Laura, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Laura Leiva Vargas. I am from Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. I studied communications at Universidad de Cartagena, and I graduated in June, 2020. During college, I had the opportunity to do a one year exchange at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, a Spanish university. There, I worked in radio, media and journalism. Right now I'm working with the department of communications in the environmental office of the city (Establecimiento público ambiental - EPA), and I am an intern for Friends of Colombia.
What is your connection to Peace Corps Colombia and FOC?
My family had the opportunity to be a host family for a Peace Corps Volunteer between 2013-2014. And at that time my mom was working in a public school in Pasacaballos, where another PCV lived and worked. Through my family’s connection to the Peace Corps, we met many more volunteers working in and around Cartagena. To this day, we are still friends with many of them. After working in Pasacaballos, my mom started working in La Boquilla, where she met Mike, FOC’s current President.
So my mom introduced me to both Peace Corps Colombia and Friends of Colombia. She was the one who told me about the internship opportunity with FOC!
What has your role been with FOC so far?
I've been working with the Communications Team. As part of this team, I have helped organize, create, and coordinate content for social media and the FOC website. I am trying to formalize a brand and strategic communications plan for FOC. I hope my work can expand the connection between the projects, people who have been benefited, and FOC members/PCVs/RPCVs.
Can you describe what working with FOC has been like for you so far?
It's amazing. It has helped me develop my teamwork skills and gain more experience in the field of communications. It's a new experience for me also because I am using my skills in a different language, and it's a challenge, but I am learning that I am capable and able to complete everything that is asked of me. I have really enjoyed working with the brilliant, creative and experienced Communications Team.
What is one of your goals during this internship?
I hope my work helps FOC become more recognized in Colombia. I would like to help spread the word about FOC in my home country in a way that helps Colombians connect with FOC’s work and their efforts to contribute to Colombia.
Anything else FOC members should know about you?
I love to learn new things all the time so German is the next language that I am going to be learning. I love to bake, and I'm planning on creating a blog about Colombian cuisine and the history behind it. I also love to read and smile!
Please enjoy reading FOC's 2020 Annual Report and reflect on what your support has allowed FOC to accomplish this year! For those still thinking about making an end of year donation it's not too late to help us reach our fundraising goal of $13,000. Your tax deductible contribution will allow us to continue our work in 2021.
Earl Kessler, Former Peace Corps Volunteer (1965-1968) and current FOC member, wrote an informative and engaging book about the development of Puerto Badel, a rural town outside of Cartagena, when he was a Peace Corps volunteer.
The book "Letters from Alfonso: Learning to Listen" tells the story of construction, development projects, and slum improvement when residents of a Colombian town, wiped out by flood, took the future into their own hands. Earl's life intersected with that of community leader, Alfonso Perez Correa. Working with Alfonso, Earl learned lessons in local participation and empowerment that have helped bring success in meeting community needs all over the world.
Now you can purchase this book and help Friends of Colombia at the same time! $10 from every purchase will be donated to FOC.
To purchase a copy of Letters from Alfonso: Learning to Listen all you have to do is send a check for $20, which covers the cost of the book $15 and shipping $5, to:
109 Jimenez Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Again, with each purchase, FOC receives $10!
If you'd like to become a mentor, fill out the survey on our Contact page.
Since our Mentorship program was launched a few months ago, over 30 matches have been made for mentees seeking career advice, emotional support, and networking resources.
FOC has already heard of many positive experiences and we plan to continue this program through continued relationships and expanded geographical reach in order to be a central resource in numerous ways for all Colombia RPCVs.
If you are a mentee seeking a mentor, please fill out the survey here.
What can FOC do to support the 96 PC Colombia Volunteers that were recently evacuated?
The following are highlights from a letter NPCA sent out to each Affiliate Groups on March 20th, 2020:
Dear NPCA Affiliate Groups:
Thank you for your eagerness to support the more than 7,000 evacuated Volunteers who are returning home and facing difficult challenges in the midst of a global pandemic. The newly returned volunteers will need help with things such as housing, jobs and emotional support.
Many of you have asked how you can help. Below are a few suggestions to get started.
Please help the Marina Orth Foundation’s rural robotics champs, from El Carmen de Viboral outside Medellin, Colombia, travel to Tallinn, Estonia, to participate in the 2019 International Robotex Competition from November 26 to December 3. In only their first year in our robotics program, these great rural public school kids won second place against 19 private schools to qualify at Robotex Latam. This was their first competition!
