50th Anniversary of Peace Corps

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Washington, D.C., September 22-25, 2011

Thank you to the families of the following volunteers who were able to travel for the events.

  • Stephanie Chance
  • Joseph Chow
  • John Douglas Roberts
  • Julia Campbell
  • Matt Costa
  • Tessa Horan
  • Rik Weiss
  • Wyatt Pillsbury
  • Jennifer Rose
  • Joie Kallison
  • Jeremy Rolfs
  • Andrew Shippee
  • Matt Sherman
  • Marian Baciewicz
  • Grace Russomanno
  • Robert Pastuszak
  • Craig Pollock
  • Henry Farrar
  • Lawrence Radley

Kyle Chow’s Speech

I would like to begin by thanking everyone who helped bring Joseph home; you were there for him when he needed you most. I would also like to thank our friends and family; you were there for us when we needed you most.

Joseph was among the best men that I’ve had the honor of knowing, he was everything you could ever ask for in an older brother. Talented in all aspects of life, he was artistic, athletic, smart, and humorous. He was a great in the classroom first as a student and eventually as an award-winning teacher of math, physics and chemistry in the Ndanda Secondary School. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Joseph served not only the students in southern Tanzania, but our great nation as well. The call to help those worse off was deeply ingrained in him. All of these attributes make Joseph special and, ultimately, someone I’ve looked up to my entire life. I’m so proud of Joseph.

I feel that these are common characteristics in all Peace Corps Volunteers, they are kind, compassionate, talented, and most importantly, giving. The people that we as a nation can look up to and admire, they are the best that our country has to offer.

We are so proud of those who serve, who give themselves, their time and goodwill, to help others. They are our role models; the ones that give us hope for the future; the ones that brighten even the darkest of days. Truly, they are the Greatest Americans.
And that’s why when a volunteer falls it hurts so much, because it’s always hardest to lose the best of us, to lose those with impressive pasts and limitless futures, those that we’ve looked up to our entire lives. When one fails, the whole world seems dimmer for it.

Even though it still hurts to think how proud I am of my brother, I consider myself lucky. Not for having lost him, but for having had him in the first place. I am one of the many, but, at the same time, too few, to have known him and learned from his story, his values and his life. I feel honored to have been so close to one of the best, one of the greatest Americans. We should all be honored to call these fallen volunteers our friends and colleagues, our sons and daughters, our sisters and our brothers.

So, do not grieve that they are gone, but rejoice that you knew them. They were special; they were the best of the best. And while yes it is sad that they are gone, the world was fortunate to have had them in the first place.

Above me reads an inscription “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” While this is certainly true, we also must ensure they have not lived in vain. We have an imperative to examine their lives and learn from them, otherwise their deaths will be meaningless and their legacies empty. The price we paid was excruciatingly high, so the lessons learned must be extraordinarily valuable. If you believe as I do, that these fallen are truly the best of us, then we must improve ourselves by learning from their lives and the way they lived them. We must grow. We must be better.

Joseph’s life will always serve as a guide for my own; I’ll always make sure that I heed the call to serve my community. That I’ll go above and beyond merely what is required. He’ll always be a reminder to be kind, compassionate, and giving, to use my talents appropriately. And most importantly, to be the best man I can be, so that I can brighten your day as Joseph brightened mine.

See the video of Kyle Chow’s speech.

Pam Cameron’s Speech

My son, Matt Costa, is a fallen Peace Corps volunteer. He was 5 feet 5 ½ – about 130 pounds soaking wet, wiry and athletic with curly brown hair and sparkling brown eyes – 2 weeks shy of his 25th birthday on September 3, 2006 when he and fellow volunteer, Justin Brady, died in Mali when the mast of their homemade boat hit a power line as they sailed the Niger River. This is how Matt’s college fraternity brother described him a few days after his death, and I quote: “He was a risk taker, an adventurer – an example I followed. He was fierce and fearless, with a heart and perspective that did not match his size. His outlook led him to places few are brave enough to venture – he strived to be exceptional. He was a novel person with a mind that was always working.”

