Blog

Republic of Georgia, (c) S Tsopurashvili 2016

  • 20 Sep 2018 by Lila Holzman

    [This blog post was originally published on the NorCal blog site on September 20, 2018.]

    On September 8, 2018 a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers gathered in San Francisco to support the Rise for Climate, Jobs, & Justice event and movement. Those not in Northern California plugged in to local actions across the country. Why did we do this? What did we accomplish?

    Climate Change is an urgent issue that affects everything. When California’s Governor Jerry Brown announced San Francisco would host a Global Climate Action Summit, grassroots groups like 350.org and the People’s Climate Movement rose to the occasion. Lest the summit be too focused on high level talk, the people began organizing a mass mobilization to kick off the week by calling attention to vulnerable communities, who will be most hurt by climate change, and to the need to press our global leaders for solutions that are sustainable and just.

    As RPCVs, we are very in tune with the interconnected nature of issues like climate change. Volunteers live in countries that are already dealing with sea level rise. Volunteers farm in terrains where the dry season now lasts far too long, adding to list of hardships felt by subsistence farmers. Volunteers serve in regions where climate-induced migration fuels and intensifies conflict. Volunteers understand that complex problems cannot be solved with simple solutions. Progress must be made conscientiously and sustainably. It must be made both at a systems level and with feet on the ground.

    So leading up to September 8th, RPCVs for Environmental Action along with the Northern California Peace Corps Association took advantage of the opportunity to get the word out about this event and the movement it represents. We even presented on it to a large audience of RPCVs gathered for the National Peace Corps Association’s annual conference as part of a session on ways RPCVs can take action on the environment.

    On the day of the march, we hosted a table at their Resource Fair. As the tens of thousands of marchers arrived to the fair and passed by our RPCV table, we shared our unique perspective with others in the climate movement. Wearing multiple hats, we talked to folks about the work Peace Corps volunteers do, the role the program serves in American international diplomacy, and the experience we gained immersing ourselves in a foreign culture. Some passersby were interested in joining the Peace Corps, whether newly out of college or later on in their careers, wanting to hear about our experience and impact. Others came running up with stories of when they served 30 years ago and said they hadn’t realized there were other RPCVs involved in these types of events. Others excitedly took our photos to show their niece, father, friend who was in the Peace Corps. It was deeply uplifting to connect with others who share our passion for promoting sustainable progress.

    In a truly multicultural moment, one man approached with a thick Spanish accent saying he was a reporter from Spain and wanted to ask a few questions. I replied in Spanish (with my slightly Panamanian accent) saying that I was happy to answer his questions in whatever language. I think I surprised him, but he didn’t skip a beat. He fired off a bunch of thought-provoking questions about who I was, why I thought being there mattered, what I was hoping the Global Climate Action Summit would accomplish, and what could we really do about it all? The conversation got my adrenaline pumping, and I felt proud to articulate my perspective in my second tongue. A day later, I read my quote in El País:

    Lila Holzman, activista de los Cuerpos de Paz de EE UU, profundizaba en esta idea: “Esperamos ver acción. Casi todos sabemos que el cambio climático es importante y ahora es tiempo de hacer cosas. Si a nivel nacional la política no reacciona, hay otros que sí pueden hacerlo, así como las empresas y los inversores”.

    While I’m not sure I would’ve called myself an “activist from the Peace Corps,” the rest of the quote he took from our conversation I absolutely stand by: “We want to see action. We know that climate change is important and now is the time to act. Since national level politics won’t step up, there are others that should like companies and investors.”

    At the end of the day, I felt proud to be a part of the Peace Corps community and all the cross-cultural awareness it represents. We as RPCVs must continue to take advantage of opportunities to add our unique perspective and value to the causes we care about.

    RPCVs #RiseForClimate because we recognize that global problems require global understanding and local action.

     

    - Lila Holzman

    President, NorCalPCA

    Leadership Team, RPCVs4EA

    RPCV Panama

  • 03 Sep 2018 by Kate Schachter

    (This blog post, written by Kate Schachter, was originally published on the National Peace Corps Association's blog.)

