After 10 years of serving in the Baltics, the Peace Corps is closing its doors. But it is not exiting without first having made a decisively positive impact on Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian society.
When John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1962 he set three goals for the organization: to provide midlevel temporary assistance to countries in need, to provide those countries where Peace Corps volunteers served with a better understanding of America and Americans, and to provide Americans with a better understanding of the cultures and peoples in countries where volunteers served.
Coralie Turbitt, Peace Corps' country director for the three Baltic states, feels that the organization has succeeded in all three of these goals.
"We set out in 1992 with very specific and narrow goals in the Baltic countries - to provide assistance to non-governmental organizations and small enterprise development and to fill the gap in the three countries' education systems in English language instruction," said Turbitt. "Our mission has been achieved here, and there is no further need for the kind of assistance Peace Corps can provide."
Volunteers who assisted their Baltic counterparts at NGOs helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for projects such as the Project for the Prevention of Adolescent Trafficking, which was established to help raise awareness and prevent human trafficking in Latvia.
Volunteers have passed on their expertise and knowledge of what it takes to succeed in business to thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in all three countries.
But Peace Corps volunteers' accomplishments in the Baltics were not confined to the classroom or the office. The bonds formed between the volunteers and the people in their communities are an integral part of the Peace Corps experience.
Mike Ronning, who teaches English in a high school in Salaspils, Latvia moonlights as a drummer in the band Hospital Iela.
"Playing in the band gives me an outlet to unwind and allows me to get away from any stress I might have at my job," said Ronning. "The nice thing about Peace Corps is that it's entirely up to you as to how involved you want to get in the place where you are living."
Doug Wells, a volunteer who worked in Hiiumaa, Estonia in the early 90s, gained fame on the island when he found a bell that some men in the town had hidden during World War II. Wells, who also had a number-one single on the Estonian music charts during his time in the Peace Corps, was personally thanked by then President of Estonia Lennart Meri's Christmas speech to the nation that year.
Andrew Lyons, who is now serving in Bosnia in the Crisis Corps, helped bring professional actors from Hollywood to the Lithuanian city of Siauliai to teach a theater group there.
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga believes the Peace Corps has helped her country immensely. "I am very happy about the support of the Peace Corps and I think they have offered a very wide range of support," she said. "They are truly friends of Latvia."