A couple of weeks ago, during a chat I had with RPCV friends, the topic of Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers (FPCVs) arose.
We discussed how these departed men and women were remembered among our local community, and what that experience would be like as a father or mother to lose a child – an adult child. There were no accusations made against anyone or any entity during this discussion; it was a somber, yet calm conversation. However, it did open a vulnerable place in my soul, which refused to be resealed. I felt compelled to do something.
This wasn’t my first experience relevant to Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers. During the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Peace Corps, in 2011, I organized a brief memorial service for FPCVs at Arlington National Cemetery. I had the honor to meet and become friends with a few relatives who lost their kin abroad. These were individuals full of grace and appreciation that their brothers and sisters, daughters and sons were openly discussed among RPCVs.
Were those initial discussions uncomfortable? Yeah, at first. But conversational topics that are the least comfortable require us to talk about them the most. That’s how we become renewed.
The presence of these relatives put into context the challenges and hopes I experienced during my time in Benin. Seeing these parents helped me realize how sacred our vows are during the swearing in ceremonies, in country. I was profoundly fortunate to come home safe and motivated for this institution we call Peace Corps. It shaped me into a stronger, more curious person, and for that I am grateful. But there’s more to consider.
I have never had a family member die during their Peace Corps service; however, 296 families have, and I can only begin to fathom how tragic and isolating that experience could be.
We live in a nation that justifiably honors its fallen men and women in uniform; yet, we belong to an institution 50 years strong for which we answered the call of service to our country and the world, without ever wearing a uniform. And a few hundred young men and women died as a result.
In short, it's not only the responsibility of those 296 families to remember and value those contributions. As Sisters and Brothers of Doves and Olive Branches, we have a responsibility to honor our kindred volunteers. It is our responsibility, too.
Yes, there's a Memorial Wall at Peace Corps Headquarters, and yes, there is a website for Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers. Yet, I'm of the opinion that memorialization is a living/breathing act, even if it involves an hour of our time, during a chilled Saturday afternoon on October 17th.
Please join RPV/W President Chris Robinson and me in planning this effort. The first planning meeting will be Wednesday, August 26th, from 6:00pm to 7:00pm (maybe ending sooner). The address for the meeting will be my office at the American Councils for International Education: 1828 L Street, NW, Suite 1200, Washington DC 20036. Send me an email, if you plan on attending (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This memorial service will be your opportunity to meet some of these family members: talk with them, listen to their stories, and thank them for adding much to your continued service as RPCVs. If you have at least one noble act to commit to during the autumn season - let it be this act. And tell your friends about it.