Celebrating 50 years of Service Past, Present, and Future
Foreign Press Center,
U. S. Department of State,
March 1, 2011
3:00 p.m. EST
Moderator: We’re going to start this afternoon with a short video clip with some highlights of Peace Corps and the legacy and programs, and then brief remarks by our speakers, and then open it up to Q&A from you.
Ms. Price: Hi. I’m Allison Price. I’m the Communications Director for Peace Corps.
I’d first like to thank all of you for joining us today on our 50th Anniversary. It’s an honor to be here. We’d also like to thank our friends at the State Department for helping us coordinate this. We would love to have you at our offices, but they’re much different than this.
We’re going to give you a quick overview today of Peace Corps. I hope the video set the stage a little bit. Then I’m going to introduce two really distinguished returned Peace Corps volunteers, C.D. Glin and Carrie Hessler-Radelet who can talk about their experiences. Then the three of us are happy to answer whatever questions you guys might have about our operations today.
Today is our actual 50th birthday. On March 1, 1961 President Kennedy established the Peace Corps by Executive Order. The mission of the Peace Corps was to promote world peace and friendship. That mission remains true today, 50 years later.
The amazing thing about Peace Corps is just a few months after Kennedy did this, the first group of Americans departed for Ghana, and I want to do this correctly, Tanganyika — now Tanzania — and I probably did it incorrectly based on some smiles out there, but the first group of volunteers departed just a few months later.
To date over 200,000 Americans have served with Peace Corps in 139 countries. Today we have a little over 8,600 Americans serving in 77 countries around the world.
The times are a little different today than they were 50 years ago, and we’d be happy to talk about that. I don’t have to tell you, but there was no Internet, no cell phones, no frequent flyer miles. Volunteers went to their posts for two years and they had very little if no interaction with their friends, families, or volunteers also serving in that country.
Today it’s entirely different. Our volunteers today represent all 50 states. They represent the diversity of America. They have access to communications that I don’t think Shriver or Kennedy could possibly imagine. Our youngest volunteer is 21; our oldest volunteer is 86. The 86-year-old Skypes with her grandchildren in Florida, which I can’t believe, but she is a health educator in Morocco and she Skypes with her grandkids. Many of our volunteers blog; many of our volunteers talk regularly to their family and friends. This is a great part of Peace Corps today because it’s sharing the experiences abroad with more and more people here at home and around the world. It’s not just about the one volunteer experience. It’s about them sharing it not just with their local host community but also with many friends and family, whether they’re American or from another country living and working around the world.
About 50 percent of our volunteers are doing classroom exchanges with U.S. classrooms here in the United States. This is a huge educational opportunity for American schools to learn more from people on the ground living in these communities.
Peace Corps continues to capture the imagination of Americans. Last year we received over 13,000 applications for roughly 4,000 positions. We’re accepting about one in four applicants today.
The application process takes anywhere between nine or twelve months. It’s a quite lengthy application process but we think that’s the best way to meet and match the needs of the host communities with Americans who are going to fill those jobs.
I gave you a little bit of background on technology. I want to follow that up a little bit just because it’s so significant. Ninety percent of our volunteers have cell phones, yet around 50 percent of them have regular access to email. We constitute regular access about once a week. The majority of our volunteers are using SMS texting not only to stay in touch with people but also to create new projects in their communities — everything from health education to small income generation.
The video covered the three goals, but I’d like to remind you all of the three goals as part four mission to promote world peace and friendship. Our three goals were crafted by our founding architect, President Kennedy, and our first Director, Sargent Shriver, who sadly has missed our 50th Anniversary just by a few months. Our first Director passed away this past January.
The three goals of Peace Corps are one, to help the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women. Two, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served. And three, helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.
I want to clarify something on these three goals, although I think they’re pretty clear. We work with host countries to figure out how best to meet the goals of local communities. Peace Corps doesn’t ever just decide where we’re going to operate, we go where we’re invited and we work with the local communities to figure out what works best for them. We’re looking to create sustainable solutions at the community development level. This is really about a people to people exchange of ideas. This is about friendship, this is about service, and this is about volunteering.
Our volunteers are not government employees. They are volunteers.
All Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and they must be at least 18 years of age. There is no upper age limit to serve. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment. That 27 months, roughly three months of it is training in country where our volunteers learn the host country national language. In many of our countries that could be 13 or 14 languages. We’re training in 250 languages right now around the world.
