Lots of ideas, few firm plans
September 2011 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Peace Corps. Plans are slowly — very slowly — taking form
Everyone agrees that next year’s Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of Peace Corps is going to be a big deal. Or at least it should be. The problem is that no one is quite sure what sort of commemorative events will take place. We at the HERALD would love to share with you a timetable of events, but no such schedule exists yet. Both Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps Association have web pages devoted to the Fiftieth, but they contain very little information on events that are firmly scheduled. Nor is it particularly clear what role — if any — returned Volunteers will play in the plans being devised by Peace Corps and the NPCA.
For those among us who like to plan way, way ahead, mark the weekend of September 25 on your 2011 calendar. The place: Washington, D.C. That’s more or less fifty years from September 21, 1961, the date on which Congress passed the Act that formally created Peace Corps and the date used as Peace Corps’ official birthday.
What will await us in Washington in September 2011 is still very much a work in progress. Peace Corps professes to be committed to making the most out of the anniversary. They see it as an opportunity to remind America that Peace Corps is still alive and well and that Volunteers are still serving around the world. They want to gin up enthusiasm for Peace Corps in Congress. Raise awareness, as they put it. The Anniversary hoopla, they say, will also help with recruiting. In a recent conversation with Linda Bergthold (Addis 62–64) new Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70) expressed great anticipation about the upcoming celebration of the Peace Corps’ 50th year. Linda says that “Williams hopes to celebrate the Peace Corps, not just by giving us a pat on the back for past accomplishments, but by highlighting what the Peace Corps experience continues to bring back to our nation, our communities and our families.”
It seems to us that there is something of a disconnect between RPCVs and the planners at Peace Corps and NPCA. Many RPCVs see the Fiftieth Anniversary as a chance to get together to reminisce about their service, celebrate their accomplishments , and re-connect with long lost colleagues. RPCVs are seldom known to pass up an excuse for a good party. The brass at Peace Corps and NPCA see the anniversary as a fund-raising and consciousness-enhancing opportunity. It’s not that RPCVs are disinterested in expanding Peace Corps. The work of RPCV groups like Push for Peace Corps have been key in getting more funds from Congress and supporting Peace Corps expansion. Many RPCVs are active in their communities continuing their work to further international understanding. Still, an opportunity for a good party and a bit of sentimental commemoration also seems worthwhile.
So for the moment we are all awaiting some announcements from Peace Corps — and the NPCA — about their plans for the big weekend. We are told plans are being finalized, which in Washington-speak means they are being vetted by lawyers. Peace Corps has apparently reserved the National Mall for that September weekend. Prior to Aaron Williams becoming Director, Peace Corps was all atwitter about throwing a massive cultural jamboree on the Mall, sort of National Geographic folk fair meets American volunteerism. But that idea seems to have faded. Peace Corps is having second thoughts about spending money from its newly increased budget, hard-won from Congress, on a party on the Mall. Private funding is a possibility (NPCA already has a “partnership” with Geiko on its Fiftieth Anniversary website urging RPCVs to click for a free insurance quote).
For the moment it seems that neither Peace Corps or NPCA will be sponsoring a conference or a headquarters hotel. No central meeting is planned. There is talk of a gala (read: costly) dinner on Saturday night, September 26, and perhaps some arrangements with various embassies to throw receptions or dinners. And, of course, a Sunday morning walk across Memorial Bridge to Arlington Cemetery to visit JFK’s grave.
So it seems that it will be up to country-of-service groups — like E&E RPCVs — to make many of their own arrangements for the weekend. Historically, the largest number of attendees at RPCV conferences has been from E&E RPCVs — and we expect similar participation in 2011 since we have been receiving queries about “the 50th” for several years now. We plan to have the kinds of events we have presented in the past — updates about Ethiopia and Eritrea managed by Shlomo Bachrach (Staff 66–68), casual social gatherings, and an injera & wat dinner. A few of us have already begun making some inquiries about hotels and meeting places so that we will have a place to stay and get together. Any suggestions, ideas, or help in such a project is welcome. Please contact Marian Beil at email@example.com or send a note to the HERALD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the lack of plans coming from NPCA and Peace Corps, some projects have gotten off the ground. Universities that hosted Peace Corps training projects are planning commemorations and displays. For example UCLA, where several Ethiopia groups trained, is planning an exhibition and celebration that may take place in March of 2011. Several big events are scheduled for the University of Michigan in October. President Obama worked a mention of Peace Corps in the commencement address he delivered in Ann Arbor on May first. Several projects to collect archival material are underway, including one sponsored by Peace Corps.
We are sure other projects are underway and if you hear of them please let us know. And we, for our part, will keep you informed of what grand events Peace Corps intends to stage, when, at last, those plans are announced. BRH