Peace Corps

  • Charlie Hunt posted an article
    Rotarian Peace Corps Volunteers bring RYLA to Ukraine! see more

    The Genesis of RYLA in Ukraine – A Beautiful Partnership

    By RPCV Andy Lenec

     

    There is an old saying, “Man plans, God laughs.”  Well, God was not laughing the entire time that the inaugural RYLA Conference that came off this year in Ukraine was being planned, but God’s plans included lessons in humility that I had overlooked when putting together the roadmap for my vision of an international youth conference as a part of my United States Peace Corps service there.

     

    A bit of back story.  I had been a Rotarian for over 25 years before deciding to apply for the Peace Corps.  What can I say, some people retire in curious ways.  My parents had been political refugees from Ukraine and since I spoke the language and was familiar with the culture, I had high hopes of being accepted and assigned to serve in Youth Development in Ukraine.  As I said, man plans…  I was accepted and assigned to Ukraine, but as an NGO Advisor in the Community Development Division, and ultimately seconded as a volunteer to several organizations in the small city of Truskavets in western Ukraine, among them a small but enthusiastic Rotary Club! 

     

    This was by design of course, based on my prior experience and the Peace Corps’ current needs, but regardless, my passion for working with youth would not be denied.  Actually, it was a pretty easy sell.  Who can deny that helping youth – any youth, anywhere, anytime – is not a worthy investment in our future?  What began as weekly English Clubs run at the local library (one of my partner organizations) and a local ‘gymnasia’ (an advanced high school), and enthusiastically endorsed by RC Truskavets, morphed into the dream of hosting an annual International Youth Conference.

     

    This is excerpted from one of my original correspondences, floating the idea to potential participants and sponsors:

     

    “The First Annual Truskavets International Youth Conference will take place in August 4 – 11, 2018, with the goal of promoting harmonious international cooperation between the future leaders of the United States and Ukraine, and potentially several other European countries as well.  With the knowledge that young leaders learn best from each other, especially in international settings, we will take young leaders ages 16-19 through a seven day journey of learning, working and socializing together, and experientially practicing and perfecting skill sets such as leadership, volunteerism, communication, conflict resolution and team building.”

     

    That was the plan, but the lessons in humility and patience had not yet been served.  Once we all realized that the small club in Truskavets simply didn’t have the capacity to take this project on by itself, I began to seek out other Rotary Clubs with which to partner, and my dream quickly morphed yet again into the idea of turning this conference into the reintroduction of RYLA in Ukraine.

     

    And that’s when the real magic (read: cooperation and collaboration) began.  During countless phone calls and meetings with the truly stellar leadership of District 2232, including then DG Serhii Zavadsky and DGE Mykola Stebljanko, with the eight Rotary Clubs in Lviv, and especially RC Lviv International, as well as with the benefit of some absolutely invaluable assistance and encouragement from US Rotarians, and especially P4P co-founder Steve Werner, we began to build the team and promote the dream, with more and more people at least listening to us as we took our story on the road and into cyberspace.

     

    I must express my appreciation for the support I received from PC Ukraine staff, including then Country Director Denny Robertson, his replacement right at the end of my time there, Michael Ketover, my Regional Manager Oksana Shabas, and the truly exceptional staff at PCHQ in Kyiv.  No one threw anything but encouragement and wise counsel at me during the arduous process of making connections and gathering support for the project.  As you will see, a project of this magnitude simply could not be accomplished without the highest possible levels of support from both RI and the US Peace Corps, and ultimately we were able to secure that support from RI General Secretary John Hewko and Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen, who both electronically forwarded messages of welcome to the first group of participants this past summer.

     

    There is of course so much more to this story, but I come back to my opening line, “Man plans…”.  Much to my dismay and disappointment, but perhaps not to the detriment of the project, I took ill and was medically separated from PC a little over a year into my service.  It was literally, “Pack your bags, you’re going home,” and I had a week to prepare for an arduous journey home and a long and even more arduous recuperation, but that’s really not germane to this story.  Here’s what is.

     

    By this point in my story, or the unfolding of my dream, we had moved a lot of people and created a momentum.  This was NOT an easy process for many reasons, not the least of which was the state of chaos so many sectors of the country were experiencing as a result of the systematic pillaging of this beautiful country by past regimes, and the difficulty of transforming from a corrupt, centrally planned economy to a truly free market.  There was a lot of inertia to overcome, a lot of people to convince that this project was not only worthy and possible, but necessary and destined to take place.