After their three months of service [sic], most likely where they’re living with a host family and learning how to live in the same way as the communities where they’ll serve, they are assigned a host community in that country. In that host community they have a job and they have a partner. That partner is someone from the host community such as a teacher, a municipal worker, or someone who’s going to help them do their project. The great thing about this model is it’s really about transferring skills. It’s not just a volunteer coming in saying “hey, I’m going to teach you English and I’m going to leave two years from now.” This is about training teachers, this is about strengthening teachers who are already there, and this is about empowering communities.
With that, I hope that overview was good and I look forward to hearing your questions. I’d like to introduce our two speakers today.
Our first is Carrie Hessler-Radelet. Carrie is the Deputy Director of Peace Corps. She was sworn in for service just about six months ago, in June of 2010, I think I did the math right. She was nominated for this position by President Obama and she was subsequently confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. Our Deputy Director and Director are the only positions of Peace Corps that need to be Senate confirmed.
Hessler-Radelet and her husband Steve Radelet — she’s going to be embarrassed that I’m bringing up her husband, but I’m okay with it. They served together as a married couple. Roughly seven percent of our volunteers today are serving as married couples. We do place couples together in communities if that’s how they wish to serve. She taught high school in Western Samoa from 1981 to 1983, and she helped design a national public awareness campaign on disaster preparedness. Upon completing her service abroad she served as a public affairs specialist in our New England recruiting office from 1984 to 1986.
Today we have nine offices around the United States. Their jobs are to recruit the next generation of volunteers. It’s not just done out of Washington, D.C.
In addition to being expert in the field of public health, I like this fact the best, Hessler-Radelet has the distinction of being a four-generation Peace Corps family. Her aunt, in fact, was the 10,000th volunteer to serve in Peace Corps. She served in Turkey. Her grandmother served in Malaysia. Her nephew recently completed his service in Mozambique. I’m positive Carrie will tell you about this, but one of the fun things about Peace Corps is the idea of children carrying on the tradition of their parents or brothers or sisters or siblings. In the case of Jimmy Carter, it was in fact his mother who served. She served as a volunteer in India at the age of 68.
The second speaker we have today is C.D. Glin. He was a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in South Africa. He was part of the first group to enter into South Africa under the Clinton administration in the post-apartheid era. In November of 2009 he was appointed to a new position at Peace Corps. He’s the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. This is a newly established position that was created to develop and implement our agency’s policy and strategy for establishing and maintaining partnerships with other executive branch agencies such as State, Millennium Challenge Corporation, and USAID.
Our particular focus on partnering with these agencies is to really contribute to U.S. strategic efforts around the world in things like agriculture, food security, global health, global education, renewable energy, and the environment. So hopefully C.D. will talk about that as well.
I’ll let them both talk about their personal stories and then we can open it up for questions. I’d love to hear where you’re all from.
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s really lovely to be here.
As Allison said, my name is Carrier Hessler-Radelet. I served in Samoa and I’d like to share with you a little bit about my experience there.
As Allison told you already, I’m part of a four generation Peace Corps family, so I grew up knowing about Peace Corps. In fact I don’t actually think I had much choice in going into Peace Corps because my whole life had been so framed by my aunt’s and my grandparents’ volunteer experience. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer.
I served with my husband in the Pacific Island nation of Samoa from 1981 to 1983. I was sworn in by the Prime Minister of Western Samoa. At the time I remember him speaking very poignantly about his own Peace Corps experience. Peace Corps volunteers had served for a number of years in that country and he himself had been taught in high school by a Peace Corps volunteer who helped him prepare for his national exams and then apply for university in New Zealand. So he was a big fan of Peace Corps and continued to be a big fan of Peace Corps throughout my time there. I think this is consistent in many of the places where you’re from. You see that you have national leaders who have had significant interaction with Peace Corps volunteers over the years.
My own experience, I was a high school teacher. I taught English. I also taught history, geography, social studies, PE and music. So every subject. Between my husband and I, we taught every subject at this small rural school for girls. We had about 300 students in the school, about 50 students per class, so it was a very large class size. It was a wonderful experience. I was particularly thrilled to be teaching girls because I knew that that teaching girls means better lives for their children and for their families.
Of the 300 students that we had, only five even qualified for university entrance exams, so you can see that at that time in the early ‘80s in Samoa, which had no national university of its own, any student who was going to go to university had to travel internationally. So we followed a curriculum of New Zealand. We were teaching them in English to prepare for exams in New Zealand. Of the five, only one passed the university entrance exams. So 300 students, only 1 actually went on to university.
At first when I went there I found that very troubling, that we didn’t have more students going into university. But then I realized that perhaps part of our being there was really about fostering a belief in themselves, of teaching our girls that they had a better future, that they could own their own future, that they could dream of going to university, that they could dream of owning their own business, that they could dream of choosing their own partners in life, their marriage, identifying the number of children they wanted to have, and really being able to define their own future. I think, I believe that more than anything perhaps, apart from teaching them English and history and geography, that we also were able to impart to them a belief that they could dream and that they could achieve on their own.
