The Herald Bulletin

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Local Business

March 27, 2011

Peace Corps story 50 years in the making

Former volunteer Sitler documents others around the world

ANDERSON, Ind. — After 10 years working as a photojournalist, Richard Sitler set out on a new journey.

The path he chose in 2000 took him to Jamaica where he stayed until 2002 as a Peace Corps volunteer, only to return four years later as a Crisis Corps volunteer.

“I was lucky to be in Jamaica. All I had to learn was dialect and culture,” Sitler said. “I could never be in Mongolia or Ukraine. I’m not good with language.”

Eventually, his Peace Corps experience created a recently published book, “Making Peace With the World,” documenting what volunteers, like himself, were doing around the world.

It started when Sitler, of Knightstown, returned to Jamaica in 2006. Peace Corps was in the midst of preparing for its 45th anniversary.

“I got wrangled into a project there,” Sitler said. “They knew I was a photojournalist in my previous life even though I taught in the Peace Corps.”

The Peace Corps realized the photos it intended to use to promote the anniversary weren’t of top-notch quality. They allowed Sitler to leave his post and photograph six volunteers.

“I thought, wow, this is really neat seeing what other volunteers were doing,” he said. “I got the idea to compare and contrast what volunteers in different countries do.”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship. Currently, there are 8,655 volunteers in 139 different locations across the world helping with issues from AIDS education to environmental preservation.

In 2007, Sitler went to Belize and Panama to shadow and photograph the efforts of volunteers. He wrote a proposal for a book project that he hoped to finish by the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. That anniversary is this year.

Sitler’s initial trip was cut short due to a lack of funds and he returned to Indiana where he spent two years as a photographer for The Herald Bulletin. By 2009, after saving enough money and gaining contacts, he found himself back on the Peace Corps road.

“I found a lot of common ground with everybody’s service. Different countries have different resources,” he said. “There are similar challenges and rewards. You’re all working with limited resources and in developing countries.”

While with volunteers in the Dominican Republic, Sitler met Sarah Roberts, 25, from Greenfield. The Ball State University graduate was in the economic development sector of Peace Corps working on programs to aid artisans, develop youth entrepreneurship and working with a women’s group to run a small business.

“Having Richard here didn’t draw too much attention. My community members probably didn’t realize the magnitude of the book and what it meant for me to be a part of it,” Roberts said. “I feel really honored to be a part of the project, and I enjoyed having Richard come down to visit.”

Roberts found comfort in having a fellow Hoosier and familiar face around. Since Sitler’s departure, Roberts took on a project to develop a recreational area.

“Most people that think of joining Peace Corps probably don’t give it a chance because it’s too ambitious. Having this book really gives them the opportunity to learn more,” Roberts said.

During the year Sitler spent shadowing volunteer efforts in the field, he still had the task of finding a publisher for the book.

Sitler didn’t have to look far to find a publisher. Chris Beale of Other Places Publishing was immediately interested with the project.

“Richard had contributed a short travel essay to one of our previous books and contacted us about our interest in working with him on “Making Peace With the World,’” Beale said.

Other Places Publishing focuses on travel guides that bring insight, culture and adventure to the intrepid traveler, said Beale, a former Peace Corps volunteer. Each book is researched and written by longtime residents and Peace Corps members of each country.

“We were immediately intrigued with the idea of him traveling to so many distinct and distant countries while documenting the lives of current Peace Corps volunteers,” Beale said.

Peace Corps isn’t a project long forgotten from the 1960s.

“I did this to let people know Peace Corps is still there,” Sitler said. “I did it because it was such a life-changing experience. It’s what I can do to give back to Peace Corps.”

Sitler’s book, “Making Peace With the World” can be found online at www.otherplacespublishing.com or locally at Cobalt Blue Press Bookstore in Knightstown.

Contact April Abernathy: 640-4861, april.abernathy@heraldbulletin.com

 

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