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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.