Blog

  • 18 Nov 2020 by Antoinette Tansley

    This week our #WomanCrushWednesday is RPCV, lawyer and changemaker Jessica Alcántara. In October, Jessica became the inaugural Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award recipient for her exceptional work in the fight for equal access to education. Get to know Jessica as we continue our celebration of her and her work.

    [Image description: Jessica (left) smiles with coworkers from Advancement Project while doing Election Protection in 2016]

    Jessica’s experiences early on in her own education path illustrated for her the disparities across the education system in the United States. Jessica grew up in Washington Heights in New York City and attended her local public schools. Her elementary school was one block away from where she lived. After third grade, she transferred to the magnet school, The Mott Hall School, located in Harlem, thanks to a teacher’s recommendation. Like Jessica, most students at both schools were Dominican, and almost everyone came from an immigrant family. Due to another teacher’s recommendation, Jessica applied to and was accepted to the Prep for Prep program, a leadership development program for inner-city kids of color that prepares them for preparatory school. Through Prep’s support, Jessica attended high school at the boarding school Phillips Academy Andover. The world of P.S. 128 and Mott Hall was drastically different from that of Andover. Though Jessica had loved Mott Hall, her school’s gym was an empty classroom, and for large assemblies, they would have to walk down the street to a high school nearby. Andover was a sprawling campus with multiple sports fields that she had never heard of, like lacrosse, field hockey and squash. After deeply enjoying her time at Andover, Jessica sought a similar experience for her undergrad, deciding to attend Dartmouth College.

    Jessica’s experiences made clear to her that there existed a completely different type of education system for those who were rich and predominately white. There was an entire universe of opportunity and access that was simply unknown to students like her who came from poorer, working-class families of color. “I was lucky to have that access, but I always wondered why the rest of my classmates at P.S. 128 or Mott Hall couldn’t also have those opportunities. Maybe some of them would’ve enjoyed lacrosse?”

    [Image description: Poses with coworkers from Advancement Project at the Launch of the We Came to Learn Report]

    Andover and Dartmouth were excellent illustrations of the difference in student support. Jessica states that Andover did a wonderful job of providing the little things to allow students on financial aid to still feel they belonged and to ensure they were not excluded from activities for economic reasons. Unfortunately, Dartmouth provided none of that. Almost everything from student activities to joining a fraternity or sorority depended on money, making the experience very different for those students, like Jessica, who needed to work to support themselves.

    Jessica recognized early in life that race and class are the primary predictors of how children’s educational experience will turn out in the American school system. The work she does now attempts to provide the quality, exceptional, diverse and safe educational experience that already exists for most rich white students to the thousands of poor Black and Brown students who the U.S. education system has neglected.

    [Image description: Jessica stands (center) with some of the ladies from Zaqatala, Azerbaijan, including Konul and Zeyneb who participated in the awarding of the Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award last month]

    When asked about what brought Jessica to Peace Corps, she stated that she likes to tell her friends that joining the Peace Corps was subconsciously imprinted in her brain from one of her favorite childhood movies, Dirty Dancing. The main character, Baby, claims that she is going to join the Peace Corps after the summer is over. However, Jessica believes she did not register the Peace Corps mention in the movie until after she had already applied. Though Jessica knew she wanted to go to graduate school after completing her undergrad, she remained undecided on the subject she wanted to study. Recognizing a desire to do something else for a bit after graduating from college, she attended a Peace Corps informational session in her senior year. Jessica believed it would be a great opportunity because she wanted to help people but could not yet articulate in what capacity, she wanted to live abroad, and she had student loans. Peace Corps checked all of her boxes and had a repayment benefit for her loans.

    [Image description: Jessica dances at a Novruz celebration in Azerbaijan]

    Initially, Jessica wanted to serve in Latin America as a Youth Development (YD) volunteer since she is a native Spanish speaker. Unfortunately, because of bad timing due to difficulties getting the appropriate health insurance paperwork for the application, there were no YD positions open in Latin America by the time her application was complete. Ultimately, she served in Azerbaijan, a country she had not heard of and would never have chosen. Despite ending up on the other side of the world, Jessica states that she is extremely grateful for her placement.

    Jessica feels that the primary lesson from her time in the Peace Corps that still guides the work she does today is “the belief that sustainable change is possible - but only if those most affected are the ones involved in and invested in bringing about that change. My work as a lawyer is in service of communities - of people on the ground who have the answers and are fighting for the change they want to see.”

    [Image description: Jessica smiles with Columbia Law Mentors]

    Jessica’s dream is to be out of a job one day because the educational promises this country has made to Black and Brown children has finally been fulfilled. Until then, she sees herself continuing in the fight while building more knowledge and skills as time goes by.

