I've worn many hats over the
years at NPCA, but the one that I've had on since Day One back in October of
1996 is that of the director of the Global TeachNet program. I treasure my experience as a Peace Corps
Volunteer fulfilling Goals One and Two, but the Third Goal is at the heart of
my current work and one key reason why I traveled to
International Alley – Here We Come…
I loved seeing familiar faces (including Merry Merryfield, RPCV Sierra Leone 1977-1979 - shown in the middle here with Kathy Parker and Susan Neyer - who won not just one, but TWO awards from NCSS this year!) and connecting faces with emails. It just makes my day when I hear a teacher say “You’re the Anne Baker that sends me those great emails each week!” (You, too, can get those great GlobalEdNews emails. Learn more or subscribe.)
… Plus a Happy Hour with RPCVs!
To top off a great weekend,
I joined the AARPCVs for their Happy Hour on Friday evening. While enjoying the local brew (always go with
the local brew!), I had a chance to brainstorm about the 50th anniversary
with RPCVs working for Habitat for Humanity, catch up with current and
potential AARPCV board members, and meet a very recent RPCV, back just four
days from Kazakhstan. He isn’t even from
Thanks, AARPCV, for a great weekend and for your help promoting the Third Goal.
Small groups can do great things! Case in point: the Central Missouri Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Earlier this month this NPCA member group hosted the “Third Goal” International Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri. The festival featured films made by or about the work of Peace Corps Volunteers in Afghanistan, Mali, Latin America and Vietnam. The headliner film was "I Bring What I Love," about the international recording artist, Youssou N'Dour.
So, why a "Third Goal" International Film Festival? Because it fulfills Goal Three of the Peace Corps: "Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans."
After the event, group leader Karen Davis wrote us:
We had a great turn out… RPCVs, PC recruits and community members. We had two articles in newspapers and lots of PR on radio stations. RPCVs from our group did a great job speaking following the films to add a direct link between the film and our group. And, best of all, it took over 25 RPCVs to pull off the event, which is fantastic for our little group! I loved that so many RPCVs were willing to come together to get the event off the ground. This is truly our strongest film schedule yet!
Click here for a story about the film festival that appeared in The Missourian.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Garamendi was sworn in today as the new representative of California's 10th Congressional District. In welcoming remarks on behalf of the California congressional delegation, Representative Pete Stark began by noting that both Garamendi and his wife Patti began their lifelong commitment to public service as Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia in the late 1960's.
Garamendi extends an interesting legacy of Ethiopia Peace Corps alumni serving in Congress. Former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford was the first Ethiopia Country Director, and former Congressman Paul Tsongas volunteered in Ethiopia from 1962-64. Wofford says "John Garamendi champions so many causes close to my heart. I very much wish that Paul Tsongas and I could be there with John to work together and bring about a better and bolder Peace Corps for the 21st century."
(Pictured above: The newest member of Congress, John Garamendi (center), with NPCA President Kevin Quigley and Vice President Anne Baker)
While election night 2009 was a relatively quiet affair across the nation, there was a big victory within the Peace Corps community out in California.
California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi (Ethiopia 66-68) won Tuesday's special election to represent citizens in the 10th Congressional District. He received approximately 56% of the vote and defeated several challengers to fill out the term of Ellen Tauscher, who left congress for a position within the State Department.
Garamendi is expected to fly to Washington later today and be sworn in on Thursday - joining five other RPCVs in the Senate and House.
Click here to read more about last night's election.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Ravij Joseph (Senegal 97-00) and Michael Meyer (China 95-97) were among the ten writers receiving the 2009 Whiting Writers’ Award at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City yesterday evening. This prestigious $50,000 award recognizes young writers for their extraordinary talent and promise and is one of most coveted prizes for up and coming writers. These awards have been given annually since 1985 and past recipients include Michael Cunningham, Kim Edwards, Tobias Wolff, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Mary Karr – all winners before they were acclaimed, bestselling authors.
