Tag Archives: North Carolina

Put Us to Work

When Champa and I returned to Durham after serving abroad for two years in the Peace Corps, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to continue volunteering in my own community.

I assumed there were local nonprofit groups that could use my professional skills, especially for free. When I called around and searched online, though, I couldn’t find a good match. IMG_0539Eventually, I created an informal volunteer role for myself with the North Carolina partnership program that assists Moldova, where we served as Peace Corps volunteers, and I resumed volunteering at Urban Ministries, but who knows what I missed?

I am not alone. Across the Triangle and more widely, many older Americans now view retirement as much more than leisure. They consider it a second act, a new life stage of personal growth and service that may last for decades. These retirees are still sharp, still active, and a tremendous potential resource for nonprofit organizations that could tap their expertise in various fields.

Too often, however, communities regard their older residents in an outdated way — as a group requiring assistance rather than as an asset to recruit and empower. 

I became curious about what I encountered and began talking with people in our area who are involved in one way or another with older adults or volunteering. IMG_2256Over the past few months, I’ve met with our local volunteer center, Activate Good,  the United Way, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke, Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, local senior centers, the governor’s office, county officials, a retirement community and many others. (Here’s a list.) I’ve also talked with Encore.org and people around the country.

These are wonderful and impressive people — caring, thoughtful and professional. They are working hard on missions such as helping retirees obtain medical care or promoting volunteerism broadly.

Generally, though, older volunteers are only a small part of their missions, which were established before the big shift began in how Americans think about retirement.

For instance, our local volunteer center does great work but is also busy with high school students and many others. Websites such as VolunteerMatch and organizations ranging from AARP to RSVP serve important roles, too. Yet many older residents still fail to connect with worthy organizations that could benefit from their experience in writing grants, preparing budgets, building websites or managing staffs. 

IMG_2248To be sure, many retired citizens do serve as volunteers — teaching literacy classes, building homes with Habitat for Humanity and much more. Some volunteer through  their religious organization or a former employer. Many retirement communities and senior centers have their own volunteer programs, often with a focus on serving the needs of other retired people.

We need to be more strategic about this, as some communities around the country have demonstrated. A leader of the Encore Boston Network told me about their system to train older volunteers, match them with organizations and provide ongoing support. He described similar efforts in Phoenix, Denver and elsewhere. Many of the volunteers take on assignments that draw on their special expertise. Springfield, Missouri has an impressive Give 5 program that brings groups of retired people on a bus to local nonprofits, helping them find one to match their interests.

IMG_2982

I don’t mean in any way to downplay the many people in our community, of all ages, who are generously rolling up their sleeves across our region to deliver meals, comfort the sick and more, or the excellent organizations that work with them. But as more and more older Americans look for new meaning in their lives, communities like Durham that attract them should recognize their good fortune and act deliberately to match them in meaningful volunteer roles, which would also help retirees avoid social isolation.

The opportunity is compelling and I am optimistic we can take advantage of it. As I’ve discussed it with local leaders and stakeholders, they’ve generally been responsive and enthusiastic. They see the possibilities. Several key players are interested in trying to make Durham a leader in this arena. Everything I’ve encountered so far reminds me why Champa and I are lucky to live in such a progressive and caring community.

If some older folks prefer to just play golf or tend their gardens, they’ve earned that choice. The two of us enjoy traveling and spending time with our grandchildren, too. But we also want to continue the spirit of volunteerism we found so fulfilling in the Peace Corps.

We’re not the only ones. Put us to work.

IMG_2346

20 Years of Partnership

I published an article Thursday, May 16, in the Raleigh News & Observer about North Carolina’s extraordinary partnership with Moldova. I‘m sharing the article here along with photos of an April 27 conference in Raleigh where teachers, nurses, politicians and others discussed the partnership. My Peace Corps volunteer colleague Jim Fletcher (pointing below) and I were among the speakers.

IMG_5919

Later this week, North Carolina will renew its partnership with a little-known country that’s been bringing out the best in our state’s people for more than two decades.