    Jessica shared that she has been inspired by many people. When asked who inspires her, she is reminded of the great teachers she had in each school she attended and how their dedication to their work made it easier for her to learn, be curious, and grow as a student. She is also inspired by the young women she worked with in Azerbaijan, who welcomed her into their lives and families. She feels inspired further by all of the organizers that she has had the chance to meet and work with, seeing how their passion and love for their people drive their work.

    When asked what advice she might have for young women and girls who wish to become leaders, Jessica said: “I’d say YAY! and that there is a whole community of people rooting for your success. Don’t be afraid to follow your gut or instincts - I’ve followed mine, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at so far. Sometimes people will offer well-meaning advice, but that serves to dissuade you from pursuing a goal. At the end of the day, you are the one living your life and the one that will wake up with that regret. I had plenty of people telling me not to go to grad school, law school, or join the Peace Corps. I listened to their concerns, but ultimately, I made my own choices and followed my instincts. I’ve been happy with the choices I’ve made, and I think that joy shows up in my relationships, both personally and professionally.”

    She would also say that “confidence and humility go a long way. Get rid of that imposter syndrome right now! The leaders I have admired the most have been ones who have been sure of themselves and confident in their own abilities, while also recognizing that everyone has strengths they bring to the table.”

    We are very grateful to Jessica for her contribution to our blog and her contribution to our world. If you would like to find out more about Jessica and the Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award (KRELA), check out the recording of our inaugural award ceremony on our website and on YouTube. If you know a woman who is 35 or under and an emerging leader supporting women and girls in her community or around the world, Women of Peace Corps Legacy is looking for nominations for 2021 KRELA. Click here to find out how to nominate.

  • 28 Oct 2020 by Antoinette Tansley

    [Image description: Shelby with her husband and their two children out on a rainy day walk in Myanmar]

     

    This week we have the honor of hearing from Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and educator Shelby Tucker. Shelby served in Ukraine from 2009 to 2011 and is currently a 4th-grade homeroom teacher at Yangon International School (YIS) in Yangon, Myanmar. As a homeroom teacher, she teaches math, science, social studies and language arts. Shelby and her family moved to Yangon this year for her husband’s newest posting in U.S. Foreign Service. Together they have two young children, Maebel (4 years old) and Evan (7 months).

    Yangon International School is a small international school located in Myanmar's largest city with a student population that is predominantly Myanmarese. YIS uses a U.S. standards-based curriculum, and its students also take Myanmarese dance and language from a local teacher. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Shelby has not yet had the opportunity to teach her students in a traditional classroom setting.

     

    [image description: Shelby uses a platform called Seesaw to create and share activities for her students.  This is a screenshot of the page that students use to get to classes, know what the agenda is, and much more.]

     

    Teaching from home provides its challenges for educators, so we asked Shelby how she is navigating the difficulty of managing a work-life balance during a global pandemic. This is a question which Shelby says has continuously been on her mind. Shelby was hired to work at YIS in March 2020 when COVID-19 was only beginning to emerge in the United States. As international travel was shutting down, Shelby and her family were planning their move. Candidly, Shelby shares that finding a work-life balance during these difficult times is just not a reality. "I strive for it but haven't found it yet. Every week I make necessary tweaks to find a balance between the work I'm passionate about and my personal life, and while some weeks I get it right, others I don't".  Shelby believes that, while she cannot see her students in person, working from home has allowed her to form "different and more personal connections" with them. She is hopeful that "the awkward moments and insider view we are all getting into each other's lives will transfer into the classroom when we finally get to return."

     

    [Image description: Handwashing stations found at the entrance to the Yangon International School]

     

    When asked about how she feels returning to the classroom, Shelby stated that back in August, she was comfortable with the idea of going back to school because COVID-19 was well controlled in Myanmar at the time. When her family arrived in Yangon in July of this year, they underwent a 21-day strict quarantine in an apartment, receiving grocery deliveries every few days thanks to a kind neighbor. Shelby and her husband have been very impressed overall with Myanmar's handling of COVID-19 and noted that most community members wore masks, bus stops had sinks set up for frequent handwashing, and grocery stores provided hand sanitizer and performed temperature checks.  She feels community members are working together to protect one another. At school, YIS set up multiple handwashing stations at entrances, trained cleaning staff on how to properly sanitize frequently touched surfaces, and made further preparations for students' eventual return. While these factors helped her feel confident about returning to school, the chances of that occurring diminished as Myanmar's COVID-19 situation deteriorated between September and October.

    Although Shelby had been working from her classroom every day, after news of an outbreak in a nearby state prompted more precautions, it became increasingly apparent that the students would not be back on campus any time soon. By October, she knew they were in for the long haul. Townships and neighborhoods closed, and only one person per household is permitted to go to the grocery store. Shelby now teaches from the spare bedroom in her home while her son naps in the bedroom next door, and her daughter runs around the house playing, often prompting laughter from students when they hear one of them in the background.

