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Peace Corps Advocacy Day
Dr. Dave Hibbard left the Peace Corps more than three decades ago. The Peace Corps, however, never left him, pulling him instead toward a life of service and advocacy here in the U.S.
"We need to be constantly diligent to recognize and develop (the Peace Corps)," Hibbard said recently in Washington, D.C., during the Peace Corps 40+1 Anniversary Celebration. "We can't just sit back and say 'We've got the good life' and forget the rest of the world. And that's been proven on September 11th. The things we enjoy in this country -- the religious pluralism, the tolerance ... so many other people want."
A 1961-63 tour of service in Nigeria during Peace Corps' initial years helped to shape Hibbard's world view. Three years of continued service later that decade in India as a Peace Corps physician further refined his views. Now a physician in Boulder, Colo., he spends considerable time and effort sharing what he learned with his patients and community.
"We can offer a perspective on the world that people who haven't been overseas don't have," he said.
To do so, and to ensure that the work of 7,000 volunteers currently serving in more than 70 countries continues and grows, returned Peace Corps volunteers must do their share in speaking about the importance of Peace Corps. Two hundred RPCVs offered their support at the D.C. conference. They visited more than 50 congressional offices to impress upon their elected officials just how critical the Peace Corps is in the world today.
"We can take a small amount of money and do a tremendous amount of good work," Janet Callis explained while visiting the office of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.). Callis, who served in South Korea from 1967-68 and in administrative positions at Peace Corps headquarters in the early '70s, shared her experiences during the office visit with five other RPCVs.
Sen. Sarbanes listened intently, as did Frederick Baron, Legislative Assistant to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), during a second office visit during Advocacy Day.
"One of the challenges we face is that the pay off (for Peace Corps) is in the long run," Baron told the RPCVs, who represented Peace Corps service in Benin, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia and South Africa. "Senator Mikulski is a big fan of the Peace Corps. We'd like to do more. I think it would be very hard to find the money to do more."
An unprecedented surge of bi-partisan support may assist RPCV efforts on this matter. In his State of the Union address to Congress earlier this year, President Bush proposed doubling the size of Peace Corps by 2007. The National Peace Corps Association supports this initiative, and designed its first Advocacy Day during the conference to convince Congress to do the same.
"It's important to meet with and thank those who have supported Peace Corps," Lauren Hale, an NPCA Advocacy Committee member and Ivory Coast RPCV, said as Advocacy Day concluded on Capitol Hill. Specifically, added Advocacy Coordinator Ed Crane, that means targeting members of the Foreign Relations Committee (such as Sen. Sarbanes) and the Appropriations Committee (such as Sen. Mikulski).
"We have the right time, and we have the right message," said Crane (Dominican Republic, 1966-67). "Our goal now is to create an Advocacy Network on the local level in their districts. It doesn't just happen on Advocacy Day."
Year-round attention to this matter can be achieved by contacting elected officials and sharing with them details of the "New Mandate," an advocacy effort under the leadership of Dr. Hibbard and Roger Landrum. Details of the Mandate are available on this website.
To advocate, to continue serving Peace Corps ideals here in the U.S., is to enhance the original design of Peace Corps service.
"I ask you to ... build a new Peace Corps for the 21st Century," new Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez told a sun-baked crowd in Arlington National Cemetery at the closing ceremony for the conference. "The Peace Corps, now more than ever, allows us to be a participant rather than a spectator in shaping the future of the world."
About the Author
Brian Dulay served in the Czech Republic from 1995 to 1997. He is President of the Maryland Returned Volunteers. He now lives in Baltimore, where he teaches English as a Second Language for the Baltimore City Public School System. If you'd like to share comments regarding this story or other Peace Corps issues, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Advocacy; 40th plus one; COS - Czech Republic