Peace Corps and Rotary Join Forces on Literacy

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 program:

Brenda Erickson (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 language skills.

Carl Dickerson (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 its benefits.

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.

Posted by Brenda Erickson
September 5, 2017


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