FON fans the flames

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Special Reports: Is it time for a New Peace Corps? 4 articles take a critical look at the Peace Corps of the new millenium : FON fans the flames

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, July 12, 2001 - 3:24 pm: Edit Post

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FON fans the flames

FON Fans the Flames by Karen Keefer, '66-'68

Editor's Note: This is the third of a three-part series taking a critical look at the NPCA, Peace Corps, and country of service groups. The author was a charter member and director of the first FON that was active from 1986 to 1991. She is currently a Senior Program Officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Most RPCVs took away more from Nigeria than we gave. I feel as if I merely existed prior to my Nigerian birth when I began to live. The warm, glowing embers of my service in Nigeria burned hotter and deeper in the pit of my being after my return. Family and friends didn't understand the changes Nigeria made in my life. I felt I was alone fighting injustice in the world. The Third Goal wasn't clear. We shared our experiences with others who cared to listen; but that wasn't enough. In 1977, I came to Washington and worked at Peace Corps headquarters. But Peace Corps was not addressing the Third Goal.

It was up to RPCVs to address the Third Goal.

Three of us started African Agenda that spearheaded ACTION Alumni Association of the Greater Washington Area. Later renamed RPCV/Washington, this group threw its weight behind the fledgling organization which became the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA).

The Returned volunteer movement has been led primarily by Nigeria RPCVs. We lit the fires and fanned the flames. I was RPCV/Washington's first President, and NPCA Chair of the Peace Corps 20th Anniversary Conference.

Katy Hansen, 66-68, was the initial driving force behind the NPCA, first as Newsletter Editor, then as long-serving President. Roger Landrum, 61-63, was one of the longest-serving presidents of RPCV/Washington. Timothy Carroll, 63-65, was the first Sargent Shriver Award winner and the first NPCA Executive Director. Nigeria Volunteers, all.

The 25th Anniversary Conference spawned a number of country of service groups like FON. Sandra Frazier, 66-68, its president, and five others of us tried to involve Nigeria RPCVs nationally but most sent money and didn't work on projects. In 1991, FON dissolved, giving the balance of its funds to Ashoka (see the Spring 1999 issue) to support Nigerian Fellows-Innovators for the Public-the first in Africa.

How can this reincarnation of FON succeed?

1. Global Approach FON now has officers and directors from around the nation. This approach is vital. With the use of computers and email, even a global approach is working as FON communicates with members from Fiji to Zimbabwe.

2. Achievable Goals FON's goals must continue to be actualized in the newsletter and at gatherings like the meeting and dinner at the recent NPCA conference. FON's Newsletter informs us about what Nigeria RPCVs are doing to bring the world back home. It keeps us abreast of significant events in Nigeria. When we learn about certain issues, the newsletter allows us to network with the membership to work towards resolving problems or supporting worthwhile projects.

3. Umbrella Organization FON should act as an umbrella with spokes that spawn advocacy groups which like-minded members may choose to support. FON can assist the formation of such groups that wish to lobby Congress, governmental agencies, or other entities, for goals that individual members wish to address.

Only if FON is an umbrella organization that facilitates independent actions by its members will it have longevity.

4. Support Development Projects FON should serve the Nigerian people. Since there currently is no Peace Corps in Nigeria, FON should partner with established NGOs (non-governmental organizations) at work there. This is more efficient use of time, money, and energy than developing new projects with questionable avenues of implementation and oversight.

At the general meeting in August, FON members had an excellent discussion about supporting worthwhile organizations like the Ashoka Society. Another worthwhile organization is Grameen Bank which makes micro-credit loans to small business people in developing countries. These loans go primarily to women of the poorest families and statistics show that, on average, five family members benefit from each micro-loan. We should urge Grameen to make loans in Nigeria.

I am concerned about the destruction of tropical rainforests and the consequent ozone depletion. I would like to see FON members support projects such as reforestation of deforested tropical rainforests. Trees for the Future has an African initiative where host country technicians plant Leucaena seedlings that can grow as much as 24 feet a year. We should lobby this organization to extend its projects into Nigerian villages. And it's quite cost-effective. It only takes $30 to plant 200 seedlings.

By supporting such projects, FON leaves implementation to established groups. Once Peace Corps re-enters Nigeria, FON might initiate projects assisted by Volunteers. Until then, FON should partner with groups who have paved the way.

5. Charter Trips Finally, my vision for FON involves it helping me return to my birthplace and reuniting with my extended family. I'm sure most of us would like to do this. Hopefully, the Obasanjo administration will build us the long-awaited, safe roads home.

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