Bart Pogue, US Department of State Foreign Service Officer for USAID, discusses his posting in Guatemala.
For most travelers, a vacation to Iceland likely does not make the “Top Ten List.” But for Don Samford and a group from Peoria, it was a trip of a lifetime. Don Samford, previous president of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council, is an avid student of history and sociology, with a real talent for capturing his surroundings through photography.
As Don noted at the beginning of his presentation, "Travelogue: Iceland" on July 19, 2018, Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, and it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Its capital and largest city is Reykjavik, with an interesting mix of modern and historical architecture. It served as the location for some of the most significant negotiations between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.
Relying primarily on commercial fishing, Iceland enjoys economic and political stability as well as a strong and welcoming tourism industry. The country is well-known for its volcanic activity and glaciers. Owing to the natural pressures of the heat and ice, Iceland utilizes renewable energy extensively.
Don’s photos captured the inland plateaus with beautiful flowers that spring up out of the lava fields. The lava fields lead down from impressive mountains and often run side-by-side with some of the world’s largest glaciers. Quaint homesteads dotted the picturesque countryside, and Don spoke about the resilience of the Icelanders to continue their agricultural development even when volcanic ash occasionally buries these farms.
Iceland has numerous indigenous animals, but it is most famous for its Icelandic horse. Don’s photos captured a particularly friendly pair of the sturdy animals. Their bloodline is so protected that, once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it may never return. Icelandic sheep were also populous, and the bus needed to slow or stop to avoid them on countless occasions.
Don also showed some of the beautiful places depicted in Iceland’s sagas about its discovery and settlement, as well as some of its most famous landscapes that are the subject of the most famous works of art in the country.
Several travelers who accompanied Don attended the event as well. The evening was dotted with humor and good cheer as they struggled with pronunciation of the cities and tourist locations in Iceland. With amazing photography and a great atmosphere, the travelogue was a thoroughly enjoyable evening!
For more photography from Don Samford, visit "Don's Roamings" at https://donsroamings.shutterfly.com/
Blog written by Angela Weck and adapted for web by Olivia Lu.
PAWAC: Mac, Kathryn, thank you for joining me here today. First question: We’ve had a lot of changes in our membership policy and we are reviving our marketing. What are your thoughts on our committees and our changes?
Mac: It’s really great to have these brainstorming sessions. It’s always good to have our members join us for committee meetings. For example, you (Olivia) and Kathryn are producing new ideas. You have new ways to engage people and interest them in our programs.
Kathryn: Speaking of programs, I just had one of those Facebook memories pop up the other day showing me my pictures of my tour of Turkey. It was something that PAWAC made possible for me, and I had a great time.
PAWAC: Mac, did you go on any of the tours that PAWAC offers?
Mac: I did, but I’ve heard so many good things about Turkey. Don Samford [another PAWAC member] told me about it and really praised it. There was a lot of behind the scenes.
Kathryn: It was amazing. You had to pay for the trip expenses, but we had a tour across Turkey and behind the scenes meeting all kinds of experts for a fraction of the cost that it would have been without PAWAC and the Turkish Cultural Foundation.
Mac: I think that the Turkey trip was exceptional with its access to different experts.
Kathryn: It really was. One of the things that really stood out was this workshop we had with Ebru marbling master Hikmet Barutçugil,an artist who is prominent in reviving this unique form of traditional decorative art. His work can be seen in the British Museum and around the world, and we got to experience the unique privilege of his leading a workshop just for us.
Mac: Oh, yeah. Don brought back a sample of his work.
PAWAC: Do you think PAWAC is doing a good job with being a non-partisan organization?
Mac: I think we do a good job with non-partisanship. We have that wide spectrum of individual political views, but everyone is civil and we all enjoy talking about international affairs.
Kathryn - I agree. We know that we have people with different political interests, but we leave it at the door.
Mac- Exactly. International affairs tends to be something that we can all sit together and learn.
PAWAC: How do you stay updated on international affairs? Where do you get your information?
Kathryn: NPR. I always have NPR on. I work from home and NPR is a good way to have an idea of what’s going on in the world. The BBC is my other go-to. What about you, Mac?
Mac: I also listen to NPR, and then I get a more in-depth picture from The Economist and The New York Times. I also like to triangulate my knowledge, so I read the Journal Star to understand the local perspective. You should never underestimate the local news. I then check in with Fox News and The Wall Street Journal at times to make sure I’m getting a rounded view of the news.
PAWAC: It’s always important to have that local perspective as well. So much change happens on the local level. What program are you looking forward to the most?
Kathryn: The Iceland program is bound to be fascinating. My parents went to Iceland recently and enjoyed it. I especially like the baseball program that we just had. I hadn’t thought about the international aspect of sports before.
