LEGACY OF PEACE CORPS IN IRAN
Iran was one of the first countries to welcome Peace Corps volunteers (1962). By the mid-1970's unrest had spread to key cities, particularly at universities: It was apparent that the country was not a suitable environment for the Peace Corps program. When the last volunteers departed Iran in 1976 , the country was on the cusp of the Revolution. Some volunteers stayed on, taking other work, until the American exodus in 1979. After returning to the United States volunteers dispersed; groups that had trained together and maintained contact while in Iran lost track of one another. To make matters worse, there was no official federal list of volunteers to consult in looking for long lost friends. This was the situation until a few volunteers took it upon themselves to reassemble the record, one contact, one lead, at a time. Reconstructing the Peace Corps Iran record became painstaking work, largely on the part of one dedicated woman, Genna Wangsness. The work is ongoing. The list of individuals who served is roughly double the 700-plus contacted. Stories from these Iran volunteers, along with staff (for example, cultural and language instructors), comprise a recorded 'legacy' of Peace Corps years in Iran.
The expanding contact list of returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV's) heightened an interest in bringing the volunteers and staff together again. In 2011 three volunteers sent out an invitation to come to Portland, Oregon, for a two day reunion. Encouraged by the success of this event, the next step was formal organization: Incorporation of the new Peace Corps Iran Association in Oregon (2012) as a non-profit entity and recruiting directors.
PCIA began with its highest priority: to preserve the record of Peace Corps in Iran. This has centered on the experiences and perspectives of the volunteers who served in the country. Using the volunteer/staff contact list, writer-historian-volunteer John Krauskopf was able to solicit stories about living in Iran and roles in Peace Corps, resulting in a Peace Corps Anthology.
A more comprehensive effort is being undertaken by Genna Wangsness, whose goal is a history of the Peace Corps in Iran, making use of stories from volunteers to offer a range of perspectives and experiences from the program's inception in 1962 through closure in 1976.
The history of PC in Iran is growing as we add volunteer stories and information about Peace Corps Iran as an American organization vis-a-vis the government under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. A study by Jasmin Rostam-Kolayi (Professor of History as California State University Fullerton) is underway that focuses on the role of Peace Corps in the context of the cold war. Our records also include reports from PCIA members who have traveled in Iran in recent years. PCIA has arranged with American University in Washington, D.C. to archive Association records as well as materials from individual volunteers. The materials will be accessible to the public.
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The legacy of Peace Corps in Iran has more than historical use.These accounts of the people and culture of Iran are valuable 'windows' on a country that has been largely cut off from American contact for over four decades and remind us of the value of diplomacy at personal and community level.