To learn more about the team and donate to this wonderful program please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/send-colombian-robotics-team-to-estonia?rcid=r01-15683396589-4c9269adb7a5470e&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w
Friends of Colombia and Peace Corps Connect
Calling all Colombia Peace Corps Volunteers!
Gather in the great state of Texas, June 20 – 22, 2019
During Peace Corps Connect 2019: “Innovation for Good” you’ll meet the Peace Corps community from across the country, mix with local changemakers, and learn strategies and best practices to create more sustainable communities. Jody Olsen, Peace Corps Director, will update you about today’s Peace Corps. Glenn Blumhorst, President, NPCA, will announce exciting new initiatives. The two and a half days will be full of keynote speakers, expert panels, interactive sessions, and a whole lot of fun.
The conference showcases information and exhibit booths from some of the over 180 NPCA affiliate groups. Friends of Colombia (FOC), our very own affiliate group, will host a booth. Look for Terry Adcock (Colombia 1, 1961-63) and Cutter Uhlhorn (Colombia 2017-19) near the booth. Terry and Cutter are fervently searching for other Colombia RPCVs who will represent the Colombia Peace Corps experience and help staff the FOC booth. (Once a Volunteer, Always a Volunteer!).
On Friday, June 21 Colombia RPCV’s will meet at Casa Colombia Restaurant, sponsored by FOC, at 6 pm, an hour prior to the South American Regional Dinner, which will also be held at Casa Colombia Friday evening at 7:00 PM. Stop by the FOC booth to get details.
The Schedule for the entire Conference can be found here:
There is still time to register for Peace Corps Connect and buy your ticket for the Latin American Regional Dinner at Casa Colombia.
Join Cutter, Terry and other Colombia RPCVs for a great Peace Corps experience in Austin! Y’all come!
Colombia's Tall Ship, the Arc Gloria will be docking at the Port of Boston in Boston Harbor at 8:00am on Friday, June 21st.
Local residents will have the opportunity to board and tour the ship. Admission is free and open to the public at the following times:
This visit presents an opportunity for the local community to welcome a special group of young Colombian cadets during their goodwill training cruise and to learn more about Colombian culture. On board, the visiting public will have a chance to meet the crew and learn about Colombia’s naval traditions. Visitors will also have the chance to view a special exhibition of posters and photographs that display Colombian history, heritage and culture, which includes guided narration, available in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The exhibition was developed by the Colombian Navy in coordination with PROCOLOMBIA, the country’s official tourism, foreign investment, and export promotion agency. For further information you may contact Olga Acosta at 202-821-2792.
Teacher training opportunity in Itagüí , Colombia
Teachers with experience in teacher training, elementary education, and ESL/EFL are needed to participate in a primary teacher training event in Itagüí , Colombia from October 7th to October 11, 2019.
The training targets 100 primary school teachers who are mandated to teach English in an effort to promote bilingualism in Colombia. To this effort, a curriculum called Bunny Bonita was adopted in the primary system as well as access to Duolingo. The government of Itagüí feels that the teachers could benefit from more professional development in the following areas: communicative teaching strategies, strategies for teaching all four language skills, effective strategies for teaching with technology, and the classroom management skills and language that would facilitate this.
The PD event would take place from October 7 to 11, 2019. A preliminary structure for the PD event would include daily morning workshops with the afternoons free. The training team (4 people) would be responsible for designing and implementing the workshops. Travel, lodging and food, would be covered by the government and trainers would be paid a small stipend for the development and delivery.
If you are interested and available during the time frame, please send a letter of interest and resume to Jennifer Fadden at email@example.com.
Over the past several months, a new Colombian produced film titled: Pajaros de Verano (Birds in Passage) has been playing in various venues, such as Film Festivals in California and Colombia. In its opening scene, a banner reading: “Peace Corps”, is predominantly featured. The film then goes on to depict Volunteers being involved in the marijuana drug trade. Margarita Sorock, RPCV, Colombia, attended a viewing of this film in Cartagena and has written a review for the FOC Newsletter.
Given that this film has now been chosen to be Colombia’s entry in the Foreign Film Category of the Oscars, it will undoubtedly have increasing viewers in the international community. At its September meeting of the FOC Board of Directors, a Motion was passed for the development of a White Paper to address the unfounded charges that Peace Corps Volunteers were the early enablers of Colombia’s international drug trafficking trade with the U. S. A draft of that Paper was prepared for distribution on October 6. In a Board Meeting of October 30, it was decided to include this Draft in FOC’s Web-site, accessible via ….
In 2011, Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez published The Sound of Things Falling. He wrote specific details of Volunteers and staff being actively engaged in teaching “campesinos new agricultural techniques for the higher production of marijuana, and then using them as an advanced technology for extracting cocaine from coca leaf”. He ignores the fact that these methods go as far back as Pre-Columbian times. Campesinos weren’t breathlessly awaiting the arrival of complete strangers from the North to instruct them in more profitable ways to use these products. But, if so, then they most certainly were short-changing these campesinos by continuing to have them expensively produce coca paste when the technology had long ago shifted to cocaine powder for a more convenient packaging and a higher rate of return on investment.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s descriptions of Peace Corps Volunteers don’t match those of actual Volunteers then serving in Colombia. For instance, Elaine who is the heart and soul of this novel is shown as arriving in Colombia after only 5 weeks of training at a Florida University—when in fact, training at various universities in the U. S. was over a period of 12-15 weeks. Also, she has a child and serves as a Volunteer for 8 years, when global policy of the Agency would not have permitted her to continue as a Volunteer. Lastly, there is no record of any Peace Corps staff member being murdered in Colombia—though this novel graphically states that a Regional Coordinator was shot in the back of the neck, his naked body thrown face down on a riverbank.
The FOC encourages Members to use this White Paper if and when they find themselves in a public environment that falsely charges Peace Corps Volunteers as the pioneer enablers of Colombia’s drug trafficking trade with the U. S. If the inquiries are seeking objective evidence to the contrary, then this White Paper might well put their anxieties to rest.
To read the White Paper in its entirety click here.
By: Jerry Norris (Colombia VI)
Come Sail with us on a Sunset Cruise on the Potomac River on October 7th, 3-6 PM
Learn about Friends of Colombia. Meet the Board. Food and Drinks provided. All for $10
Please RSVP to: Ned Chalker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-259-4458 or 202 494-4895 (cell). He will need your email address for notification in case of trip cancellation due to weather conditions on the sailing date. Please plan to arrive at The Anchor Store at 709 Wharf St, S.W., Washington, D.C. 30 minutes before departure for the boarding process. There is no good parking along the waterfront due to construction so please plan to arrive by other means.
Group 46 held its seventh- yes, its seventh -reunion May 21-25, 2018 in Seattle, WA.
Throughout our reunion, conversations revolved around changes in our lives, thoughts of those who could not join us, reflections about the importance of the Peace Corps – Colombia, about human nature and the world, continued involvement in the changes we want to see, cherishing of positive steps by others- from graying heads like us to young people – to make the world a better place.
We gathered for dinner amid warm greetings on Monday night at Athena Grill, then continued Tuesday morning in the Seattle Central Library with our Talking Stick session– a planned opportunity to share. Afterwards, library staff member Jeff Christensen gave us a behind the scenes tour of the library itself- an architectural marvel by architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Afterwards we adjourned for a late lunch at Tulio’s Ristorante. The magnificent 360 degree view from nearby Columbia Tower’s 72nd floor completed our day- Seattle, Puget Sound and, yes, even snow-capped Mts. Rainier and Baker were visible!
Wednesday brought a beautiful day for a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island and a short bus ride to the lush botanical Bloedel Preserve Gardens, with ponds and the Bloedel Mansion along the 2 mile walking loop. Another bus ride took us to the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial where we had the good fortune to tag along with a tour led by a Japanese American docent who had lived through the wrenching Bainbridge Island experience. She talked about the families taken from the Island to the camps as well as the building of the Memorial with its Wall bearing the names of every person relocated. Our group, somewhat subdued, ate lunch in Winslow before the ferry ride back across Puget Sound.
Thursday most of the group met in Seattle Center at Chihuly Garden and Glass to see the wonderful glass creations of Dale Chihuly. Then a walk down to the water front led us through Olympic Sculpture Park, on to lunch in Pike’s Place Market and then Pioneer Square Historic District, the Pilchuck Gallery, and Glass House Studio (glassblowers at work there!). That evening we met a final time at Chandler’s Crab House on Lake Union for our goodbye dinner- all talked about the next reunion with Cartagena in 2020 as the top idea!