I’m in touch with some of them still. One of them is a Mayor of a small town; another is the first female air traffic controller in Samoa; many of them own their own businesses; several are nurses and a couple of them are teachers. So I feel very proud for the very small part I played in their development.
Allison mentioned that following my Peace Corps experience I went on and I had a 25 year career in public health and remained in public health until [sic] I started with Peace Corps 25 years ago. My Peace Corps experience was also transformed, my career choice in public health was transformed by my Peace Corps experience. I’m going to just tell you a small story about my host family.
My mother, Losa, was 32 years. At the time I was a 26 year old, so there was six years difference in age. I had no children; she had eight children. Every single one of her children had been delivered on the home [sic] of her small frail, traditional house, delivered by a traditional birth attendant.
One day I was at home and I hear this crying, sobbing outside my door. I find Losa, who is weeping. I really thought perhaps someone had died in her family, but no, it was because she was pregnant once again, and she just could not believe that she was going to have to go through another pregnancy. Finances were very very tight for her family. She worked endless hours every day. She was a wonderful mother. She got up every morning at 4:30 in the morning to start the fire. She cooked food for her kids, ironed the children’s clothes, sent them off to school, went to the garden, worked in the farm and then sold the produce at the market, came home. Her life was tough. It was very tough. She couldn’t imagine how she’d have another child.
I had another Peace Corps friend who was working as a nutritionist at the university, and we were able to hook her up with some antenatal care, prenatal care, the first she’d ever had in her life. I went through that pregnancy with her. We would go every month for prenatal care. Eventually when it came time for her baby to be born, we went to the hospital and her baby was born in the hospital, and it was a good thing because she had a post-partum hemorrhage, and she surely would have died and that baby would have died if she had not been in the hospital. So it was because of that experience that I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to international development and specifically maternal and child health, and that really has been my career.
I’m thrilled to be back at Peace Corps. I’ve only been there for six months, but because it was so transformational not only in my life but the lives of my entire family, that I just consider it a huge honor.
Peace Corps is about building relationships around the world. It’s these one-on-one relationships that build into community relationships that build into national relationships that bring about world peace, which is our mission. So it’s a real honor and a privilege for me to be part of Peace Corps today.
C.D. Glin will come to the podium.
Mr. Glin: Thank you, Carrie. Thanks, Allison. Thank all of you for being here.
This is definitely a historic day for the Peace Corps and for me personally a historic time to be at the Peace Corps, to be at the Peace Corps during the presidency of Barack Obama for me is a true honor. But also I had the opportunity before to make history in a similar vein. I work at the Peace Corps in the United States for one great President, and I lived in South Africa during the time of another great President. I was, as Allison mentioned, was in the first Peace Corps group to go to a free South Africa. I applied in 1996 and went from 1997 to 1999. I can honestly say that Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to make history, but also gave me the opportunity to contribute. I really wanted to give of myself, if you will. My dad was in the military, a career public servant. We had lived all over the world. I knew sort of global options. I could look at the State Department, I could look at the military, but I had lived and worked overseas as an adolescent, and when I looked at my career choices I really wanted the opportunity to sort of be on the ground, to really work with people, to help them transform their lives, and the Peace Corps became the only real viable option for me to do that. The Peace Corps as an agency, by sending me to South Africa, gave me a really unique opportunity to make a contribution that has transformed — the word of the day, transformation — has transformed all that I’ve gone on to do since the Peace Corps.
It gave me a unique opportunity to sort of share my American experience, which is one of the things I think is very critical for everyone to sort of hold true, that America is truly represented through the Peace Corps. I was a young African American male in the United States, decided to join the Peace Corps. I was ecstatic when I got selected to go to South Africa. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
I did three months of training in a small location outside of Pretoria. I ended up getting posted in the north, in the former Transvaal, now called Limpopo Province. It was during those three months of learning Northern Sutu, the language I was going to speak; of learning the culture; learning the skills I would be using to work with schools in South Africa, with communities in South Africa. By the time my training was over, I was probably the happiest kid in town. I said hey, I’m going to my community, I’m going to live there, I’m going to work there for two years, my life had prepared me for this.
