Your hosts – National Peace Corps Association, Peace Corps, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Los Angeles
‘Bringing the World Back Home’, Peace Corps’ 3rd Goal, is just what occurred on Saturday, September 29th, in Pasadena. Approximately 150 friends of the Peace Corps met on the campus of Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, including potential applicants, local educators, and the general public.
Since President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961, 200,000 idealistic Americans have brought his vision to life, fostering world development and peace, creating opportunities for growth, empowering change, and conveying hope. Many adults nowadays are surprised to learn that Peace Corps continues to thrive, improving the quality of life for thousands annually.
Throughout the sunny afternoon Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) representing 51 years of service in 63 countries shared their adventure stories. The patio was covered with colorful ‘Around The World’ display tables full of ‘Show & Tell’ items: from treasured memorabilia, cloth to currency, maps and hats, handicrafts, photographs of families, project items, and lots of scenery pictures.
In preparation for Peace Corps 50th Anniversary last year (in 2011), the Agency reported in the Fall 2010 issue of WorldView a new strategy to guide Peace Corps’ future. The regional Expos were in response ‘to better engage the American public to fulfill our third goal’ … ‘by strategically partnering with non-profits, schools, businesses, universities and RPCV groups to promote global citizenship and volunteer opportunities as a way to ‘continue the service’’. (Page #55)
Nine successful Expos were held in 2011. Last February, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Los Angeles (RPCVLA) group was asked to provide the on-site leadership to host an Expo in L.A.
Washington DC Peace Corps and NPCA staff guided three dedicated RPCVLA Board volunteers (Lindy Lindeman, Michaela Brehm, & Michael Bandiera) with bi-monthly conference calls to organize this Peace Corps extravaganza.
Words of welcome were given to a full house by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, Kevin Quigley, NPCA President, Janet Allen, Regional Manager of the new West Coast Peace Corps office, and Kathy Nesteby, RPCVLA group President.
During the afternoon, the agenda included three panel discussions:
- Engaging RPCVs in Communities and Classrooms was facilitated by Anne Baker, VP, NPCA with panelists Rachel Simidian-Nichols (former RPCV-LA President) speaking on her early fascination with curriculum design in Guatemala which led to her current position of Instructional Specialist; Jocelyn Sarmiento from Peace Corps Washington DC introduced the numerous tools and classroom curriculum to build cross-cultural understanding produced by Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services; and Sharyn Moore, Assistant Academic ESL Director, addressed language learning.
- Interpreting Your Cultural Experiences: Bringing Your ‘Stuff’ Back Home panelists discussed various methods for sharing cultures with different audiences. Ginny Atherton, an Orchestra Teacher with LAUSD, brought her students to perform. Valerie Lezin, Founder & Director of Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum, described successes guiding students to explore new customs and lifestyles using tangible objects (she’s accumulated over 2,000) in the comforts of their school. Francine Youngner has collected clothing and dolls to interpret her travels across Asia and Africa. Michaela Brehm, Grants Manager with Goodwill, facilitated the discussions.
- Shaping Lives & Careers session was an opportunity to network and find inspiration. Panelists all spoke about how their Peace Corps experience motivated their career path, moderated by Lindy Lindeman, who began her 14-year YMCA career in Costa Rica. Elaine Waldman opened with an introduction to her advocacy for social justice, a result of the turmoil in Cote d’Ivoire, and her continued work in public health and HIV/AIDs, now with LA Country’s Acute Communicable Disease Control Program. RN Shirley Bayhem-Hicks is a nursing instructor, often in Spanish, at Cochise Community College, AZ. Jeff Schaffer has been passionate about affordable housing since Micronesia. He’s involved now with Enterprise Community Partners’ mission to transform and revitalize communities, engaging national and local collaborative organizations. Andrew Motiwalla, founder and CEO of Terra Education, having begun his social entrepreneurship in Honduras, has developed a network of 2,500 volunteers in 14 countries to support his mission to ‘promote global education through service-learning’. (For information on NPCA’s Next Step Program to travel with other RPCVs please visit www.travel.peacecorpsconnect.org)
The afternoon was filled with exciting conversations between RPCVs, who often have an instant connection after working in a new language and living within a new culture. There is a sense of accomplishment, due in part to one’s initiatives, flexibility and adaptability, respect for others, and altruism, which creates an invisible bond. Of course, there were also stories of weird tropical diseases, unusual delicacies, bathing toilet environments, language frustrations and embarrassing errors, and general homesickness. Where else can you admit to still shaking out your bath towel, even after 30 years, or waiting to see if anything moves in the flour or cereal before proceeding? The influence and effect of those 2-3 Peace Corps years lasts a lifetime, as witnessed by the passionate spark stimulated during LA’s Regional Expo.
LA Expo On-Site Coordinator
Costa Rica 1977-1980