In August, a workshop was held in Denver, Colorado for Rotarians
who served in the Peace Corps as volunteers or staff. About 85 people attended
the workshop to learn about the Peace Corps/Rotary Partnership including
Rotarian guests who wanted to learn more about the partnership, senior Peace
Corps and Rotary staff, and other Rotary dignitaries. About 50 Rotarian
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) from outside Colorado attended. While
they were not fully aware of the partnership, they were enthusiastic about
bringing the partnership back to their Districts and clubs.
I am grateful to have represented our District at this occasion.
An abundance of positive energy confirmed the value of a partnership between
Rotary and the Peace Corps. Peace Corps volunteers who return home are so right
for Rotary. They have lived “Service Above Self” during their time in
the Peace Corps. Avenues need to be examined to engage RPCV's (Returning Peace
Corps Volunteers) in our district. They are future Rotarians...ready for the
support and purpose Rotary has to offer as they return home.
This article includes some highlights of the workshop. Visit
this link and get involved.
The workshop began with some history about the partnership and
how Rotarian Sue Fox (a 1960s Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia) worked with
other Rotarians from District 5450 to create the framework for a partnership -
and then petitioned senior Peace Corps and Rotary staff and volunteers for
approval. An initial Letter of Collaboration was elevated to a Memorandum of
Understanding and signed at the District 5450 Conference in 2015 by RI General
Secretary John Hewko and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet.
Then Rotarians shared their experiences of working with this
(Peachtree City, Georgia) works with literacy projects in South Africa. The
Rotarians travel to South Africa and work with Peace Corps volunteers who work
at different sites where young children need assistance with reading and basic
(Pensacola, Florida) has a Literacy and Library Project where Peace Corps
volunteers in Costa Rica identify schools that need all types of books in
English and Spanish. Rotarians travel to Costa Rica to work with Peace Corps
volunteers to sort and tag the books and organize them into a library. The
volunteers enjoy the Rotary visitors and help them to use their time
productively. Rotarians’ clubs help pay for the shipping and occasionally with
purchasing specialized books. Rotary clubs like to support schools when
volunteers have some connection with their clubs through family or friends or
they already knew the club before they left for service.
Emily Joy (RPCV
working with Mercy Corps in Portland, Oregon) served in Paraguay and she worked
very hard to bring Rotary clubs and Peace Corps Paraguay staff together. There
was goodwill and enthusiasm on both sides, but in the end, both Rotary clubs
and the Peace Corps staff hadn’t heard about the partnership and it
demonstrated that more communication needs to take place by both agencies
because there is turnover in the volunteer ranks of Rotary and with Peace Corps
staff and everyone needs to be constantly reminded of the partnership and
Senior Peace Corps staff Ashley Bell and Ted Adams and Rotary’s
Director of Programs and Grants Victor Barnes and Services and Engagement
Program Manager Ellina Kushnir provided updates and perspective about how both
Peace Corps and Rotary view the partnership. They are all pleased with the
progress that has developed and the number of ways that both agencies can
benefit from the partnership. Rotarians were on hand to share their experiences
working with Peace Corps volunteers, RPCVs and Peace Corps staff.
Attendees heard about how they can apply for District and Global
grants to support projects that Rotary clubs and Peace Corps volunteers work on
together. There was some discussion about the challenges of Global Grants
because Peace Corps volunteers serve for two years or less and Global Grants
take much longer to be developed and approved.
Rami Sayeed, a RPCV who served in Mozambique, talked about how a
Rotary Scholarship that he was awarded has helped him earn a PhD from the
University of Cape Town, South Africa, where he is studying Community and
Economic Development of new immigrants and refugees. Rami shared that the
scholarship from Rotary has helped him continue his Peace Corps service but in
a different direction then he would have thought possible.
The final session of the day had the attendees breaking up into
small groups to talk about: 1) How Rotary clubs and RPCVs groups (i.e., RPCVs
of South Florida or RPCVs who served in Guatemala) can find one another and
work together to do community and international service projects, 2) How can
both agencies systematically communicate with the field and encourage
grassroots cooperation, 3) How can we find and catalog successful projects and
help others learn from these successful partnerships, 4) What are other ways that
Rotary clubs, RPCVs and PCVs can work together and benefit one another. These
small group suggestions are being collated and written up into recommendations
that will be shared with all workshop attendees, RPCV groups and Rotary clubs,
Peace Corps staff and RI and TRF.
Finally, District 5450 Governor Abbas Rajabi
shared his story about being taught by a Peace Corps volunteer in his home
country of Iran, which inspired him to continue his service towards others. In
the Persian tradition, Abbas read a poem that he wrote in tribute to Peace
Corps and Rotary and how both organizations inspired him. Abbas also again
recognized and thanked Sue Fox posthumously for her dedication to the
partnership and the vision of both agencies working together.