RPCV Health Crusade’s One-Year Anniversary Milestone
RPCV Health Crusade’s One-Year Anniversary Target
In 2019, a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) came together to discuss the health needs of PCVs, RPCVs, and Peace Corps applicants. Where can the Peace Corps community do more in this area? Could there be better coordination of the efforts between RPCVs/groups with an interest or projects in health?
In our typical RPCV fashion, we rolled up our sleeves and dove in. This group of random RPCVs became the RPCV Health Crusade (RPCV-HC). Could we accomplish anything worthwhile before the RPCV Health Crusade’s one-year anniversary?
We thought we had time to slowly find our way. Over a year, could we launch a bare-bones basic website, create a health survey, and advocate on a couple of key health topics? Or was that too much to expect?
Information was the key. We can gather and organize information from Peace Corps, the internet, and other resources. But some information can only come from PCVs and RPCVs. And certain answers can only come from Peace Corps. We were learning more every day. But how can we make sense of all that information?
Our bare-bones website had to grow by leaps and bounds. Only one person on the team had the technology chops. But she was battling some significant health challenges. Could she still work some magic to build a complex online health survey and turn a couple of meager information pages into a fully interactive website in between hospital visits, medical appointments, and covid bubble protocols? Yes, she could and she did!
RPCV Health Survey
The best way to understand the health needs of the Peace Corps community was to hear directly from the community. A simple survey was not enough. RPCV-HC launched a complex survey to better understand the trends over time and identify key areas to help today. We made some hard choices on what to put in and what to leave out.
Yes, we welcomed your feedback. No, Peace Corps, NPCA, or other parties will not have access to the actual responses/data. Yes, we will be posting an anonymized summary of the results.
A hearty thank you to all the supportive and encouraging RPCVs and RPCV groups. Your participation in the survey and reaching out to your networks were vital to our efforts. And for those who did not or had conditions for their support, please consider the big picture value in future requests from any RPCV group looking to benefit the community. We are stronger together!
When we could not find a set of existing health resources effective for this unique community, we chose to build our own. Building an online resource library was not a part of the one-year anniversary plan but we pivoted to the needs of the community. The result is an ever-expanding RPCV Health Crusade Resource Library containing a collection of hidden gems you won’t find elsewhere.
Need to locate information on a specific Peace-Corps health topic? Interested in specific resources earmarked for folks with limited abilities, who identify as LGBTQ+, or are from different racial/ethnic groups? Don’t know which RPCV-focused organization has a health and/or support program for PCVs/RPCVs? Need some cost-saving methods on healthcare? Look no further! Bonus: lots of the information in the RPCV-HC Resource Library is open to non-RPCVs, too.
Don’t forget that health does not always mean gloom, doom, and illness. Health topics also includes positive well-being, maintenance, and prevention. Do you know any health resources not already in the RPCVH-HC Resource Library? Don’t keep it to yourself. Submit your health resource gem!
With the pandemic raging across the country, RPCV Health Crusade had to help. No, this was not on our one-year anniversary plan either!
RPCV-HC partnered with other RPCVs and the National RPCV Racial Justice Initiative to locate free COVID-19 testing sites. Everyone should be able to get tested without worrying about cost or insurance. Please stay safe – wear your mask, stay physically apart, wash your hands often, and GET TESTED!
Rachel Branaman (RPCV, Namibia), who started the idea for RCPV-HC, jumped in with everything she had to advocate for PCVs and RPCVs. Rachel met with numerous members on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate. She coordinated advocacy efforts for a stronger voice across RPCV groups. Rachel did more before our one-year anniversary than we hoped for in five years. Our efforts even reached Representative Grace Meng who stepped up to create a bill for a key RPCV-HC concern.
After the full evacuation of all PCVs, rumors swirled that applicants and Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers (EPCVs) who pursued mental health therapy before applying or requesting reinstatement could be automatically rejected. Would taking advantage of 3 free post-service therapy sessions hurt EPCVs’ chances to reinstate?