     

    One of the phrases we often tossed around was ‘failure is not an option’, and it certainly wasn’t for the real hero of this story, current Peace Corps Ukraine volunteer Shannon Carter, who took over the leadership of this project upon my departure from Ukraine.  I was fortunate to participate in weekly Skype conference calls from my home in Colorado, and I was floored by how much energy and enthusiasm Shannon put into this project.

     

    Shannon also assembled a great team of her fellow PCVs to plan and staff the inaugural RYLA conference, which took place in Lviv, Ukraine this past July to the delight and benefit of the 23 participants from three countries, plus the many Rotarians from several countries who also attended and supported Shannon and her team.

     

    The story gets even better, though, as Shannon is not only already underway planning RYLA Ukraine 2020, but has also convinced the powers that be in Rotary International and the Peace Corps that this relationship should be formalized, with the creation of a PC Response Volunteer position to assist in this process.  From my personal perspective, my dream was rescued from potential disaster and given not only new life, but it seems it now has legs as well.

     

    This is only the first part of the story, and since I wasn’t there to witness it, I’m not the writer to describe the actual event.  Nevertheless, I can speak to the phenomenal success of the partnership that was sought, nurtured and ultimately blossomed between the Peace Corps and Rotary in Ukraine, and to the patience and persistence required to bring a good project home.  I hope this can serve as a model for other such partnerships, and Shannon Carter a model for an extraordinary young woman who also happens to be a Peace Corps volunteer, and perhaps some day a Rotarian as well.

  • Charlie Hunt posted an article
    Rotary Give-a-Book partners with Peace Corps Volunteer Jordan Mathews in Dominican Republic see more

    From 2016-2018, I served in the Peace Corps as a Youth Development Volunteer in a rural town, Gonzalo, Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic. For those of you of you familiar with the work of Peace Corps Volunteers, you will know that the work is slow, often ambiguous and it takes a whole lot of trial and error, emphasis on the “error,” before something sticks. One of my sticking points came from the work I was doing with my counterpart, Leo, the Director at our community’s local Community Technology Center (CTC.)

    The CTC is a government supported community space where kids and adults can go to do their homework, learn new skills and just have a safe place to congregate. At this center there is a preschool, a computer lab and a library, all programs that I have seem immensely positively affect our students. During my service, I spent countless days in the library. Not only was it one of the few places with somewhat reliable electricity, it was where I was able to see and connect with the kids and members of our community. Though I was not an education volunteer, while spending time in the library, the need for supportive literacy programs became obvious. Globally, the Dominican Republic falls low on literacy rates, as a way to help combat this, our CTC had tried time and time again (mostly unsuccessfully) to create reading groups for kids. However, as I began looking at the books available, the majority of books available were dense historical non-fiction, books that were not conducive to sparking the interest of young curious minds learning how to read. I wanted these kids to know the feeling that came with being completely enveloped in a story, the intense desire to read the next page or finish the next chapter in the book.

    My counterpart and I decided that it would be beneficial to get new books for the library that would inspire curiosity and excitement for young readers, but as we began exploring avenues to do that, we realized it would be much harder and much more expensive than anticipated. After months of looking into different options, we were not sure if and how we would be able to achieve this goal. But as soon as we began to feel defeated, I received an email from the Education Program Manager for PCDR about the Rotary Give-a-Book program, letting us know that select schools and centers would be approved to receive donated books in Spanish! It was an answered prayer.

    Excited, I told my counterpart and we reached out right away, soliciting books for our CTC. Later we learned that our community had been approved and would be receiving books for our library.  Because of this amazing program made possible by the generosity of Rotary members like yourselves, Gonzalo’s CTC received a box full of beautiful books that will allow a generation of young readers to tantalize their curiosities and explore the world, near and far, through books. For this, I am so grateful for the partnership that exists between Rotary International and the Peace Corps, so that more moments like this can be created for communities across the globe.

    Thank you to each of you for committing your life to promoting peace at home and abroad through supporting programs like Give-a-Book, this is the type of change that may seem small but can forever create long lasting impact.

  • Charlie Hunt posted an article
    Rotary clubs support PCV water tank project in Vanuatu see more

    Report from Annalisa Berardinelli, PCV 2017-2019 at Nofo School, Emae Island, Vanuatu:

    There are about 200 people on the school grounds during the week, 8 families that live there, and 30 boarding students that also reside on the school grounds. Prior to these two tanks, there were only 3 other ones. The dry season lasts from about June to November. Last year and in 2017 there were school cancellations because of the lack of water available to students to drink during the day. So far this year there have been none. In order to enhance learning and create a healthy learning environment, there needs to be access to clean water. Moreover it is a right to have access to clean drinking water, which you and your club have allowed for these students and families. In addition, it inspired the school principal to ask some men to come clean and re-cement the inside of two other rain collection tanks on the grounds, creating a grand total of 7 sources of water (5 new ones this year). Thank you very much for your persistence and dedication to this project. 