Mac: Yeah, that’s something that I’d like to see again with other sports. It was interesting to get to know the international side of sports, and that’s something that’s in all sports these days.
Kathryn: Maybe we could make that a yearly program.
PAWAC: What would you like to see PAWAC present as a program in the future?
Mac: China. We should keep an eye on what’s going on in China. Russia as well is a place that we should look at, and we’re lucky to have Angela as a part of PAWAC since her background is in Russian studies.
Kathryn: For me, I’d like to know more about Syria. I’m less interested in a blow by blow account of the current civil war, but I’d like to know more about what led to the civil war there and the internal dynamics and modern politics.
Mac: That’s a good topic. I would like to know much more about their history.
Angela Weck: I am filling a lot bigger shoes than previously! Kristin McHugh, the person who took over betwee 2015-2018, really improved the professional nature of the organization. I find myself in awe of her efforts, and I want to be certain to continue her forward progression.
PAWAC: What motivates you to dedicate so much of your time to the organization?
Weck: I am passionate about global education. We tend to be insular here in Central Illinois. I feel motivated to make sure we all strive to understand the world around us, and how what happens there affects us here, and how what we do here affects them there.
PAWAC: You hosted a Critical Review Social at your house in May, where you and other board members sought membership opinions. While our programming was widely praised, members noted that we are sometimes too "Eurocentric." How do you respond to that?
Weck: I would point out that, over the course of the year, we make a serious attempt to move around the world with our programming. It may seem like the "big programs" are Eurocentric, but PAWAC works hard to cover the rest of the world in one way or another. The other side of this issue is attendance and costs. It is true that more people attend programs focused on the northern hemisphere, and so the organization has to consider finances when we select programming topics. That's where the "big programs" vs. "small programs" disparity comes into play.
PAWAC: Our country has become extremely polarized politically, but PAWAC is a non-partisan organization. How do you ensure that people of all perspectives are represented in PAWAC? Do you believe that PAWAC leans too much to one side of the aisle?
PAWAC: What is your vision for PAWAC? Where do you see us three years from now as a community?
Weck: PAWAC is working hard to expand its partnerships with various entities in the community. We already enjoy strong ties to Bradley University, Illinois Central College, and Eureka College. But we would to see how to grow our ties to the ethnic groups in the region, businesses with international connections, religious groups, and travelers of all sorts. We also need to grow our membership, supply volunteers to reach out to all these groups!
PAWAC: That sounds like a great step forward for the organization. Final question: we have a lot of exciting upcoming programs. Which one are you looking forward to the most?
Weck: I have to admit I have a soft spot for Lebanon. Ever since the Celebrate Lebanon! program from 2010, I have dreamed of visiting! I am looking forward to seeing how we can grow the relationships between PAWAC and the Lebanese American community and all the associated possibilities!
PAWAC: Thank you for your time, Angela. As always, it's a pleasure to speak with you.
Weck: Thank you.
PAWAC: Hi Pam, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do? Do you have any hobbies or other groups you attend?
Pam Slaby: Well, I’m retired now and have been for the last five years. You could say I’m a lady of leisure. I get to do what I enjoy doing, such as gardening or reading. I’m involved in three different book clubs: Mature Reads, a book club at my church, and of course the PAWAC Reads book club. I think that’s what I enjoy most about being retired. You get to do what you like.
PAWAC: Speaking of PAWAC Reads, when did you first become interested in world affairs?
Pam: I’ve always been interested in knowing what is going on in the world. I credit my father for that. My father used to bring home all four Chicago newspapers - there were four back in the day - and once I learned to read, I would read them. Later, I majored in English Literature in college, but I still had that fascination with world affairs. When I retired, I took a course in international relations at Bradley University. One day I was walking in the hallway and I saw this sign for the Peoria Area World Affairs Council, and there was Angela!*
PAWAC: You’re probably one of our only members to have joined PAWAC by finding our office on Bradley campus. Thank goodness for that sign! You’ve been an active part of PAWAC; you’re currently the Membership Committee Chairperson. How did you get to that position?
Pam: Well, this is my first year as Chairperson for the committee. Last year I was a co-chair with Mac Pogue, and he provided a lot of mentorship for me to take over the role as a sole chairperson this year. As for how I first got involved, I went to an event that had a board meeting the same night. I stayed for the board meeting and before I knew it, I was volunteering to help out with the committees.
PAWAC: What kind of changes have you noticed happening this year compared to last year with the organization?