I don’t think this description is unique to Matt. It probably describes most volunteers. They are fierce, fearless, brave, novel, and big-hearted. That is what it takes to travel thousands of miles from home, from one’s family and friends, into a foreign land where they may be no plumbing, electricity, running water – where the amenities we take for granted don’t exist. They become ambassadors for America by venturing into underdeveloped countries and following the cultural mores of the people with whom they live and work. Most come home as changed people. They are forever defined by their experiences in the Peace Corps. A small number, like my son and the other fallen volunteers, aren’t so lucky. The Peace Corps became their final chapter. But I think most of them died doing what they wanted – what they chose – what they loved.

My son, Matt, wanted to join the Peace Corps since he was about 12 or 13. He was always globally engaged and had a relentless thirst to experience other cultures and to help those less fortunate. I remember the night before he left for Chad. It was September 21, 2003 – his 22nd birthday – a Sunday. He savored every second of watching his beloved Washington Redskins – in what he knew would be the last football game he’d watch on TV for a long time. They lost to the Giants in overtime. He was frustrated. He thought fate would smile upon him and remove the Giants jinx from the Redskins because after all it was his birthday and he was heading for staging and then Chad the next morning. I remember thinking how much I take watching TV for granted. Yet, here was my brave and selfless son volunteering to give up not just TV, but electricity, bathroom facilities, running water, and I felt so very proud.

The Peace Corps is unique as are its volunteers. They change others’ views about Americans. They live and work among the people in their villages. They do more than their official Peace Corps duties. They engage their neighbors and students and co-workers one conversation, one soccer game, one song, one friendship at a time. They leave legacies when they leave their countries.

I’d like to share with you one of Matt’s legacies from Chad. Matt loved music and he played a mean guitar and harmonica. He was a huge Bob Dylan fan. One of his goals was to use music to bridge the cultural and language gaps between himself and the Chadians. He would gather the Chadian kids from his village, Mani, and play and sing Bob Dylan songs with them. One particular song, “Who killed Davey Moore,” a social commentary about a world champion prizefighter killed by an opponent in 1963, was a favorite of the kids. Matt would sing the verses, and the Chadian children would sing the chorus, which goes “Who killed Davey Moore…Why and what’s the reason for?” The kids didn’t even know what these words meant, but they were catchy and the kids remembered them. Every time they saw Matt at the market or in the village, they would get big smiles on their faces and start chanting the chorus as they pointed at Matt….and I would imagine to this day there are Chadian kids in a village called Mani who still song “Who Killed Davey Moore…Why and what’s the reason for” – from a Dylan song that most people in the U.S. have never even heard.

Matt loved the Peace Corps so much that he decided to extend his service to Mali after 2 years in Chad. We traveled to Mali on the one-year anniversary of Matt’s death to dedicate a soccer field in his memory. We raised money to build bleachers and a children’s garden at the field in his village. While there, we heard from many Malians and Peace Corps volunteers about the legacies Matt left in Mali as well. One volunteer told us about how Matt and Justin planned to use their boat to teach the Malian women, who wash their clothes along the banks of the Niger River, how to build soap.

This same gentleman described Matt and Justin as follows, and I quote: “The kind of people who make you glad to be alive, who make you proud to live and love life, who give and renew your hope in all of humanity. With their inspirationally indefatigable attitudes, energy, adventurous spirit and good humor, they truly made the world a better place.”

I believe this describes every volunteer – current, returned, fallen, or future.

The fallen volunteers leave a special legacy. Many of them were young – with almost an entire lifetime remaining to grow, experience, and make a difference. That is why it’s so important that we remember them and what they stood for. For us, after we dedicated the soccer field in Mali, we started a scholarship in Matt’s memory at his alma mater, Tulane University, given to a service oriented student to carry on Matt’s legacy. We also hold a benefit concert called “Music for Matt” every year in New Orleans. All the proceeds from Music for Matt go to his scholarship and to support Peace Corps volunteer projects in Mali.

I’d now like to quote Matt – this is from the last email he wrote before he died. He was planning to go to law school and talking about what he wanted to do after graduation. “I think I want to do something with international law, or with asylum or immigrant type stuff. I like Africa, but not as much as I love the world. I want to be able to move around in it.” My heart aches for the future Matt lost 2 days after writing this e-mail. It aches for the loss of all the fallen volunteers and, collectively, the good they would have done in this world. But my heart also swells with pride when I read that e-mail – because of the difference Matt and the other fallen volunteers made in their time here on earth – however long or short it may have been. I honor the 280 fallen volunteers. They represent the best of America and they have left their indelible spirit all around the world.

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