A native of Minnesota, Michael Meyer joined the Peace Corps with a degree in education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Following graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley he settled on a hutong in 2005, Bejing’s oldest neighborhood in shared courtyard home. At the time, the Chinese government was razing such ancient neighborhoods in its bid to become a modern city for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Meyer volunteered as an English teacher at the local elementary school and recorded the hutong’s vibrant life in his first book, The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, published by Walker & Company in 2008. NPCA’s WorldView magazine carried an excerpt in its Fall 2008 issue. Meyer is currently working on a second book, In Manchuria, which details daily life on a rice farm in Northeast China. Meyer currently resides in New York City, and is moving back to China this fall.
Playwright Rajiv Joseph is the author of Animals Out of Paper, produced at the Second Stage Theatre and published by Dramatists Play Service; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, produced at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles and named Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts; and Gruesome Playground Injuries, scheduled for production in 2010 at the Alley Theatre in Houston and at Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre. He has received a Paula Vogel Award from the Vineyard Theatre and has been a Kesselring, Lark Playwriting and Dramatists Guild Fellow. Mr. Joseph received his BA from Miami University and his MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Living in Brooklyn, he is a founding member of the Fire Department Theater Company and currently a lecturer in NYU’s Expository Writing Program.
Director of the Writers Program, Barbara Bristol says, “This group of writers brings delightful surprises and pleasures. Two transcendent non-fiction writers, one preoccupied with the fascinations of the insect world, and the other with the vibrant life of an ancient Beijing neighborhood; four fearless, dazzling writers of novels and short fiction; three fresh poetic voices; and a provocative, risk-taking playwright. We warmly welcome them into our now distinguished 25-year roster of Whiting Award recipients and look forward to these writers enriching American letters for many years to come.”
Congratulations Rajiv and Michael!
Inspired by Peace Corps Volunteer Third Goal initiatives—but never having served in the Peace Corps—Alia Kate claims the label of “honorary PCV.” Alia spent her life surrounded by the active RPCV community in her hometown of Milwaukee, exposed to world travelers and committed, connected individuals. She was six years old when she first visited the tiny village in the Casamance, Senegal where her mother served in 1980.
“I was staunchly determined not to follow in the footsteps
of my mother—I adamantly did not want to do Peace Corps or teach English,” says
Alia. Instead, she moved to Morocco in 2006 to volunteer for a year and a half
on a project in Rabat that fought against child labor. Early on, Alia became
fascinated by the complex craft of weaving, only performed by women. She was
introduced to Small Business Development (SBD) Peace Corps volunteers in the
country, visited their sites and got excited about the prospect of connecting
directly with the artisans themselves.
In 2007 Alia applied for and won an entrepreneurial grant through Oberlin College. This gave her the seed money to go back and spend extended periods of time with different people in different villages throughout Morocco; a dozen different PCVs, dozens of other volunteers and countless cooperatives throughout Morocco. She has also visited and consulted a number of other cooperatives on “best practices,” made presentations to incoming SBD volunteers and met with the country director. However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2008 when Kate traveled to Taznakht to buy carpets on behalf of her new fair trade business, Kantara Crafts, that she met SBD Volunteer Janelle Downing, who lived in southern Morocco from 2007-2009.
Janelle worked with a cooperative of women carpet weavers focusing on improving marketing and sales. She was impressed by the quality of the textiles and was shocked at the lack of access to markets where the women artisans could receive a fair wage for their work. When Janelle returned to the States she wanted to continue to find buyers for the carpets made by her friends of the village. Meanwhile, Alia also moved to New York City. They joined forces and are now taking Kantara Crafts to a new level.
Kantara Crafts (www.kantaracrafts.com) is a fair trade business that partners with Moroccan artisan cooperatives to offer finely crafted, hand-woven textiles in a socially responsible and environmentally conscious fashion. Kantara, meaning “bridge” in Arabic, seeks to establish local and long-lasting relationships by bridging the gap between women artisans in Morocco and socially conscious communities in the United States.
As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Kantara ensures all of its artisans are paid promptly and fairly, business is conducted in a transparent and accountable manner and cultural identity is respected. Kantara supports safe working conditions free of child laborers as is dedicated to promoting education and literacy. Alia is convinced that education is the solution to many problems in developing countries. As a result, Kantara Crafts is committed to reinvesting a portion of its proceeds into local education and literacy initiatives and capacity building efforts among weaving cooperatives. Kantara currently makes small grants on a rolling basis to organizations in Morocco.
Yesterday, Kantara Crafts hosted a reception to celebrate its official launch and to announce the first round of grant recipients for the Kantara Crafts Education Fund. “We hope to have a lot of RPCVs, Moroccans and other interested parties will be involved with the business in the future,” says Alia.
Best of luck to the new entrepreneurs!
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer groups are a linchpin of our community, and whenever possible, we like to spotlight what they are doing. Friends of Armenia (FOA) only incorporated as a non-profit this year, but already they have 50 dues-paying members with active fundraising, grants, and membership committees. Their top priority is to support innovative, charitable projects in Armenia led by current Peace Corps Volunteers—projects that show real promise but may be too unconventional for USAID/Peace Corps Small Project Assistance (SPA) or Partnership Grant programs.
To strengthen the fledgling FOA community and to honor Armenian culture, Armenia RPCVs gathered in Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. this August to celebrate Vardavar, a mid-summer Armenian holiday that dates back to pre-Christian times. The ancient festival is traditionally associated with the goddess Astghik, who was the goddess of water, beauty, love and fertility.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians continue to suffer problems with their infrastructure and public utilities, such as maintaining a stable and safe water supply. Nonetheless, to celebrate the progress that has been made, families host Vardavar cookouts while children (and grownups!) chase each other with small pails or cups of water, looking to douse their siblings and friends.
The DC-area RPCVs hosted an Armenian "khorovatz" (skewers of pork tenderloin cooked over hot coals) with mulberry vodka, lavash bread, cheese and fresh vegetables. The celebration also included Armenian dancing and a water balloon toss. For pictures of the celebration, visit the Friends of Armenia website at: www.friendsofarmenia.org/vardavar.
Don't miss The Oprah Winfrey Show this Thursday, October 1, as Oprah delivers a call to action for all women--with a Peace Corps twist!
Inspired by the New York Times best-selling book Half the Sky by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, this eye-opening hour will reveal powerful stories of women overcoming adversity to realize a better life for themselves. Oprah herself calls one of the stories "the most incredible story of manifesting a dream I have ever heard."
In conjunction with the show, Oprah will launch a new registry online at www.oprah.com/forallwomen, where the Noon Meal for Girls Project (supported by Friends of Burkina Faso) will be featured. Tune-in to the "Oprah" show this Thursday to hear Oprah's call to action. (Check local listings for time and channel.)
"Many people, including some who could not attend, commented on the attractiveness of the public service dimension. It was an impressive pile of trash we carried out of there. And while doing it, it provided us a hike through some really marvelous canyon scenery, where the native cutthroat trout have been reintroduced. Sunday was another hike, to the Jemez Falls and hot springs. RPCVs rose to the food challenge, and everything tasted twice as good out in the woods."
Forest Ranger Kristin Sanderson, one of the participants, is the Education Coordinator for the Respect the Rio program, a part of a larger national program aimed at educating people about the ecology of rivers in the national forests. Besides hosting groups, she also talks to school classes. RPCV teachers are encouraged to contact her about a program in their schools. (Ph. 575 829-3535, in Jemez Springs).
Ms. Sanderson wrote to group:
"Dear RPCVs and Friends of PC,
On behalf of the Santa Fe National Forest, the Jemez Ranger District, and the Respect the Rio program, I would like to thank you for sharing your time and energy to help make our forest a cleaner, more beautiful, and more enjoyable place to visit. Your work along the East Fork of the Jemez River is very much appreciated and will hopefully encourage visitors to take pride in and responsibility for their public lands. It was such a joy meeting and working with each and every one of you, and I look forward to future projects and outings both here in the Santa Fe National Forest and in your neighborhoods.