By District Governor-elect Abbas Rajabi, District 5450 USA
Peace Corps sends U.S. volunteers, usually recent university graduates, to live and work abroad for two years. Their goal is to help host countries meet local needs and promote mutual cultural understanding. While abroad, volunteers learn the local language and work with professionals in education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, and agriculture.
My first encounter with Peace Corps was in high school in the mid-1960s. A number of Peace Corp Volunteers (PCVs) from the United States came to my hometown of Hamadan in Iran to serve as teachers at our local high schools. Their impact and their message of peace was profound. It was so inspiring seeing a number of young people working together to teach English, to serve selflessly and appreciate our culture throughout the city. More than that, seeing the cultural differences was eye opening to all of us young Iranians.
It is clear now that those Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Iran know the country better than perhaps anyone else who may have just passed through. Those of us who had the opportunity to learn from these teachers arguably understand the United States better than our fellow Iranians, and we have come to be the catalyst for peace and goodwill between Iranians and Americans. This cultural exchange helped us learn about one another while promoting peace and goodwill.
Between 1962 and 1976, more than 1500 Peace Corps Volunteers served in Iran. Many of them forged lifelong friendships with Iranians and returned to the United States with a cultural understanding of Iran. The cultural impact and friendships between Iranians and Americans are far better and deeper than most people will ever realize.
I have very deep connections to my birthplace of Iran, but now I live in the United States. I have come to love my new country and Peace Corps first shaped my view of the United States and the people who live here.
Recently, I sought to reconnect with my Peace Corps teacher, Mr. Don Laffoon. After many attempts of calling and writing to a number of Peace Corps Volunteers, I finally found my old teacher in California. I called the phone number I had found and Mr. Laffoon picked up the phone; for moments, I felt nostalgic and emotional to hear a voice so familiar after nearly 50 years.
“Hello… who is this,” Mr. Lafffoon said. I responded: “This is Abbas Rajabi, I was your student in Hamadan and I wish to tell you I am grateful for all you taught me.”
He was excited to hear from me and we reminisced about that time, other classmates and teachers, and the city of Hamadan. We talked for a while and promised to be in touch. It was so satisfying for me to be able to thank Mr. Lafffoon and tell him the positive impact he made on my life.
Through a formalized service partnership, Rotary International and Peace Corps are working together to help enhance club and district service activities locally and around the world. I hope to further the partnership by helping connect Rotarians with local Peace Corps Volunteers living and working in their communities, and by helping U.S. clubs connect with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Every Rotary district, all Peace Corps Volunteers around the world, and most importantly the people we serve through our community and international service projects can greatly benefit from this partnership.
We want to hear from Rotarians with experience working with Peace Corps! Have you served as Peace Corps Volunteers or worked with Peace Corps in other capacities? Please complete this survey by 28 February. The survey should take no more than ten minutes to complete and all responses are confidential. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
- Read the Rotary-Peace Corps partnership fact sheet for collaboration opportunities for clubs and districts.
- If you’re attending the 2017 Rotary Convention in Atlanta, visit the Peace Corps booth in the House of Friendship and attend a Rotary-Peace Corps breakout session to learn more about the partnership.
- Rotarian Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are invited to District 5450’s Rotary-Peace Corps workshop on 4 August 2017 in Denver, Colorado, USA. Contact Charlie Hunt or Steve Werner for more information and to register for the workshop.