  • Rotarian experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia. see more

    Link to Rotary Service in Action Blog.  Rotarian Cal Mann serves as Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia.  The articles shows the potential of greater impact when Peace Corps Volunteers work with Rotary (particularly when the PCV is a Rotarian).  

    Cal Mann is semi-retired industrial designer leading a consulting firm. He has been a Rotarian since 2004, and member of California Rotary Clubs of La Jolla, Del Mar and Oakland. He has also served as director of his club’s Youth Service Committee overseeing Interact clubs, and served on his District’s RYLA committee....  Click Here to read the article.

  • Rotary And Peace Corps Announce Partnership see more

    WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 2014 – Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Rotary International General Secretary John Hewko today signed a letter of collaboration strengthening the organizations’ cooperation in the United States and abroad to promote global development and volunteer service. “The missions of our two organizations reflect and reinforce each other,” Hessler-Radelet said. “In our increasingly interconnected world, bringing the Peace Corps and Rotary together in common cause provides more opportunity than ever to leave a greater impact.” At Rotary International World Headquarters in Evanston, Ill., the two organizations committed to explore initial collaboration in the Philippines, Thailand and Togo. Across these three countries, Peace Corps and Rotary volunteers will be encouraged to share resources and expertise, and Peace Corps volunteers and Rotary clubs in the U.S. can connect to boost the impact of development projects. Through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, Rotary clubs can provide small grants to support volunteers and their communities. “It makes perfect sense to leverage the strengths of both organizations to achieve maximum impact, efficiency and sustainability in the projects we carry out,” Hewko said. “Together we will work to improve lives and build stronger communities, and – in doing so – address many of the root causes of violence and conflict, such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation.” The Peace Corps and Rotary will also work together to recruit more Americans into Peace Corps service and share their knowledge and understanding of the world with fellow Americans. Both organizations have rich histories of promoting peace and friendship between cultures and undertaking sustainable development activities to help communities in need throughout the world. They also have networks of volunteers and members dedicated to making the world a better place. Peace Corps and Rotary programs overlap in more than 60 countries, and many returned Peace Corps volunteers join Rotary clubs. The organizations have previously partnered on projects in literacy, water sanitation, and health, and Rotary funds have helped to purchase everything from construction materials to library books.

  • Highlands Ranch Rotary Club Works With Peace Corps As Part Of Give A Book Program see more

    At the end of October a team from the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club joined with other Rotarians from various parts of the U.S. and with current Peace Corps volunteers, in order to distribute books and establish a community library in the Monterrey area of Costa Rica.

    On this service trip, Rotarians from Highlands Ranch Rotary in Colorado were joined by Rotarians from the Rotary Club Cantonment, FL. Rotary Club of Casa Grande Daybreak,  Casa Grande,  AZ and Palisades Rotary Club, NJ. 

    With more than 775 million people over the age of 15 being illiterate, a key goal of Rotary International is to support education. Children may be more inclined to undertake a higher level of education if they are introduced to reading at an early age. The program, Give a Book, is designed to develop and increase literacy at all ages and to promote cultural awareness and global goodwill towards others.

    A highlight of the visit was the dedication of the Sue Fox Memorial Library. Sue had been a Peace Corps volunteer in her early 20’s and was recently President of the Denver Rotary Club. Sue helped to facilitate a memorandum of understanding between Peace Corp & Rotary. The MOU allowed for Rotary and Peace Corps to connect on service projects and this project was one of the first under this MOU.

    During the trip,  21 elementary schools received sets of 150 books. Sixteen smaller schools each received sets of 50 books. 45 books were provided to the International Baccalaureate program at a high school in San Carlos. The Sue Fox Memorial Library received approximately 800 books from the Give-A-Book warehouse, which were paid for by a grant from the Sue Fox Memorial Fund and Rotary District 5450.

    A currently serving Peace Corps Volunteer said, “I really cannot express just how grateful my community and I are to have met you. Your visit was incredibly special and the kids and teachers have been telling me how thrilled they were to meet with the Rotarians. I hope you know how much of a difference the books make in these kids’ lives. Monterrey has the wonderful advantage of being very protective of their traditional culture and supportive of youth initiatives, but one of the biggest challenges of the education system here is the promotion of creativity and critical thinking. Books open up new worlds for these kids, and I’m looking forward to working with the school principals, teachers, Ministry of Education, the local government, and the local girl and boy scouts to promote a reading culture. A love of reading truly does bring infinite rewards.”

    This is the third trip to Costa Rica by members of the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club and based on experience the committee has decided to concentrate on 3 key areas.

