A Towering Task in Ethiopia

by Alana DeJoseph  (Mali 1992–94)

I am in the midst of directing a documentary entitled A Towering Task* that will tell the important story of the Peace Corps, both as a peacemaking agency with a rich and complicated history, and as a container for the intimate personal stories of individuals impacted worldwide. The film will use these different angles to evaluate how the Peace Corps is relevant in today’s context, and where it might go moving forward. Our story is that of an agency founded on grand ideals such as world peace and friendship, and the struggles that it faces as those ideals fade not just for the Peace Corps, but also for our society as a whole. The film will chronicle the agency through the captivating stories of those who lived it — then open a dialogue with historians, journalists and international experts about how to translate the past into a map for future success.

President Jimmy Carter with Director, Alana DeJoseph

President Jimmy Carter talking with Director, Alana DeJoseph

It is through powerful voices that we will tell the story of the Peace Corps and the parallel challenges that face the entire global community. We will combine a variety of interviews with host country nationals, Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, and scholars and journalists who put the story of the Peace Corps into context. Voices from all over the world will share not only the work and impact, but also the complications and mistakes of the Peace Corps. This diverse set of stories will come together to explore the lessons learned by half a century of peace building and diplomacy.

Alana DeJoseph, Director, A Towering Task

Alana DeJoseph, Director, A Towering Task

Producing a documentary about the Peace Corps is in itself a towering task. 55 years of history and 220,000 returned Volunteers could fill a library with stories and insights. So it is challenging, but crucial to decide which stories and which angles to pick to provide the big-picture understanding of this complex topic. With 141 countries the Peace Corps has been in, there could easily be 141 documentaries each telling the history of the agency in that particular part of the world.

Why have we decided to travel to Ethiopia and feature it as one of the four countries to explain the Peace Corps and its history to America?

Since we first embarked on our journey to tell this important and urgent story, Ethiopia has continuously popped up, beckoning us to follow the threads of its enticing tale.

Haskell Ward, Ethiopia II, 1963-65, Nazareth

Talking with Haskell Ward, Ethiopia II, 1963-65, Nazareth

When RPCV Haskell Ward told us in our interview with him about what it was like to be an African American Volunteer serving in this mesmerizing country while back home civil rights protests were gripping the nation, when RPCV Chic Dambach told us about the peace negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea aided by RPCVs, when Ethiopian activist Berhane Daba told us of her

Berhane Daba, recipient of the 2015 Harris Woffard Global Citizen Award.

Talking with Berhane Daba, recipient of the 2015 Harris Woffard Global Citizen Award.

efforts to help handicapped women in Ethiopia and “her” Peace Corps Volunteer Mary Myers-Bruckenstein explained what it was like to get a new family far from home, and when John Coyne, the Peace Corps’ unofficial historian, tied together those threads that weave this tapestry of a bold tale, it became clear that Ethiopia demanded attention. We are thrilled to be planning a production trip to Ethiopia this year.

The puzzle piece that is the RPCV ripple effect is one of the most overlooked parts of the Peace Corps – and how better to illustrate that than through the voices of these thoughtful “Ethies.”

And through the lens of Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic, the Ukraine, the Philippines, and our own country, the American public will learn of the immeasurable ripple effect that is the Peace Corps.

Our Peace Corps community has never effectively come together as a constituency of 220,000 strong. However, now, for the first time we will tell this big-picture story to American and to the world, and we will bring back the Peace Corps into the national discourse.

The crowd funding endeavor was highly success and has ended, but further donations are welcome. Please visit web page and add your donation to our story.

* A Towering Task: Warren Wiggins’ Architecture for the Peace Corps  was a memo drafted by Warren Wigeons and Bill Josephson that became the  blueprint for the Peace Corps.

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