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Peace Corps 360: Bringing a Service Project Back to the United States

Usually, when we think of the world map project, we think of a Volunteer helping to expose their Peace Corps village to America; however, Greater Birmingham Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group (GBRPCV) has turned this project around on its head and completed 13 murals at home in Alabama to expose Americans to the rest of the world. “America can be pretty insular in thought and education.  I think participating in a world map project plants seeds in people’s minds that there is more in this world and no one is necessarily better than anyone else,” states Karmie Johnson, GBRPCV President and RPCV Samoa 2001-2003.

GBRPCV was founded in the mid-1990s to join together a group of local RPCVs so they could support each other and share their Peace Corps experiences with their Birmingham community. “We started our first map shortly after we formed as a group and we were looking for service projects. I had read about the map project and thought the schools I worked with in inner city Birmingham would love to participate,” explains Sue Seay, one of the founding members of GBRPCV and RPCV Antigua 1971-1972.

“When we did our first map, we had several activity centers where the children could participate in geography and cultural activities while others got to paint and then the students rotated so everyone could have a turn painting.” With a few tweaks, GBRPCV has continued this same method for all 13 of their map projects and created an online guide to assist others who want to do it on their own.

Sue explains further, “First, we meet with people at the school to go over our needs and to see where they want the map painted. The school must be willing to stay open on Saturday so we can outline the map and have the children paint. We require someone from the school to be present.” With the school’s participation, this project has the ability to reach more than just students. “We also had schools where several teachers have come to join in on our painting day. Eventually, we went to other schools whose principals or other faculty had seen the map when they visited a school where we had already painted, and they wanted one for their own school.”

For those out there thinking about a World Map project, Karmie says, “Do it! Just get a good projector, a black-and-white map, and some adults to do the initial outlining. It really is a great project that the school takes pride in and we do, too. We've encountered a few schools that are reluctant at first but once we get started, and once the kids’ enthusiasm becomes infectious, we've never had any school not love the map project by the end.” She does include a caution though, “Be careful what snacks you bring the kids.  Too much sugar can turn your map into a Jackson Pollock!”

“Ultimately, I think a map project truly is a collaboration of geography, art, community and advocacy. I love letting kids from Birmingham know that another kid from Alabama was able to experience another culture.  In a small but significant way our group is continuing our Peace Corps service.”

Last updated Sep 09 2014

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