So the Peace Corps Land Cruiser pulls up. I put my luggage in. I’m going off to my village and I know, because I’ve been told, that they’re waiting for you. The community is really excited about you coming. They’re happy they’re getting an American Peace Corps volunteer who’s going to come live and work with them. Three hours later we’re pulling into the village and I see children everywhere. It was a festival. It was a durbar, it was a bazar. It was anything that you guys can imagine. In any language it was definitely, something was going on. The American was coming. The kids, they had on their majorette outfits and there were banners. We were the first Peace Corps group to be in this country. It was a new South Africa. It was America coming to support, to live with them, and they were sending C.D. Glin. I’m in the Land Cruiser, I see the kids, and it’s like American history where Paul Revere said, “The British are coming, the British are coming.” But they were saying, “The American is coming, the American is coming.” The kids are running alongside the Land Cruiser.
The Land Cruiser stops in front of the school. All of the people are just sort of smiles a mile wide. I jump out, the staff jumps out, and the people are still smiling, but they’re looking. They’re looking kind of curious. They’re looking at the land cruiser, and I’m outside the land cruiser. Then they look at me, and they look over me, and look around me, under me, through me if possible. And then the country director announced, “This is C.D. Glin, your American Peace Corps volunteer.” And I’m super excited. And I see all of these faces turn down. The smiles turn to frowns, to inquisitive looks as wondering. Then I heard a murmuring. “Oh, I thought we were going to get a real American.”
I was hurt. It was a traumatic experience. But I stood there and I had to make the choice at that moment in time. Was I going to be mad at the community because they didn’t recognize me as an American, or was I going to take this opportunity to transform the way they thought about my country, the way they thought about America. So just by showing up, by joining the Peace Corps, by getting in that land cruiser, by walking out, by being there to sort of tell the community I’m here to work with you, I knew for the next two years if I did nothing else, I was going to change the way that they felt about America, the way they thought about Americans. I didn’t have blonde hair, I didn’t have blue eyes, I wasn’t 6’5” tall. I was nothing that they had seen on — at that time the soap operas were Santa Barbara and Young and the Restless. None of that. But I knew that if I worked hard, if I let them know me, if I lived with them, if I stayed with them, if I ate their food, if I got a real cross-culture understanding, they would see more of America in me than they could have ever imagined.
That was the second time I got to make history. I got to change a whole community’s concept of what an American was just by showing up. I think that’s the real unique piece of what the Peace Corps brings. We bring people.
I can tell you every day as I traveled throughout South Africa and ended up working in international development as I traveled. What did you bring for us? What did you bring for us? You’re from America, what did you bring for us? My answer was well, America gave me to you. That’s all I’ve got. I’ve got my ingenuity, I have my ideas, I have some training. What can we do together? So the concept of people to people sharing, the concept of real citizen service became clear because they saw it wasn’t about the resources that I was going to bring and it wasn’t about what I was going to do for them, it became very clear of what are we going to do together. What are you going to do with us, not what are you going to do for us. That became clear to them.
Then they looked at volunteerism and service and community development in a whole new way, and this transformed the way we looked at schools and communities in South Africa. The schools were government entities. The communities weren’t involved in them. Our job was to make this linkage. Parents, let’s get involved in the schools. Let’s start a Parent Teachers Association. Let’s have events. Let’s really use the schools as community-mobilizing institutions. All of that was new and all of that was brought by an individual showing up, having an American experience, and sharing that with South Africans. All of a sudden I became the citizen ambassador for America.
But the beautiful thing is that Peace Corps service ends and you bring that back home. So now when people talk to me about Africa, they talk to me about emerging markets, about developing countries, I don’t talk about the stuff, I talk about the people. The things that I was able to do with people, through people, together with people, not necessarily for them. I think that’s the beautiful thing about the Peace Corps. It’s really about what we’re doing together. We’re linking people, ourselves and others. We’re figuring out what we can do and we’re letting sort of volunteerism and citizen service and being a citizen ambassador lead the way.
With that, I wanted to say thank you again for being here on our birthday. This is a historic time, and we’re glad that the world continues to look to Peace Corps to offer models of volunteerism and service to your countries. Thank you.
Media: My name is John Lyndon from [Telanadam], the Pan-African Magazine based in Paris.
I have a question for C.D.. I like the story. I just want to know the end of the story. After the service —
Mr. Glin: She pulled me off the stage.
Media: They thought that you were not a real American, but after two years, what was the end of the story?
Mr. Glin: The beginning of the story was them really seeing what America was — the diversity of America, that America wasn’t what they saw on TV, what they had heard. You know these rural communities. Some people only know what they’ve seen and heard one time.
So the end of the story was that after two years the next person who came to my community also wasn’t blond, blue, six feet tall. She was an Asian-American woman whose parents were originally from the Philippines. As soon as she walked into the community, no one questioned whether or not she was an American. They just said oh, our American is here, because immediately they had two years of living and working with me, they had a new opening. It was something they had never even conceptualized. Something different. But had I not shown up, who knows if that thought would have ever crossed their minds? That’s what Peace Corps does. It gives you the opportunity to showcase American individual. One person, one project, one community at a time.
