Tag Archives: interview

Peace Corps and NPCA

Interview with NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst

by Janet Lee, Editor (Emdeber 1974–76)

Glenn Blumhorst is the President & CEO of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and an RPCV from Guatemala (1988–1991).  In early December, he and his associate, Amanda Silva, RPCV Indonesia 2013-2015, visited Colorado, attended the RPCVs of Colorado annual Holiday Party and met with a group of RPCVs in Boulder. The visit was part of a nation-wide road trip to reach out to established RPCV groups and to meet with recently returned Volunteers.

The Editor of The Herald took this opportunity to interview Glenn about changes that are underway with the NPCA.

The Herald
The most noticeable changes to NPCA are eliminating membership fees and broadening the scope of who is eligible to become a member. What do you hope to accomplish with these changes? Tell us more about the “New” National Peace Corps Association.

Blumhorst
Historically, the NPCA has been a membership dues organization, however, after looking at our community we wanted to further engage and better serve the greater Peace Corps community, and in the New Year we will complete our transition to being a mission-driven and project-oriented organization. Currently, anyone with any affiliation or affinity for Peace Corps ideals is welcome to become a member of the National Peace Corps Association.

Because membership is free, members who are committed to the mission of the NPCA are welcome to contribute or continue contributing as “Mission Partners.” Mission Partners can choose their level of investment in funding any of our 3 areas:

  1. Helping RPCVs thrive through transition services spanning career development, mentorship or health care issues.
  2. Making Peace Corps the best it can be by advocating for greater funding to increase the number of  Volunteers in the field to 10,000, calling for extension of federal Non-Competitive Eligibility Act, increasing the number of companies partnered with Employers of National Service, and building partnerships to secure new resources for Volunteers in the field.
  3. Increasing our Development Impact through our collaboration with the White House and Peace Corps on the Let Girls Learn initiative, investing in partnerships with RPCV-run organizations such as Water Charity for WASH projects.

The Herald
Describe the launch of the Peace Corps Community Fund.  What opportunities will it provide for RPCVs?

Blumhorst
The Peace Corps Community Fund is aimed at better serving, engaging and connecting the Peace Corps community. The NPCA is always strongest when our community comes together and is driven by common goals. We were able to secure the highest Peace Corps budget for the 2016 fiscal year, because our community mobilized to make this happen. There is so much more that can be done when we have the investment and engagement of the Peace Corps community, the Community Fund is our way of expanding those services and creating more opportunities that RPCVs want from us. Let us know your ideas; we want to know how we can help!

The Herald
Any advice on how RPCVs can advocate for current and future Volunteers in the field? How is NPCA advocating on their behalf?

Blumhorst
Great question! The most important thing RPCVs can do is meet with their House and Senate Representatives. Time and time again we’re told that face time between a constituent and a Member of Congress is the most effective means of advocacy. Talk about your positive experiences from Peace Corps and how those experiences have affected you and your host community. If you’re interested in organizing a meeting, or inviting your Members to an RPCV-led event, please get in touch with our advocacy team, and they’ll walk you through it. Also, you can use our software to contact Members of Congress; request that they meet with Volunteers in the field while they’re on Congressional Delegations; and ask that they raise awareness for the Peace Corps by promoting the agency and its work — to that end, feel free to supply them with press releases of RPCV constituents and those currently serving, and notify them of RPCV-led events, especially service-oriented projects.

The NPCA advocacy team is here to assist and represent you every step of the way. We are the sole advocacy body for the Peace Corps community, and will continue to build on successes in the past by advocating for RPCVs and the agency, whether it’s reform or appropriations. Aside from providing you with talking points, materials and advice, we’ll also connect you with our vast team of advocacy coordinators all over the country — like the fabulous Suzanne Smith of Colorado. And while you may not be able to meet with your Members of Congress, we do. We’re on Capitol Hill all the time, meeting with Members and staff. It’s what helped secure Peace Corps’ FY16 budget of $410 million — the agency’s biggest budget ever. Please contact our advocacy team for more information.

The Herald

Berhane Daba, winner of the Harris Wofford Award, and her mentor/American mother Mary Myers-Bruckenstein (Addis 68-70)

Berhane Daba, winner of the Harris Wofford Award, and her mentor/American mother, Mary Myers-Bruckenstein (Addis 68-70)

Peace Corps Connect in Berkley was a highly successful event. A highlight for RPCVs from Ethiopia/Eritrea was the selection of Berhane Daba, president and founder of Ethiopian Women with Disabilities Association for the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. What does NPCA have planned for the 35th anniversary in Washington D.C. September 22-25, 2016?

Blumhorst
The NPCA is excited that this year’s Peace Corps Connect, September 22-25, 2016 in Washington DC, will be held in conjunction with the 55th anniversary of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps  has had a profound global impact and our community has a wealth of knowledge and experience with which we continue to affect change. The conference will create discussion sand open dialogue about how Peace Corps can continue to have impact in the coming years, with a specific focus on our core mission areas: girls education and empowerment, peace and security, economic development, global health, and environmental sustainability.

 


Peace Corps

Interview with new Peace Corps/Ethiopia Country Director Brannon Brewer

by Janet Lee (Emdeber, 1974–76)

The Herald:  Please give us a brief overview of your background, including prior Peace Corps Director assignments, other international posts, and where you served as a Volunteer?

