Who was Franklin H. Williams?


For those even slightly familiar with Peace Corps history, you’ve almost definitely heard about Sargent Shriver, the first agency Director and the person credited right after President Kennedy with the agency’s founding.

Lesser known but equally due founding credit is Franklin H. Williams (above left, with Shriver), an African American civil rights lawyer, diplomat and foundation president who worked to improve interracial relations in the U.S. He joined Director Shriver as his Special Assistant in 1961 and later became the agency’s Africa Regional Director. Continue reading

The road to building a better, stronger Peace Corps

Peace Corps Volunteers serve worldwide, in countries with different cultures, languages, food and resources. As the New York Times points out, operating in these varying environments presents unique challenges that the Peace Corps faces each and every day.

The majority of Peace Corps Volunteers have a safe and productive volunteer experience that they cherish for the rest of their lives. While the Peace Corps has not been immune to tragedy over the years, the number of Volunteers who have died during service throughout the agency’s more than 50-year history is incredibly small – less than two-tenths of one percent. Continue reading

Making a difference in the “Wild Kingdom”

In the fall of 1977, my wife, Diane, and I were assigned to be Peace Corps Environmental Education Specialists with the Paraguayan National Forest Service. At the time, unlike today, environmental education was an odd Peace Corps assignment, and we were the only “official” environmental educators in the country. Our job was pretty much what we could make it, so we ended up writing curricula, leading training workshops and developing interpretive programs in the national parks.

But it dawned on us that these efforts would essentially cease when we left the country. So we came up with an idea to establish a national natural history museum that would employ promising Paraguayan students as scientists-in-training. These students, we hoped, would end up working for conservation in Paraguay and educating their fellow citizens. It was a hare-brained idea, but our Paraguayan boss was in favor of giving it a shot. Continue reading

Why are you serving, PC trainee?

Craig_Chavis_Jr_060414_Peru_Staging_DSC_4924_pirate_photoCraig Chavis Jr.









“There are a lot of factors, first changing the world, second boost my career and third I’m addicted to travel. It’s like a perfect storm. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!” says Craig Chavis Jr., who departed for service in Peru with his trainee class in early June. He made sure to pack a GoPro, because he loves shooting video, and hair clippers, because he’s also a barber.

In case you were wondering, Craig didn’t really go from piracy to Peace Corps. “I was at a Mardi Gras parade in Tampa dressed as a pirate on a float when I got the invitation email from Peace Corps.”

Summer of change at Peace Corps

Some things never change, like Peace Corps Volunteers’ commitment to rolling up their sleeves to make a difference in a community abroad. The Volunteers I meet today are no different than the Volunteers I served with in Samoa in the 1980’s – they are creative, passionate and willing to try anything (including some pretty unexpected food options). Yet at the same time, today’s Volunteers bring new skills, interests and perspectives, and it is our responsibility to modernize our operations to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

So starting this summer, we’re shaking things up at Peace Corps. We’re revitalizing recruitment and outreach to cast a wider net of applicants than ever. We’re cutting red tape and putting in place sweeping changes to make applying for the Peace Corps simpler, faster and more personalized. Applicants will now be able to choose their country of service and apply to specific programs that meet their personal and professional goals – whether that means focusing on a certain area of the world, a particular language or one of our program sectors that most interests them. Continue reading

The 4 things we’ve done to make applying for Peace Corps easier than ever

VRSchanges The notion of going to another country to teach skills and learn about a different culture doesn’t seem out of the ordinary today, but for much of the Peace Corps’ history, we were the only volunteer program that let Americans make a difference and see the world. Over the course of 53 years, Peace Corps has sent 215,000 trained and skilled Americans to work beside people in host countries, learn new languages, embrace new cultures, and open hearts and minds – including their own.

We recognize that the Peace Corps has to modernize our processes to keep up with a rapidly changing world. That’s why today we’re announcing a brand new Peace Corps application and online user experience for people who want to make Peace Corps a part of their lives. Here are four new things that make it easier than ever to apply for Peace Corps service: Continue reading

Ending GHSP service on a high note


A few days before I closed my Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) service, the residents at my post in Uganda hosted a dinner for me at the Buffalo Inn. Two of my colleagues, Drs. Kumba and Kiwanuka joined the evening’s festivities.

Following dinner, my counterparts gave speeches in my honor. Dr. Olive Keneema, Resident in Pediatrics at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, kicked off the evening and spoke for the Senior House Officers. Dr. Keneema said these residents (two of whom are pictured with me above) enjoyed working with me, especially for both my sense of humor and for how I could make the difficult more bearable. Then Dr. Kumba spoke, acknowledging that I was a great addition to the department, and how I often contributed a “different pair of eyes” to help give a non-Ugandan perspective to cases. He also praised my wife both for her charm and loveliness when they met, and also for her willing sacrifice of me for this year.

Dr. Kiwanuka amazed me. He said that, although it is not customary in Uganda to say good things about people until their funerals, in this case he wanted to acknowledge my contribution to the department “while I could hear it,” which received good-natured laughter from everyone. Continue reading

World Environment Day all month: understanding farming and livelihoods

This story was originally published on the EPA’s It’s Our Environment blog.

My experience while serving as a Peace Corps agribusiness adviser in Jamaica provided me with unique opportunities to learn, engage and research at the community level. I served in a small coastal farming and fishing village in Westmoreland parish in southwest Jamaica. I worked primarily with a group of organic farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and introducing climate change adaptation strategies through community engagement. As a participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program through Texas A&M University, I also conducted research on the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change.

As part of the community integration and learning process, I facilitated an assessment with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society, a local organization engaged in production agriculture and home economics. The results of the assessment helped us to better understand factors affecting the economic and environmental sustainability of their livelihoods. Through informal discussions with farmers, I also gained awareness of how changing weather patterns, such as variable rainfall, increased risk for these small-scale farm families. Continue reading

A new world of welcome


I walked into the front office area of my new home and workplace in the northern Philippines. “Welcome, Ms. Kathy” was lovingly written on the white board. I went to the road to look back at the building and saw a big pile of dung just off our driveway. I asked my new social worker colleague what kind of animal left this behind and he smiled broadly: “Carabao! To welcome you!” (A carabao is pictured above.)

Four other Peace Corps Response Volunteers and I had just completed several days of orientation to the Philippines. Like many Response Volunteers, they all had previous Peace Corps experience, but this was my first time as Volunteer. My many years of experience with special education in public schools allowed me to qualify for this six-month assignment with a foundation addressing the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families.

I woke during my first night and turned on my flashlight to spot a spider as large as my hand waiting quietly on the floor next to my bedroom door. Continue reading

Facing my fear as a PC trainee


It isn’t about being “fearless.” I heard that word tossed around a lot leading up to my departure. Though I appreciate the notion, I was not fearless. I was petrified. I was sad. I probably didn’t sleep for a week leading up to staging. It’s not about being fearless; it’s about having fears but conquering them anyway.

To me, the reward that Peace Corps yields outweighs the risk of leaving. And with that, on June 6, 2014, I departed on my new adventure in Kosovo — as scary as it was and as nerve-racking as it inevitably will be as I navigate a new place half a world away.

When life is about to change, it’s sometimes an inconceivable feeling. I didn’t know what I expected — but I knew it was exactly where I wanted to be. Continue reading