Americans who have visited Iran are few. Rarer still are Americans who have lived and worked in Iran, learned the language, and made friends there. With today's negative images of Iran, it may come as a surprise that Iran was one of the first countries to welcome Peace Corps volunteers. Between 1962 and 1976, when the program closed, over 1740 volunteers served in Iran. Some married Iranians, others have kept in touch with Iranian friends, all who served were introduced to a rich and distinctive culture. Among our members are Iranian-Americans who served as staff and trainers. We have members who have visited Iran in recent years; Persian-speaking members; members with family in Iran. The connection has not died.
In the fall of 2010, when plans were being made for Peace Corps' 50th anniversary celebration, two ambitious Iran volunteers decided to hold a reunion of Iran volunteers in 2011.The location was Portland, Oregon; the date coincided with Portland's annual Iranian Festival. The attendance was remarkable, given limited contact information, roughly 300.
The Peace Corps Iran Association (PCIA) grew out of this desire to renew friendships among volunteers who first met in training for service in Iran. Contacting former volunteers has not been straightforward: Lacking a list of everyone who had served, let alone contact information, a handful of volunteers took on the task of locating, getting in touch with Iran volunteers, and networking from these contacts. The success of the 2011 gathering put energy into locating other volunteers and eliciting volunteers to serve on a Board of Directors of the Association when it was incorporated under Oregon law in 2012. At the time the Association had about 600 names in its database. Today there are 1,951names in our database, and of those, 1490 served as Volunteers in Iran. The additional 450 individuals served as trainers, staff, directors, and/or served as volunteers in other countries such as Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Turkey, and/or are supporters of PCIA's mission and goals.
If the initial impetus for gathering was reconnecting with friends, it soon became clear that PCIA had an opportunity -- indeed, a responsibility -- to preserve the history of Peace Corps in Iran and to advocate today for an understanding between Iranians and Americans that supports peaceful relations between our countries. You can read our mission statement HERE.
Over time, both our "legacy" and our "advocacy" activities have grown and diversified. Success in locating volunteers, under the leadership of Genna Wangsness, has led to a wealth of personal stories about living and serving in Iran. Genna is compiling a history which is up to 600 pages at the present time.
John Krauskopf has been working on an Anthology of PCIA stories due to be published in book form soon. Additional stories from PCIA publications and other sources and be found HERE. Legacy is always a major theme of PCIA's conferences, which have been held biennially since 2011 (Portland, Boston, Austin, Annapolis and most recently in San Diego in 2019). Links to conferences are posted HERE.
Note: PCIA hopes to hold a conference in 2021 but has not determined whether the meeting will be virtual and/or in person (planned for Chicago), given Covid 19.
As political tensions between Iran and the United States have increased in recent years, PCIA has become more engaged in ''political" advocacy appropriate to our nonprofit status. Thus, our role is to inform members of current events and upcoming opportunities to make their opinions known to their representatives in Congress and through local and national media.The PCIA Board has on occasion issued public statements in support of measures we consider to be important steps toward better relations with Iran, for example, endorsement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ("Nuclear Agreement"). Our outreach campaign has been strengthened by the authenticity of our experience as Americans who lived in Iran, speak Persian, enjoyed the food, and formed friendships, many of which endure today.
The Peace Corps Iran Association welcomes everyone who supports our mission to join us. Membership is free and open to all.