Over the weekend, I met the Peace Corps volunteer on this 1964 issue cover of National Geographic. She was with the first group of volunteers to Ecuador, and one of many remarkable Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) that I met at the 2012 Peace Corps Annual Gathering.
The event was hosted by the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), an independent non-profit organization that works closely with the Peace Corps to advocate and provide support for returned volunteers. With great honor, I was elected to serve on NPCA’s Board of Director, and this weekend marked the beginning of my duty.
Incredible stories filled my few days in Minneapolis. A couple who served in Togo 1 back in 1961 met each other during training and were married 8 weeks later. They were the kind of couple that people make movies like The Notebook. What struck me most about all these volunteers who served decades ago wasn’t the fact they were also in the Peace Corps, but rather, what they have done with their lives since. There were retired Senators, Congressmen, Executives of companies, NGOs, etc. Each person, in their own way, continued the spirit of service and created unique careers as public servants both at home and abroad.
Beyond amazing careers, I also love the fact there are people who had lived in the era of Mad Men and PanAm to tell me that the only thing accurate of PanAm was the uniforms, and that Mad Men, on the other hand, was a very accurate portrait of 1960’s advertising world in New York.
Among the pioneers, I represented the Gen Y population. The twenty-somethings were few and far between. I was definitely one of the youngest person at the event, by at least a decade. As I listen to incredible stories of these pioneer RPCVs, I wish my fellow PC loves were there with me to experience those conversations. I suppose it is now my job to make sure I get as many young generation of RPCVs to next year’s Annual Gathering in Boston!
I left the Minneapolis feeling inspired and regained a sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in a long while. The weekend was a culmination of all the tweets, blog posts, etc. that I’ve produced over the years. At the end of the day, nothing is left unnoticed. A girl who had just returned from Turkmenistan a few weeks ago met me, and said, “oh I recognize you, you wrote that piece in the World View about using Twitter”. Then she proceeded to quote, “The Birds in My Village Tweet – And So Do I“. I was incredibly impressed as I had forgotten that was the title I made up for the piece. As a writer, there is nothing more satisfying than these exchanges.
It’s comforting to know a hobby can actually be good for something. I look forward to bridging the generation gap going forward, and to continue advocating for the Peace Corps and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers everywhere!