Reinvigorating Peace Corps

Sprin 2009 cover

The Winter 2009/2010 WorldView Magazine — a quarterly publication of the National Peace Corps Association — came in the mail recently, and explores questions of how to reinvigorate Peace Corps to fulfill its potential.

The issue features results of a survey of 4,500+ Peace Corps community members: applicants, current Volunteers, and Returned Volunteers; how Peace Corps might focus on “strategic” countries and partner with other organizations; how Peace Corps might strengthen the Peace Corps Fellows USA program (in which partner universities offer funding, field experiences, and special consideration for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers); how Peace Corps can better fulfill its third goal of educating people in the United States about the wider world.

A couple articles to highlight:

• An interview with Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams:

Erica Burman, National Peace Corps Association’s communications director, interviewed new Peace Corps Director, and Continue reading

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Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco Passes Away After an Illness

Peace Corps suffers the loss of a vibrant Volunteer So-Youn Kim.

This week, Peace Corps announced the death of a young Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Morocco.

The 23-year-old So-Youn Kim — a 2007 Stanford grad — passed away Monday, November 16th, after an illness. The announcement from Peace Corps doesn’t specify the illness, and says the exact cause of death is unknown. She was about half-way through her term of service as a youth development worker in Tamegroute, a small village within the Zagora province of Morocco.

This Saturday, the Peace Corps community in Morocco will hold a memorial service for the young Volunteer.

From the blog of fellow Peace Corps Morocco Volunteer Joy:

Monday night, I received shocking news that So-Youn Kim, a YD volunteer who arrived with my staaj (training group), passed away unexpectedly. I only briefly knew her. She had a fiery spirit, that was both polarizing and admirable. This past month, she organized two well-received pottery workshops. My heart ached not being able to attend. My heart aches for her passing, her community (both in Morocco, Peace Corps and the States) and her family.

And from fellow Peace Corps Morocco Volunteer “oclynn”:

I just received very disturbing news from Peace Corps in Rabat. So-Youn Kim, the YD PCV who put Continue reading

Peace Corps Community Resources: An interview with Erica Burman and Molly Mattessich of the National Peace Corps Association

Molly Mattessich

Molly Mattessich

The New Service podcast from Idealist.org features the national group of Peace Corps alumni. Listen here.

As Peace Corps nears it’s 50th Anniversary in 2011, applications are on the rise, fewer Volunteer positions are getting funded, the Senate just confirmed a new agency director, and the number of Peace Corps  alumni is nearing 200,000.

Helping connect the dots among the agency’s fiscal needs, and Volunteers past, present, and future is the National Peace Corps Association—the independent organization of former Peace Corps Volunteers, known as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers or RPCVs.

The National Peace Corps Association offers the Peace Corps community tools and resources to stay informed and engaged, and advocates for Peace Corps funding and support.

Today’s guests are Erica Burman and Molly Mattessich of the National Peace Corps Association. Erica Burman is the Director of Communications at NPCA, and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in The Gambia in the late 80s. Molly Mattessich manages the Africa Rural Connect project at NPCA, as well as the Peace Corps Connect online social network. Molly served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali from 2002-2004.

I talked with Erica and Molly about NPCA’s initiatives like the More Peace Corps Campaign, Africa Rural Connect, the RPCV Mentoring Program, and Global Teachnet.

We also talked about the new online social network for the Peace Corps community Peace Corps Connected, the Peace Corps Polyglot blog, and World View magazine.

Finally, we discussed the new Peace Corps director — and departing NPCA board member — Aaron Williams, and how online communication tools are changing the Volunteer experience.

New Director Aaron Williams Posts Video Greeting to Peace Corps Community

The newly sworn-in director of Peace Corps — RPCV Aaron Williams — issued this message on Youtube (transcript below):

Transcript:

This morning I was sworn in as the 18th Director of the Peace Corps. While preparing for this day, I decided that the first thing I wanted to do was to take a moment to introduce myself to the Peace Corps community and thank you for everything you have done and continue to do.