2014 12 03 CD Brannon BrewerBrewer: My background has been varied and spanned a number of locations.  I worked as staff to a couple of U.S. House Members when I was younger, and had a business in the States.  But my true career was really set in motion when I joined Peace Corps as a Small Business Volunteer in Moldova in 1997. For all the wonderful people I came to know, and the experiences I would never trade, it was still a rather bleak place to be following the fall of the Soviet Union.  I did, however, meet my wife, Sophia, while we were both serving. So Moldova started both my overseas career and my family at the same time. Sophia now serves as a USAID Health Officer in Addis.

But back to the question, I found the overseas experience somewhat addictive, and we soon moved to Romania for several years, and children started entering the picture for us. I then became the country director for an NGO in Addis, where we spent about three and a half years between 2007 and 2010.  But for me, NGO work didn’t have the same satisfaction as my PCV days, so I joined Peace Corps as a country director and I served in Guyana and then Liberia.  Ebola was ravaging the people and country, and we evacuated the PCVs from Liberia, though not a single Volunteer wanted to leave their friends, students and communities. It was a hard time on many levels.  But Peace Corps offered me the opportunity to join the team in Ethiopia, and I gladly jumped at the chance! Sophia and I now have three kids, and our youngest was actually born in Addis the last time we were here.  It seems we were meant to be back.

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The Herald:  How have your experiences differed from country to country?  What has been a unifying theme?

Brewer: Every country is so different, and that’s really the whole draw of living abroad.  We all as people share certain things in common, yet it is the things that are unique and special about each culture and society that should be recognized and celebrated. It troubles me if people talk about entire regions of the world in broad strokes that ignore their particular qualities.  It’s commonly done when referring to “Africans” as if it’s one big country, but it’s also done for South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and so forth.  Until you live within a culture, learn it’s traditions, values, and ways of life, then it’s very difficult to understand and appreciate the differences.  And no one gains that insight and appreciation like a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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The Herald:  I believe Ethiopia has one of the largest contingents of Volunteers in Africa.  What makes it so popular? What role does the Ethiopian government (at all levels) play in its success?

Brewer: Even though Peace Corps was re-established only in 2007, it is among the largest posts in terms of Volunteer numbers. Ethiopia has such a rich history that it is an attractive post even for those who have never travelled abroad.  We have roughly 225 Volunteers and Trainees right now working in our three projects of Health, Environment and Secondary Education, and I anticipate we will average about 260 by the end of 2015.  Peace Corps has programs in the countries where the needs match well with the strengths of the agency and the qualifications of generally younger Volunteers, though many of the most effective are those who join with an entire career of experience to draw from. Working as complements to the government of Ethiopia, Volunteers are able to engage in activities that improve the opportunities in life for others, improve their quality of life, and to help communities realize their aspirations. Ethiopia has a current population of about 90 million, so there are plenty of communities that can benefit from hosting a dedicated, resourceful, and technically qualified Volunteer.

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The Herald:  There is obviously no typical Volunteer. What are the demographics of the recent groups?  Youngest to oldest, male and female.  What are their assignments?  Where are they stationed?  Rural or urban?

Brewer: There is no typical Volunteer, as we all come from every demographic, but I believe there are shared characteristics that every Volunteer has in common. I find that enthusiasm, perseverance, resourcefulness and creativity are some of the most important qualities.  Volunteers care for people and earn personal fulfillment and gratification from benefitting someone other than themselves.  I’ve heard some say that the current generation of younger Volunteers lacks the sense of service, work ethic, etc. of previous generations of Volunteers, but I don’t find that at all the case.  Those who join Peace Corps today are made of the same fabric, and join for the same reasons, as those who first answered the call of President Kennedy. Yes, it’s a different world, but the adventurous, can-do spirit of service, is still found in those that commit themselves to our three goals.

The average age of our Volunteers is 25, and being 70 percent female — numbers that basically match the agency ratios.  The projects have largely been urban based, but we are in the process of shifting sites to more rural environments where an average kebele community may consist of only a couple of thousand people.  These are the environments where PCVs can thrive, where they can work directly with the people, and develop personal relationships.

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The Herald:  My group trained in Harrar and Dire Dawa, areas that have been forbidden to current Volunteers until recently. Volunteers in my day were pulled from the north after the Derg took over and travel was forbidden up north.  Recently Volunteers have been stationed as far north as Axum. What considerations are taken to ban or open up a site to Volunteers? Have you had an opportunity to do many site visits?  How does your office communicate with Volunteers in remote areas?

Brewer: Volunteers are allowed to visit Dire Dawa and Harrar, though not the areas surrounding those specific towns. Peace Corps places PCVs in only the four regions of Tigray, Oromia, Amhara, and SNNP. These are the regions with the highest population densities and offer conditions where PCVs can live and work with the greatest assurance of physical well-being.  Ethiopia is in a rough neighborhood within the Horn of Africa, and most border areas present concerns. Our post has a safety and security team that assesses each site, and we share information with numerous organizations and agencies, including the U.S. Embassy, to continually evaluate the safety of our program areas.

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The Herald:  What is your vision for the future of Peace Corps/Ethiopia?

Brewer: I want to see a post where Volunteers and staff share common goals, and are all moving in the same direction and for the same purpose. I want to see projects that fill a niche in the development of Ethiopia, and that result in clear impact on a broad scale. I want Peace Corps to be well known for the contribution our Volunteers offer through their service, and I do not want us to be the best kept secret in Ethiopia. I want Volunteers who are so well prepared to participate in their communities that they don’t want to leave after two years. I want them to thrive, to excel, and to find the fulfillment and satisfaction that makes them appreciating the opportunity they had for the rest of their lives. Likewise, I want all Ethiopians who have ever known a Volunteer to remember fondly the time they spent together, and to realize the opportunities in life that they would not have had had they not benefitted from the Volunteers’ service in their communities.  All of this is why we are here.



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