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  • 24 Jul 2020 by Benjamin Deese

    Ben Deese, a member of RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison since February 2019, served in the People’s Republic of China from 2016 to 2018. Before Peace Corps withdrew Volunteers from China earlier this year, the post had its main office in Chengdu, Sichuan. As a Volunteer in a city northeast of Chengdu, Ben spent a lot of time in the Sichuan capital. He is a budding China watcher and is concerned about the deterioration in relations between our countries.

    Ben's following Letter to the Editor was published by the New York Times as a Times Pick. You can read the full article, China Orders U.S. to Shut Chengdu Consulate, Retaliating for Houston, and his Letter at this permalink.


    I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sichuan, China from 2016 to 2018, and worked as a Secondary Education Teacher at Mianyang Teachers' College (which is northeast of Chengdu). What is happening in US-China relations right now is an utter tragedy. Luckily, I made lasting relationships with Chinese people in Chengdu, Mianyang, and other cities in Sichuan. I continue to remain in contact with many of my friends and former students in those cities through social media, despite information restrictions and censorship imposed by the Chinese Communist Party.

    However, despite my strong personal relationships, it is extremely difficult to explain the United States and our American ideals right now because of the hawkish foreign policy emanating from the White House. I worry if this deterioration in relations continues, all the positive work the Peace Corps did in China from 1993 until 2020 as the US-China Friendship Volunteers will be lost.

    The United States most definitely needs to rework its relationship with the People's Republic, but what the Trump Administration is doing may hurt American economic and political interests more than it may help. Rising xenophobia will also endanger Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans who are as much a part of our nation and who contribute to our societal fabric as much as any other citizen. This same xenophobia may also scare away foreigners who could become assets to our country, if they chose to immigrate. 

    What a loss for us...

  • 01 Jul 2020 by Ronald Geason

    (Ron Geason served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda from 2015-2017. His story is about his friend, Rafiki - which means "friend" in Swahili. Ron is currently the Vice-President of the RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison.)


    The establishment of the Peace Corps is one of the most enlightened pieces of legislation ever crafted and expresses the best of who we are as Americans.  It is my hope that the pandemic will pass and that we will be able to resume operations soon.

    Almost all of us are aware of the good work we do in terms of helping developing countries and building strong relationships.  This story is about an amazing personal encounter with a majestic animal now gone and the uncertain future of his total society. Many significant events in our lives occur “off the clock” if we only keep our eyes open.

    Virtually all of the 1,000 wild mountain gorillas remaining in the world inhabit the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I lived within a few hours of this area in the town of Kabale.  Gorilla trekking is a major tourist industry and I was lucky to find the time to go and see.

    The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest holds three groups of animals and roughly 30% of the total wild gorilla population in the world.  Finding Rafiki’s group involved a 5-hour hike, one way, followed by a one-hour visit, and then our return to the ranger station. I was in a group of 10 tourists along with a few armed camp rangers. Our gorilla group is habituated in the sense that they are calm around humans.  They are susceptible to air-borne disease so you cannot hike if you have a cold, flu or anything like COVID 19.

    The photo of the forest attests to its impenetrable nature.  It does not reflect the heat, humidity or the fire ants who will eat you alive if you don’t put your socks on the outside of your pant legs.

    Being in the presence of such amazing animals was awe-inspiring.  Their sheer size and gracefulness are unbelievable. Time slows and you feel a deep peace.  Needs are met in an efficient but unhurried way.  They fit perfectly with their environment and know when to move to find food and safety.

    Rafiki, the lead silverback in the group, stayed off to himself and was happy to pose while building his nest. He seemed comfortable in his role as “large and in charge.” 

    After my return, I would often sit in front of the fireplace at Traveler’s Rest in the town of Kisoro and wonder what naturalisits like Louis Leakey and Dian Fossey would think and talk about into the long evenings

    I received the recent news that Rafiki had been killed by poachers with disbelief and outrage.  The governments involved know how to protect them but actually doing it with limited resources, competing needs, and histories of corruption is another matter.  The farmers near the gorillas are impoverished and the temptation to poach is strong.  This type of death within the group is very destabilizing.  Who will lead?  What threats will come from outside? 

    My friends in Kabale indicate great concerns over the future of the mountain gorillas.  They feel a sense of dread and inevitable decline.  I very much hope they are wrong.  I send checks, encouragement, and prayers.