     

     [Image description: A photo Shelby's husband took of her working in her home work space.  She has stacked two end tables to have a standing desk because she says it feels "weird" to sit and teach] 

     

    Shelby is taking the challenges of teaching in a pandemic day by day.  She expressed that YIS has done a great job of communicating with stakeholders and have determined that the best schedule is teaching a regular school day most of the week.  Shelby teaches mostly synchronous lessons, where she introduces the teaching plan via Zoom and then has students work independently while she checks in with them individually or in small groups.  They have been in school for about ten weeks now, and as new challenges arise, sometimes daily, she and the students work together to resolve them. Sometimes the challenge is technology related, but other times students simply need some time to talk and check in with each other. "The students have far fewer opportunities to be truly heard in the online environment, so I'm always looking for creative ways for them to express themselves and share their feelings with me and with each other. It has been rewarding to see how we've truly created a caring class community without having met each other in person. Just the other day we were all laughing about how it might be awkward when we finally get to meet in person. Some of my students think I'll look shorter in person than how I look on Zoom."

     

    [Image description: Shelby's students use the annotate feature on Zoom to write their names on the screen and tell her where they needed help in their writing class.]

     

    Shelby also team teaches with a colleague who is still in New Jersey waiting to get back to Myanmar.  They take extra time to reflect and ensure they consider the reality of the situation from all perspectives. They recognize that this is not easy for anyone and that it is especially demanding of their students who are only 9-years old. These young students must be more independent and accountable than has ever been expected of them. The task for parents is also great, as most did not experience the same style of education. Shelby is especially grateful for her wonderful Myanmarese assistant, who she feels has perhaps the most important task communicating with parents in the local language.

    Shelby expressed that Peace Corps made her more resilient and flexible and that it is an important part of who she is but that she also feels there isn't much that can prepare you for life during a pandemic. The challenges of living and working from home, not by choice but as a requirement, are numerous not just for her but also for her family. That being said, she is grateful for the relatively fortunate position her family is in. Her father originally inspired her to join Peace Corps as he is a career Navy doctor, and service to others has always been an important family value. She recalls him talking about Peace Corps early on in her life as it was something he wished he had done, so she knew it was something she wanted to consider. After college, uncertain about her desire to become a classroom teacher, she applied to Peace Corps. As chance would have it, she was assigned to the TEFL program as a schoolteacher. "I'm so glad I was as it reignited my passion for education, and it's also where I met my husband, also an RPCV. We're one of those Peace Corps couples who met during language training, and the rest is history."

     

    Thank you Shelby for all you do and for your wonderful contribution this week! If you know someone who an educator and you want to nominate them for this blog series email womenofpeacecorpslegacy@gmail.com!

  • 23 Sep 2020 by Antoinette Tansley

    [Image description: Monica smiles in front of a gate with the Peace Corps logo painted on it in Madagascar. She stands center between two fellow Peace Corps volunteers.]

     

    This Wednesday, as part of our Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW) series, we hear from Monica Dukes, a teacher in Washington, DC and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who served from 2012-2014 in Madagascar. With September marking the start of school for most Americans, we are beginning a new series to showcase the perspectives of those working in education in the time of Covid-19. We thank RPCV Monica for being gracious enough to share her unique perspective as an educator.

    Although Agribusiness was her primary project while serving in Madagascar, Monica volunteered teaching English at a nearby middle school as a secondary project. Despite having been encouraged to pursue a teaching career earlier in life, she had not thought it was the path for her. After being exposed to teaching in Madagascar, she realized that she enjoyed educating youths and explored different opportunities to live out her newfound passion. “I guess you could say that my passion for teaching was discovered through teaching English in Madagascar.”

    Monica has now been working as a Special Education Teacher since she began her teaching career. Currently, she teaches at a Title 1 school in the inner-city in Washington, D.C., having made a move this year to teaching students with Autism in a self-contained Kindergarten through Second Grade classroom.

    Managing her work-life balance has been a task that she approaches bravely, taking things "one day at a time." Monica stresses that organization is the key to navigating these challenging times. "As a teacher, you have to be very flexible," and Monica asserts that Covid-19 has been pushing "flexible" to otherworldly limits. On top of working as a teacher, Monica is embarking on her first semester as a graduate school student.

    [Image description: Monica holds up an enormous fish while smiling in front of a beautiful ocean backdrop in Madagascar.]

     

    When asked about her comfort level on returning to school, Monica explained that she does not feel comfortable going back to school until it is safe. She does not think it is fair that teachers have to choose between work and their families. Most businesses think the pandemic is dangerous enough for their employees to stay home. She questions why educators are not afforded the same respect.

