Blog

  • 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 is 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.