Local Peace Corps member’s photo helps promote agency’s message

Last modified: Thursday, November 06, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — A photograph taken by a Northampton High School graduate is now being used as inspiration to make a difference in developing countries.

Florence resident Jonathan Foster-Moore, now 24 and a member of the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic, won third place in a photography contest sponsored by the volunteer program with a photo he took at a culture day celebration.

The picture, which shows a fellow Peace Corps volunteer arm wrestling with a language and culture trainer during an event in Krasnaya Rechka, a village outside the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek, is now being featured in a new Peace Corps public service announcement released on Wednesday.

The 30-second video, titled “Defining Moments,” shows an animation featuring the three winning photos and two honorable mentions set to the song “Peace” by the American rock band O.A.R. The Peace Corps’ “Volunteer Viewfinder Photo Contest” was held in August and invited both current and former corps members to submit life-defining moments from their service, according to a statement from the organization.

Foster-Moore’s image and the other winning photographs are also being shared in a six-week digital campaign that the organization also launched Wednesday on platforms such as Hulu, Pandora, Facebook and ESPN, according to the statement.

Foster-Moore, a 2013 graduate of St. Lawrence University, joined the Peace Corps this year and will complete his service in 2016.

“I joined the Peace Corps because it gives you the chance to immerse myself in a new community and gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of a culture,” Foster-Moore said in an email Wednesday night. “It’s about the personal relationships you build with the people you see every day.”

This sentiment was echoed Wednesday by six local former Peace Corps volunteers who visited Smith College for an informational panel for students in the Campus Center building. Established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps is a U.S. government agency that sends citizens to 70 nations for 27-month assignments in community building, teaching and farming, for example.

The panelists shared their reasons for becoming volunteers as around a dozen Smith College students listened intently. Their reasons ranged from having been simply idealistic college students looking to make a difference to being under the spell of the Kennedys.

“Being a Massachusetts kid, JFK still had a grip on us,” said David Modzelewski of Springfield, who did community development work in Panama from 1968-70.

Students said that what they found most inspiring was learning about the strong relationships that corps members were able to build during their assignments.

“All of that really made me want to look more into the Peace Corps,” said Smith College senior Christina Vergara.

Panelist Katie Joyce, a fourth-grade teacher at the elementary school in Williamsburg who was in the Peace Corps in Ecuador from 2008 to 2010, said she went into her assignment thinking she would spend most of her time pursuing ambitious service projects. Instead, she found that most of her first year was spent getting to know the people in her community.

Patrick Thoendel, who grew up in South Dakota and now lives in the Valley, was in the Peace Corps in Georgia from 2006 to 2008, and then in the Kyrgyz Republic from 2008 to 2010.

He recalled how his parents came to visit him, and have since kept in touch with his host family using Google Translate and emojis.

“That’s so much cooler than any of the projects you could have done,” Thoendel said.

Aimee Racicot, of South Hadley, was in the Peace Corps teaching English as a second language in Mozambique from 1998 to 2001. She called joining the program “the best thing I ever did.”

“The reward for me was learning how to listen,” she said. “Education aside, these people knew more than I did.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.


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