Media: My name is Aaron O’Chieng from Nation Media in Kenya, Nairobi.
I wanted to know tangibly what to say for the 50 years that you’ve been existing, what have you achieved in Africa? And maybe more importantly, to a place like East Africa where you’ve been, like you said, you started in Tanganyika. What would you say you’ve achieved so far?
And when you get to the ground, which organizations do you work with? Who do you target? Do you work with government, NGOs or the community?
Ms. Price: I would invite both of our guests to answer that.
Kenya is an exceptional program for us. Thirty-five percent of our volunteers around the world serve in the sector of education. That doesn’t mean they’re teaching students necessarily, it means that they’re teaching. They’re maybe teaching teachers, they may be teaching students, they’re trying to figure out ways to help the teacher shortage that is a problem around this world.
In Kenya we have a very special program for special education and for deaf students. We are recruiting volunteers who have experience in sign language and we’re addressing a need that the Kenyans have identified to teach deaf students. I’d have to get the official numbers for you, but we have a handful of volunteers who are working in special schools with students who did not have teachers who were familiar with sign language. For us, it’s a very special program.
In terms of the 50 years, obviously President Kennedy challenged Americans would they serve in Ghana? It was an impromptu comment he gave at a campaign speech in Michigan. About nine months later the first volunteers went to Ghana. Ghana and Tanzania were our first countries. Since then, right now I believe we’re in 27 countries across Africa.
I don’t want to say what we’ve done for the whole continent, because I do believe each program is different. Some of our programs are education, some of them are health, some of them are environment, some of them are business development.
For example, we just reopened three programs in post-conflict countries. We’re in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda now. And the programs we’re doing there were identified by those local host communities and the local government. So the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Health says we want to work with volunteer again. We had happened to be in all three of those countries before, before the programs were temporarily shut down. We work with them on identifying what those needs are. We never send volunteers straight to a place, any place, but we would never send volunteers to a country and say this is what they’re going to do without working hand-in-hand with the local ministries to figure out what those jobs are.
Both of you were recently in Africa, so if you could talk about what volunteers are currently doing, that would be great.
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: One other thing about Kenya, Allison talked about our innovative deaf education program in Kenya. One of the real I think accomplishments of that program is that Peace Corps volunteers developed learning materials for deaf students about HIV/AIDS. So Peace Corps volunteers and their Kenyan counterparts were the first people to actually talk to people who were deaf about HIV. Prior to that time people who were deaf had no way of learning about HIV, the basics of transmission, how it could be prevented, how it can be treated, the fact that it is not easily transmitted, trying to reduced stigma. So that is itself I think a very powerful contribution to the government of Kenya and the Kenyan people, especially those who are deaf.
We’ve been in Africa, as Allison said, from the very beginning. One thing about Peace Corps is that Peace Corps, often the impact of Peace Corps, our legacy, is hard to evaluate and sometimes it takes decades even to really be able to monitor or evaluate the impact.
I mentioned earlier my Prime Minister of Samoa when he swore us in. I just recently returned from both Sierra Leone and Liberia, and in both cases I met with the Vice Presidents of those countries who spoke very poignantly about their own Peace Corps teachers and how those people have been long-time friends of theirs, and how Peace Corps volunteers really actively not only helped them pass their national exams but then get into university and then pursue graduate work, and then ultimately return to their own countries after their lengthy civil war. These were lifelong friendships that were developed by Peace Corps volunteers.
There are other stories. There are millions, I think, of people in Africa whose lives have been affected by Peace Corps. Just imagine, there have been 200,000 return volunteers. Many of those were teachers, perhaps had as many as 100 or 200 students, literally millions of people have been touched by Peace Corps volunteers.
Some of it’s hard to be able to document. For example, how do you monitor the impact of a malaria bed net campaign? You use that malaria incidents are declining, but how do you know what the true impact of that is? Maybe one of these children who lived as a result of having a bed net, who then goes on and becomes a grade school teacher and teaches the next generation of students in their village. Or it may be a nurse who immunizes children and saves their lives. So often the impact is difficult to monitor over time.
Media: My name is Williams Ekanem. I write for Business World newspaper in Nigeria.
Superficially I want to know, you are in 27 countries in Africa. Is Nigeria one of them? What specifically are you doing in Nigeria? One.
Two, how about the downside of your activities? Say maybe you’re in a country and there’s a political crisis and all that. How do you respond, and have you lost anybody so far in 50 years?
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: Could you repeat that last question? I’m sorry.