    Returning to school would entail taking the metro, walking the streets, and of course, being inside the classroom with her students.  After being at school, the students would go back home to their families, ultimately creating a massive web of contact opportunities for students and teachers alike.  From Monica's point of view, going back into the classroom right now does not seem safe or equitable.  

    As an experienced educator, she believes most teachers would say that they are not happy staying home. "Distance learning is incredibly challenging as most platforms are constantly crashing since Internet connection is often unstable. There are always a million and one distractions going on in the background.  Every teacher in the world would prefer to be at school with their students. Every teacher wants and needs hugs! Every teacher loves using the classroom to be their most creative version of themselves. There are so many barriers that stand between us and our kids' learning, which is a challenge that we are fighting to overcome daily."

    [Image description: Monica stands (right) with a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer on a typical atypical day after their bus encountered a flooded road during cyclone season in Madagascar.]

     

    Fortunately for Monica, she sincerely feels her time with the Peace Corps helped prepare her for the challenges that she must face daily.  She recalls that they never had a stable Internet connection or a predictable day.  Being a Peace Corps volunteer helped her to become the flexible person she is today.  To get through the Peace Corps, she and fellow volunteers had to take it one day at a time because, in her experience, nothing ever went according to plan. Monica feels that her overall attitude has helped her stay "semi-sane" throughout the pandemic and believes she fully-developed that attitude with Peace Corps' assistance. 

     

     Thank you Monica for all you do! If you know someone who is teaching and you want to nominate them for this blog series email womenofpeacecorpslegacy@gmail.com!

     

  • 23 Aug 2020 by Katie McSheffrey

    Women of Peace Corps Legacy (WPCL) is pleased to feature Betty Currie as we highlight the extraordinary work of former Peace Corps Volunteers and staff. Betty, a founding member of WPCL, was at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” 57 years ago. We interviewed her about her experience at the march, as well as her time as a Peace Corps staff member.  

    Betty’s long career with Peace Corps began in 1969, after her job at USAID ended. She was initially recruited to work in the Africa Region as the secretary for the regional director. When the newly appointed Peace Corps Director, Joseph Blatchford, needed a secretary, Betty’s talents were already known at the agency. "The job was a crucial one. It had 10,000 people spread out over sixty-eight countries, and I needed a reliable, efficient person," Blatchford recalls. “I didn't ask if she was a Republican or Democrat. I wasn't interested because she was so good." Betty remained with Director Blatchford when he moved to ACTION, the federal agency that ran the Peace Corps, and she subsequently moved up to work for two other agency directors--Michael Balzano and Sam Brown. In 2006, she resumed her relationship with Peace Corps as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association. 

    Betty had met John Podesta, who also worked at ACTION, and in the early 1980’s he invited her to run the offices of the Mondale and Dukakis Presidential campaigns and to later join the Clinton campaign. After Clinton became president, Betty served as his personal secretary during both of his terms. Betty has remained involved in Democratic politics. An Obama supporter, she is close to the former president's mother-inlaw, and in a recent conversation told her friend that everyone Betty knew applauded Michelle's speech at the Democratic National Convention. 

    A summary of our interview with Betty follows. It has been edited for clarity and concision.  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    First, let's talk about your experiences at the March on Washington 57 years ago. How did you get involved in the march?

    I’d gone to work that day at the Post Office at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, professionally dressed, ready for a day of hard work, and when I got there, my supervisor said, “What are doing here?” I said, “I have my job to do.” And he said, “You need to join the march so others will get a job!” So, I put on my tennis shoes and quickly ran down Connecticut Avenue to join the thousands of people gathering on the Mall. 

    I found a place to sit under a tree between the stage and the end of reflection pool.  Others joined me, and I met and talked to strangers who I felt I had a connection with. Together we listened to the most wonderful music by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, singing “How I Got Over.” Joan Baez sang “We Shall Overcome,” and Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “If I had a hammer.” Then we quietly listened to the speeches that began under the statue of Abraham Lincoln.    

    What are the most memorable things that happened at the March? How would you describe the participants in the March?

    I remembering it being a joyful experience, fun even, full of people who were smiling and being kind to one another. The group was very diverse—there were people of all ages and races, gathered together in solidarity. Because it was a workday, people were dressed up in coats and ties and nice dresses. The atmosphere was peaceful, calm and friendly; I felt safe. It felt like a time of change, and we were all inspired about future possibilities. 

    The speakers, including Martin Luther King and John Lewis, gave rousing speeches, but we had no idea at the time that their words would go down in history. After hearing the “I Have a Dream” speech, I remember thinking, “Well, that was a pretty good speech.” He said we should not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. I thought that was very powerful.

    When it was over, thousands of people peacefully left the area and returned to work. 

    How would you compare this year's march with the one in 1963?