North Carolina’s National Guard has been helping the country’s defense forces throughout this time. Librarians from Wilmington and across the state have sent it more than 350,000 books. Nurses, dentists, pharmacists and others have provided medical assistance. A Hendersonville group has renovated some of its orphanages and schools.

Jim Fletcher and the two of us met with N.C. Sec. of State Elaine Marshall prior to the conference.

North Carolina recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its extraordinary partnership with the country and the amazing thing is that many North Carolinians have never heard of the country, much less about the partnership.

It’s the Republic of Moldova, a former Soviet state one-fourth the size of North Carolina that’s wedged near the Black Sea between Romania and Ukraine. It’s the poorest country in Europe, with a struggling economy, political instability and other problems. It’s also beautiful, with lush vineyards and farmland, a rich culture and wonderful people.

My wife, Champa, and I had barely heard of it, either, when we left our home in Durham three years ago to serve there as Peace Corps volunteers in a group that included volunteers from Asheville, Charlotte, Boone, Winston-Salem and Raleigh. We were posted to a small city where we lived with a host family and I worked at the library while Champa taught at the school. (I described our adventures on my blog, Not Exactly Retired.)

IMG_1149
A welcome table featured Moldovan crafts and foods.

While we were there, we kept hearing about Moldova’s partnership with, of all places, North Carolina, which turned out to be a big deal.

The partnership began with North Carolina’s National Guard assisting Moldova’s defense forces when the Soviet Union ended and Moldova became independent. The partnership has grown to include civic, educational and other organizations, including religious groups that range from Christian groups based in Claremont and Dublin to the Greensboro Jewish Federation.

In 1999, North Carolina and Moldova signed a collaborative agreement through the NATO Partnership for Peace. Governors of both parties have renewed it regularly and another renewal is planned when a delegation led by N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall travels to Moldova’s capital later this week.

“North Carolinians should be proud of this partnership,” former U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Michael Kirby said at a recent conference in Raleigh that brought together participants from across the state. “I’ve never seen another relationship like this.”

Champa and I gave students postcards from our home town of Durham at this workshop in Criuleni, Moldova.

The partnership has been “an important force for peace, an important force for democracies going forward,” agreed Rep. David Price, who recently visited Moldova as part of a bipartisan Congressional group.

In addition to receiving support within its own borders, Moldova has sent groups of experts to North Carolina to learn about topics ranging from judicial reform to agriculture. In turn, North Carolinians have benefited, too.

“I’m from Eastern North Carolina, where Raleigh is hours away,” said Elaine Justice, principal of an elementary school in Swansboro whose teachers and students interact with a Moldovan school. “Our kids, by being connected through this, are growing. They don’t just see themselves as living on the edge of North Carolina. They’re becoming global citizens.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This past summer, when my wife and I returned to Durham, we found America beset with political rancor. It’s been a relief to get involved in this bipartisan partnership where Republicans and Democrats, military veterans and university students and people of diverse ages, faiths and ethnicities are working together to provide assistance and form friendships with people in a struggling democracy, exemplifying what’s best about North Carolina. As Sec. Marshall told the conference, the program’s success is “due to people with a heart who are willing to share it.”

I hope more people get involved in the partnership and perhaps even visit Moldova. It’s a fascinating place that’s waiting to bring out the best in them, too.

David Jarmul, the former head of news and communications at Duke University, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova with his wife, Champa.

 

America with New Eyes

“Mr David, what happened to the American Government?”

That’s what Victoria, one of the students in the English conversation class I taught while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova, asked me on Facebook last week. “I see news everywhere,” she told me. (That’s Victoria making the V sign at our group’s farewell dinner.)

I know what she means and the news has worried me even more. After spending more than two years in a little-known part of the former Soviet Union where people are deeply cynical about politics and the rule of law, I’m unnerved by what I’ve encountered in my own country since returning home this past summer.

