03 March 2011

Happy 50th Birthday to the United States Peace Corps.

…Yet democracy is impossible without a great deal of altruism and idealism. One a strictly realistic basis, it would be hard to avoid starkly Machiavellian conclusions, accepting democracy in the same role as communism before it, that of an ideological smoke screen of crass calculating egotism. There is certainly enough of that all around, and perhaps has always been. The Founding Fathers knew it well: the elaborate system of checks and balances they built into the American Constitution attests as much. They were, though, willing to hope that humans are also capable of responding to ideal motives, of finding self-fulfillment in self-transcendence. Not the brash young graduates making their first million as advisers to post-Communist governments but the young women and men serving in the Peace Corps are the bearers of the democratic ideal.

From an article entitled “The Faces of Democracy - Looking to the Twenty-First Century” by Erazim Kohák in Kettering Review, Fall 2005.

Happy 50th Birthday to the United States Peace Corps.

I joined the 50th anniversary committee for Togo, which may help to explain my absence from this blog. I thank all my loyal (2) followers for cajoling me into contributing more frequently. I decided to share with you our plans for our celebrations. And invite you to check out other ways to celebrate, so there will be plenty of links in this entry. As the most software-savvy member of the committee, I’ve been putting together the announcements to volunteers and staff in our monthly newsletter, so I’ll just expand on that:

Togo celebrates the

50th Anniversary of Peace Corps

26 February 2011

Interview with Peace Corps on TVT

We’ve already begun celebrations, starting with an interview with Country Director Carolina Cardona and the Program Director for Girls’ Education and Empowerment, Rose Kpomblekou on national television on the 26th of February. My fellow PCVL, L, was featured as well, taking the reporter and camera crew to her village. She only received notice the evening before the visit, but admirably mobilized her community to welcome the crew and show off her counterparts and their shared accomplishments.

1 March 2011

Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Executive Order

to establish the United States Peace Corps

As I keep reminding myself with looming deadlines - oh wait, I already missed the 1st of March?! - it’s okay. Just because Kennedy signed the order, doesn’t mean Peace Corps is born. There still isn’t any money. And let’s face it - congressional appropriations are the lifeblood of government programs. So keep a look out for 22 September, when the US Congress signs up for the Peace Corps. Of course, I’ll be back in the states by then. Party in DC!

18-25 March 2011

Week of Service: Togo Propre

PCVs will work with the local trash collection association in their regional capitals to pick up trash. Wearing bright stage and formation t-shirts, PCVs and their counterparts will attract a lot of attention. Take advantage of the chance to challenge stereotypes about volunteers, answer some questions about Peace Corps, and mobilize local associations to keep up (or restart) their trash-collecting work.

Contact your regional coordinator for more information!

I’m pretty proud of this one. The first meeting I attended of the 50th anniversary committee was in early January. Committee members told me of their plans to host a soccer match between Peace Corps and the US Embassy. They must have realized my confusion when I tilted my head sharply to the side, raised my eyebrows and asked, “What exactly is our objective with these celebrations?” They hadn’t found a venue yet for the game, or even contacted the Embassy, but, in my eyes, the key ingredient that was missing was a purpose. It sounded like a lot of fun, but how would this event help Peace Corps to highlight its achievements and reach a broader audience of Togolese?

A veritable cyclone of searching ensued as they scratched their heads and tried to come up with the exact goals and objectives for using the funds that we’d received from Peace Corps Washington for our celebrations. A phone call to the regional security officer (presumably because he was the most experienced American staff member in the building), fumbling searches through paperwork and emails, then a lull. In the calm, I suggested we find those objectives and return later to continue the meeting. There is no point in taking action and making plans if they do not match with objectives.

I quickly tracked down objectives in my email and on Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary website. I prepared a French translation of them and asked the Committee chair, S, to reconvene the meeting. Now we were ready to go:

Utilize the 50th anniversary as a platform to support the agency’s mission and legacy by honoring our past, demonstrating our effectiveness, and inspiring the next generation of volunteers through education and engagement.

Utiliser le cinquantième anniversaire comme une estrade pour soutenir la mission et l’héritage du Corps de la Paix en honorant notre passé, en démontrant notre efficacité, et en inspirant la prochaine génération des volontaires à travers l’éducation et l’engagement.

One of the suggested ways to celebrate was by organizing a day of service, specifically to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The deadline was too close for that day, but I presented the idea of having a day of coordinated service across the country. A service project that would not require volunteers to go far from their villages, but would be highly visible and effective: a trash clean-up.

This is a huge problem in Togo, one that various volunteers have tried (with varying success) to address on a village level. From various anecdotes, I knew the publicity value of having a bunch of Americans go out and bend down in the streets to pick up discarded rubbish in front of the community. It would inspire endless questions - a perfect opportunity to engage local community members in a discussion about Peace Corps and its goals.

Furthermore, as I developed the idea with the Program Director for Natural Resource Management, Paul Sinandja, he explained that he would not only help me equip the teams for the clean-up, but would also put each regional group into contact with a local association in charge of rubbish collection. He hoped that through this initial contact, he might be able to cultivate relationships with associations that would facilitate future placement of volunteer into bigger cities to work specifically on the problems of waste management - an area that Peace Corps Togo has yet to address officially.

Well, this has gotten long, so I’ll leave the rest of the activities for next week. Enjoy some youtube video links:

Peace Corps in Togo




Interview with an African-American volunteer who served in Togo


The Many Faces of Peace Corps


A volunteer’s experience in village