    Fifty-seven years ago, there was a lot of advance publicity about the march. I am not aware of that kind of publicity for today’s march. Ours was very organized with strong leadership, as one would expect with MLK’s people. And it wasn’t during a time of COVID, which will definitely affect turnout this week.  

    During the march, Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech calling for an end to racism.  How well do you feel America has achieved that dream?

    We still have a way to go. We were on a good path to racial equality, but we’ve strayed from it in recent years. I hope that we’re back on the path to progress. I feel hopeful.

    Now let's talk about your time with Peace Corps. What brought you to Peace Corps?

    Well, I would say it was the grace of God that brought me there.  I had worked for USAID and when that time was over, I was asked to interview with the head of the Africa Region of Peace Corps, Walter Carrington. I remember waiting for an interview when a young woman walked in and said, “We need to send this letter to Mauritius,” and I remember thinking, “Is there actually a country Mauritius?  Even so, I got the job!”

    I was lucky to attend a regional conference in Africa where I was asked to take notes.  I guess I did a good job because I was recommended to be the new Peace Corps Director Joseph Blatchford’s special assistant/secretary.  I remember after the interview I was told that if I got the job, I would have to either get rid of the afro or the pants suit—I couldn’t keep both. I chose to keep the pants suit.

    How did your time at Peace Corps affect your life?

    I learned that working in the Peace Corps office could bring great joy. Volunteers returned after two difficult years, full of happiness and hope for their future. It was as if they had gained the knowledge that you could be happy with very few creatures comforts and understood the oneness of mankind. They also came home with a deep appreciation for their life in America and the democracy they enjoyed in the U.S. Meeting them was truly inspirational.

    I remember one time when I was asked to host local Peace Corps staff who were visiting from Mauritius, and I was asked us to host them at our home for a real American meal and experience. “What am I going to do?” I thought because I wasn’t much of a cook. So, I called my daughter and told her to cook some spaghetti for our new guests that I would be bringing home.  It was quite evident that they couldn’t figure out what we were serving—I guess they’d never had spaghetti before—so we took them to a nearby restaurant that featured good old Southern cooking with ribs and collard greens, and they loved it! 

    You were at Peace Corps at a time when Nixon wanted to do away with it. What is your memory of that experience?

    It’s true—Nixon wanted to do away with Peace Corps. I remember that at one point some Volunteers took over the building in protest. I was on the frontlines when Peace Corps was folded into ACTION, something Director Blatchford reluctantly agreed to so that President Nixon would not dissolve the Peace Corps. I know that Blatchford is still criticized for that, but I thought it was a brilliant move because it kept Peace Corps alive.

    Finally, let's talk about the current Black Lives Matter movement. As you know, Black Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, a new group affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association, is actively involved in the August 28th march. What advice would you give to young people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement?

    First, let me say how much I appreciate the work of Women of Peace Corps Legacy.  Your support of women’s empowerment around the world is very admirable. 

    The Black Lives Matter movement is relatively new, and I wholeheartedly support their efforts. I would say to all young people—and to people of all ages: “Join them, support their efforts, and enjoy every minute!”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    To learn more about the March on Washington and the Black Returned Peace Corps Volunteer organization please visit the Black PCV in the DMV website: https://blackrpcvdmv.wixsite.com/website

     

    To watch a previous interview with Betty Currie, watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAcpoZEPJXs#action=share

     

  • 01 Jul 2020 by Alicia Barrera

    Women of Peace Corps Legacy is shining the spotlight on a true leader in our political process, China Dickerson!  

    China Dickerson, a Black, Christian, 36 year old woman from the Deep South; Charleston, SC to be exact, is a political strategist based in Washington, DC. She mostly works with women of color candidates and organizations that support such women.

    China, like many Black PCVs and PCVs of color,  had never heard of the Peace Corps until her National Government professor at Howard University suggested that she research the organization more and perhaps join. Since the second grade, she had aspired to be an attorney. In her junior year of college, she approached said professor for a recommendation for her law school application. He said no, explaining that the legal field was already so saturated and that she should consider diplomacy, a field that needed more Black woman representation. Her professor thought that the Peace Corps would give her a good sense of what it would be to represent and express America while living, experiencing, and becoming a part of a community overseas. 

    China with community members in her Peace Corps site in El Salvador

    China was hesitant at first because she had never traveled outside of the country. She also didn’t come from a culture that thought that international relations should be a priority for successful Black people. While international relations is important, she says “my culture believed that we had so much on the line at home, in America, that we should prioritize our work here.” While she tends to agree with that sentiment, she now understands that we can work on more than one thing at once stating that “Our freedoms and liberties in America can not be absolute if we don’t have global freedoms and liberties.”