Some members of the group also met with other RPCV friends to sightsee and explore. Seattle is a very interesting city! Must see places include the Museum of Glass and Bridge of Glass in Tacoma, Seattle Museum of Art, Seattle Center’s many venues, beautiful mosaics near Pike’s Place Market, the Museum of Flight, Mt. Rainier National Park and many others. So much to do, so little time!
Attendees: Mari Kae Ennis-Applegate, Terry Applegate, Shirley Martin McGrath, Bill McGrath, Denise Martin, Susan Cole, Susan Tower Racine, John Martin.
Come sail with us on a Sunset Cruise on the Potomac River on June 3rd 5- 8 PM
Learn about Friends of Colombia and meet the board
Food and drinks provided, all for $10
Please RSVP to: Ned Chalker at: email@example.com. He will need your email address for notification in case of trip cancellation due to weather conditions on the sailing date. Please plan to arrive at The Anchor Store at 709 Wharf St, S.W., Washington, D.C. 30 minutes before departure for the boarding process. There is no good parking along the waterfront due to construction so plan to arrive by other means.
By Patricia A. Wand, Peace Corps Colombia 1963-1965
Political scientist Oliver Kaplan studies rural communities in Colombia and analyzes how they fared through the prolonged period of civil unrest. Kaplan introduced his findings to Friends of Colombia by playing the folksong “El Campesino Embejucao” by Oscar Humberto Gómez. In the song, the campesino is caught between a rock and a hard place, ensnared in the middle of opposing forces. The folksong articulates the difficulties faced by villagers whose lives are disrupted by years of political turmoil and militant aggression.
Through his observation of various municipalities in the departmentos of Caldas, Santander, Cundinamarca and Meta, Kaplan discovered that some villages suffered more disruptions than others when armed actors surrounded them and attempted to take control. What accounts for the differences in the way various communities responded to these disruptions in their daily lives?
It turns out those villages where armed actors caused less harm had certain characteristics in common. Kaplan cites examples showing municipalities with active juntas comunales more effectively resisted the violence and maintained more stability and solidarity than those municipalities with no pre-existing community-based leadership. That is, where Acción Comunal had been active through previous decades, municipalities were able to cope more effectively.
As leaders with no political party sponsorship, juntas were likely to be seen as inclusive, representing local issues and speaking with authority on behalf of the entire community. They advocated and implemented collective strategies that mitigated the divisive approach of the external terrorist groups. Furthermore, juntas continued their record-keeping practices, managing information and preserving local history.
For Friends of Colombia, as well as for Kaplan, the next question is what have been the long-run effects of the hundreds of Peace Corps Volunteers assigned as rural community developers to work with Acción Comunal in the 1960s and 1970s? As Kaplan pursues this research our experiences as RCPVs will undoubtedly offer valuable contributions.
Kaplan spoke to Friends of Colombia during Peace Corps Connect – Colorado, August 4, 2017 in Denver, as part of the annual Colombia Country Update sponsored by FOC. Oliver Kaplan is Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and the author of a new book on this topic, Resisting War: How Communities Protect Themselves (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Following the intriguing presentation and discussion, Dr. Kaplan joined Friends of Colombia at Los Parcero’s, a new Colombian restaurant. For old-times’ sake we topped the evening with a traditional shot (or two) of aguardiente.
Special thanks to Michael Haviland (RPCV Colombia 1963-1965) and Nathan Mullen (RPCV Colombia 2012-2014) for helping secure locations for our Denver activities, where we were joined by Kevin and Kay Dixon (RPCV Colombia 1962-1964), Henry Jibaja (RPCV Colombia 1961-1963, staff 1967-1972) and Ruby Jibaja, Bob Kueppers (RPCV Colombia 1966-1968), Ed Ladon (RPCV Colombia 1967-1969), Olivia Mullen and Patricia Wand (RPCV Colombia 1963-1965).
“Legacy of Peace Corps and Colombia’s New Chance for Peace”
Featuring research in Colombia by Oliver Kaplan, author and professor
The first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Colombia in the early 1960s, an opportune time to promote peace and reconciliation. Yet Colombia went on to suffer a decades-long war and nearly became a failed state. What, then, were the legacies of the development efforts like Peace Corps? What implications do previous rural development programs have for peace following the recent agreement with the FARC? All are welcome!