    Since my return from my first Peace Corps service in Ghana in 2007, I’ve been coming to the annual conferences, except for the year I went into PC Response in Georgia. Attendance has always been low, usually around 250-350. And I keep asking myself…why don’t more RPCVs come? What should we be doing different? Am I just a glutton for meetings?

     

    Education USA Kate Schachter – 2016, In Batumi, Georgia, representing our alma maters at a US State Department event

    In particular, since 2011 when NPCA started the new shared group hosting system and rotates it on a known schedule (50th anniversary in DC, Upper Midwest, Northeast, South, West, repeat), it’s been a great opportunity to meet with RPCVs from other regions. Lessons have been learned and improvements made with every single Peace Corps Connect (PCC), but still attendance is surprisingly small. If we get more people, the conference pays for itself, and then some, with NPCA able to provide lower prices, especially to new RPCVs and volunteers.

    Here are just a few of the things I love about the PCC conferences. 

    The people! Meet or reconnect with RPCVs from every era. All the rest of the things I love start here with the community.

    The information! I was chatting with Averill Strasser and his wife, and he mentioned he is working with RPCV Peter Jensen on projects all over Africa. Peter is teaching people how to bury water and has made great progress showing successes in desperate situations. Wait…what? Bury water?? Check out his YouTube channel.

    And then there’s the information embedded in the many breakout sessions. Through panel presentations and discussions, cause-related groups, Peace Corps, and NPCA shared important news about projects that impact members. This year I was pleased to have the RPCVs for Environmental Action be accepted to offer a panel presentation entitled “RPCVs Take Action on the Environment.” Many thanks to the 20 or so people who chose to sit in on our presentation instead any of the six other sessions, or opt out for a kayak trip on the Delaware River!

    The groups! A half day is devoted to the opportunity for affiliate group representatives to get together and learn what’s going on at NPCA in the area of group services; learn from each other; and give feedback to NPCA, the Affiliate Group Network Coordinator, and the Member-Elected Board members. Outside the half-day forum, we recognize groups with the Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service, which this year justly went to the Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers (CARV) for their work with refugees. And there are more awards: the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award, the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service, and the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award. Acceptance speeches are heartfelt and inspirational about the work accomplished.

    Parade of Flags – 2011, DC Parade of Flags to the Capitol

    The atmosphere! I always feel charged from the effect of being with “my people.” The combination of meetings, receptions, dinners, and downtime turn the conference into an exciting dynamic of Third Goal accomplishment. The pomp and circumstance of a Gala dinner at the Kennedy Center or a Parade of the Flags in DC in 2011; a boat cruise and dinner on the Mississippi River for 150 people in 2012; a boat ride in the Boston Harbor in 2013; a community garden service project in 2017; a hike along the Appalachian Trail in 2018. These examples bring it together for an enjoyable long weekend.

    The reflection! It all starts with our service in Peace Corps. When I went to Peace Corps Response/Georgia, I was proud to see that they had both versions of the Peace Corps Pledge – the required one, and the new one that Meleia Egger had created in 2015. I was prepared in Georgia, and still I was blown away by the poetry of it. The pledge created the right atmosphere in Berkeley when it was formally introduced. It remains a fitting commitment to world peace and friendship.

     

    Next year, be there! HoTPCC is Heart of Texas Peace Corps Connect, June 21-23, 2019. What’s not to like about Austin?!

    PCC Nashville to NorCal – 2014, Tennessee RPCVs hand the conference baton to NorCal

     

    About the Author: 

    Kate Schachter has broad Peace Corps experience. She first served as a 50+ Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana from 2004-2007, leaving a 20-year corporate career in middle management positions in two biotechnology companies in Madison, WI. Ghana was followed by active participation on the leadership team of the RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison, from 2007 to the present. She also was elected as an NPCA Board member and Group Leaders Forum Coordinator from 2010-13. In 2016 she returned to volunteer service as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Georgia. Kate is a co-founder and group leader of the RPCVs for Environmental Action. In January 2018, she was offered a position as the UW-Madison Campus Recruiter. What better job than to talk about Peace Corps service all day?!