    As a PCV in El Salvador, China worked in a very rural community with the mayor’s and other administrative offices. She mostly helped them to brainstorm, strategize, and bring resources to the community. Additionally, she organized and oversaw workshops given to women in regards to their civil rights and prevention of domestic violence; men on the topic of sexism; and youth regarding self-esteem, STD awareness, and sexual abuse. Her experience was very difficult, but she shared “that it was of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my entire life. I would do it again!”

    China in her Peace Corps site in El Salvador

    When China initially returned to the U.S., she was involved with RPCV/W in a leadership position. Since then she has maintained a network of friends that are also RPCVs that she stays in touch with. 

    How did China's experience as a PCV influence her career path and other volunteer/activist work?

    “Simply one influence, I knew that I wanted to be a public servant. Initially, I wanted to be an attorney that represented international corporations. My Peace Corps experience showed me that individuals and families need more help and advocacy and protection than multi-million or billion dollar corporations. While I believe that business is critical to our economy which impacts families, I also believe my first priority as a young graduate was to work to protect humans first.”

    This is an election year and due to the nature of China’s professional career, she has some advice for the RPCV community looking to be engaged in the democratic process:

    1. Run for OFFICE!!! And if you need help doing it, reach out to her!.

    2. DONATE MONEY to candidates you support. Even if it’s $5, nothing happens without money. Volunteering your time is great, but nothing shifts votes like paid advertisements. Also, candidates should pay their staff and not rely on volunteer help. Money helps, a lot!

    3. VOLUNTEER! You already know that that is important.

    4. Support candidates that are DIFFERENT than what you are used to. For too long, white, wealthy men have run our communities and country. Support candidates that are more reflective of the population. Our communities and country works best when we have people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs representing us.

    China is an inspiration!  Here is one final reflection that she shared on her Peace Corps experience: 

    “Peace Corps is difficult. It is probably the most difficult thing you will do in your entire life. However, if your heart is in helping people and making the world a better place, even if it is just to make one child’s day better, you should consider joining the Peace Corps. You will leave a better person; a person you didn’t know you could be.”

  • 30 Jun 2020 by Alicia Barrera

    For Pride Month this year, we would like to turn our attention to two amazing RPCV's, Roma Guy and Diane Jones, both recipients of the Women of Peace Corps Legacy's Diane Harding Award.  

    Roma Guy was born at the northern Maine & Canadian border in 1942. At that time in history Roma says that she was “born a criminal” because of her sexual identity as a lesbian. Over time, Roma learned to recognize these social identifiers, own them, and then eventually enjoy them in an historic personal and social struggle despite her confusion and fear at a younger age.

     Roma Guy, Peace Corps Volunteer, Cote d'Ivoire 

    In 1962 Roma joined the Peace Corps as part of the first group of volunteers invited to serve in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa.  Roma was was assigned to the town of Bondoukou, along an ancient trade route between Egypt, across the Sahara Desert ending at the Atlantic Ocean borders of the Gold Coast.  This group of Volunteers, with guidance and support from staff and the Ivory Coast health system, opened a community-based literacy and health education center for women. During her service she moved to a central region to Tiebissou Village. In her village she developed and expanded comprehensive health education and programs, such as digging water wells and creating village links to the nearest health care center on “market days” in the regions. 

    Roma shared the following on her time in the Peace Corps:

    “A life giving, deep core experience, personally and socially I absorbed history, cultural beliefs and what it takes to accomplish structural change especially related to who defines who we are, the focus needed over time including the importance of local and institutional leadership and consensus. I learned who I am during this tiny moment alive on the planet.”

    In 1967-68, Roma enrolled at Wayne State University in the MSW program, studying community organizing and urban planning. In 1967, she was an organizer in an all-Black elementary school in the middle of the Black community. Her colleagues included  a white principal, a diverse staff of teachers, and a superintendent who was a “cool-headed, rabid anti-union, anti-Communist overseer of the whole area.” Then it happened: July 23, 1967 Detroit exploded, Roma remembers it as a “Black Rebellion (a riot for some)…fight or flight?”  She needed to know how to move with the protest, the resistance, and the negative and positive consequences. This included harnessing what she called “the energy and focus of movement building to change the history of former slaves, Jim Crow, second-class citizens. I stood with the teachers, experienced the terror of policing, stayed on point bringing the social and educational needs of poorly resourced public schools.”

    Diane Jones, Peace Corps Volunteer, Togo, West Africa

    In 1972 Roma met Diane Jones, her life partner, who she married legally in 2008. The two met in Togo, West Africa when Roma was recruited by the Peace Corps to direct a training program. Since her return to the U.S. she has conducted and participated in training programs and evaluation for the Peace Corps.  She also worked on the opening of new sites in Africa for the Peace Corps in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Cameroon and Tanzania. On one of those training programs in Togo, West Africa, she met Diane. While the two fell in love, Roma says that she “was still in flight, a significant case of denial mode!” Through ups and downs, turmoil, love letters back and forth, they acknowledged their loving moments and enjoyed the fun and strength love brings home. 

