August 19, 2004: Headlines: NPCA: NPCA: 25th Anniversary Conference in Chicago -- Sunday Highlights

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25th Anniversary Conference in Chicago -- Sunday Highlights

25th Anniversary Conference in Chicago -- Sunday Highlights

25th Anniversary Conference in Chicago -- Sunday Highlights

25th Anniversary Conference in Chicago -- Sunday Highlights

Procession of Flags

Sunday morning broke clear, sunny and warm in Chicago, the perfect weather for what has become a Peace Corps conference tradition: the procession of flags. Conference participants assembled three blocks from the conference hotel, in a park adjacent to the stunning new Millennium Park band shell. There CAPCA volunteers handed out Peace Corps country of service flags to groups of RPCVs.

Flags fluttering against the backdrop of the dramatic Chicago skyline, RPCVs then walked south along Lakeshore Drive and regrouped beside the Buckingham Fountain. A bag piper stood at attention. CAPCA conference Vice-Chair Chuck Sheftel offered words of remembrance for the volunteers and staff that have lost their lives while in service. The flag of Niger was presented to Donna and Chelsea Mack, creators of the Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project in honor of their son and brother fallen RPCV Jeremiah Mack (Niger 95-97). Following the piping of “Amazing Grace,” white doves were released.

The assemblage moved a little further around the fountain for a group photo on the steps. Getting RPCVs to do anything is a little like herding cats, but eventually the flag bearers who wanted their country front and center were persuaded to move to the back so as not to block people’s faces.

Closing Ceremony

After relinquishing their flags, conference participants filled the auditorium of the Chicago Art Institute for the closing ceremonies. Performances by Latin Rhythms Dance Latin Rhythms Dance heated up the auditorium between speakers while the Mioritza dance group offered boot-slapping Romanian folk dances.

His Excellency Hedeyat Amin-Arsala, the vice president of the Provisional Government of Afghanistan spoke of his special connection to Peace Corps: while in the U.S. he trained early groups of Peace Corps volunteers and his wife Betsy is a returned Peace Corps volunteer. He asserted that Peace Corps volunteers “needed now more than ever” in his country, and he urged young, mid-career and older RPCVs to consider coming. “There is only one integrated world, one human civilization,” he said. “We love our children, wife, parents. We react to things the same way. So we have no choice but to depend on each other if we are ultimately to move forward. Peace Corps volunteers are needed to own, absorb and propagate this view of one world, to make sure we remove the cause for terrorism and remove the injustices that lead to terrorism.”

MSNBC political analyst Chris Matthews was among the first group of volunteers to serve in Swaziland in 1968 and the memories that he shared resonated no matter when or where one has served. He marveled at how it was possible to have so many vivid memories for what was in fact only two short years. He joked that he and his best friend Peace Corps friend Cliff “read every book…Jung, Fitzgerald, Siddhartha—we were, like, literary thinkers.” And he spoke of what it felt like to be welcomed by Africans as he traveled in the region. “We weren’t really in there as colonialists or anything, we had no enemies. We had different accents. And when I came to see them they’d give me a Coke—and then feel sorry that it was a warm Coke. We used to kid in Peace Corps about the chair that would always arrive from somewhere. They were so kind to us! They liked us. What’s wrong with that? You have to come to a country in some other uniform besides that of tourist or soldier.”

Bobby Muller, President and Founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Nobel Laureate for his work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, might to outsiders seem an unusual choice as a speaker at Peace Corps conference. However as NPCA President Kevin Quigley pointed out in his introduction, when one speaks of peace one also must speak of war and its effects.

Muller immediately connected with the audience. Stating that he had been inspired by the conference’s spirit of “energy and righteousness,” he called the Peace Corps community to service once more. “America,” he said, “needs you now more than it’s ever needed you.” Muller offered a searing assessment of the current state of the world and warned that our nation would suffer calamitous “teachable moments” not unlike 9/11 in the near future. The Peace Corps community, with its “almost unique experience, having gotten beyond the boundaries of the United States,” must be ready.

“It’s not enough to be righteous,” said Muller. You’ve got be righteous and you’ve got to be engaged…. Those of us that have really had those experiences, that appreciate how people around the world see things—and often times how they see things so completely different than how Americans see them—that is an understanding that’s got to be brought home to our people, to begin to work within this world community.” Muller urged the Peace Corps community to harness the power of people-to-people networks to affect change.

Peter Yarrow—activist, performer and member of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary—took to the stage to offer his unique blend of music and message. “The storm is coming,” he said, and called on Peace Corps volunteers to step up to the challenge. “I am not thinking of you as people who will change the image of American once again—that would be to damn you with faint praise. You are not changing anybody’s “image.” You are legitimately asserting that the humanity of this country has not lost its depth of commitment to being truly what peacemakers are. You are the people who must once more rise, as you have been asked to do by those of us who have some kind of common purpose with you but bring you external validation. You must be the ones to state that it is not a matter of image, it is a matter of being, it is a matter of the essence of who we seek to be and who we must be, if we are to find the language of understanding and bring it into the arenas where we can build peace from heart-to-heart, person-to-person conversation and exchange.”

Yarrow led the audience in “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and then commanded everyone to stand, cross their arms and grasp the hands of their neighbors across the aisles. He joked that he doesn’t sing at weddings, but if this occasion were one, it would be a recommitment ceremony. Then the audience sang and swayed to “We Shall Overcome” as Yarrow sang and spoke of the 1968 Democratic convention and the civil rights movement. The song ended with a rousing verse of “If I Had a Hammer.”

NPCA President Kevin Quigley went on stage to thank Peter—and to share a surprise. “Peter had a request this morning,” said Kevin. “He said he would like to be—in fact he demands to be—a Peace Corps volunteer and it’s clear that he shares our values and that we have common aspirations. So let’s just say he just skips the experience and he becomes a returned Peace Corps volunteer. On behalf of you and all of your passion we are officially and eternally making Peter Yarrow a returned Peace Corps volunteer!” With Peter grinning, Kevin pinned an RPCV lapel pin to his shirt collar while the audience cheered its approval.

CAPCA President Wallace Goode presented conference co-chair Trina Janes (Morocco 91-93) with a gift of appreciation. “With every high performance team, it takes an incredible leader to guide that team,” he said. Trina in turn thanked the hundreds of people who over the course of two years were involved in planning the conference. Saying that she would not miss the early Saturday morning NPCA/CAPCA conference calls, she declared, “We’re done!”

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: NPCA

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