Media: Looking at the downside of your activities. I’m asking maybe if your members get caught up in a political crisis. Have you in the 50 years recorded any loss of any member?
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: Let me answer that one first. We have lost Peace Corps volunteers. I don’t think that we’ve lost many due to political instability. But volunteers are in remote communities and often far from medical care. Automobile accidents or other kinds of transportation accidents actually claim the most lives. Some volunteers become sick. So we have lost more than 200 volunteers over 50 years. They gave their life for the cause of peace. They are real heroes.
In terms of Nigeria, we have left Nigeria. We were in Nigeria. It’s one of our very first countries. We’ve had over 2,000 volunteers during that time.
I just came from the World Bank, that’s where I was speaking just a few moments ago. Dr. Ngozi, who used to be your Finance Minister, spoke, very poignantly about the impact of Peace Corps on her life. I would like to relay her story quickly.
She was always a very good student, as you can imagine. She was a voracious reader. She loved to read. And she I think grew up in Lagos, but would every summer go back to her village. That’s the custom there, that you go back to your family so you don’t forget your roots. She went back to her family compound, her community, when she was about ten years old and she brought a whole box of books to kind of occupy her during her three month stay there, but she found to her dismay that after about a month she had read all her books. But she heard that there was a new person in town, an American, and so she went up to the school where the American teacher was. This was I think 1964. I could be incorrect about that, but it was in the early days of Peace Corps. It was the first Peace Corps volunteer she had ever met. She met this American who was teaching in a school and had access to the school library, and in fact had brought books to the library. She introduced herself. She was ten years old. And the teacher said yeah, come on into my library and choose a book. So she chose the Bobbsey Twins, which may not mean too much for you, but it’s a book that I grew up reading. It’s a very typical story of American twins. She became hooked on the Bobbsey Twins, so she became a long-time fan of Bobbsey Twins. But she just now — Then she went on to say what an impact Peace Corps volunteers have had in her own country and how much the educational system has been changed by people who are teachers.
Media: Frederick Nnoma-Addison, AMIP News.
Americans are very often criticized for not being very much aware about international cultures, international people groups. Two hundred thousand volunteers to 139 countries is a lot of experience. Now once your volunteers return is there a mechanism to tap this good experience and integrate it into the society?
Mr. Glin: That’s a fantastic question. The baseball analogy, the softball question. That’s our third goal. The third goal of Peace Corps is to become that ambassador from the nation where you served as a volunteer to, to coin a phrase, to bring the world that you’ve experienced in those two years back here to America. That was one of the things that President Kennedy envisioned. That these individuals who have gone over, that they would come back and enrich America through that experience. So we have a whole office that’s dedicated to returned volunteer services to help them start, whether it’s community projects, reach out to schools, to speak within community organizations. A number of host activities throughout the nation that we engage former volunteers in to share their story, to represent the communities, to embrace the diaspora of the nations in which they’ve been in. They also create what’s called “Friends Of” groups. For instance, all the volunteers that are from South Africa, that are from Samoa, they have the option to sort of join a “Friends Of” group. A group of Americans from all 50 states who have been Peace Corps volunteers in South Africa, we sort of have an organization to talk about the positive things we learned from South Africa, and to share that in schools, in churches, in communities, so that we are trying to enrich America as we were enriched by being overseas.
Ms. Price: It’s a really good question and it’s something that we definitely wrestle with because there are 200,000 Americans. Where are they? What did they do? How do you measure that? How do you prove what they do together? I think every volunteer, obviously there are two amazing volunteers here who pursued a life in public service after their experience overseas. But I think there are many Americans that people just are surprised to find out are volunteers.
For example growing up I had a teacher who was a volunteer in the Philippines. I’ve never been to the Philippines. I don’t know anything about the Philippines, but I knew that several days a month she would come in and wear the clothes and cook the food. That’s happening every day. If she’s a teacher for 40 years after serving, how many students are there like me who shared in her experience?
There’s that every day, but there are also business leaders, media leaders, politicians here in town. We have four Members of Congress who served as returned Peace Corps volunteers. The former Governor of Wisconsin was a returned Peace Corps volunteer. The lieutenant governor of California was a returned Peace Corps volunteer. Heads of major corporations are returned Peace Corps volunteers.
The thing about the Peace Corps experience, from my perspective, is that if the Deputy Director meets a volunteer, there’s like this undefined language that they speak to each other. If she goes to a meeting with USAID in whatever country we’re meeting in, if half that room of staffers are former Peace Corps volunteers, they’re already speaking a common language with each other. It just is a force multiplier effect that we’ll never be able to quantify, but we hear about it every day. So we all smiled so much when you asked that question. It’s something we think about all the time, it’s just very very difficult to give you a distinct answer.