Champa and I were proud to represent the United States when we arrived in Moldova with our group in mid-2016. That was before we had a president who disdains international alliances, demonizes refugees and calls developing countries “shitholes.” It’s possible his description didn’t include Moldova, whose population is white, but it seems even worse to me if it didn’t. As an American, was I supposed to be proud that I was serving in a country where people are poor but at least are white?

img_1051

Michelle Obama championed the “Let Girls Learn” initiative that brought new opportunity to women and girls around the globe, encouraging more girls to go to school, start businesses and pursue careers. The initiative funded the Peace Corps grant through which our Ialoveni library was able to create a new family room, above, and programs for mothers and children. Just before we received the grant, though, we were told to no longer refer to the initiative as “let girls learn,” which was linked so closely to Michelle Obama.

img_0422

I came to love Moldova during my service there and have recently gotten involved with a partnership program between Moldova and my home state of North Carolina. (Rodney Maddox and Lora Sinigur, who help run the program with Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, are shown left.) I continue to admire the perseverance and grace of Moldovans in the face of hardship. Despite its rich agriculture, Moldova’s economy offers few economic opportunities. Many people have left the country to seek work elsewhere. Corruption is widespread. Reform efforts have been thwarted. 

The Moldovans I met are wonderful people who nonetheless have a dark view of life. In his book The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner called Moldova the unhappiest country on Earth. 

The United States remains far wealthier but I fear we are heading in the same direction in terms of how we view our collective future. Since coming home, I’ve seen a level of cynicism that scares me. I don’t recall people ever feeling so anxious and frustrated about the possibility of change, even during the darkest days of the Vietnam War or the Watergate crisis. 

This is not the America I knew when I left. Seeing it with new eyes has made the contrast sharper for me.

img_0541The midterm election gave me hope that Americans will not surrender to despair, that they will fight to once again make our country the kind of place we can all extol when living and traveling abroad. This past Sunday, Champa and I served lunch at a local soup kitchen with our friend Celeste, right, who also served in the Peace Corps, in West Africa during the Vietnam War. She reminded me how challenging it was to be asked questions then about America. Eventually things got better. I’m hopeful they can again.    

I’m not speaking here for the Peace Corps, which is non-political and bipartisan. I also continue to hold the Moldovan people closely in my heart. It’s just that more than six months have passed since I completed my service and friends keep asking me what it’s felt like to come home.

My answer is that I don’t want us to become as hopeless and cynical as the people I met back in Moldova or, for that matter, in many other countries around the world where strongmen pursue their own interests, lies abound and darkness obscures light. I want us to trust each other again and embrace the optimism that is our birthright as Americans.

I want Victoria to keep watching because somehow my country is going to make things right.

North Carolina’s Partner

Kate Hughey usually teaches fourth graders in Charlotte, N.C., but on Monday she taught a crowded room of English teachers in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. She described her collaborations with fellow teachers on student projects that blend multiple subjects and demonstrated how to make videos easily with homemade “green screens.”

IMG_3818

“We don’t do cross-disciplinary projects in Moldova, so this is really interesting for us. It’s a model we can adapt for our situation,” said Daniela Munca-Aftenev, president of the Academy for Innovation and Change through Education (top photo, left), which hosted the talk at Biblioteca Hasdeu along the city’s main boulevard.

IMG_3810

It was Kate’s first day in a week of activities in Moldova and the latest in a partnership that has linked North Carolina and this East European nation since 1999.

IMG_3709I was invited because I recently assisted the partnership as it prepared to ship hundreds of English-language books to Moldova with two NGOs. I worked with Bob Gingrich, Peace Corps Moldova’s director of management and operations and a fellow North Carolinian (left in photo), who will soon distribute the books among PCVs to share with their host communities.

IMG_3827I ate lunch with Kate before her talk so she could tell me more about the partnership and I could answer some of her questions about Moldova, which she is visiting for the first time, thanks to a grant from World Affairs Council of Charlotte. Kate, who teaches at Charlotte Latin School, is among the pioneers of a school-to-school program that connects teachers and students in Moldova and North Carolina. Her students recently collected 50 boxes of reading books for schools here.

IMG_3778Also arriving here this past weekend was Willow Stone, a student from Clayton High School who will live with a Moldovan host family and study Russian.

Elaine Marshall, North Carolina’s secretary of state, has guided the partnership as it has expanded beyond its initial collaboration between the N.C. National Guard and the Defense Forces of Moldova to include private firms, civic organizations, non-profit agencies and individuals, with planning committees in both North Carolina and Moldova.