    I feel so privileged to have had this experience.  The realization of the impermanence of life is fresh in my mind.  I am so grateful to the Peace Corps for giving me a glimpse of a different world.

     

  • 02 Jul 2019 by Kate Schachter

    [This is part of our series on the people behind the International Calendar. Kate Schachter served in Ghana from 2004-2007, and in Peace Corps Response Georgia from 2016-2017. This is from her Georgia blog as she looks into the culture, the familiar, the unusual, and the philosophic. Kate manages social media for the RPCVs of Madison.]


    we all Go Places, June 17, 2016

    Last week I was traveling with friends who were visiting from the US, on their way to Romania. We were in a small village guesthouse, Inga’s Guesthouse, a clean and friendly place with great food, but with bedsprings that bowed so deeply that my knees wanted to turn inside out. Their dogs were barking – a lot. They stopped when rain started pouring down on the metal roof of the house. I had a hard time falling asleep. At some point in the night, the rain stopped, and a half-hearted cock began crowing for what felt like another hour. When he finally stopped, I managed to get a few hours sleep. The benefit was: my ideas of how to write this next blog finally coalesced!

    I knew I wanted to write about ‘we all Go Places,’ but how? What purpose? This is not a vacation blog. My restless night and wandering mind had me thinking about why I’m here, in Georgia, in Peace Corps Response for a full year, far from home and family. It’s a complicated question, all tied up with altruism, adventure, and impact.

    Read more at https://kateschachtergeorgia.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/we-all-go-places/

  • 28 May 2019 by Ann Evansen

    [This is part of our series on the people behind the International Calendar. Annie Freeman Evansen served in Paraguay in 1979.]

    One of my favorite memories of my Peace Corps was the day we arrived in the town for our initial training. I left my home in Wisconsin in January, where is was 0° F. The day we arrived in Asuncion, Paraguay it was 105° F.  We spent 2 days in Asuncion getting to know the PC local staff.  We then headed for Aregua, a small town 45 min outside Asuncion.   We were the first group of volunteers to train in Aregua.    

    As we drove the scenery changed from asphalt and concrete to trees and flowers.  As we turned off the main road and into Aregua we could feel the temperature drop and a breeze pick up.  The road came in near the top of a hill with a beautiful white church that looked over the town and down to the Lago Ypacarai.   The bus stopped and let us off at a large white house with porches front and back.  It was there where would spend most of our days for the next 3 months as we trained in language and skills we would need.

    I then met my host family. Dona Lucy picked me up with her 7 year old daughter, Dori.  Dona Lucy gave me such a warm smile and Dori gave me a great big hug.  We drove a short distance toward their house before stopping and walking the rest of the way.  We walked on a foot path over a shallow stream. Women sat and washed clothes in the wider area.  They all said “hola” as we went past.  Their house was turquoise with 4 rooms.  They showed me my room and wardrobe, and after settling in a bit, we all sat and talked and talked.  Later that night a thunderstorm went through the town and we stood out on the porch watching the rain and the lightning. 

    Four children, including Dori, still lived at home.  Her oldest daughter was married with a 6-month-old baby.  Dona Lucy’s niece lived there, too. Her home village didn’t have a high school, so she helped with house work and attended school.

    I keep in contact with members of the family.  Dori and other siblings live in the USA and she has two children in high school.  I hope I can be as welcoming to others I meet as they were to me.   Welcoming others into your life with kindness doesn’t depend on how much you have, but how open your heart is. 

     

  • 21 May 2019 by Patricia Halpin

    [This story is part of our series on the people behind the International Calendar. Meet Pat Halpin,  RPCV Botswana 1978-1981. If you ever left a voicemail message on our main number (in the footer of each website page), she either calls you back or forwards your call on to the right person.]


    My world was small growing up on a family dairy farm. College was only about 30 miles away and my first teaching job was in the same town. It is not much of a stretch to say that Peace Corps enlarged my world many-fold! Going to Botswana in 1978 was my first need for a passport.

    Teaching domestic science (home economics) in a secondary school was my Peace Corps job. School buildings, teacher’s quarters and student hostels were all on the same grounds. For me, teaching in Botswana was much more rewarding than in the U.S. Students understood the value of their education. Secondary education was only open to some as there weren’t enough spots for everyone. There were challenges as a teacher. The biggest problem was losing students to pregnancy. That ended a girl’s opportunity for any more education. For a young woman this was sad. There was no allowance to go back to school after the child was born.

    My students were all girls. We did individual projects outside of class. This is where the young women felt at ease in asking all kinds of questions. Learning from these students was the most valuable thing I took away from Peace Corps. It was so rewarding to hear them thinking about their future and how they could make it better. These young women knew what they could fall into or what they could make plans for. It was eye opening for me to see what they faced as teen aged women. They also had all the same wants and desires of most other young woman in the world. We are all the same.

    Peace Corps is an extremely valuable experience. I think the value is in what we as Americans learn about the world. For most of us our world is small compared to what the real-world entails.

     

  • 07 May 2019 by Michelle Possin

    This post is part of our series on the people behind our group. Michelle and Chuck Possin served in South Africa 2010-2012.


    In 2010 my husband and I began our PC training in South Africa. We couldn’t wait to dive into a new culture. We had adventure traveled for years, often with improvised destinations. While this approach unsettled most, we were in our comfort zone. Imagine my surprise when I freaked out during week 3 of training! I cried and cried. Why was I selected to be a Health Outreach Coordinator? I didn’t have any health background! What kind of impact would I have? Would I be accepted? How in the world would I learn Zulu? Several trainees quit within the first few weeks, “maybe they know something I don’t?” But, we pressed on and spent 3 months learning about how HIV and TB co-infection had an enormously negative affect on an entire generation. We learned about the rich Zulu culture, Apartheid history and the lasting impact of institutionalized racism. And we felt comfortable greeting in Zulu.


    I was placed as a HR Mgr in an NGO which provides home based and inpatient HIV and TB prevention and treatment. I had a real job with responsibilities. We formed HS clubs, organized community events, wrote grants, created a gardening project & a running club -all the PC projects you expect. We were busy every day, all day!


    At the end of Yearr One I couldn’t imagine leaving. We were just getting started!. I began my mornings listening to the nurses sing. I loved my Zulu co-workers and spending my days with them. I experienced sheer awe daily, no matter if we were hiking on dusty roads or shopping in the market. I loved strolling through the village, always curious how everyone knew which goats and cows belonged to whom. I ran every morning, first alone then with kids or co-workers.


    The two-plus years I spent living in KZN were the richest, most enjoyable and most purposeful years of my life. My friendships other PCVs are still deep. It changed me to my core. Even though I was a middle-aged woman, my confidence strengthened immensely. What I consider important evolved. So often people say to me “I wanted to go into the PC so badly after college, but just never went”. I always say “GO!” Go Now! Go Anytime, just GO!

  • 06 Mar 2019 by Ronald Geason

    The People Behind the Organization

    Ron Geason, RPCV Uganda 2016-2018

    The vision that pops into your mind when you think of a Peace Corps Volunteer is one of a twenty-something saving the world through heroic and optimistic hard work. Charging the barricades if you will. 


    I am part of a sea change in the world of volunteerism. Older Americans with good health, free time due to empty nests or good fortune, and a desire to do good work in the world are serving in the Peace Corps in increasing numbers. My service was a mixed bag. Aside from marriage and having kids, it is among the most satisfying and fun things I’ve ever done. 
    I experienced a number of obstacles, some obvious, some more subtle. You become aware that physical abilities are not evenly distributed among volunteers. Does this trail ever end? How far is the latrine? Is it true that older people are often challenged by learning new languages? 

    [Language Study Group]


    On the positive side, I felt I had a broad perspective gained from years of experience. I was able to focus on tasks at hand and make progress. Sharing my faith seemed easy and natural. Being a white guy with white hair in a patriarchal society that honors older people did not hurt. I had credibility when I stepped off the bus. Others had to earn it. It felt great to have younger volunteers seek out my opinion. I loved sharing my adventures with colleagues back home thinking that no one was doing anything nearly as cool as serving in the Peace Corps. 


    Within my cohort group of 45 volunteers, I served with three fine gentlemen over the age of 55. We named our group “The Three Fossils” and celebrated life with unique T Shirts, elaborate, secret ceremonies, fine cigars and the like. We were Brothers in Arms and benefited greatly from prized seats on buses and other blessings along the way.