Pam: There have been a lot of changes with Mac stepping down as co-chair since he has such great resources and ideas. I’m thankful he’s still helping out and mentoring me. PAWAC’s Kristin McHugh retired earlier this year, and Angela Weck stepped back in as Executive Director. There’s been a lot of changes, but I believe that ultimately change can be healthy and positive for organizations, and I think we’re seeing positive changes.
PAWAC: Can you elaborate on that?
Pam: For example, the Membership Committee is thinking of new ways to attract members and to this effect, we did a membership survey. We received a high response rate for this type of survey and got great feedback from our members about what our organization does well and where we can offer more and better services. Our programming in particular received excellent reviews and was cited as the main reason for membership, which means that our product is appealing to our members. That’s exactly what we want as an organization.
PAWAC: You’ve been with the organization for a few years. Which programs stand out to you?
Pam: Definitely the Illinois Central College (ICC) culinary programs. I attended the African culinary program and the Chinese culinary program. Each time I had someone native from that region sit at my table, so not only was I able to learn about the cuisine from the program, I learned about China and Africa from the people who know it best. I loved hearing the personal aspect of international relations over our American adaptation of their native food. International relations are one thing, but you want that human to human interaction. In the end, it’s the people that matter.
PAWAC: What upcoming programs are you most looking forward to?
Pam: As I’ve said, I really enjoy the personal perspective, so I’m looking forward to Don Samford’s Travelogue on Iceland. I think it’s going to be really interesting. I’m also looking forward to our program on the NAFTA in August, providing that we still have NAFTA then!
PAWAC: NAFTA is an extremely relevant conversation right now, especially for Central Illinois. Pam, thank you so much for your time today.
Pam: Thank you.
*Angela Weck currently serves as the Executive Director of PAWAC, a position she held in the past as well.
This interview was taken and adapted for web by Olivia Lu.
For Father's Day Weekend, Mac Pogue of PAWAC was able to show off how much of a "proud papa" he was: and for good reason! Bart Pogue, Mac & Connie's son, is a Peoria native gone international and featured as our expert speaker on Thursday, June 14, 2018, at the Lariat Steakhouse in Peoria.
Bart received his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education prior to starting his journey as a Peace Corp volunteer in Morocco, where he became proficient in Arabic. On returning to the United States, Bart moved to Washington, D.C. to work for American Councils for International Education. Bart received his Master of Arts in International Development Studies from The George Washington University. After passing USAID's Foreign Service Exam, he began language classes in preparation for his first posting in Guatemala. Bart joined USAID as an Education Development Officer. He, his spouse Sarah, and their son Teddy have lived in Guatemala since July 2017. Bart possesses unique insight into U.S. assistance in Guatemala, and with the help of Sarah, Bart shared with PAWAC his understanding of USAID and Guatemala’s current development challenges.
Armed with data provided by USAID and the Department of State, Bart outlined the dire need for assistance in Guatemala. Guatemala’s median population age is an astounding 22 years old, and many of these young people lack both job and educational opportunities. Bart emphasized that around 60% of jobs in Guatemala exist in the informal economy, leading to widespread job insecurity.
Access to education is a challenge for many Guatemalans. Because so many jobs exist in the informal economy, the Guatemalan government struggles to bring in enough tax revenue to adequately support its public school system. Families seeking a good education for their children turn to private schools. However, the cost barrier to send a child to a private school exacerbates the long-standing issue of income inequality in Guatemala.
In Latin America, income inequality tends to favor Latinos over indigenous people due to a historical “caste” system once implemented by Spanish conquistadors and settlers hundreds of years earlier. USAID is dedicated to assisting the Guatemalan government in increasing access to quality education for indigenous Guatemalans. Bart works in this specific field, and one of his many assignments includes development in the Western Highlands where most indigenous Guatemalans live.
One USAID program has been a success in this regard. USAID helped the Guatemalan government develop a method to teach young indigenous children to read in their mother tongue before transitioning to read in Spanish in second grade. While USAID currently supports two of the 21different Mayan languages in Guatemala, the program’s promising results will hopefully become adopted in more languages.
Bart addressed the issue of girls in school, and emphasized that the lens focuses on boys as well. Since 70% of the migrants who head north are male, finding ways to educate the boys as well as the girls and to provide opportunities to use that education in Guatemala is of particular interest to USAID.
A couple of the interesting questions asked by PAWAC members and friends concerned the role of the U.S. military and remnants of the influence of the CIA. While the U.S. military is still present in Guatemala, Bart was clear to point out that their mission now is helping improve the role and status of the Guatemalan military and the separation of the military from domestic policing. He also noted that there seems to be little to no residual fears of CIA influence, a positive step in the continuing improvement U.S.-Guatemalan relations.
We loved learning more about Guatemala from part of our extended PAWAC family. Thank you to Bart Pogue and the Pogue family for sharing a wonderful evening with us!
