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Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to Obama: Please Fund a Peace Corps Writers Collection at the Library of Congress
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Norman Rockwell painting of JFK with Peace Corps volunteers, 1966.

I just received an e-mail message from a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) named Lorenzo Lihosit, who served in Latin America and is working to establish a collection of books by Peace Corps writers at the Library of Congress.  He has written a letter making his request to President Barack Obama (included below), and I think it is a swell idea.  Also very timely, as just today the First Lady made headlines in San Francisco as she went about promoting volunteerism.

Lorenzo refers in his letter to Goal 3 of the Peace Corps, and that is "to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans."  This has been, so far, the most difficult of the goals to achieve, valiantly though most of us try.  But, the older I get, the more I appreciate what the RPCV community has to offer an increasingly complicated, interconnected world.  Our collective knowledge remains largely untapped, and that is a crying shame given our recent foreign policy missteps.

Since the Peace Corps was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, it has been one of the most successful, beloved, and popular government programs.  RedRoomer Michael Schmicker is an RPCV, and RedRoomer Bob Levin served in AmeriCorps, the domestic counterpart.  There may be others of whom I'm unaware.  Some of you here in the RedRoom have written privately to me about Peace Corps volunteers you have known who worked in your countries and left a lasting favorable impression.  It is always lovely to hear such tales.

Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan--nee Lisa Halaby of the U.S.--has stated repeatedly that her childhood dream was to join the Peace Corps.  Although she hasn't (yet!) realized it, she did arrange for Jordan to become a Peace Corps country, and some of her family members were lavish in their praise when they learned I once served in the South Seas.  One of them even aspires to launch a Peace Corps-like program for journalists. 

So it would be wonderful if our own country valued this service to the extent of our host countries and supported our efforts to better meet the third objective of the organization.  I've not written a book about my Peace Corps service, but I wrote journal entries every single day of it.  My journals are stashed away in a closet, browsed by me only once in the intervening 24 years.  But I keep thinking, one day, I will write about those years.  I think I will call my book Tales of the South Pacific.  :-D

Lorenzo's letter to President Obama (minus his return address. . .not sure he wants that publicized): 

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

RE: CREATION OF A PEACE CORPS COLLECTION AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

June 21, 2009

Dear Mr. President:

If you want to read my Peace Corps’ firsthand experience book (South of the Frontera), you can’t. Don’t bother to look for it. It is out of print and even after nearly fifty years, the Peace Corps has not established a depository for books written by Americans who sacrificed. There is not even a shelf in the Washington offices.

How the heck did this happen? According to John Coyne, editor of Peace Corps Worldwide, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) now number almost 200,000 and collectively have published nearly 1,000 books. Most of these books were self-published. Imagine, young Americans volunteer to serve in poor countries for minimal wages, come home and earn money to publish books in accordance with Goal 3 of the Peace Corps. Then, they watch as their work evaporates.           

Popular government sponsored programs are rare. During the first half of the twentieth century only two programs caught America’s imagination: the WPA and the CCC. Yet today we have very few firsthand accounts and our collective memory fades. During the latter half of the twentieth century NASA and the Peace Corps were equally popular. NASA has thousands of commercial books, many of which are included in the Library of Congress.           

Most wise leaders are remembered for surrounding themselves with intellectuals while supporting the arts and learning. Why not be part of history, Mr. President? Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery journals, logs, samples, and gifts are kept in the Library of Congress. That’s where Returned Peace Corps Volunteer’s books should be as testament to the grand experiment of sending ambassadors of goodwill instead of armies. This is witness literature.

During the month of September, 2011 there will be a series of activities in Washington D.C. to commemorate fifty years since the inception of the Peace Corps. You will probably be there. So will I, hawking books, giving lectures on self-publication, reading, and waving to you as I march by holding a flag from one of the many countries we serve. Why don’t you surprise us all and announce the beginning of a Peace Corps Special Collection at the Library of Congress? Some might caution about cost. The books will be donated, Mr. President.

Thanking you in advance for your kind consideration,
Cordially yours,
Lawrence F. Lihosit

CC: Honorable Senator Dianne Feinstein
       Honorable Nancy Pelosi
       James H. Billington, Library of Congress
       John Coyne, Peace Corps Worldwide
       Kevin Quigley, Natl. PC Assc.