IMG_3786

Its projects have ranged from education to medicine, culture and the economy. The Greensboro Jewish Federation assisted a Moldovan Jewish community. Officers of the U.S. Armed Forces helped build a playground for the children of Moldovan military families. The University of North Carolina School of Dentistry sent teams to assist an orphanage. My former colleagues at Duke University and others have sent medical supplies. When I tried to help someone here find information for the local wine industry, an expert from North Carolina State University responded to help us.

The exchanges have gone in the other direction as well, with Moldovans spending time at schools, universities, companies and other institutions in North Carolina.

Kate will be giving several presentations this week, visiting the Ministry of Education and touring some of Moldova’s touristic sites. IMG_3784The Moldovans who attended on Monday picked up not only new teaching ideas but also armloads of free books to bring back to their schools. Some of them have also interacted over the years with Peace Corps Moldova’s English Education program, in which Champa has served.

The two of us have only a week left in Peace Corps Moldova, where we’ve served alongside volunteers from Asheville, Charlotte, Boone, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Gastonia, Rocky Mount and other parts of our state. We look forward to working with the partnership ourselves after we return to our home in Durham.

Subscribe to Not Exactly Retired.

Mulling What’s Next

If you’re an older American looking to continue pursuing a life of service and adventure after spending two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you can find lots of helpful resources online.

IMG_0815

I know because I’ve been searching through them myself as Champa and I enter the final lap of our time in Moldova. Just like our younger colleagues, we’re thinking about what we’ll do after ringing the traditional farewell bell here this summer. While many of them have been checking out graduate schools or possible jobs, though, we’ve been looking for ideas that better fit our stage of life.

Let me share some of what I’ve found:Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.31.05 PM

Senior Nomads, a blog by retired Seattle couple Debbie and Michael Campbell, chronicles their full-time travels since 2013, staying in Airbnbs while visiting more than 68 countries. As Debbie noted in a recent post, they now spend money on airfares, Airbnbs and travel insurance instead of a home. They’ve been able to spend lots of time every year with their children and grandchildren and to keep in touch with friends while pursuing a life that, at least to me, feels a lot more interesting than playing golf every day.Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.31.28 PM

Lynne Martin has been pursuing similar adventures with her husband Tim, which she describes  on her website, Home Free Adventures. Lynne’s book, Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World, inspired us several years ago when we were contemplating leaving the conventional workplace to become “not exactly retired” ourselves

There are numerous websites devoted to “senior travel,” each with its own niche. TripAdvisor compiled some of the best in its article 20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millenials. (Their title, not mine.) If you’re looking for practical tips, also check out Rick Steves’ article about Savvy Senior Travelers. If you’re dreaming of becoming a travel writer yourself, you’ll find lots of advice online.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.33.06 PM

Other sites offers leads about short- or longer-term employment overseas. Transitions Abroad is a good one for English teachers. Modern-Day Nomads highlights “top travel jobs & inspiration for globetrekking, creative professionals.” (It hasn’t been updated recently but its listings for November included one for a seasonal sous chef at Denali National Park.)

Champa and I want to continue providing service after Peace Corps. I’ve been finding new inspiration for this at Encore.org, which promotes “second acts for the greater good.” I’m thinking now about how I can best apply my own skills to make a similar impact, whether back home in Durham or more broadly. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.33.37 PMMy niece, Juliana, will be enrolling this fall at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, with a special interest in social entrepreneurship; I may need to borrow some of her course materials.

Good online resources exist to help older Americans find volunteer opportunities. HandsOn Triangle serves our North Carolina community. Similar sites exist elsewhere. AARP’s Create the Good serves older volunteers nationwide. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.34.56 PMThere are also excellent organizations and websites aimed at older volunteers, such as the Executive Service Corps and Reserve. Most seek to match older Americans with positions that make good use of their particular skills.

