By Rotarian Wick Rowland, Ph.D., Niwot Rotary Club (Colorado, USA), Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and board member of Partnering for Peace.
The second annual Rotary International – Peace Corps Week, which took place 19-23 September 2022, explored a range of issues in peacebuilding, from high-level institutional challenges to the detailed workings of several projects on which Peace Corps volunteers and Rotary members partner. Partnering for Peace (a global organization of returned Peace Corps volunteer Rotary members dedicated to fostering the service partnership between Rotary International and Peace Corps) sponsored the week-long virtual event.
The kickoff event, History of Peace within Rotary and Peace Corps, took a broad look at how the organizations have thought about peace over the years. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Ana Cutter Patel, author, Rotary Peace Fellow, human rights expert at Front Line Defenders, and Rotary UN Representative to UN Women took time away from her duties at the UN General Assembly to present on ways Rotary members and returned Peace Corps volunteers can serve as diplomats to a range of multilateral organizations. She encouraged Rotary Peace Fellows and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to speak at other organizations’ events or meetings, acknowledged clubs prioritizing peacebuilding, and The Rotary Foundation’s investment in major peace projects worldwide.
Keevon Baten, a former Rotary Youth Exchange student in Brazil who later served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and is the current president of the Rotaract Club of Asheville (North Carolina, USA), explained how Interact and Rotaract experiences can set the stage for volunteer service work later in life such as joining Peace Corps or Rotary. Baten emphasized that the Peace Corps and Rotary partnership collaborations represent a long-term span of community service and peacebuilding, noting that a “pipeline of service” might begin with participation in Rotary youth programs, followed by serving in or working for the Peace Corps, and continue as a Rotaract or Rotary member while engaging in a Peace Corps alumni affiliate group.
In Strategies for Starting Rotary-Peace Corps Partnership Projects, a panel of partnership project leads, including Rosemary Calhoon Takacs and Katherine Culbertson, and Peace Corps Director of Programming and Training Jane O’Sullivan, shared strategies for implementing and carrying out successful joint projects. Takacs, a member of the Jacksonville-Oceanside Rotary Club who previously served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and in Guatemala, spoke about a series of club-led WASH projects in Guatemala, the most recent of which involved Peace Corps and connected 120 houses and a school to clean water storage. She attributes success to having a local sponsoring club, which she found using Rotary’s Club Finder Tool, having conducted a site assessment, and frequent communications, both virtual and in-person in Guatemala. Rotary and Rotaract clubs, Rotary districts, a university, non-profits, and individual donors funded the US$100,000 project.
Jane O’Sullivan, Director of Programming and Training for the Peace Corps in Namibia – with deep ties to both organizations as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Togo, a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, former Rotary International staff, and at one time a Rotarian – outlined how she connected with a U.S. Rotary club during her Peace Corps service in Togo. The club partnered with her on several school construction projects and a Rotary club in Togo provided local leadership and oversight, which was critical to the projects’ success. Like Takacs, O’Sullivan noted how each project built on the success of the previous one, growing in scope as well as club and district involvement. The US Rotary club’s international service chair also contributed strategic vision to focus multiple projects on a particular community. Like many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, O’Sullivan continues to be involved with the Togolese community in which she served.
Kat Culbertson, who served in the Peace Corps in Madagascar and is a former Rotary member, established a birthing kit project in 2019-20. For the project, she brought together the village health clinic, Rotary and Interact clubs and others in the Peace Corps network. The broader Rotary network has sustained the project through funding and logistical support.
The event and discussion emphasized how members of the Rotary and Peace Corps communities can collaborate:
- Rotary members can invite Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to speak at Interact, Rotaract, or Rotary club meetings and district conferences. Contact the National Peace Corps Association, Peace Corps affiliate groups, and Peace Corps speakers’ bureau to ask for speakers.
- Rotary members can create satellite groups made up of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (see Guide to Satellite Clubs).
- Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can join Rotary programs open to interested non-Rotary members (Rotary Action Groups, Rotary Community Corps, and Fellowships) organized around topics compatible with their Peace Corps interests.
- Reach out to people in your community and ask if they have any Rotary connections.
- US clubs working with a Peace Corps Volunteer can connect and facilitate introductions to clubs in the volunteer’s country of service.
- Use electronic technology (e.g., email, WhatsApp, Zoom) to get the work done.
- Keep the needs of the community foremost in mind, and the opinions and voices of the community involved in every stage of a project.
- Consider supporting maintenance and repair or training for existing projects.
- Consider and develop sustainability plans for the community and project needs beyond the Peace Corps Volunteer’s period of service.
- Peace Corps Volunteers may greatly benefit from the local Rotary network’s political, social, cultural know-how. Consider additional ways to partner beyond financial contributions.
In the context of privacy and security protocols, Rotary and Peace Corps continue to explore ways to connect Peace Corps Volunteers with US-based Rotary and Rotaract clubs before departing for service and with the clubs and network in the communities where Peace Corps Volunteers serve.
To identify a speaker, volunteer, returned volunteer, or discuss a project idea, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.