Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Peace Corps Legacy

The death of Sargent Shriver reminds me once more of what government can do, when its people rise above parsimony and act as though they believe in themselves, their country, and the world. For thousands of us Americans, Peace Corps was defining, bringing us out of the narrow confines of home and into the large and often dangerous world--teaching us. We may have helped a few others along the way, but the greatest impact of Peace Corps has always been on us, the Volunteers, and on the country we returned home to.

The expansiveness, the open arms of the vision--this is something we've nearly lost over the past thirty years. Something we've nearly lost as a country, that is. Fortunately, Jimmy Carter continues to promote it, as does Peace Corps itself, struggling along into its fiftieth year. But, then, it always did have to struggle.

Peace Corps has never been easy--for the Volunteers, for the in-country staff, or for its administrators in DC or its supporters on Capitol Hill. Sometimes it has looked as though it would just say 'to hell with it' and lie down and die. But it continues, and gives hope to an idea of the world as an interconnected, interdependent place filled with beauty and mystery among the failures and horrors that dominate our media visions. A world of possibility and growth.

All of this has been reinforced for me over the past year or so, as I have worked to help produce the first volume in Jane Albritton's 50th Anniversary set of collected essays by Peace Corps Volunteers. It's called One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo and is being published by Travelers' Tales/Solas House, with me as the volume editor.

Together, the essays present as good a picture as I've ever seen of the Peace Corps experience in Africa. The writers are brilliant and thoughtful... and observant. If either Africa, the American experience in Africa, or Peace Corps interest you, keep an eye out for the book. I hope I will be able to conduct a few readings from it in New York City bookstores in the spring, and will announce any here.

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