Comments
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Correction to the above:

Correction to the above: Bob Levin has kindly informed me that, in fact, he served in VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which pre-dates AmeriCorps and was the domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps. He also says he has a certificate of appreciation signed by "semi war criminal" Donald Rumsfeld to prove it. :-)

Sincere apologies to Bob for my mistake. And for the certificate. :-D

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Ellen,

What keeps you from writing about those years?

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Good question.  Dunno

Good question.  Dunno exactly, Belle. 

I didn't maintain those journals with the idea of writing a book about my time in the South Pacific.  Just wanted to have them so that, if/when I'm 80 and confined to a wheelchair, I can relive my wanderings through photos and writings and such.  Gift from young self to old self and old self's confidants.

Now that I'm older, I'm beginning to realize what I'm sitting on.  But I am still in my working years, so my focus isn't on writing.  And, too, I'm quite shy about writing about myself.  It doesn't come easily or naturally to me.  Hanging out in the Redroom with people who more easily self divulge is a step in trying to get over that.  From what I know about you, you will understand this reticence to a certain degree, though it seems you have largely overcome yours.  So you are a wonderful example for me.

And then there is the nagging question of talent. . .

Lorenzo has since given me the brainy idea to will my journals to the Kennedy Library.  At a minimum, I will leave them to the archives so future generations can read about the time a friend and I fell out of our outrigger while fully clothed because we'd gotten the giggles over something stupid and our boisterous laughter threw off the delicate balance of the canoe.  I lost my skirt in the lagoon to the weight of the water, setting off such raucous laughter we both thought we'd drown.  We spent about 30 minutes surface diving trying to find that skirt so I could return to the shore without offending the conservative villagers with my bare legs.  In the end, the chivalrous Bernie had to return to the shore, borrow a lavalava (Polynesian sarong), paddle back to me, and cover me up with the wrap.  That's very important information to pass along.  People should know there were once goofballs in paradise.  :-)

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"Gift to young self to old self"

Wow, I've never heard it said this way and it's perfect. These words have made me realize my childhood and tempestuous 20's (and part of 30's) keep on giving. I couldn't sleep last night, and instead of counting sheep, tried to count all the places I've lived and traveled in my life. This activity grew overwhelming--the weight of it all. The different personalities I've taken on in a chameleon existence.

I look forward to meeting you one day soon. I mean this.

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It would be my pleasure,

It would be my pleasure, Belle.  Actually, I did see you once. . .when you and Ivory spoke at a club to which I belong.  But I wasn't a member of RR at the time, so I didn't introduce myself to you.  A missed opportunity.  But I think there will be another chance.  Most things are possible.  We will have a lot to discuss.  :-)

We are both at a stage in our lives where we are appreciating our rich backgrounds and the extent to which we have challenged ourselves.  Neither of us has let any grass grow under her feet, and this will make us very interesting old ladies.

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And when we mee,I have to tell you a story

as scary/hilarious as yours. I lost my underwear beneath a waterfull when I was rapelling down a small cliff. I slid sideway beneath the fall and oops. I nearly drowned, too.

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Damned that water!!! 

Damned that water!!!  :-D

We just might be two peas in a pod, Belle.  Although I think pantiless is even more humiliating than skirtless.

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Peace Corps Writers Collection at the Library of Congress

What has come of this initiative?  Do you know?

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Bibliography

I found a link to a Library of Congress bibliography of Peace Corps Writers compiled on the occasion of Peace Corps's 50th anniversary 9/22/2011, revised and updated February 2013.

http://www.loc.gov/peacecorps/Bibliography-PeaceCorpsWriters.pdf

"Whatever the subject, the 247 books cited here in are representative of the creativity, scholarship, and knowledge of the developing world of authors or editors with Peace Corps service. As such, the bibliography attests to the formative influence that Peace Corps service had on the authors. The cited books may help to bridge the cultural know ledge gap with the developing world and certain countries in particular. For example, seven of the cited authors served in Iran during the 1960s. Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has become terra incognita since its 1979 Revolution, some of the books of these returned volunteers provide insights into that country."