Friday, August 4, 2017 3:00 – 5:30 pm
Program Location - University of Denver, Sturm Hall Room #251
Hosted by Friends of Colombia and National Peace Corps Association
Details & Registration: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/cpages/peace-corps-connect
Welcome from Friends of Colombia Board. Brief update and introductions Patricia Wand, host and FOC Board member, RPCV/Colombia 1963-1965
Speaker Oliver Kaplan conducts fieldwork in Colombia where he studies how civilian communities organize to protect themselves in wartime violence. His most recent research is published in Resisting War: How Communities Protect Themselves (Cambridge University Press, 2017). His work appears in The Journal of Conflict Resolution; Journal of Peace Research; The New York Times; Foreign Affairs; Foreign Policy; CNN.
Kaplan, Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, was recently Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and previously a postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School, and at Stanford University. Kaplan earned a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and B.A. at UC San Diego.
Friday, August 4, 2017 6:30 pm
Dinner for Friends of Colombia and guests (no host dinner)
Los Parceros (Colombian restaurant): 5922 East Colfax, Denver CO 80220
RSVP to Nathan Mullen (Colombia 2012-2015) firstname.lastname@example.org 303-378-6534
Is your RPCV/ Colombia group hosting a reunion in 2017-2018?
Please notify Patricia A. Wand email@example.com cell 202-375-8349
Send your current contact information to Gale Gibson (Colombia 1962-64) firstname.lastname@example.org
Hosts for Peace Corps Connect / Friends of Colombia activities
Here is the story of the night in photos:
Photos courtesy of the Colombian Embassy
Join Friends of Colombia and the entire Peace Corps community celebrating 55 years, Washington DC, at the National Peace Corps Association conference “Peace Corps Beyond,” September 21– 25, 2016. Many events are scheduled and inspiring speakers are still being announced. For details, visit http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/cpages/peace-corps-connect.
Friends of Colombia events
Thursday, September 22:
2–4 pm: Colombia Country Update, NEWLY SCHEDULED EVENT!
Panels discussing 1) Current Peace Corps / Colombia programs, 2) Projects supported by Friends of Colombia, and 3) Colombia Today. Location: Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20036 (Near Q St. North Entrance of DuPont Circle Metro Stop on Red line)
Watch Friends of Colombia website for updates: https://friendsofcolombia.org/
6:00–8:00pm: Reception honoring Peace Corps/Colombia
Hosted by Colombian Ambassador Juan and Mrs. Pinzón. Attendance by invitation; notify Arleen Cheston, FOC President, at email@example.com if you have not received an invitation and wish to attend.
Friday, September 23
4:15–5:15 pm: The Great Surge and beyond Sponsor: Friends of Colombia
Panel featuring Steven Radelet (RPCV Western Samoa 1981-83) presenting his thesis on the progress of socioeconomic development over the past 20 years. Respondents: Constance Freeman (PC Country Director Congo Brazzaville 1978-1979, Cameroon 1979-1981) and Gary Burniske (RPCV Guatemala 1977-1979, Costa Rica 1979-1981)
NOTE: Panel is part of Peace Corps Beyond conference featuring issues and history related to all things Peace Corps. Discounts for seniors & recent returnees, One-day Conference fee for those attending Friday only. Details of Conference and registration at: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/cpages/peace-corps-connect
Overview of Peace Corps Beyond schedule
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Check website for meetings of interest: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/events
Thursday, September 22 – National Day of Action – Registration required
8:00am–5:00pm: Visit Congressional offices to advocate for Peace Corps
Information & registration at firstname.lastname@example.org
5:00pm–7:00pm: Reception for advocates and Congressional staff. The newly established Sam Farr Congressional Leadership Award will be announced
Friday, September 23 – Peace Corps Beyond – Registration required
8:00am–5:15pm: Conference featuring issues and history related to all things Peace Corps
Register at http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/cpages/peace-corps-connect
4:15–5:15pm: Panel sponsored by Friends of Colombia: The Great Surge and Beyond
Saturday, September 24 – Peace Corps Beyond - Registration required
8:00am–6:00pm: Conference featuring issues and history related to all things Peace Corps
Register at http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/cpages/peace-corps-connect
Sunday, September 25–Walk for Peace
For additional information contact Patricia Wand. FOC Board email@example.com 202-375-8349
Compiled August 21, 2016
2016 marks the 55th Anniversary of the Peace Corps and to celebrate, NPCA is sponsoring a national conference--Peace Corps Beyond--at George Washington University in Washington, DC the weekend of September 22-25, 2016. You may register and view the conference schedule on the NPCA website.