Summarized and adapted for web by Olivia Lu.
PAWAC Reads discussed two books for their spring meeting. The first was Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, by Condoleezza Rice. This selection was a memoir of Rice's term as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during the Bush administration. A prominent focus was helping developing nations grow democracies. Successes included Poland, Tunisia, Colombia. Failures included Egypt. The Iraq war demonstrated the difficulties growing democracy in a country with no such history; her analysis include the controversial decision to go to war and pitfalls in carrying it out. Despite huge resources allocated, Iraq remained a tenuous government.
Rice’s memoirs show that democracy does not have a straight-line growth pattern. There are setbacks and failures along the way. Progress can be painfully slow and pockmarked with threats. She clearly feels that continuous attempts to move the world in this direction is necessary.
Foreign aid was discussed. Waste and fraud in the program has caused resistance to providing continued aid. Attempts to add accountability to aid has alleviated some of these concerns. PAWAC Reads discussed how in truth, the Foreign Aid program is less than 1% of our national budget and offers major humanitarian assistance,
The other book was How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die points out how fragile democracy can be and how America’s democracy is not free of risk. Attacks on democratic institutions come in many forms. Leaders have tried to pack judicial courts or replace them, violated term limits, challenge the legitimacy of elections, denigrated political opponents, endorsed or accepted violence, threatened news media, and tolerated repressive measures elsewhere in the world. Other adverse developments include: replacement of mutual toleration and institutional forbearance with extreme partisanship, reciprocity and respect replaced by hostility. These developments have been coming for the past 30 years, but particularly so within the past decade.
A major concern PAWAC Reads discussed was the U.S. State Department, our current diplomatic staff, and a loss of communication with the rest of the world. Our influence is weakened. Our response to threats from the world include military and personal interactions from the White House, but we have little input from diplomatic staff, whose input at the State department is much needed.
The next Book Club will discuss a recently published book: War on Peace, by Ronan Farrow, July 29, Sunday, Peoria Public Library, North Branch.
Blog post provided by Michael Shekleton and adapted for web by Olivia Lu
On April 25, 2018, PAWAC and the Institute of International Studies at Bradley University welcomed Ambassador William Taylor of the U.S. Institute of Peace to Peoria. Ambassador Taylor currently serves as Executive Vice President at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC. He has also served as special coordinator for Middle East Transitions in the U.S. State Department, and he oversaw assistance and support to Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria.
Ambassador Taylor was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2006-2009 and has served as an international observer of Ukrainian democratic elections. Dr. Shah Tarzi of the International Studies Department along with PAWAC President Michelle Eaton hosted a dinner with Ambassador Taylor before the main event - a presentation on the current situation of Ukraine in context of a liberal world.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has struggled to find her place between East and West. Anxious to set her own path which faces more toward the West, Ukraine still finds the ties that bind her to the East are strong. With the Maidan movement of 2014 and subsequent civil war and annexation of Crimea by Russia, figuring out how to help Ukraine along her path is as important for Western Europe and the United States as it is for Ukraine. Bradley students, along with members of the Peoria area, packed Bradley University's Marty Theater for a total of around 120 attendees at the presentation
Ambassador Taylor was an excellent speaker who understood how to deliver the complexities of significant international events in a clear, concise manner. We thank Ambassador Taylor for his generosity and we admire his enthusiasm for knowledge. The Peoria community gained valuable insight into another part of our world that night, and we hope we are lucky to meet Ambassador Taylor again in the future.
Summarized and adapted for web by Olivia Lu.
The Peoria Area World Affairs Council held its Seventh Annual International Trivia Challenge on Sunday, April 8, 2018, at Itoo Hall, 4909 Farmington Road, in Peoria. Lee Wenger of Peoria Public Radio served as the emcee and the trivia contest featured silent auction, raffle prizes, a cash bar, and free international hors d'oeuvres. Proceeds from this fundraising event support the international education programs sponsored by PAWAC. In particular, this event helps the World Affairs Council send a local team of high school students to compete in the national Academic World Quest (AWQ) competition in Washington, DC.
Where you can find summaries of our past events and interviews with members. We have more to come in the future, so stay tuned!
Peoria Area World Affairs Council | 1501 W. Bradley Avenue, Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 677-2454 (phone) | (309) 677-3256 (fax)
Photos copyright Joe Couri/Kristin McHugh/Kristin McHugh for The Stanley Foundation
(309) 677-2454 (phone) | (309) 677-3256 (fax)
Photos copyright Joe Couri/Kristin McHugh/Kristin McHugh for The Stanley Foundation
In affiliation with the World Affairs Councils of America