    1. Work with the Give a Book program + the local Peace Corp and deliver books to children of Elementary age.
    2. Establish community libraries wherever possible.
    3. Work with International Baccalaureate schools to help with English Language study and global business foundation study.

      ~Philip Calderbank, Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

  • Partnership Takes On Cervical Cancer In Senegal see more

    Until the 1950s, cervical cancer killed more American women than any other type of cancer. Widespread screening has drastically decreased the number of those deaths in the United States, but in the West African country of Senegal, the disease remains prevalent. Every year, more than 1,400 Senegalese women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and hundreds of them die from it.

    To Andrew Dykens, a professor of family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the situation is especially galling given how easy this form of cancer is to catch.

    “Cervical cancer develops very, very slowly,” Dykens says. “There are five to 15 years from the first cellular changes to the actual cancer development. So you’ve got time during that phase to do something about it.”

    That’s exactly what he’s doing, with the help of the Peace Corps, Rotarians, and UIC. 

    Dykens – who is a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago, the director of the Global Community Health Track at UIC’s Center for Global Health, and a former Peace Corps volunteer – is bringing together those organizations and Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Social Action to reduce the number of women who die from this highly treatable disease. 

    Training for health care workers in Kedougou. Courtesy of Andrew Dykens

    A bit of background: In 2010, Dykens launched Peace Care, a nonprofit that helps communities and organizations work together to bring resources where they are needed. “It dawned on me that the Peace Corps should be working more closely with, for example, academic centers, because these centers have technical expertise but don’t have a footprint in local settings,” he says. “Meanwhile, the Peace Corps has people who are extraordinarily knowledgeable about the local context.” 

    And Rotary? “Rotary loves to build capacity,” he says. “If we can build the capacity to implement evidence-based solutions that already exist, we don’t need fancy tools like MRIs or robotic surgery. Not that those tools aren’t good, but there’s a basic level of access to primary health care that doesn’t exist.”

    After hearing from Peace Corps staff in Senegal about the need for cervical cancer screenings there, Dykens and Peace Care started training health workers in the Kedougou region of the country to detect abnormal cervical cells via a simple but effective method. A vinegar solution, dabbed onto the cervix, reveals abnormal cells that can be killed immediately with a cryotherapy gun and CO2tank – no electricity required. This is far easier and less expensive than the standard Pap test, which requires looking at cell samples under a microscope to identify abnormalities. 

    “Cool, right?” Dykens says. “This technique has been around for decades, and it costs so little and saves women’s lives. So how is it that in this day and age, in Senegal, there are 10 rural regions that have no access to cervical cancer screening?”

    Part of the answer is local influence. “In some cases, the local opinion leaders are very conservative on women’s issues, and they are reluctant to help the women go for consultation,” says Manuel Pina, an obstetrician/gynecologist and member of the Rotary Club of Dakar-Soleil who is working with Peace Care. “But Rotarians are also opinion leaders. We have already done local talks on the importance of this project, to help end all of the rumors and bad information linked to cervical cancer.” Pina notes that they also encourage families to have their daughters vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer.

    Rotarians and Peace Corps volunteers have a long history of working together on projects, and in 2014 the two organizations began a more formalized partnership. The cervical cancer screening project demonstrates how a grassroots effort can benefit from the combined strengths of the two organizations.

    The Rotary clubs plan to apply for a Rotary Foundation global grant to help expand cervical cancer screening services to the Tambacounda region. “Not just for the purpose of building capacity, but also to build a training center for cervical cancer screening,” Dykens says. Eventually, that center could also train health workers to screen for and treat other diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and other types of cancers, he adds.

    Dykens says support of Rotarians in the United States and in Senegal will continue to be key.

    “Rotarians do things right,” he says. “They work systematically and always engage local voices and perspectives, and that is what ultimately creates success. Rotary has worked a long time on polio and done an amazing job. And in my mind, access to primary care is the next polio.”

    –Anne Ford

    reprinted with permission from The Rotarian, December 2017.

  • Souns Literacy Program Goes International With Assistance Of Peace Corps Volunteers see more

    Beyond building little readers, the Souns program helps Rotarians by exposing them to the surprising readiness of young minds. Children want to read more than we want them to acquire these basic skills. As projects go, the Souns program is:

    • Simple to implement
    • Cost effective,
    • Measurable in its results

    Through the Souns early literacy program, early childhood educators and parents acquire tools to help children build early literacy skill by introducing a concrete letter in association with its most common sound in the child’s language. The child first learns the individual letter sounds, then how to build words by listening to spoken sounds, and finally to read words by sounding out the letters.