The Embassy of Colombia has invited FOC members, friends and family to a reception at the home of Ambassador Pinzón the evening of September 22 from 6-8 pm. You will be receiving an invitation via email from the Embassy, so please watch for it and RSVP if you plan to attend. Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón is very supportive of Peace Corps and is especially pleased to invite us to his home.
FOC is sponsoring one of the break-out sessions on September 23, 4:15-5:15 pm at the Marvin Center at GWU. The topic, Global Development Trends, will be introduced by Stephen Radelet, Director of the Global Human Development Program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and author of the recent book The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World. He will be accompanied by panelists representing developing countries.
You may wish to gather after the session for dinner in one of the many restaurants close to GWU. We will make a few suggestions and encourage you to make reservations ahead of time. There are major events in town that weekend.
We hope to have a good representation from the second generation Colombia RPCVs, known as Colombia II. It will be a good opportunity to reconnect with friends and share experiences. I hope to see you in D.C. September 21-25.
Colombia #46, RCD-UDC, 1966-1968, does it once again by holding the 6th reunion for the 50th Anniversary since COS. This time the joyous reunion was held at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and hosted by the ever gracious Bruce and Judy Newton. Some 20+ persons were in attendance and a few were accompanied by spouses and significant others. The ever popular “Talking Stick” was passed from person-to-person, so as to allow each person to update the others on what has occurred of significance in their lives since the last reunion they attended. Our group has acquired and adopted as our own a few additional RPCV’s from other Colombian PCV groups. This has occurred because we are a cohesive and vibrant collection of eclectic personalities who never lack for a discussion topic of interest to the group. We have known each other for right at 50 years and when we look at each other, we still see the ambition, drive and the youthful commitment which led us to follow the searching cry of that great leader when he called for volunteers to go abroad and try to change the world for the better! The group also held a reunion in Cartagena, Colombia in 2014.
The next reunion is planned for 2018 in Wonderful San Antonio, Texas, where the unfortunate and culturally deprived non-Texans will be introduced to Texas Pickles, Texas-size Margaritas, and the ever popular Mariachi Music!
Attendees: Hosts Judy Sperling-Newton and Bruce Newton, Mari Kae Ennis Applegate and Terry Applegate, Tony Bartilotti, Joe Benitez, Susan Cole, Ed Eng, David Lehmann, Denise Martin, Roger Martin and Janet R. Whelan, Shirley and Bill McGrath, Iya and Rick Merrill, Susan Tower Racine, Debbie and Richard Sanders, Marthi and Jerry Ungar.
By Richard Sanders
This year's Peace Corps Connect conference will take place September 23-24 in Washington D.C. Relevant information can be found here: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/community/annual-gathering/
Further details concerning events hosted by Friends of Colombia, during this weekend, will be made available on this site. Check back for further details!
Aahh…sancocho! That hearty and comforting soup… a favorite of all Colombians…was the centerpiece of an RPCV gathering in Washington, DC February 21. Constance Ray, Colombia II-4, administrative specialist for the Peace Corps’ InterAmerica and Pacific regions and the new social chairman of Friends of Colombia, hosted the party which attracted two dozen RPCVs from the early years and the most recent ones. While slurping their soup, RPCVs who served in the 60’s shared stories with RPCVs newly returned from assignments on the Colombian coast. The newer RPCVs updated the older ones about living and working in Colombia today.
Fun facts: The sancocho de pollo was prepared by Constance’s friend and housemate Regis Ryan, an RPCV from Mali and a devoted cook who is currently a mixologist at The Four Seasons in Washington, DC. Constance baked cakes iced with frosting in the colors of the Colombia flag. She greeted her guests dressed in an authentic Costeno skirt, a gift from a Colombian friend.
Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet presided over a festive 25th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps in Colombia at the Hotel El Prado in Barranquilla on October 21. An outstanding exhibit chronicling the early years and latter years-- separated into those who arrived in country between 1961-81, and the latest group who began again in 2010—was also on display throughout the ballroom with about 150 attendees.
About a dozen elders from the early years traveled to Colombia for the anniversary and each early volunteer present was called to the stage by Carrie Hessler and presented with a special pin. “Flaco” Bob Arias won the unofficial distinguished service award for having served five different times in the Peace Corps, once as a Colombia volunteer tk date, once as a Colombia Response Corps volunteer tk date, and as a Country Director in three different countries in Latin America. The older volunteers took great delight in trying to recognize one another in the old photos while younger volunteers took selfies in front of the exhibits. Between speeches by Hessler, the Secretary of Education of Atlantico State, current Peace Corps staffers and the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Bogota, videos showed Colombians who work with current volunteers expressing their gratitude for the contributions that the Peace Corps continues to make in Colombia.
The grand finale was a series of amazing Costeño musical performances in both song and dance—a mini Barranquilla Carnaval. Seeing those colorful performers made it hard to believe that today in Colombia the number one mission of the Peace Corps is “safety and security.”
Old friends and new friends alike gathered at the residence of Colombian ambassador to the United States, Juan Carlos Pinzon, in Dupont Circle, Washington D.C, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps Colombia.
Guests included returned Volunteers from both phase one (1961-1981) and phase two (2010-2015) of Peace Corps operations in Colombia, Peace Corps HQ staff, and a few friends of Colombia.
Embassy staff welcomed guests will a warm cafecito and pan de yucca before Ambassador Pinzon began with an interesting discourse on the history and current state of Colombia, thanking Peace Corps Volunteers for their contributions and continued service in the country.
Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler Radelet spoke next, offering her heartfelt appreciation to Ambassador Pinzon as well as the former Volunteers in attendance. Radelet recognizes Peace Corps Colombia as one of the earliest Peace Corps programs and praised the Group 1 Volunteers for their bravery and continued support of Colombia.
Group 1 Volunteers then presented Radelet with a copy of the bronze plaque that hangs at Rutgers University, commemorating the first group to go into training in 1961. A copy of the original plaque now hangs proudly at Peace Corps Headquarters.
There was a sense of collective comradery in the room and spirits were high as guests remembered their own experience with Peace Corps and Colombia.
United States Congressman Sam Farr was also in attendance for the 25th anniversary celebration and as a parting gift, each guest received a photography book called, “Colombia; A Country of Opportunity.”
From Oct. 12-16, 2015, 26 of the remaining Colombia I (1961-1963) Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) reunited in Galveston, Texas to reconnect and honor their time together, more than 50 years after their first experience in Colombia.
Colombia I included 62 Volunteers who were assigned, along with local counterparts, to do community development work in rural Colombia. Primarily, they were instrumental in getting the Colombian government’s fledgling Acción Communal program up and running. According to CARE, the organization that administered the group even before Peace Corps was fully operational worldwide, Colombia I Volunteers played a role in the realization of the following local projects: 44 schools, 29 farm-to-market roads, 27 aqueducts, 4 health centers, 100 sports fields, 1000 latrines, and 26 cooperatives.
Two members of the Colombia I team, David Crozier and Larry Radley, were the first Peace Corps Volunteers to pass away during service, in a plane crash in the Colombian jungle on Easter Sunday, 1962. Peace Corps later named two training facilities in Puerto Rico, Camp Crozier and Camp Radley, in their honor.
In a time of doubt and uncertainty, the success of Colombia I helped secure the future of the Peace Corps, demonstrating the important impact of service abroad. Now, the remaining members of Colombia I still get together every few years, in addition to the national NPCA reunions that happen every five years in D.C.
Following their four days in Galveston, Colombia I RPCV Darrel Young composed the following piece describing the reunion.
Oh Galveston, welcomed, with charms wide open, twenty-six of the remaining fifty members of Colombia I, along with twenty wives, including two widows, for a get-together age-appropriately entitled “The Older We Get, The Better We Were!”
Texas was perfect, not only the weather, but in Texas, exaggeration and embellishment are not only allowed, they’re admired! Days and nights, enhanced by succulent seafood and occasional sips of Aguardiente Cristal and/or Ron Viejo de Caldas, were spent sharing ourselves with one another and with the city at large. Everyone had their moment, recounting how Peace Corps made each of us more.