I regularly find interesting articles on Next Avenue and from journalists such as Richard Eisenberg and Kerry Hannon who cover retirement issues. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.35.33 PMMy favorite writer covering this field is Nancy Collamer (my sister), whose “My Lifestyle Career” site and recent 100 Great Second-Act Career Resources cover many of the issues I’ve discussed here, as well as “flexible gigs,” online courses for seniors and resources for everyone from foodies to pet lovers.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.36.14 PMFor the next five months, Champa and I will remain focused on the rest of our Peace Corps service. Here, too, plentiful online resources exist to motivate us. Not long ago, one RPCV group selected the 8 Best Blogs to Follow About Peace Corps, a list that included the blog you’re reading now. IMG_2013(Thanks, Friends & RPCVs of Guyana!)

Champa and I are most looking forward to taking a break and spending time with our family and friends after being away for so long. We really miss them, as you can tell from these photos we took during our trip home last summer. Simultaneously, we know we will eventually catch our breath and get serious about “what’s next?”

If anyone reading this has suggestions or wants to share something from their own lives, we’ll read your comments with interest — and perhaps others will, too.

IMG_6227

 

My Two Homes

IMG_5801

On Monday, the library where I work in Ialoveni, Moldova unveiled an exhibit about North Carolina — the home state of “Domnul David” and “Doamna Champa.”

The exhibit features brochures about the Wright Brothers monument in Kitty Hawk, the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, the NASCAR museum in Charlotte and attractions across the Triangle. It also offers information about where to taste wine, go fishing or ride a hot-air balloon in North Carolina.

IMG_5796

Before we came to Moldova with the Peace Corps, I gathered these brochures at the North Carolina tourism office on Route 85, just south of the Virginia border. I brought them with me and now finally put them to good use. As I described in an earlier post, Champa and I have also shared souvenir postcards about Durham.

My library colleague, Doamna Stella, and her daughter did a great job of arranging the new exhibit, which is in the center of the library. It’s the latest example of the close ties between Moldova and Carolina du Nord, two places I’m proud to call home.

 

 

Durham in Moldova

img_2950

Duke Chapel, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the American Tobacco Campus are among the destinations I’ll be featuring today.

Wait, you’re thinking, isn’t this blog about our experiences as “not exactly retired” Peace Corps volunteers in Eastern Europe?

Yes, exactly. On Thursday, we handed out souvenir postcards of Durham, N.C., as prizes for students competing in geography quizzes we held during two presentations we gave in the town of Criuleni. Watching them react to the Durham bull and other landmarks from back home was an experience we won’t forget.

img_2926
Who wants to answer the geography question and win a postcard from Durham, N.C.?

My friends at the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau gave me the cards before Champa and I left to join the Peace Corps last spring. Thanks anew to Shelly Green (@DCVBPrez) and her colleagues for helping us show off our home town with people we’ve met in Moldova. (Durham! Fresh Daily with great restaurants, arts and entertainment!)

As I’ve written before, North Carolina has a special relationship with Moldova. Just in my group, we have volunteers from Asheville, Boone, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh and, of course, Durham.

Champa and I went to Criuleni to help commemorate Peace Corps Week, the annual celebration of  President Kennedy’s founding of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. We joined other volunteers and country director Tracey Hébert-Seck in speaking at a week-long series of events organized by volunteers Chris Flowers and Rebecca Lehman. Further to the south, in Causeni, volunteer Anne Reed and her colleagues are planning a big event on Saturday to celebrate Peace Corps Week and International Women’s Month.

img_2938In our two presentations, Champa and I highlighted Peace Corps activities around the world. Our quizzes challenged the students to match photographs of Peace Corps volunteers with the countries where they served. In the middle photo of the three-photo strip above, for example, the boy is guessing which Peace Corps photos came from Albania, China or Swaziland. We also showed a video of our 2015 trip to Nepal and this video featuring people from 156 countries joining together to sing “All You Need Is Love.”

I don’t know whether Moldovan tourists will now start arriving in droves in the Bull City. But if they do, I’m sure they’ll enjoy themselves, whether they watch a show at DPAC, an exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art, the Hayti Heritage Center, the weekly farmers’ market or a local beer at Fullsteam. After all, I have the postcards to prove it.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-8-50-27-am