    While Souns is easy to implement, does not require extensive training, and utilizes durable materials, sustainability has been the key to progress. From observations – seeing a child delight in sharing their first written “story” or gleeful about sounding out their first sentence at age 5 – is the greatest assurance of sustainability. A teacher who feels empowered in his or her teaching is going to want to continue the successful method. We even hear anecdotes of teachers taking the Souns materials with them when they leave one school to go to another. Preschools with a long history of using Souns have assimilated the program so well that their experienced teachers train new teachers. Ultimately, success in the classroom –  building little readers – is the greatest assurance of sustainability.

    An evaluation of over 6000 preschool students using Souns in the United States and Puerto Rico found that 96.5% met or exceeded expectations in letter-sound knowledge and only 3.5% were below expectations.

    Souns taught in schools in Pretoria, South Africa.

    What is happening now with Souns? My club and clubs in my district have joined other clubs in the USA and international clubs to expand the reach of Souns, sometimes getting together as Rotarians to review and/or train…building Rotarians as well as little readers. Global grants such as the project in South Africa reaching township children have escalated into additional Rotary Global Grants. Since Souns is not language-specific, Peace Corps in South Africa has embraced Souns to help their education volunteers bridge language barriers. Interestingly, most letters have the same sound across languages. Souns is in many Head Start programs across the U.S., from Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, to Texas. Head Start is well established and is the greatest access point to disadvantaged children in the United States.

    Where is Souns going next? Namibia, Guatemala, Haiti, and India, with escalating projects in South Africa and Puerto Rico.  A Peace Corps volunteer is seeking Rotarian help to bring Souns to Namibia. Souns left the Rotary Convention in Atlanta in the hands of a Rotarian going to Guatemala. Those involved with a project in Haiti want to add Souns to their program, and India is having Souns introduced by Rotarians from Colorado. Puerto Rico has just had a grant approved that will reach 815 classrooms.

    Growth means more volunteer trainers are needed. There are no special qualifications to being a Souns trainer, except a willingness to learn. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer Souns trainer, please let me know. It is a hands-on experience that keeps on giving.

    ~Brenda Erickson, Rotary Club of Peachtree City, Georgia, USA, and Montessori school teacher

    Reprinted with permission of The Rotarian, September 2017.

    See this Vimeo video

  • Charlie Hunt posted an article
    Rotary And Peace Corps Partner On Computer Classroom In Senegal see more

    Rotary has partnered with Peace Corps in Senegal to create a unique partnership in Gueoul. The project combines a computer classroom with a Cyber Cafe- a business that sells access to the Internet, photocopying, lamination, and other goods, and the profits go to pay the salaries of classroom teachers and the other expenses of the classroom. The project is run by a current serving Peace Corps Volunteer, who is helping to make the Cafe sustainable.

    Classroom users

    A French class at a highschool in Boulder has connected with the Lycee in Guéoul. The teachers in Guéoul and Boulder conferenced via Skype to plan how to work out a joint lesson plan between the two classes. The students exchanged essays and biographies. Then, one day the Guéoul students tromped through that hot sand over to the InformatiqueSkyped the Boulder students. Yalla, baax ne! God is good. That’s what they say over there when a good thing happens. See the disbelief and awe on these faces? They are talking to fellow students 5,400 miles away. A grandmother has also connected with her grandson. Fatou is 93 years old, and her grandson is in the States. They both feared that she would die before they got to see each other again. She managed to walk to the Informatique. I was there and watched the joy and warmth as they talked to each other for 20 minutes. For more information about the project, please visit the Friends of Gueoul website.

  • An Unexpected Act Of Kindness: Honoring Jim Swaeby see more

    Partnering for Peace recognizes one of the founding members of the Peace Corps/Rotary Partnership, Jim Swaeby, a member of the Rotary Club of Boulder, Colorado and a RPCV who served in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. Jim served on the Rotary District 5450 Peace Corps/Rotary Alliance in the formative years of the partnership and his commitment to the partnership continues on through a generous donation from Susan Swaeby in memory of Jim. The Rotary Club of Boulder and the Rotary Club of Denver Southeast also helped to facilitate the donation from Susan and the clubs’ foundations.

    Susan provided some background on Jim’s Rotary and Peace Corps service… “Jim had a wide variety of community service over the years so I’ve listed only a few of the organizations in which he had an active leadership role”.

    “After receiving a B.S. in Business from the University of Colorado in 1967, Jim became a volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga, a small island country in the South Pacific. He established a school to train Tongan agricultural extension agents. After only 6 months in-country, his service was cut short when he became the first Peace Corps Volunteer to be drafted while overseas. Jim subsequently spent 13 months in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division. Throughout his life, Jim continued to give speeches and attend recruiting sessions on behalf of the Peace Corps.”