    Roma’s story of activism in San Francisco was featured in the ABC miniseries “When we Rise”, directed by Lance Black, and released in 2017. 

    Diane was a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to support health clinics in her site in Togo. This is what spurred Diane’s lifelong career.  Today, Diane is an RN which she credits to her experience in Togo. She returned to the U.S. to attend midwifery school. 

    Both Diane and Roma went on to lead very rich careers in public health which was mostly impacted by the rise of HIV/AIDS.  Diane played a critical medical role in the start of the hospital-based, community-centered, and individual care known as the “SF Model”. Diane has been part and parcel of San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California team for 35 years. In addition to her work in San Francisco, Diane conducted several HIV trainings in Cote d’Ivoire between 2009 and 2010. Today, she and her team of infectious disease specialists have pivoted to apply their skills and values to Coronavirus pandemic.  In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic Diane and Roma were recently featured on KQED FM.  They were interviewed by Scott Shaeffer, which was aired on PBS in May 2020.  

    Diane leading HIV training in Côte d'Ivoire.

    Currently, Roma and Diane live in San Francisco with their extended family, including their three grandchildren.

    Even after a long, distinguished career, Roma says that her focus remains on “women, cis/trans rights, health rights for all, decarceration of San Francisco jails.” She is also very focused on “how the latest police murder of George Floyd has finally smashed shield and armor projecting fear and harmful values and practices in the name of policing for safety.”

     

    Roma and Diane on an early morning stroll in San Francisco

    Roma’s and Diane’s advice to the RPCV community:

    “Find your spot in the current movement for justice, Black Lives Matter at its core; commit to whatever place and ability you appreciate in yourself and be honest in your contribution. Grow beyond human fear, denial and flight by advocating for cultural and structural change based on practices of transparency and public accountability. Develop a baseline for equity---build and vote for equity of our taxation system so that we can invest with equity driven decarceration, housing, health care, real education for all our children and a safe climate change strategy for our children and grandchildren for at least 7 generations. VOTE! Locally, statewide, nationally and make voting safe and efficient for all. All our human rights and liberties are at stake."

    For Roma, her “honest contribution” is working towards defunding racist housing and education policies and increasing access to mental health and substance use services.  She is also engaged in breaking down the stigma of the poor and homelessness, all of which includes policing and incarceration. 

    Roma Guy soliciting signatures for a tax reform petition at the San Francisco Pride Parade in 2018

    In Roma’s words, “PRIDE HONORS AND REPRESENTS personal and social struggles for action, resting, listening and reflection, protest and persistent focusing.  Structural change takes consensus, usually first by a small group of people who are inspired and are willing to go for an imagined transformation by and for all of us. To change the rules of codifying our values, some of us must willingly account culturally and with leadership. That’s what our current Movement spurred by Black Lives Matter and the current COVID-19 pandemic teaches.”

  • 27 May 2020 by Alicia Barrera

     

     

    Meet Dawn Spellman, RPCV Zambia (2005-2008).  Dawn is a Program Manager in Public Health- Seattle and King County.  She has worked in the public health field for over 30 years. Most of that time has been in HIV/AIDS/STIs. In February of this year she was deployed to start working on the COVID-19 response with the Emergency Preparedness team.  

    On a daily basis she coordinates services in King County for those who are in isolation or quarantine at their home due to a positive Coronavirus test or as a contact of someone who tested positive. She and her team provide transportation, groceries, diapers, medical supplies, medicine and other things to help people stay safely in their home during this period. They also assist households with referrals if they have other needs such as rent, unemployment and medical assistance. Knowing this is not sustainable, they are currently exploring options with community partners to assist and delve deeper into long-term assistance.

    Her current position does not allow her to telecommute which means that she is in the office 6-7 days a week. Dawn feels like one of the lucky ones because she lives alone, so in this scenario she is able to get some human face-to-face contact. 

    When asked how her experience in the Peace Corps trained her to work in the response to Coronavirus at the local level, Dawn says, “I used to think I was very patient and during my Peace Corps experience, I discovered I wasn’t as patient as I thought. I learned a lot of new communication skills and most importantly I learned to manage my expectations. I realized I function well in situations with high chaos and I learned to make decisions in the moment quickly and with little information.”

    The response to the Coronavirus is dynamic and changing all the time. There are days where Dawn can leave one meeting with a plan of action and step into another meeting 10 minutes later and the entire plan has changed. She has  learned to roll with the changes and always—manage her expectations. Peace Corps service helped her identify and grow those skills. 

    Sustainability is also at the core of all that she does. As the response and recovery efforts continue, Dawn hopes to collaborate with others and the communities themselves for long-term solutions.  Dawn also sees lots of disparities in those that are directly impacted.  “Whether it is this virus, natural disasters, economic downturns, climate change....It is always the same vulnerable communities and populations that are impacted the most.  Fundamentally as human beings I keep wanting us to be better. My hope is that we have better systems, support and kindness going forward.” 

