Dec. 13, 2011Vol. 42, Issue 3

CSU, Chico’s Peace Corps History

Celebrating 50 Years of International Volunteer Work

Loren is a former professor of agricultural business in the College of Agriculture, and Diana recently retired as project director for the Office of International Education.

By Jim Moon, former vice president for Student AffairsIt was a moving, fun, nostalgic, and rich four days: there were embassy receptions, an advocacy day on Capitol Hill, a community service day, conversations on the future of the Peace Corps moderated by Bill Moyers, a gala event hosted by Chris Matthews of Hardball, a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery honoring the 280 volunteers who died while in the Peace Corps, and a Walk of Country of Service Flags from the Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial. 

Over the past 50 years, 200,000 Americans, young and old, have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 countries. I served in Ethiopia from 1968 to 1970, and Loren and Diana served in India from 1965 to 1967. The 50th Anniversary events reminded me why I joined the Peace Corps in the first place. They stimulated many good memories and reminded me of the “third goal” of the Peace Corps—to bring the Peace Corps spirit home to our communities.

The Peace Corps was a factor in my hiring at Chico State in 1971. It was a transformative experience for me and influenced my conduct every day for the 35 years I worked here 

I recently reconnected after 40 years with my Ethiopian counterpart and am planning a visit to Ethiopia, an incredibly beautiful country with the most hospitable people in the world. I worked on two projects, one to train orphaned street boys in basic woodworking and the second in a malaria eradication project. There is no question I gained more from my experience than I was able to give to Ethiopia. The people I worked with were so appreciative, and, to this day, remember my efforts. (See Loren and Diana Parks' reflections below.)

A recent survey by the National Peace Corps revealed that nearly 100 percent of returned volunteers said they would recommend the Peace Corps to their child, grandchild, or close family member. The three top reasons people cited for joining the Peace Corps were wanting to live in another culture, gain a better understanding of the world, and help people build a better life. Many former volunteers said it shaped their life’s path and worldview, influencing their choice of career, where they lived later in life, and even their religious and political views. Over half said it made them more optimistic about the future; two-thirds said it challenged their values, including being more inspired to volunteer in community service upon return to home.

Currently, 8,600 Americans are in the Peace Corps. The demand from host countries is higher than the number of volunteers available, which is limited by congressional limits on the Peace Corps budget.

Reflections from Loren and Diana Parks

“The anniversary enabled us to reunite with 12 of our fellow India RPCVs,” said Parks. “We talked about the many unique ways in which the Peace Corps experience influenced our lives in the past 45 years.”

“The transition from shock to comfort in a radically different culture and living environment was an experience which gave us cultural skills and self-confidence that have benefitted us through life,” said Diana. “It was the quintessential Peace Corps isolation scenario—no electricity, no plumbing, no pavement, few processed foods, no vehicles other than the few trucks and public buses that passed through, and only about a dozen people who spoke any English at all. We were in a Rural Public Health and Nutrition Project, assigned to a small rural health center in Rajur, a village that was poor even by Indian standards. Our job was public health extension. We realized, that in spite of our efforts, we learned and benefitted much more than the villagers did.”

While on a consulting assignment for The World Bank, Loren revisited the village after 14 years. He asked friends what they remembered about their time in the village. Other than the technical people with whom they worked, the response was unanimous: they just remembered their friendships with them.

“In the long run, our technical work didn’t leave a lasting impression,” said Loren. “They remembered little things like having a cup of tea with us in their homes, our presence in the village, and the relationship we had as husband and wife, which was dramatically different than in their culture. Inspired by our experience, we have subsequently devoted much of our careers to foreign economic development, education, and professional development.” 

Chico State Contributes

Since the Peace Corps began, 585 students and alumni from Chico State have been Peace Corps volunteers. Twenty-five students or alumni currently serve in the Peace Corps. In addition, Chico State participates in the Peace Corps Master’s International program whereby one can earn a master’s degree in education or teaching international languages while completing their Peace Corps service.

The Peace Corps San Francisco office recently said they are particularly interested in Chico State graduates in education and agriculture.

For information about the Peace Corps, contact www.peacecorps.gov or www.peacecorpsconnect.org.

Anyone interested about the 50th Anniversary may contact Jim Moon or Diana Parks

A list of faculty and staff who are returned volunteers can be found at the Graduate Studies website.

By Jim Moon, former vice president for Student Affairs