Of those 200,000, all 200,000 are amazing. I don’t know what to say on how to explain that, but that’s our experience.
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: Quite often they do join USAID and the State Department. I would ask you on the way out, Secretary Clinton made a statement about the 50th Anniversary this afternoon, and we have copies of that on the way out. In that she mentions the fact that of course we’re very fortunate in the State Department and USAID that we have a lot of returned Peace Corps volunteers and that they inform our decision-making and policy-making which is just an invaluable resource for us as well.
Media: My name is Naoufal Enhari, I’m with Morocco’s News Agency.
My question is of course regarding Morocco. How would you describe the overall experience of the Peace Corps in Morocco? And given that Morocco is one of the few Muslin and Arab countries that the Peace Corps is present in. And given the tradition and history of Morocco as a land where a lot of religions have coexisted, how do you see that Peace Corps volunteers could learn from that experience in Morocco and bring it back here to the U.S., especially in the global situation that we’re living right now.
Ms. Price: I’ll kick it off, then get the perspective from these two.
I think it surprises people, Morocco is one of our largest posts. Last year it was our second largest. I’d have to look at the number, but it would definitely be in our top five. There are over 200 Americans serving in Morocco today.
In terms of the region, the only other country we’re in is in Jordan. But we’re in 19 predominantly Muslim countries. Over 44,000 Americans to date have served in predominantly Muslim countries. We were so happy about President Obama’s speech in Cairo, June of 2009, because Peace Corps’ been doing that for 50 years. We’ve been in Iran, we’ve been in Afghanistan, we’ve been in Tunisia, we’ve been in a lot of countries where we’re not there today, but where the people who served in those countries are back. As these two have been saying, they’re informal ambassadors for those countries.
For example, the highest ranking returned Peace Corps volunteer official in the U.S. government was Donna Shalala. She is a Lebanese-American. She served in Iran. She’s often talking about her experiences in Iran, and then she gets to the top of the U.S. government talking about that experience. From our perspective, that’s a great way of educating cross-cultural differences across communities.
I can give you more data if you need, but it is 19 predominantly Muslim countries, over 44,000 Americans. Today just shy of 2,000 Americans. I think it’s about 1,800 Americans. With staff, it’s about 1,900 are serving in predominantly Muslim countries.
In terms of Morocco, it’s a really interesting program for us. Our volunteers, of course, are involved in education but many are involved in small business development. Many, many of our volunteers there are working with women’s cooperatives in rural communities, whether it’s through pottery, tapestry. You know Morocco far better than I do. But you put a 25, 30, 45, 55 year old American there who really just wants them to expand their ability to bring income into their communities, they’re helping them market.
The Moroccan communities we’re working with don’t need anyone to tell them how to make art, but they’re experiencing success by working with our volunteers to bring that art or to bring those products to more people. I think that’s a really successful example of programs.
In Jordan we’re working more on education and English. I think Carrie just got back from Jordan and probably would like to offer her own perspective.
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: I could offer a perspective on Jordan. In follow-up to your question about Morocco, Peace Corps is one of the three featured programs at the Folk Life Center this June and July, the last week of June and the first week of July, sponsored by the Smithsonian. It’s going to be on the Mall. It brings in 1.5 to 2 million people a year. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase the work that we’ve done internationally. And there is an exhibit there on Morocco and some of our small enterprise development activities including, I believe, bringing some host country nationals, some Moroccan individuals who have been counterparts to American Peace Corps volunteers. So I really encourage you to take a look at the Folk Life Festival and to meet our Moroccan counterparts and our volunteer who served in Morocco.
Media: When is it?
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: It’s the last week of June and the first week of July, on the National Mall. The very last week of June. It’s a huge Smithsonian-sponsored event.
Media: My name is Nicolae Melinescu, I’m from Romanian Television.
Congratulations on your jubilee, and I hope you’ll enjoy more success in the coming years.
My question refers obviously to Romania. Your volunteers have been there in the early ‘90s. They still are. I was wondering what was the reception they received and they are receiving from the government, from the local communities where they work, and from the NGOs which somehow are on the same wave length with your volunteers? Thank you very much.
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: I’ll take a start at it. I’ve been to Romania a number of times, mostly in my previous lifetime as a public health professional. I helped your country develop its first national HIV/AIDS program, so I have many fond memories of Romania.
Peace Corps volunteers have been working in Romania for 20 years. I believe we’re celebrating our 20th Anniversary in Romania. It’s one of our most wonderful programs, I have to say. We have many volunteers who have returned from Romania and have continued to pursue active business, educational links with their Romanian counterparts. It’s really helped create a longstanding good relationship between the people of the United States and the government of Romania.
