable life-long achievements give new meaning to Peace Corps’ 3rd Goal, mandating him A Profile in Citizenship.