    “During his career Jim was a banker and a commercial real estate broker and consultant, but a large part of his life was his volunteer activities. Jim had leadership positions in a wide variety of organizations including the Technical Assistance Center, Colorado Ballet, Historic Boulder, University of Colorado Leeds School of Business Real Estate Council and Center, CU Alumni Association, Boulder Urban Renewal Authority, Boulder History Museum, and Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains.”

    “As a member of Boulder Rotary for over 22 years, he served on many committees including the Board of Directors, Foundation Board, World Community Service, Blood Drive, Awards Committee, and the Caring Committee. He received both the Quiet Hero and the Humanitarian Award from his club.”

    “Jim’s final request to those wishing to honor his memory was to do an unexpected act of kindness or generosity for someone less privileged.”

    Steve Werner, President of Partnering for Peace, noted that the Quiet Hero and Humanitarian Award definitely describes Jim. He was the type of quiet leader who could get his point across through a smile, a word of encouragement, and a short explanation about the best way to move a project forward. Jim exemplified the ideals of Rotary’s “Service Above Self” and Peace Corps’s Three Goals. Everyone who met Jim and worked with him through Rotary or the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community valued his friendship and commitment to making the world a better place. And we were better for knowing him.

    Partnering for Peace gratefully acknowledges Jim and Susan’s donation to continuing to build the partnership between Rotary and Peace Corps.

  • Strengthening The Connection Between Peace Corps Volunteers And Rotary Members see more

    I felt right at home when my wife Ligia and I arrived at the impressive University of Denver campus to participate in the Partnering for Peace workshop, hosted by District 5450 as a precursor to Peace Corps’ annual alumni conference. The forces that shaped my life would be at this conclave, whose theme was Partnering for Peace: Taking Collaborations to New Heights. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), alumni of the Peace Corps international service program, and Rotarians are my kind of people.

    Over 85 Rotarian Returned Peace Corps Volunteers gathered at our workshop to discuss how to better support the communities we serve through local and international service projects. Several project leaders presented on their joint initiatives made possible through collaborations between clubs and nearby Peace Corps Volunteers: establishing a computer lab in Honduras and Senegal, transporting medical equipment to Kenya, equipping a community with access to clean water in Burkina Faso, and a joint effort to identify school needs and help fill gaps with literacy resources in Costa Rica.

    Attendees broke up into small groups for the final session to discuss strategies for:

    • Rotary clubs and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to find one another and work together to enhance community and international service projects.
    • Identifying and promoting projects to help others learn from successful partnerships.
    • Sharing inspirational stories of joint projects to encourage members of both organizations to explore local collaboration opportunities.
    • Identifying the many different ways clubs and current and returned Peace Corps volunteers work together.

    To conclude the workshop, District 5450’s Governor Abbas Rajabi shared his story of being taught by a Peace Corps volunteer in his home country of Iran, which inspired him to continue servicing others.

    The District 5450 Peace Corps Alliance Committee, focused on connecting local Rotarian RPCVs, formed Partnering for Peace to engage Rotarian RPCVs all around the globe. Partnering for Peace is a group of Rotarians and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers working to build partnerships to create sustainable projects locally and around the world in order to promote peace.

    The workshop was our first big step in connecting Rotarian RPCVs and inspiring action. We’ll continue facilitating introductions and promoting resources to help clubs and Peace Corps volunteers and alumni work together more closely in the communities most in need of our support. We are also eager to guide clubs and RPCVs on how to plan and implement joint service activities either locally or internationally.

    It’s exciting to see the Rotary-Peace Corps partnership continue to grow with the involvement of more RPCVs and we concluded the workshop energized and excited to continue working together with members of both organizations. I describe my own journey with Rotary and the Peace Corps in my new book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, but the formation of Partnering for Peace will take that trek for me and many other Rotarians and RPCVs to an entirely new level.

    ~Mark D. Walker, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Guatemala (1971-1973)

  • How The Peace Corps And Rotary Led Me To A Life Of International Service see more

    As a naïve young man from Colorado just having graduated from a small university, I joined the Peace Corps with the dual purpose to travel, serve and, if possible, save the world. After four months of language and agricultural training, I landed in one of the most isolated sites in the highlands of Guatemala. Though beset with fear of the unknown and feelings of profound isolation, I became familiar with and appreciated the people of the rural community of Calapte. After several years on assignment, not only was I able to introduce new crop varieties which enhanced local production, but I mobilized the community to reconstruct their 100-year-old school. After a near-death experience took me to another part of the country, I met the love of my life and we established a stable bi-cultural home for our three children during the violent Guatemalan Civil War.