The government of Romania has been very very supportive of Peace Corps activities, and we’ve also been very supported by the U.S. government, U.S. embassy, and USAID in Romania. It’s been a very strong program for us.
Media: Thank you. Frederick Nnoma-Addison again.
What continues to be the predominant motivation factor for Americans serving overseas, considering the relatively comfortable life here? Why do they leave to go to remote parts of the world?
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: We all can talk about that.
Mr. Glin: You have some great questions. The majority of the individuals, who go, about 85 percent, are recent college grads. You’re looking at 21 to 25 year olds. I think during that time in their lives they’re looking at where can they make the greatest contribution, where can they really give of themselves. It’s a time in their lives where they sort of are searching for value, but also opportunity to make a contribution. I think the comfort that we experience here in the U.S., the comfort comes with some discomfort. Our mortgages, being dragged around with your kids and things like that. You’re 21 years old. You can go to a new country. You can learn a language that you’ve never learned. You can have the “adventure” of seeking out sort of an opportunity to make a difference. The benefits of really understanding another culture, another language, another community, and bringing that back to the U.S.
When I was a Peace Corps recruiter I used to talk to talk to individuals and they sort of would say, and I would say to them, if you come back from the Peace Corps, right now you have a lot of choices, a comfortable life here in the U.S.. You go overseas for two years, you learn a new language, you learn a new culture, you give of yourself for those two years. What are you going to face here in America that you’re not going to be able to overcome? What job interview are you going to sit down and they say tell me about how you face adversity, tell me something interesting that happened to you. Immediately it’s the gold standard for interview/resume questions. You’ve done something that most Americans haven’t gotten out of their comfort zone.
The Peace Corps is not for everyone, we say that very clearly. But for the individuals that join, we can say that the vast majority of that 200,000, they are rock stars, they are super stars because they had options and they decided to take the path less chosen. I think that’s the kind of people that are attracted to living and working in countries such as yours.
Ms. Price: I think what we hear the most from our volunteers when we visit them in the field is that, actually all volunteers, but as C.D. said, the average age is 28. Eighty-five percent are under the age of 30. But constantly, if you’re a 25 year old from, pick a city, let’s say Boston, and you’re living in, pick a country, let’s say Zambia. For no reason, I picked Zambia. It takes a lot for that American to explain that they chose to be there, that they want to be there. The people in the community may or may not have preconceived notions about what American life is like, based on maybe something from TV or something they’ve heard or clothes, whatever the culture that we’ve exported. Whatever it is. And I think part of the Peace Corps is that that make-believe 25 year old from Boston I just made up, explaining that they want to be there. That it’s an honor for them to be there. That they are so proud they’re there representing their town from Boston in this town in Zambia, that they never knew that that’s where their life would send them, but they’re just so proud of the experience.
I think the differences in the standard of living aren’t the driving factor here. I think it’s really interesting, for me, I’m really proud of hearing the stories about Americans who explain that in these countries — whether it’s Romania, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, wherever they’ve been, those differences and that choice. They chose to be there. They chose to get to know these people. They chose to have a new family in Romania. They chose to have a new family in Ghana. That was their choice. It wasn’t about not having a car or not having the iPhone or whatever it is, although I’m finding out that a lot of volunteers do have iPhones. But does that make sense? It’s just turning the world around.
Media: I’m from Ukrainian National News Agency.
I want to talk three questions. The first, how the Peace Corps defines the number of volunteers for each country. In this context how you can explain this quite deep number of volunteers in Ukraine in comparison from for the region. Also do you have some statistic about, or some results about 20 years of work in some country, about success, about what you could say about it.
Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet: Thank you very much for that question.
Ukraine is currently our largest program in the world. Why is it our largest program? Eastern Europe has always been important to us, ever since we entered there 20-some years ago. Ukraine has been a program where we’ve had really wonderful relationships with the government. They have always invited us to have more and more volunteers. They’ve been able to support that many volunteers. Most of our volunteers, or many of our volunteers in Ukraine are teaching English. They have a very large education program. They’re also involved in HIV/AIDS work, youth development, and many other areas as well as secondary projects.
We actually consider, in fact we’ve just started a new process as part of our new 50th Anniversary strategy, to look at our placement of our volunteers across the world in a much more strategic way. We now have six major indicators that help us guide where we’re going to place volunteers. These are indicators based first on safety and security, but then also looking at need, looking at country ownership and country interest, and Ukraine scores very highly on that.
Looking at perceptions of Americans and how important it is in terms of goals two and three, creating relationships between the United States and that country.
Transcription and Video Courtesy of the U. S. Department of State