We heard by phone and text from those who couldn’t be there. We got updated on Peace Corps and NPCA. We walked the seawall; we swam; we took a boat tour into the twilight. We dined together and honored those no longer with us.
We reaffirmed how much we are still a part of one another.
We discovered once again that we are at our best when we are together.
By Patricia A. Wand, Colombia VIII 1963-1965
July 11, 2015
After the final session of Peace Corps Connect – Berkeley, as I got on the dorm elevator to retrieve my bags and head out, another returned PCV got on with me. He was probably in his sixties and, making small talk, I asked, “Is this the first Peace Corps Connect you’ve attended?” With a smile he said, “Yes, it is. And next year will be the second.”
That pretty well summed it up for all of us.
He went on to explain. The speakers were informative and stimulating, the contributions of fellow RPCVs to the world and their communities continue unabated and their stories are astounding. Most of all and overall, the spirit of Peace Corps was pervasive. Throughout the plenary sessions, the breakouts and individual interactions he was reminded of the reasons so many of us signed up in the first place.
For every Peace Corps Connect, Friends of Colombia joins forces with National Peace Corps Association to offer something special focusing on Colombia. And now that Peace Corps has come alive again in Colombia, it makes our efforts even more rewarding.
Peace Corps Connect - Berkeley was no exception. FOC sponsored a Colombia Gathering on Friday afternoon, June 5, and a lively dinner on Friday evening. In addition, and for their first reunion ever, fifteen RPCVs who trained in Colombia VIII joined forces for meals and informal events to mark the milestone 50 years since they left Colombia.
On Friday afternoon more than 40 Colombia RPCVs gathered on the UC Berkeley campus in standing-room-only space, introducing themselves one-by-one and participating in lively discussions with two outstanding speakers, Michael Edward Stanfield and Samuel Sharon Farr.
Michael E. Stanfield, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, University of San Francisco shared his research on why and how beauty has become a central positive identity marker for Colombians. He posits that Colombians focus on beauty and beauty pageants in order to divert attention from the complicated realities of daily life; that is, the insecurity, poverty and violence that pervade the lives of most non-elite Colombians. Through well-chosen photos spanning nearly two centuries, Stanfield illustrated how the Colombian concept of beauty changed from indigenous traits to European and western characteristics as Colombia shifted over time into the global economy. He admitted his own surprise in how much he discovered about Colombia and even U.S. policies through his study of Colombian fashion trends over time, aesthetic values and beauty. Stanfield’s latest book is Of Beasts and Beauty: Gender, Race, and Identity in Colombia (University of Texas Press 2013).
Our own U.S. Congressman Sam Farr addressed the group next, building on his keynote address earlier in the day at the opening session for Peace Corps Connect. Farr served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia 1964 – 1966, assigned to the barrio of Castilla in Medellin in an Urban Community Development program. Early in his service, Farr learned first hand the sustainability of citizen-focused, self-directed projects when he supported the barrio in the construction of a long-desired soccer field. That experience with Acción Comunál laid the groundwork for his life of service. He share stories about his recent return to Colombia and the barrio as well as Colombia-related legislation in Congress that he has help to craft. He saluted the return of Peace Corps Volunteers to Colombia and the role Friends of Colombia had in facilitating their return.
Colombia RPCVs, family and friends gathered Friday evening for more stories, reminiscing and laughter. Sixty-three people enjoyed an informal reception at the HS Lordship Restaurant overlooking the Bay and just as they sat to eat they were unexpectedly joined by Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (RPCV Samoa) and staffer Chris Austin (RPCV). Their presence broadened the scope of topics at some tables to include current and future Peace Corps activities. On Saturday, Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet addressed a plenary session of Peace Corps Connect.
Friends of Colombia activities in Berkeley were supported by the FOC Board and coordinated by Pat Wand and Dick Miller who oversaw local arrangements. Pat Kelly, FOC Newsletter Editor, joined in hosting attendees.
Mark your calendars now. Peace Corps’ 55th anniversary is 2016 and we’ll be celebrating it at Peace Corps Connect in Washington DC, September 23 – 25, 2016. See you there!
Having a Reunion? Tell Us More. Please send any logistical information, photos, and stories from the event to: firstname.lastname@example.org