    My first real job out of the Peace Corps was with CARE International in Guatemala. I was responsible for designing an agroforestry program to combat the destruction of the environment and increase agricultural production for small farmers working on steep hills. This began my thirteen-year career promoting rural development through various international NGOs.

    My career in cross cultural settings promoting community development made Rotary a natural fit. In 1981, I joined one of the downtown Rotary clubs in Bogota, Colombia, where I was a Director for Plan International. I continued with Rotary in the United States and eventually served as president of the Rotary Club of Scottsdale in Arizona (United States). As the District Chair for World Community Service (now known as International Service) for District 5510, I lead groups of Rotarians to Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia to form lifelong relationships with local Rotarians and develop programs such as a clean water initiative in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Naturally, my wife and I encouraged our children to consider the Rotary Youth Exchange program by hosting several students ourselves. Eventually our children participated and were hosted by different Rotary clubs in Germany and France where we made many friends among the local Rotarians.

    My work in global development came to a sudden turn after I was let go as CEO of an international NGO. This unexpected twist led me to focus on my children and six grandchildren, also provided a new opportunity to reflect on what I’d accomplished, where I’d failed, and where the international NGO community had come up short. My memoir Different Latitudes provides an insight to this life I lived, and is a tale of physical and spiritual self-discovery through Latin American, African, European, and Asian topography, cuisine, politics, and history. You can read the book here to learn more about my journey.

    ~Mark D. Walker, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Guatemala (1971-1973).

  • Pursuing My Passions Through Rotary And Peace Corps see more

    Community service has always been a big part of my life. When I was 11-years-old, I joined the youth leadership organization, Job’s Daughters. This group of adult and peer mentors instilled in me the principles of leadership, compassion, empathy and selfless service. Guided by these values, I spent much of my free time in high school and college volunteering and fundraising for various charities.

    These activities however, remained fairly separate from my studies and professional life. In 2008, I was preparing to graduate from a four-year university where I had earned a Bachelors in Business Management, and suddenly it hit me: this was not at all who I was or what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My heart was in the volunteer work where I had dedicated so many of my years. Why does a professional career have to be separate from what one is truly passionate about? Pursuing Peace Corps was my way of finding out how to merge the two.

    I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cape Verde, where I worked in the area of small business and community development. The experience was life changing. When spending two years completely immersed in a small village, the community becomes your friend, and friends become your family. I learned so much about myself through cultural exchange, respectful dialogue and meaningful engagement.

    Returning to the United States left me feeling empty, yet inspired. I was saddened to leave what became my second home, but I now knew, more than ever, my life mission. I am meant to dedicate my life to a cause higher than myself, something that outlasts me, something that leaves this world a little better than I found it.

    I spent some time volunteering for non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Brazil before joining the World Bank in their mission to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. Working among esteemed economists and specialists at the World Bank inspired me, but I quickly realized that I would need to further my education in order to make a meaningful difference. After researching and applying to several programs, I decided on a Master’s of Science in International Development and Public Policy at the University of Manchester, England. As a perpetual volunteer who had only worked for about 24 months in the past 7 years, funding a graduate degree would be the next immediate challenge.

    I had been familiar with Rotary mainly because I saw their signs everywhere, from my village in Cape Verde to the streets in Porto Velho, Brazil. I reached out to my local Fairfax Rotary Club and was blessed to be connected with Rotarian Verne Tuininga, the Youth Service Director, who graciously guided me through The Rotary Foundation’s Global Grants Scholarship application process, interview and eventual acceptance process.

    I set off for the United Kingdom in September 2015, as a Rotary Global Grants Scholar. I began my graduate program where I also co-started the fundraising group Students Unite to End Polio in support of Rotary’s PolioPlus campaign. Students Unite to End Polio consisted of ten international students committed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in an effort to raise funds and awareness around polio eradication.

    After graduating from the University of Manchester and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have returned to the World Bank as a research analyst for the social protection department. Looking back, Peace Corps and the community I served, gave me the self-belief and drive to pursue radical social change; and my Rotary scholarship equipped me with the education and knowledge I needed to transform that drive into action. It may be awhile before we see the end to extreme poverty, but my experiences with Peace Corps and Rotary give me hope that lasting change is possible through time, unwavering focus and fierce determination.

    ~Cecilia Kern, former Rotary Global Grant Scholar and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

    Reprinted with permission from RotaryService, May 2017.

