Peace Corps Press Release:
WASHINGTON, D.C., September 23, 2009
Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams is saddened to announce the death of Peace Corps volunteer Joseph Chow in Tanzania. Joseph died in a rock climbing accident near the village of Mbuji in the Ruvuma region in the southern part of Tanzania.
“Joseph was active, creative and charming. He was always ready to lend a helping hand, to work and play, and to contribute to his community. His sudden passing is terribly painful for the entire Peace Corps family, including Joseph’s students, whose lives were changed by Joseph’s passion for teaching,” said Director Williams. “Our thoughts go out to his family and friends around the world.”
Joseph, 23, a native of Scarsdale, New York, had been serving as an education volunteer in the Ndanda Secondary School. He was scheduled to complete his Peace Corps service in November 2009.
After graduating from Amherst College in 2007, Joseph was invited to serve in Peace Corps/Kenya as a math and science teacher and arrived for his pre-service training in September 2007. He was sworn in as a volunteer in November and placed in the village of Ndalat to teach chemistry and physics at St. Clement Secondary School. Following the suspension of the Peace Corps/Kenya program in early 2008, Joseph volunteered to transfer to Tanzania to continue his service as an education volunteer. In February 2008, he began teaching college preparatory chemistry at Ndanda Secondary School in the Mtwara region of southern Tanzania.
Peace Corps Volunteer Joseph Chow teaching in TanzaniaJoseph always put his students first. Although he was assigned to teach advanced chemistry as his only subject, Joseph recognized his students’ desire to study math and physics. Because few teachers taught those subjects, Joseph added advanced physics and math to his teaching schedule.
Raising HIV/AIDS awareness was another project that benefited from Joseph’s work ethic and commitment to his community. Joseph started an after-school health club with his students, organized community HIV testing and counseling, and developed both a 5 km race and a community theater program that raised HIV/AIDS awareness in his area. The events were successful and brought more than 400 students from several regional schools together.
In his 2007 Peace Corps aspiration statement, Joseph wrote that one of the reasons he decided to serve with Peace Corps was because he had never spent a long period of time in a different culture. He hoped to meet the challenges of teaching in a classroom in Africa and understood that the work he faced would be much more difficult than any work he had previously accomplished.
Joseph not only adapted to his new surroundings, he flourished.
His Father’s Eulogy
I can tell you now that you, our family and friends helped us to live.
On the behalf of the Chow Family, I want to thank everyone for their incredible support.
Thank you so very much.
Our son Joseph
Initially, even though he worked so hard, he had no success. He was always the youngest, smallest in his class.
As parents, we send our kids out into the world. We cannot be with them. We can only hope that they make friends and succeed.
When he went to Fordham Prep a magical transformation into a wonderful, caring, athletic, beautiful young man began. That growth continued at Amherst. He had such fantastic friends. We were so happy. Joseph worked so hard. He was called “Speedy Joe” by the Amherst swim team, because he was the slowest on the team.
He lived every minute of his life.
He really was the “Little Engine that Could.”
Joseph took all of what his family, friends, teachers and coaches had to give, internalized it and passed it forward.
When we heard that he was going to Africa with the Peace Corps, we were really worried. We were worried he would stick out.
We worried that he would be mugged, kidnapped, or robbed, andthat he would not succeed and integrate into his community.
Joseph told us not to worry. That the Peace Corps told him that all you had to do was make friends and that they would keep him safe.
He was confident that would happen.
When we met with Andrea, we were able to see videos, pictures and remembrance book from Tanzania. He had lots of friends. He had succeeded.
With the death of Joseph, there has been lots of grief and sorrow.
Donna and I want you to release your grief and sorrow. We will hold onto that. It is a parent’s burden and prerogative to do so.
Instead, we want you to celebrate his memory.
If his memory helps you do better, if it helps you live life more fully, if in the dark, his memory gives you a little light, or helps your flame burn a little brighter,if you take this and pass it to your friends and family, then a little piece of Joe will live on.
If Joe were listening now I can just see how he would react.
He would smile that big smile of his. Then he would do his high pitched giggle. Then he would break out in his loud laugh.
Then he would raise his hands in mock exasperation and go AARGH!!
Then he would lean forward and with great gusto he would say to me, “Dad, That was CRAP!”
Before Father O’Konsky gives the final prayer, I would like us all to clap for Joe. The Applause will help send his spirit up to heaven.
Kyle Chow’s Speech at Arlington Cemetery on the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps
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.
The Joseph Lawrence Chow Memorial Fund aims to keep Joseph’s memory alive through the promotion of the characteristics that best represented him in life. A love for learning and service were important themes throughout Joseph’s life and the JLC Memorial Fund provides support to charities and organizations who share these values.