    Dawn’s advice to RPCVs looking to get involved in the relief efforts at a local level: “If you get involved in working this response, consider it a privilege. No matter what you are doing, it is changing lives for the better. We are in an emergency situation now where we are still trying to stop the bleeding. If you do work the response please always look for the future sustainability. There will be more disasters and difficulties and if we do good work now, that impact will be much less severe in the future.” #WashYourHands

  • 25 May 2020 by Alicia Barrera

    This year, for Memorial Day 2020, the Women of Peace Corps Legacy remembers those members of the U.S. Armed Services members that lost their lives during service to our country.  Women of Peace Corps Legacy would also like to honor those whose lives were lost while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers.  There are two very special women, Donna and Chelsea Mack, the mother and sister of a fallen Peace Corps Volunteer who have dedicated lots of time to honoring those lost Volunteers via the Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project.  

    Donna and Chelsea Mack in Washington, DC

    They were also inspired by the correspondence that Donna had had for many years with Alma Rolfs, the mother of Jeremy Rolfs. Jeremy was a PCV who died in Lesotho just before her son died in Niger. Donna’s letters to and from Alma had been a refuge in dark times. Someone at Peace Corps Headquarters had thought to give Donna Alma's address, and she will be forever grateful for that. 

     

    There is something unique about losing someone in the Peace Corps and Chelsea thought those of us who had experienced that loss might be uniquely positioned to understand and to comfort each other. There was no formal way of connecting those that were grieving to each other, so Chelsea and Donna began one.

    Jeremiah Building in Niger 1996

    Before they created the site in 2003 (6 years after Jeremiah’s death), Chelsea used to search for her brother on the internet and find nothing. Donna would tell her that she did the same thing. Chelsea imagined that other families might also be looking, and feel saddened when they found nothing. Now there is something to find, something that they have built gradually with the help of others. Families and friends of FPCVs share photos and memories. They leave comments and send emails to Chelsea and Donna and to each other. 

     

    Jeremiah, Donna, and Chelsea Mack

    Twenty-three years have passed since Jeremiah died, but they just received a new comment about him on fpcv.org a couple of weeks ago. It was such a nice surprise to hear a story that they'd never heard before, from someone they never would have heard from otherwise. Things like that happen somewhat regularly. Returned volunteers seem to visit the site as much as families do. Some of Chelsea’s favorite comments and emails have come from host country nationals, either just sharing a story or searching for the family of a fallen volunteer so they can tell them what an impact the volunteer had on their lives. Chelsea’s hope is that, by giving people a place (albeit only a virtual one at this point) to visit and to find community, some small need has been met. She knows the support that she has received from others in this community has lessened her burden, and she hopes that she has done a bit of the same for them.

     

    Chelsea and her mother have also spent some time with other families in-person at events in Washington D.C., traveled to nearby states to meet for lunch, and hosted visitors in Maine!

     Chelsea and Donna Mack at the U.S. Capitol Building

    Both Chelsea and her mother Donna have some words to share with those that are grieving the loss of a loved one:

    From Chelsea:

    “I think people need to be patient with themselves. Grief is like love; it is always with you. I used to wonder when it would get easier, but I haven't asked myself that question in a long time. I've learned that it just changes and evolves. I think it helps if you can find something to pour your grief into. The people I've come to know through this project do so in many different ways. Some continue the work of the volunteer they lost or support the community in which they served. Others work for change related to the safety of volunteers, raise money for scholarships, or tend memorial gardens. I think we are all striving to honor the service and sacrifice of the volunteer we loved and lost.”

     

    Chelsea and Jeremiah in Niger in 1996

    From Donna:

    “In the beginning, the biggest help for me was writing letters to Alma (mother of FPCV Jeremy Rolfs) and receiving her letters in return. We had never met and we live on opposite coasts, but we emptied our souls to each other in those letters. Later, the FPCV website led to correspondence with other parents. Now, we also have a Facebook page and have become Facebook friends with many other FPCV families. Some of us met in Washington D.C. at the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, but most of us never have. Somehow, though, it feels like we know each other. Some of them feel almost like family. We follow each other's lives, understanding the sorrow of birthdays and anniversaries (and every day in between) as well as the bittersweet nature of the joyous occasions. My advice to others would be to find people who understand you and help you to feel less alone. If we can be those people for you, please reach out.”

     

    We thank Chelsea and Donna Mack for their contribution to the legacy of the Peace Corps and for creating this beautiful community where families and friends of fallen Peace Corps Volunteers can pay tribute to those that lost their lives while serving others so far from home and in pursuit of peace.