Celebrating Peace Corps Month with RPCV's of the Hudson Valley

March 2012, from the archives

March is Peace Corps month! In honor of this idealistic program we're giving you a detailed look at some Hudson Valley residents who served and were forever changed by their international adventure. This is a message about being the change you wish to see in the world as proposed by Ghandi and as demonstrated by the Peace Corps Volunteers of America.

 About the Peace Corps

 
"I am hopeful it will be a source of satisfaction to Americans and a contribution to world peace."

Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment and the agency’s mission is to promote world peace and friendship through a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries.  Since President Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 9,095 volunteers are working with local communities in 75 host countries.

Here are three of those stories told by the Hudson Valley residents who lived them :

Siggi and Kaino

Siggi Holmgren from Wappingers Falls, NY : My father taught with the Peace Corps in Uganda from 1970-1972 and loved the experience. In the spirit of his service combined with a love to travel and live in different places I decided to apply. I was assigned to Namibia in October of 2004 where I worked as a science teacher.  I lived with a host family on their farming homestead. My host mother, Kaino, was a teacher at the school, too. We walked 3 km through the bush to get to the school.  For a while we had lights that were powered by a rechargeable battery hooked up to a solar panel, but as the two years progressed the battery gradually died and was never replaced.  We had one water tap on the homestead that mostly worked.  Occasionally it stopped and we would have to drive to the school to fill up our jerry cans with water. Teaching science in my school in the bush was fun for the students who seemed to love lab work!   I took a class in the nearby city of Ongwediva on how to build your own science equipment - I made spirit burners, circuit boards and even a rudimentary balance.  P.S. - Empty jars do not make the best beakers when you are heating them over a spirit burner (they explode!). One contribution I was able to make was 8 brand new lab benches that we purchased with money raised by a club at my alma mater, Ketcham High School (Wappingers Falls, NY).

(Peace Corps taught me) I don’t need a prestigious job, a PhD or lots of money to be happy - I just need is to live life.  I try new things now.  If I like them, I keep doing them; if I don’t I stop.  In the end, what makes life worth living is the love we have for others.

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Stephen Krasner : During a profound moment in the Middle East while Stephen was hiking the ancient ruins of Karnak in Egypt, he came across a band of kids wearing rags, begging for money. But, one little girl did not seem to want money - instead in a small voice she asked for “help”. What happened next would be the defining moment in Stephen’s decision to apply to Peace Corps. She led him down the block to a motionless, rag clad person lying in severe malnutrition on the street.That experience fueled my motivation to want to put myself in a situation where I can help people.” Krasner lived in Ecuador from 2001- 2003 and acted as a business and agricultural volunteer in a town called Luz de America. While there, he successfully secured computers for school children and got them needed health related services. He partnered with international nonprofit organizations and led a community-based banking and small business initiative. he is fluent in Spanish.

 Never judge a book by its cover when it comes to people and circumstances.  Often we view things in society as black and white, and for a long time...that was certainly true in my situation.  My experience and exposure as a Peace Corps volunteer turned a corner for me in that I no longer see things in black, white or even gray but rather in more of a kaleidoscope of colors inter-woven in the cloth of humanity.

Krasner later pursued a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management, was a candidate for election as Town Supervisor of Newburgh and is highly committed to public service.

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Sally Briggs (from Fishkill, NY) : For Sally, Peace Corps was an opportunity to take her recent degree in childhood education to international heights of application. While studying at SUNY Geneseo she ran into a Peace Corps recruiter who helped her redirect her life's purpose. She served in Western Somoa from 2006 – 2008. While there, she identified special needs children in her village and directed them to assistance.

I taught struggling readers and students with special needs and worked with the village to build a computer room and library with Samoan and English books. We organized a village clean-up day, an aerobics program through the Ministry of Health, planted fruit trees and participated in AIDS education. My two years in Samoa definitely opened my mind to different ways of life.  I learned about the value of community and taking care of family.  I also learned how to slow down and appreciate the small things in life. I believe that I learned way more from Samoans than I taught them.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain.

Currently, I am in the Peace Corps Fellows program at Teachers College, studying bilingual/ bicultural education, and am teaching 3rd grade at a bilingual school in the Bronx.  The two years I spent in Samoa definitely opened up my mind and gave me a love for living and working in different cultures.  I hope to continue to teach and travel in a variety of different places.

While in Somoa Sally kept a blog - you can read it HERE.

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From Happy Hudson Valley : Thank you, thank you, thank you to Peace Corps Volunteers past, present and future for helping to make our world a better place. Special thanks to the New York Regional office for providing contact info for purposes of this publication.