The Peace Corps - Rotary Connection

By: Arianne Burger Issue: Big Ideas, Smart People Section: Community For those who have served in the Peace Corps, the journey is never over. We return home from our countries of service seeing the world with a new perspective and possessing a determination to live our lives in a meaningful way. That new-found determination leads us to seek experiences at home that are as important as our service and that oftentimes leads Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) to Rotary International.

The Peace Corps Sue Fox had an idea. As a returned volunteer from Liberia (1968-‘70) and a past-president of the Denver Rotary Club, she knew that there was a natural connection between Rotary and Peace Corps. She felt that, "RPCVs and Rotarians are kindred spirits, seeking the same goals embodied in Rotary’s motto, ‘Service Above Self.’" She followed up on her idea by bringing together a group of Rotarians and RPCVs in November, 2009.

Since that November morning, the "Tiger Team," named after Fox’s aging Golden Labrador Tiger, has met on numerous occasions and made incredible progress on formalizing how an official partnership between Peace Corps and Rotary International could work. The committee has grown to include other non-RPCV Rotarians, representatives from the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Colorado, as well as the Peace Corps Community at the University of Denver. Together, the team has drafted a resolution to Rotary International, proposing that a formal alliance be formed between the two organizations that will serve as a prototype for similar alliances between Rotary and the international volunteer service organizations in many countries around the world. Conversations have also been held with top members of the Peace Corps administration, who are also keen on moving forward with the idea.

The Goal

Connect Rotarians with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

There are teams of Rotarians working on projects around the world. Many times, representatives from clubs in the U.S. will travel to other countries to provide technical assistance with those projects. While technically prepared for the work ahead, many Rotarians are not as culturally prepared for what they will encounter while abroad. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, however, have a fundamental understanding of cultural mores in their countries of service. By connecting outbound Rotarians with RPCVs, they can provide valuable information that can lessen the culture shock and provide an easier working environment for the new volunteers. It has in fact worked. A team from the Meade, Colorado club visited Nicaragua in the fall of 2010, armed with valuable cultural information and connections to the "in-country" Peace Corps office, provided by three RPCVs who had recently returned from their service. The connection was facilitated by Rotarian and Tiger Team member, Ted Bendelow, who just happens to be a member of the RPCV of Colorado (Liberia 1964-‘66).

Connect Outgoing Peace Corps Volunteers to Rotary Clubs Both Here and Abroad

Once abroad, many Peace Corps Volunteers create projects that require funding as well as technical expertise. By formalizing a relationship between the Peace Corps and Rotary clubs, groups both here and abroad could be connected to these projects and provide either financial or technical support. Judy Beggs, an RPCV from Senegal and member of Englewood Rotary started a nonprofit called Friends of Gueoul, whose mission is to educate girls in the village of Gueoul. She received a large matching grant from the Rotary Foundation to build a computer classroom in Gueoul, and Peace Corps Senegal has assigned a new Small Enterprise Development Volunteer to the project, with a PCV assigned to it for a total of six years (three tours) to maximize the possibility of the facility becoming self-sustaining. This is just one example of the ad hoc partnerships that are already underway around the world between Rotarians and Peace Corps Volunteers.

Create a Stronger Community of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers by Introducing Them to Rotary International

Many of the RPCV-Rotarian members of the District 5450 Rotary-Peace Corps Alliance Committee have found kindred spirits in their fellow RPCV-Rotarians. Sue Fox has found that, "Rotary gives Returned Volunteers the opportunity to continue their service to the world while they are occupied with careers and family responsibilities. And it even offers a way to teach these values to their children."

Steve Werner, RPCV (South Korea 1976-‘78) and 23-year member of Rotary Club of Denver Southeast, assisted Fox in the creation of the committee because he felt that the partnership would, "Generate more members for each other's programs and create more fellowship among the constituents of each organization who believe in service above self and world peace." Steve has a long history with both organizations, having served as Chair of the Board of the National Peace Corps Association.

Charlie Hunt, RPCV (Vanuatu 2006-‘08) joined Rotary later in his career. After returning to the U.S in 2008 and settling in Denver with his wife, Nancy Cole, Hunt started his own project back in Vanuatu with the support of his LoDo Rotary Club in Denver. The LoDo club is working to demonstrate how to use smokeless cook stoves to the rural women of Vanuatu. Hunt has connected his home club with the Vanuatu Port Vila Rotary Club through Assistant District Governor Robert Bohn. His club and the New Zealand District are supportive of the project.

Hunt contacted the program and training officer at the Vanuatu Peace Corps office to ask if the cook stove demonstration could be provided through their 15 Community Health Volunteers who work in the Shefa Province. Peace Corps Vanuatu approved the project, so now Hunt is working with the Peace Corps and his Rotary club to determine the next steps. Currently, the LoDo Club will facilitate a demonstration in the rural villages with Peace Corps Volunteers monitoring usage to see if the village women will consistently use the clean stoves.

Peace Corps Volunteers and Rotarians have been working together for years on projects such as the ones described. And, as Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary in March 2011, we believe it is time to formalize this partnership so that future generations of Rotarians and Peace Corps Volunteers can continue the legacy of promoting peace and fellowship throughout the world.

Arianne Burger is RPCV (Kazakhstan 1999-2001) and serves as President, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Colorado. To learn more about how your club can work together with RPCVs in your community, or to share your own success stories of Peace Corps/Rotary collaborations, please contact Sue Fox at Sue@foxlegal.net.