RPCV-HC stepped up to help get answers so EPCVs can be anonymous. EPCVs should not have to choose between mental healthcare and reinstatement. We pursued different avenues through various Peace Corps contacts and departments. No response was not an option. It took some effort but Peace Corps agreed to add our questions to its website and keep their answers up to date.
We have also asked EPCVs to be patient as this is also a unique situation for Peace Corps. They know that everyone is anxious for answers. But Peace Corps is a large government agency so answers may come slower than desired but they are coming.
When the National RPCV Racial Justice Initiative reached out about crafting the health section of their racial justice recommendations to Peace Corps, we could not say “no”. Once a volunteer, always a volunteer!
Community Support Program
In March 2020, Peace Corps evacuated every PCV due to the emerging pandemic. We did not anticipate launching a valid support program until year three or four. But the need was here and now.
Upon learning about the full evacuation, RPCV-HC immediately updated its new Resource Library with Peace Corps-specific health topics. We looked for other groups that can offer EPCVs with support options. And, we routinely pointed RPCVs/EPCVs to other resources and other RPCV groups. We also listed health resources to help EPCVs. It was important for EPCVs/RPCVs to learn how to identify and cope with reverse culture shock. It is also healing for RPCVs/EPCVs to find ways to continue helping the community.
EPCV Peer Support Sessions
In less than two weeks after the full Peace Corps evacuation, RPCV-HC partnered with psychologist Anna Nathanson (RPCV Cameroon) to launch a peer support program initiative. It was vital for EPCVs to have a safe space to work through their readjustment and concerns. Within days, we created a new support program, built an online participation form, updated the website, started spreading the word, and off we went.
The EPCV support group meets biweekly. No, the sessions are not formal therapy. Yes, the sessions are free. No, we will not provide a list of attendees to anyone outside RPCV-HC. Yes, you can join one of our peer support sessions.
We have learned so much and received such positive feedback that we are expanding our peer support efforts. Stay tuned!
Help RPCVs Vote Initiative
When RPCV-HC learned that transportation was a significant factor in whether or not people vote, we knew we needed to step up. Yes, our hands were full (more like overflowing) but this election was a critical one. It is hard enough trying to vote during a “normal” non-Pandemic election year. But what if you have health issues or other medical needs?
RPCV-HC launched our Help RPCVs Vote Initiative. We decided that the best way for us to help is to locate free rides for people to safely get to the polls or ballot drop-offs.
Griffin Smith, RPCV Uganda, led the way with relentlessly reaching out to potential partnerships for free rides. We also scoured the internet and worked our networks. The result was a detailed list of national and regional options for free or heavily discounted rides to the polls or ballot drop-off locations. Bonus: find a delicious way to pass the time if you are stuck in a long line at the polls.
How Can You Help Us Continue to Help You?
As you can see, RPCV-HC has taken on a lot well before its one-year anniversary. The need was great. Positive feedback and encouragement from the Peace Corps community kept us going. But we need some help!
Volunteer with us! We already have more projects in the pipeline. The infrastructure needs some work. There is a need for lot more hands and hearts to keep this pace. We have been so intent with responding to the needs of the Peace Corps community that we gave far more of ourselves than we had to give. We are not discouraged but we are exhausted!
If you are not sure where to start, read our blog to learn more about what we have done. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with what we are doing. Partner or sponsor our efforts. Submit a fun, encouraging, supportive, or informative health story.
Ready to join the cause? Don’t complain about a problem if you are not willing to contribute to the solution!
RPCV Health Crusade’s One-Year Anniversary Wrap Up
We focused on solutions and not on blame. We thought we had time to slowly find our way. But for the past year, RPCV-HC constantly adapted and reacted to the overwhelming needs of the community. And what a year it was – a pandemic, a full Peace Corps evacuation, a global recession, a critical voting year, and more!
We learned how supportive the RPCV community can be. Big virtual hugs to the RPCVs and RPCV groups who stepped up in various ways. A number of RPCVs have contributed on articles. Many helped to spread the word. It took a village. We learned how much our efforts were needed. But we also learned some things we rather not know!
Looking back on our one-year anniversary, we felt it was an incredible first year. What do you think? What should we do for year two?