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Peace Corps in Chile: A Story of Friendship and Service

More than 2,500 fortunate Americans have served in Chile, applying their skills and energies to the development of a country that over the past 50 years has experienced extraordinary growth and modernization.  You helped Chile grow, and at the same time your experience led to your personal growth and that of our nation.

This acclamation by Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame, was sent to the attendees at the Peace Corps Chile reunion in Washington, DC, in September 2011, and it is the lead-in to the announcement of an exhibit celebrating the Peace Corps in Chile, showing at the Embassy of Chile in Washington D.C. from July 17 to September 7, 2012.
The exhibit features photographs of Peace Corps Volunteers in nine of the many activities they contributed to from 1961 to 1998 when the Peace Corps was operating in Chile.  It shows how during this period of time Volunteers helped grow sustainable fisheries, create a science based forestry institution, protect valuable wildlife, introduce environmental education, design national parks, support community based self-help housing, preserve Mapuche cultural heritage, and improve public health.  Each poster in the exhibit features one of these activities.

A huge banner has been placed on the front of the Embassy of Chile at 1732 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC, announcing the exhibit; Peace Corps in Chile: A Story of Friendship and Service.  The banner is a clever combination of the Chilean and US flags as backdrop to a picture of Peace Corps Volunteer Brian Loveman working with four members of the southern Chilean town of Trovolhue planning the relocation of their homes and businesses to higher, safer ground after the 1960 earthquake.

One wall in the exhibit hall of the Embassy is painted with an attractive somewhat abstract map of the United States with the names of the towns in Chile where the Volunteers worked and lived, placed on the map where the returned Volunteers now live in the US.  The map provides a vivid feeling that Chile and the people with whom Volunteers worked during their service in Chile have been brought home with the Volunteers and continue to influence the lives of the returned Volunteers to this day.

A glass covered display case holds several books and scientific papers written by Volunteers either during their time in Chile or since returning home:  David Mather’s One For The Road, Tom Scanlon’s Waiting For The Snow, Brian Loveman’s History of Chile as well as one by Larry Rector with the same title, the original sketches of national park signing prepared for CONAF in 1978 by Matt Hening,  From Curanilahue to Yumbel by Luis Diaz, a school garden manual prepared for a CARE/Chile project by Regina Vigil, and a paper on Produccion y Explotacion de Algas en Chile written in 1978 for the Biologia Pesaquera Chile scientific journal.  The exhibit includes a plaque given by the Coquimbo regional office of CONAF to Connie Mohlis for her contribution to the establishment of the wild chinchilla reserve in northern Chile, and a special Tee shirt designed in 1980 by Tony Povilitis for participants in the campaign to protect the iconic huemul in the Nevados de Chillan area.

The exhibit opened the evening of July 17, featuring a panel discussion of the trends in volunteerism in Chile. Chilean Ambassador Felipe Bulnes welcomed a group of special invitees, remembered the years of service of the Peace Corps in Chile, and noted the very well attended reunion on September 24, 2011, hosted by the Embassy of Chile for Peace Corps Volunteers who had served in Chile. (A large picture of this group is also shown in the exhibit at the Embassy).  Cultural Attache Nicolas Bar, who has worked diligently over the past year and a half to organize both the reunion and the Embassy exhibit, explained the motivations behind the design of this exhibit, highlighting the dual concepts of service and friendship.

David Joslyn, Volunteer in Chile from 1967 to 1970 and Deputy Director of the Chile Peace Corps program from 1976 to 1979, presented a short history of the Peace Corps in Chile drawing heavily from the document The Peace Corps in Chile 1961-1998 prepared for the reunion in September 2011.

Stacy Rhoads, Chief of Staff of the Peace Corps, described the present Peace Corps program, priorities of the Obama administration for the Peace Corps, and some of the significant differences in the way the Peace Corps operates now compared to the early years.  Both Joslyn and Rhoads underlined the significance of Chile’s membership in the OECD group of more developed economies as justification for the Peace Corps no longer operating in Chile and the welcome situation whereby the government of Chile is assuming now its role of providing assistance to others.

Jorge Dacarett, the Executive Director of The Chilean Government’s International Cooperation Agency WWW.AGCI.GOB.CL described several new initiatives by the Chilean government to send Chilean volunteers to work in other Latin American countries in programs similar to the U.S. Peace Corps.  Andrea Veach, Director of International Cooperation of Techo (the international spin off organization of Techo Para Chile www.techo.org, who moderated the panel, explained the Techo program through which Chilean volunteers work in slums of other Latin American countries gaining important experience and understanding to bring back home to programs in Chile.

Against the backdrop of the posters of Peace Corps Volunteers working in Chile, the opening event of this Peace Corps Chile exhibit ended with the sharing of empanadas and good Chilean vino tinto, a custom appropriately symbolic of what the Peace Corps in Chile meant to all it touched, and the optimism with which Chile, through its own volunteer programs, is now reaching out to the world in its own gesture of service and friendship.

A fell set of pictures of the opening event for this exhibit is available at http://www.chile-usa.org/astoryoffriendshipandservice.htm

Posted on July 26, 2012, in Leesburg, Virginia.

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David Joslyn
David Joslyn, after a 45-year career in international development with USAID, Peace Corps, The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and private sector consulting firms, divides his time between his homes in Virginia and Chile. Since 2010, David has been writing about Chile and Chileans, often based upon his experience with the Peace Corps in Chile and his many travels throughout the country with family and friends.
David Joslyn

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3 thoughts on “Peace Corps in Chile: A Story of Friendship and Service”

  1. Ned Strong says:

    Dave,
    Terrific! Thanks.

  2. BZK1810 says:

    Congratulations David. Un tremendo trabajo que merece un gran reconocimiento. Bernardo Zentilli (Chile)

  3. Kate Weisman says:

    Thanks Dave. I am a RPCV Chile served in Temuco in Hogar Ruca Tami 1979-1981. I wish I had known about the DC gathering! I will be returning to Chile in October 2016 for the first time since my service. I am so excited and can;t even imagine how much the country would have changed.

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