  • From Rotary Scholar To Peace Corps see more

    I have heard a variety of interesting stories about why the rural Costa Rican town I live in as a Peace Corps volunteer is called Monterrey. My favorite is the literal translation: “King of the Grass,” explained by a wizened elderly gentleman as the place his family settled to farm cattle because of its nutritious vegetation. On a good day, I can get a clear view of the Arenal Volcano and see the lush farmland that stretches endlessly below. The view is breathtaking. It truly is a green kingdom.

    My path to becoming a “loyal subject” of Monterrey was influenced by a lifelong involvement in community service. I grew up participating in the Girl Scouts, 4-H, and Key Club. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I volunteered at Kiva – a nonprofit that makes small loans to empower entrepreneurs around the world.

    One of the highlights of my undergraduate experience was starting a student group that partnered with Kiva to offer no-interest microloans to low-income entrepreneurs in Oakland, California, USA. Our first borrower used the profits generated from her microloan to fund her son’s college education. As I am the daughter of a university professor, being able to impact someone’s life this way left a powerful impression. The experience cemented my commitment to a career in local economic development.

    A Rotary global grant made possible my dream of obtaining a Master of Science in Local Economic Development at the London School of Economics. Being exposed to such a diversity of international development theories and change-makers made my time in London one of the most inspiring periods of my life. Meeting Rotarians with an incredible dedication to service at both the Berkeley Rotary Club, which sponsored my global grant, and the Sidcup Rotary Club, which hosted me in the UK, reaffirmed my commitment to dedicating my own life to service. It was actually the experience of earning a master’s degree that gave me the confidence to apply to the Peace Corps.

    I have been serving as a Peace Corps Community Economic Development volunteer for almost a year now, and my primary focus is promoting women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. Examples of some projects I work on include helping a small women’s group plan a sewing business and partnering with Grameen Bank to offer business coaching to female microloan borrowers.

    One of my best friends and co-workers here in Costa Rica is a mother of four who works as a professional clown and volunteers for the national social service organization to entertain some of the poorest children in Costa Rica. Her life story is incredible. For someone who struggles to feed her children as a single mother, her passion for helping other children both humbles and inspires me.

    Rotary has left a profound impression on me, as will my time as a Peace Corps volunteer. I can only hope that the next step will be similarly rewarding.

    ~Jasmine Segall, former Rotary global grant scholar

    Reprinted with permission from Rotary Voices blog, March 2017.

  • Peace Corps Partnership Seeks To Enhance Project Capacity see more

    Last year, Rotary International and Peace Corps, formalized a service partnership to help enhance our club and district service activities locally and around the world.Rotary PeaceCorps_lockup

    Peace Corps sends U.S. citizens abroad to help tackle the most pressing needs around the world while promoting better international understanding of culture and enhancing global awareness. Peace Corps Volunteers live and work alongside the people they support for a period of two or more years and concentrate efforts to create sustainable change that lives on long after their period of in-country service. Peace Corps currently has volunteers in more than 60 countries and concentrates on the following sectors: education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, and agriculture.

    By working together with active and returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we can continue addressing Rotary’s six areas of focus while enhancing goodwill, international understanding, and building capacity to address the most pressing community concerns.

    Local collaborations for sustainable development around the world

    A Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) offers access to local contacts, project planning and development insights, and funding possibilities within a particular community. Involving a PCV in your project can help increase its reach, impact, and sustainability.

    Peace Corps Volunteers work with nongovernmental organizations, host-country governments, and local community members to identify and address local needs. PCVs can help you identify prospective beneficiaries and work with you to find the most effective way to address a community’s needs: they can partner on a community assessment, help involve local residents, mobilize community members to oversee project implementation, assist with training, and help incorporate sustainability components so that a project thrives under the care of the local community. Visit Peace Corps’ website for a list of countries where Peace Corps works.

    Working with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the United States

    Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), those who have completed their in-country service and are back in the U.S., offer a wealth of service project knowledge, interesting community insights from living abroad, and often maintain strong relationships with their host communities and local partners which can include Rotary and Rotaract clubs. These links can lead to international Rotary partnerships that provide resources for projects in the host country.

    If you’re located in the U.S., consider:

    • Contacting a Peace Corps Regional Recruitment Office to connect with the local RPCV alumni network in your region
    • Inviting a returned volunteer to attend your club meeting or a Rotary event.
    • Inviting a returned volunteer to make a presentation about his or her work abroad and, if applicable, about how he or she worked with local Rotary or Rotaract clubs.
    • Asking a returned volunteer to facilitate an introduction to the Rotary or Rotaract clubs with which he or she worked while abroad.
    • Inviting a returned volunteer to use his or her community development expertise to assist your club with its projects.

    ~Ellina Kushnir, RI Staff and Scott Kumis, Peace Corps Partnership Manager

    Reprinted with permission from RotaryService, February 2016.