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, this is quite an emotional moment. When I was in that small town in the Dominican Republic, I was consumed by the same daily thoughts: How was I going to master another language? What did it mean to be a 20 year old, training rural school teachers, many twice my age? How would I make a life in a community so far from my home? In 1967, I couldn’t have imagined all of the people who had worked so tirelessly to allow a Volunteer like me to help in this small community – a community that most staff would never get the chance to see or experience.

Today, the rolls are slightly reversed. I have spent most of my career working in developing countries – but now I will have the extraordinary opportunity to work with the staff in the U.S. and abroad to ensure that the next generation of Volunteers will have the same quality experience that I had in the Peace Corps. Everybody’s service is unique, but I know that no matter where or when someone served – being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a life changing experience. We all tried to make a difference every day.  We accomplished a lot with very little. And most importantly, we had the opportunity to recognize what we can achieve when given the tools to succeed. As President Kennedy envisioned, we learned to understand, respect and admire our host communities and countries.

This is my first day at Peace Corps headquarters since my nomination in early July. I am truly excited and honored to be here. In these first few weeks, I will be spending time getting to know many of you, listening to your ideas, and getting reacquainted with this agency that has meant so much to all of us. We’ll immediately move forward addressing the challenges — both old and new – the agency faces.

At this historic moment, America is now led by a President committed to renewing the call to service and the Peace Corps is on the cusp of our 50th anniversary — I believe there could be no better time for us to work together to capture the imagination of those Americans interested in serving. I can’t do this alone. I look forward to working with you to maintain the high standard that has been set by all of those who have come before us. Together, in the 21st century we will build on this legacy and grow a stronger Peace Corps that continues to champion world peace and friendship.

Aaron Williams’s Peace Corps Director Confirmation Could Come Quickly

Update August 7th, 2009: RPCV Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 67-70) has been confirmed to become the 18th Director of the Peace Corps.  The United States Senate unanimously confirmed his nomination today in one of its final actions before a five week recess. Read more.

This post is by Erica Burman of the National Peace Corps Association, and originally appeared on The Peace Corps Polyglot blog.

Aaron Williams at his confirmation hearing yesterday

Aaron Williams at his confirmation hearing yesterday

It was an exciting afternoon on Capitol Hill as [Returned Peace Corps Volunteer] Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 67-70), President Obama’s nominee to be the next Director of Peace Corps, went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The meeting was chaired by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who also served in the Dominican Republic.

Both Dodd and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) expressed support for Williams.  Dodd said he is excited at the prospects of working with Williams, while Isakson added “I commend the President on your appointment.”  Dodd says he plans to speak with Senate leadership to see if the confirmation can be completed before Congress breaks next week for its August recess.

The hour-long hearing included a question and answer session in which Williams indicated he wants to engage in a listening tour to engage the Peace Corps community, a “very rich and diverse population.”

Williams noted he wants to look at every possible process Peace Corps is involved in, and conduct a wide-ranging Continue reading

Obama Picks RPCV Aaron Williams as the Nominee for Peace Corps Director

Update August 7th, 2009: RPCV Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 67-70) has been confirmed to become the 18th Director of the Peace Corps.  The United States Senate unanimously confirmed his nomination today in one of its final actions before a five week recess. Read more.

President Obama today announced his pick to become the new Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams, a senior vice president in international development and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Dominican Republic, 1967 – 1970).

Aaron Williams, Obama's new Peace Corps pick

Aaron Williams, Obama's new Peace Corps pick

Williams’s bio, from today’s White House press release:

Currently a Vice President for International Business Development with RTI International, Aaron Williams has over 25 years of experience in the design and implementation of worldwide assistance programs. As a senior manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he attained the rank of Career Minister in the US Senior Foreign Service, and as Executive Vice President at the International Youth Foundation, Mr. Williams established innovative public-private partnerships around the world.

As USAID Mission Director in South Africa, Mr. Williams led a billion dollar foreign assistance program during President Nelson Mandela’s administration. In addition to his work in South Africa, he has extensive experience in the strategic design and management of assistance programs in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East; including long-term assignments in Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, and Barbados and the Eastern Continue reading