J.M. Ascienzo, 124
J.M. Ascienzo was a Peace Corps Thailand 124 volunteer. He initially served in Nan Province, and then spent his 3rd year extension in Nakhon Sri Thammart. In July he was chosen as the first ever National Peace Corps Association fellow. According to Ascienzo, the future of Peace Corps depends on the advocacy of Peace Corps volunteers, both current and returned. Here he gives some practical advice on how volunteers can advocate for Peace Corps.
Ever wonder why there aren’t more Peace Corps Volunteers? During my service I did. The question was often raised in conversation with other Volunteers, host-country nationals, and the greater Peace Corps community in general. If the overall impact of Peace Corps is good, then why isn’t there more of it? It turns out the answer is rather simple: there’s no funding. No funding to meet increased demands in applications, no funding to meet increased demands from past, current and potential host-countries, and no funding to safely and effectively implement Peace Corps programming. So how can we increase funding? That’s also a simple answer: lobby Congress. In coordination with members of approximately 140 Friends of and RPCV groups around the country and the Peace Corps community throughout the world, lobbying congress for increased Peace Corps funding and support of other Peace Corps community issues is a large part of what the National Peace Corps Association’s advocacy team does. Since July I’ve been a part of those efforts as an advocacy fellow. We’ve been successful in the past, and we’ll be successful in the future, but only with your help, and only if that help comes now.
For me, lobbying Congress for increased Peace Corps funding is the manifestation of the Third Goal. I believe the Peace Corps is America’s best foreign engagement, and now more than ever America and the world need more of it. Before I benefitted from my Peace Corps service, someone else lobbied Congress for funding that guaranteed my site—my opportunity—existed. Without those efforts, the benefits of Peace Corps would not have been available to myself, the cohort I served with, and the communities we served. Someone fought for us—to make Peace Corps better, stronger and more efficient—and now we need to fight for future Volunteers and their communities to have the same opportunities.
As an advocacy fellow at the NPCA, I have the opportunity to lobby Congress on a daily basis. I can tell you from meeting with members and staffers that fresh perspectives count. If increased funding will help implement current projects, Congress wants to hear from Volunteers currently-serving or recently-returned from service. As a legislative assistant recently told us, “If every returning Volunteer took the time to share their stories with their members, we’d have a lot more representatives making Peace Corps funding a priority.”
Here are some things you can do to help:
Lobby your members of Congress. During my time as an advocacy fellow, one of the most reassuring things I’ve heard from members and their staff is that members respond with action to their constituents’ demands. If members don’t hear from their constituents on issues, then they won’t make it a priority. Write your members letters about your Peace Corps experience and enlist your community members to do the same. Or if you’re visiting home during service then organize a meeting with your members or their staff in Washington, D.C., or in your state. Send pictures. Tweet. Call. Anything. Be thankful, informative and positive, and we’re more likely to successfully enlist their help.
Enlist others. Members love to hear from R/PCVs, but it’s also helpful for them to hear from others who have benefited from your service. Enlist members of your host-country community. It’s likely that your host-country’s leaders in government, business, health and elsewhere have benefited from the Peace Corps. Seek them out and ask for their help in asking your members to support the Peace Corps. You’ll be surprised how eager they are for the opportunity to help.
Contact the NPCA. We’re here to help you. If you want assistance with how you can lobby your members, please reach out to us.
Support the NPCA. The NPCA is the advocacy body for R/PCV issues. Whether it’s funding, health justice, or supporting R/PCV projects, the NPCA has got you covered. We can’t do this without your support. Become a member for free before your service is up, and tell others to do the same.
Support Friends of Thailand. Since coming home I’ve also joined the Friends of Thailand’s board as an NPCA liaison. Friends of Thailand is a non-profit group of Thailand RPCVs from Group 1 to the present. FoT supports RPCV endeavors after service, documents the Peace Corps Thailand experience, and provides currently-serving Thailand PCV projects with funding. And just like the NPCA, it’s also free to join up while you’re currently serving.
The NPCA can also help you find funding and help for your projects and other Peace Corps community issues, and help you bring your ideas for the Peace Corps community to fruition. We’re always open to ideas, suggestions, or drop-ins. Please visit us when you’re home.
If you’d like more information about the NPCA, FoT, or how you can enlist your U.S. representatives to support the Peace Corps, please check out their website (http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/, http://www.friendsofthailand.org/) or contact me!