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,
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.
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