Afghanistan Peace Corps Volunteers Celebrate 50 Years of Service in Washington, D.C.

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Friends of Afghanistan to Advocate for Peace and Security in Afghanistan, Repatriate Antique Quran, Lead Parade of Nations at JFK Gravesite

Our gift of the Quran, returned to the Afghan people after nearly five decades in America, is being presented as a symbol of respect and as a declaration of the affection and friendship that we PCVs feel in recognition of their hospitality and kindness.

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The Peace Corps community will hold the largest celebration in its fifty year history to commemorate the organization’s Golden Anniversary, and Friends of Afghanistan is honored to be playing an important role in the festivities.

An agenda filled with Peace Corps events is set to take place in Washington, D.C., from September 22-25, 2011 beginning with Advocacy Day. This occasion will give a delegation of officers and members from Friends of Afghanistan, who will officially represent more than two thousand Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who served in Afghanistan from 1962 to the Soviet invasion in 1979, an opportunity to meet with Members of Congress and their staff. Advocacy Day marks fifty years since the September 22, 1961 date on which Congress officially approved legislation establishing the Peace Corps. President John F Kennedy described the legislation as authorizing "a peace corps of talented men and women" who would dedicate themselves to the advancement of peace and progress in the developing countries of the world.

While Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps Association have prepared a full schedule for the attending RPCVs, Friends of Afghanistan will also offer a number of country specific events. “The program,” said FoA event coordinator Jan West, “will include an authentic Afghan Bazaar and a series of presentations featuring a retrospective from our Country Directors.” The Directors’ discussion will be led by Bob Steiner, the first Country Director for Peace Corps Afghanistan. Steiner was personally recruited by Sargent Shriver in 1961 to start up the Peace Corps effort the following year in Afghanistan. After serving as our host at a dinner on Friday evening, the new Afghan Ambassador Eklil Hakimi, will offer the Keynote address on Saturday morning. Other speakers will include Bruce Freyer, a co-founder of GPFA, the Global Partnership for Afghanistan (http://www.gpfa.org). Bruce will provide a presentation on what may prove to be the template for future sustainable charity programs in the region. Suzanne Griffin will wrap up our morning program with a presentation on the status of education in Afghanistan which is among Friends of Afghanistan’s top priorities.

During the Friday dinner at the Embassy Friends of Afghanistan’s Board of Directors will present the Afghan Ambassador with an antique hand scribed copy of the Quran for repatriation back into Afghanistan. Anthony Agnello, FoA President said, “Our gift of the Holy Quran, returned to the Afghan people after nearly five decades in America, is being presented as a symbol of respect and as a declaration of the affection and friendship that we PCVs feel in grateful recognition of the hospitality and kindness that we received during our service to their country.”

The Embassy event will also offer the occasion to present Friends of Afghanistan’s two most prestigious awards; the Third Goal Award and the Starfish Award. Dr. Louise Pascale, who developed the Afghan Children’s Songbook Project (http://www.afghansongbook.org), which has been featured by the National Geographic Society, will be the recipient of the Third Goal Award. This award goes to the PCV who best informs the American public about the people and culture of Afghanistan. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, said, "This wonderful songbook is a small treasure that connects today's…children with generations past.” Friends of Afghanistan has presented Dr. Pascale’s Songbooks to Afghan children wounded as a result of the insurgency. These children were brought to America through SOLACE for the Children (http://www.solaceforthechildren.org), which arranged for their medical treatment.

The second award of the evening is the Starfish Award which will be presented to Ted Achilles, founder and director of SOLA, The School of Leadership Afghanistan (http://www.sola-afghanistan.org). This award is given to the person who truly “makes a difference” in an individual’s life. Through his support for gender equity educational programs and scholarships for girls, Ted is helping to build and sustain the next generation of Afghan female leaders.

Friends of Afghanistan is a proud and tangible supporter for SOLA and the Afghan Women's Writing Project (http://www.awwproject.org) in their effort to promote equitable educational opportunity in Afghanistan.

The closing ceremonies will begin Sunday morning and are scheduled to include a tribute to PCVs who have died in service, along with a commemorative wreath-laying ceremony at President Kennedy’s gravesite. The weekend celebration will end with representatives from Friends of Afghanistan leading the procession of flags representing all the Peace Corps Countries of Service. Peace Corps Volunteers from Afghanistan will lead the Walk of Flags carrying the banners of the United States of America and Afghanistan past the Eternal Flame. Finally, they will march across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, concluding the events of the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Peace Corps of the United States of America. Nancy Cunningham, a founder and former President of FoA, said, “Drinking our first cup of tea as Peace Corp Volunteers in Afghanistan, we were merely acquaintances with our Afghan hosts. But, by the second cup of tea, we had truly become fast friends. Now, many years past the third cup of tea, we recognize and honor the people of Afghanistan as our sisters and brothers and we intend to continue our advocacy for peace and security in their homeland for as long as we are able.”

Contact: Anthony Agnello, Phone #716-353-3067; email tony(at)afghanconnections(dot)org
Website: http://www.afghanconnections.org
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVV5MhbSdpk&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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