We come in peace

The Peace Corps Experience in Dayton

By Tammy Newsom

Photo: Sara Kacvinsky wears funeral attire from Ghana; photo: Patsy Ferrell

Some readers may recall President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 inaugural address that served as a call to order for young volunteers entering the Peace Corps.

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

As a Returning Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), a volunteer who has returned from service, John Flemming remembers his time in the Peace Corps (1967-69) fondly. His was the sixth Peace Corps group that went out after Kennedy’s call. He was placed as director of the extension aid office at the southern region of the African nation of Malawi for the Ministry of Agriculture in Blantyre. His role was to set up the office, hire and train an African staff.

“I had a well defined job and well defined goals to be accomplished,” Flemming said. “Some of the volunteers who were trained in the area of social service and community service had to define their own jobs.”

Flemming was tasked to instruct staff on how to provide visual aids to farmers in training centers and in the fields. The country needed skilled hands in growing tobacco and cotton, and in working with animals. Before he left for Africa, Flemming himself had to be educated on how to use visual aids at the Regional Peace Corps Volunteer Training Center in London, England, so he could teach the Malawians. Flemming had wanted to see Africa all his life, but did go through culture shock once he settled into his post in Malawi.

“The key to resolve was stay flexible and accepting as to how things were done as opposed to changing it,” Flemming said.

Flemming’s lack of prior experience with agriculture was not a setback, either, in winning his post in Malawi.

“Back then the regional Peace Corps Recruiters looked for college graduates with a liberal arts education,” he said. “The rationale was that a liberal arts education was better-rounded.”

Today, Flemming noted Peace Corps Recruiters tend to look for more specialized technicians. After the Peace Corps, Flemming spent the next 30 years working in and directing museums.

Fortunately, we can now share in Flemming’s and other RPCV’s experiences. Beginning Jan. 31 and running through May 31, The Dayton International Peace Museum, in cooperation with the Southwestern Ohio Returned Volunteer Organization (SORVO), will present an exhibit entitled, Peace Corps Volunteers: 54 Years of Global Service. The exhibit was developed by the Oregon Historical Society and is on loan to Dayton’s International Peace Museum from the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience in Portland, Oregon. The exhibit displays photos and short narratives to trace the history of the Peace Corps, and to document nations served by the Peace Corps.

Ambassador Tony Hall and Ohio Governor Bob Taft, both RPCVs, will be on hand opening day after delivering keynote speeches at a luncheon hosted by Sinclair Community College Conference Center. Throughout the exhibit’s run, attendees will also have the opportunity to Skype with Ambassador Tony Hall and ask questions about the exhibit.

The exhibit will provide an ongoing panel of RPCVs who will explain the application and training process, and what it is like living and working in a foreign country. This exhibit will introduce some new programs that have been activated within the Peace Corps in the past year, including a faster enrollment and service process, and a special service opportunity for health care professionals. There is a volunteer prep program launched by a cooperative of six universities across the U.S. to streamline recruitment. A special program has been introduced for returning volunteers with ten years or more work experience, to re-enter service.

Deborah Hogshead, communications coordinator for Peace Corps Experience, said they are working with RPCVs now to provide artifacts and souvenirs from past tours of service. These RPCVs’ memorabilia represent our peace heroes.

“This tells the story of those who care about other people and work to make positive change in the world through nonviolent means,” Hogshead said. “We need to find more ways to bring peace to the world.”

Flemming said there is a growing need for volunteers to work in the field of education, engineering and science to assist developing countries.

“Volunteer teachers are needed overseas due to the lack of number of people in foreign countries who have graduated college and work in the secondary schools,” he said.

SORVO will hold a recruitment event for those interested in becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer on Saturday, Feb. 28, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Dayton International Peace Museum. The RPCVs will appear on a panel discussion to describe their experience, and Regional Recruiters will be available to share information about becoming a Peace Corps volunteer.

“These are very comprehensive programs designed to illustrate the Peace Corps today,” Hogshead said.

Peace Corps Volunteers: 54 Years of Global Service will be on view beginning Saturday, Jan. 31 at the Dayton International Peace Museum, 208 W. Monument Ave. For more information, please call 937.227.3223 or visit daytonpeacemuseum.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tammy Newsom at TammyNewsom@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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