Note: In addition to his work at the International and Area Studies Library, the author is also the Peace Corps Recruiter for the University of Illinois campus community. He served as a Volunteer in the Education sector from 2008 to 2010 in the Republic of Cabo Verde. Join Peace Corps at UIUC and the International & Area Studies Library from 3:00-4:30 on March 30, 2016 in the Main Library Room 106 for our “Peace Corps and the University” event.
Volunteer Mary McFall, 60, teaches dressmaking, math, and English at the National Women’s Training Centre in Madina, Ghana in 1980. Ghana was the first nation to receive Peace Corps Volunteers, starting in August 1961, five months after the agency was officially established. Source: Peace Corps Media Library.
When John F. Kennedy said the famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” during his presidential inaugural address on January 20, 1961, the plans were already in place to put substance and resources behind such a call to action. Soon later, on March 1st of that year, the U.S. Peace Corps was signed into law via Executive Order 10924:
This year, the Peace Corps celebrates 55 years since that day. Now, over 140 countries have been served by over 220,000 Volunteers, all working to promote the three goals of this independent federal agency:
To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women;
To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Since its inception, many books have been written about the Peace Corps experience. Perhaps most well-known are those of the travel writer Paul Theroux. He has written both fiction and non-fiction works since he served as a Volunteer in the southern African nation of Malawi from 1963 to 1965. Theroux’s own Peace Corps story is a fascinating mix of adventure, political dissent, and humanitarianism.
The Ugly American, a novel by government insiders William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, was first published in 1958, when the seeds of the concept of international development support and “soft” diplomacy were just beginning to be sown in civil and political discourse. Contrary to what the title might seem to connote about U.S. hegemony and Americans’ bad behavior abroad, the eponymous “ugly American” of the story is in fact one of the few foreign nationals who integrates into the life of his adopted home, the fictional southeast Asian country of Sarkkan. His humility, goodwill, and skilled guidance in engineering allow him and his wife the opportunity to help their local community in a much more effective and sustainable fashion. This is contrasted with the more questionable approaches of the majority of other foreign workers in the region. Ideas such as Lederer’s and Burdick’s were integral to the earliest and most long-lasting principles of Peace Corps service.
John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man shows what can happen when a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) is tempted to use intimate knowledge of his host country for the benefit of an exploitative, for-profit endeavor after his service. The memoir offers a major caveat on the risks involved in international relations when large corporations are also interested players. This book also helps explain why the Peace Corps model may sometimes be viewed as suspicious by citizens of receiving nations.
If you’d like to know more about the Peace Corps, realities of service, how to apply, or any other related information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our Facebook page. The events below are also planned for the remainder of the Spring 2016 semester. All are welcome! Of particular note is the panel discussion on March 30th, “Peace Corps and the University,” which will bring together four University of Illinois faculty and staff members to discuss how their Peace Corps service led them to their current positions in various fields. This event is organized in collaboration with the International and Area Studies Library.
No, this blog post is not about trendy non-turkey Thanksgiving dinners. Many of us may automatically associate turkey with American Thanksgiving. But there are many other countries around the world that celebrate the season of harvest with their own traditions and without that particular bird. Although celebrations differ in many ways, one of the key concepts of all of the holidays introduced below is giving thanks.
Ch’usŏk or Hangawi is a three-day celebration of harvest and thanksgiving. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. During this time, the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Because this holiday follows the lunar calendar, the celebration’s date changes every year on the solar, or Gregorian, calendar. Therefore, Ch’usŏk was most recently celebrated on September 26th, 2015. People travel across Korea to reunite with their families, pay respect to their ancestors, and to enjoy each others’ company with good food and games.
One of the traditional foods associated with this holiday is songpyeon (see below). Families gather to make this rice cake filled with different fillings such as sweet sesame seed, mung bean, and red bean paste. It is said that whoever makes the best-looking songpyeon will have the prettiest daughter. Want to give Korean holiday cuisine a try? Check out Traditional Food: A Taste of Korean Lifefrom our library!
Picture of songpyeon, crescent-moon rice cakes. Songpyeon is a special Ch’usŏk delicacy filled with a paste made of chestnuts, jujube, sesame seeds, and red beans. Attribution: Korea.net/Korean Culture and Information Service
Historically, this holiday was celebrated with the playing of a traditional wrestling sport called sirrum, as well as with a version of tug-of-war, tightrope performances, and a dance known as ganggangsullae, or “hand-in-hand under the moon.” Although these activities have not disappeared, it is now more common to watch them on television than to do them in person.
Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. The holiday has been celebrated for more than a thousand years and is considered one of the most significant Hindu festivals. The four-day celebration gives thanks to nature for a fruitful year of grain, turmeric, and sugar cane. It falls in mid-January and each day includes activities filled with traditions and rituals.
The first day is called Bhogi and on this day people throw away and burn old belongings and clothes. The act of burning signals the start of a new life cycle. People prepare for the celebration by cleaning and decorating their houses with painted kolams, or designs drawn on the floor using multi-colored rice.
Painted kolam on the ground. Attribution: Thamizhpparithi Maari
The second day is called Pongal or Thai Pongal and is celebrated with rituals such as letting fresh milk boil over a vessel. The name of the overall holiday festival, Pongal, means “boil over” or “overflow,” and is derived from this ritual. People continue the day by eating food and visiting each others’ homes.
Fresh milk boiling over in a vessel. Attribution: Thagadooran
On the third day, or Mattu Pongal, colored beads, bells, flowers, and ears of corns are tied around the necks of cows and worshiped. As the cattle enter the village center, sounds from the bells signal villagers to race their animals against each other. The festivities continue on to the fourth day, also known as Knau Pongal. Women perform the ritual of leaving cleaned turmeric leaves on the ground. The leaves are topped with leftover milk from the boiling of the day before, rice – both colored and ordinary – sugar cane, and plantains before participants take part in ritual bathing. They then gather and wish for prosperity for their households.
A Ga traditional leader sprinkling food to signify abundance. Attribution: Online Today www.todaygh.com
Homowo, sometimes called “Yam Festival”, is usually celebrated during the month of August. The word homowo can be translated as “to hoot at hunger,” which explains the origins of the festival. It originally began with the Ga people fighting against great famine through vigorous food cultivation, resulting in a great harvest. The festival remembers the period by celebrating the season’s harvest through cooking food using yams, one of the major crops of the country.
The festival is signaled a month before with the banning of drumming and other noise-making in the Greater Accra area. The festival proper begins when a priest sprinkles a self-made concoction onto the royal family to fend off evil spirits and for good health.
A special meal, kpokpoi, made from maize and palm-nut soup, is served. This food is then taken to the chief for blessing before the meal. The priest sprinkles the food on the ground to give thanks to the gods. The king presents participants with his annual speech and the chief priest prays for the people. Drumming and dancing resume and people enjoy the festival. Throughout the holiday, participants are encouraged to remember that with determination and willpower, anything is possible, just as their ancestors once proved by overcoming famine. More information about the festival can be found in The Ga Homowo, available through our library.
There are many other countries and cultures not mentioned here that celebrate the harvest season with thanksgiving. Here are some print resources available for you to check out and learn more about these holidays around the world: