The turnout for the Peace Corps' Farewell in Warsaw on June 8th was larger than expected. The atmosphere was moistened with tears and sprinkled with a little sadness and sentimentality, but it still managed to be joyful. It's not easy to say goodbye to firm friends, nor to pack up and go home without having mixed feelings. Yet, this is what is expected of Peace Corps Volunteers when their mission comes to an end. It can almost be compared with a gardener transplanting a flower while it's in full bloom and hoping it survives the shock.
In attendance were Mr. Christopher Hill, the American Ambassador, all of Poland's previous Peace Corps Country Directors, representatives from the Polish government and various ministries, some of the Peace Corps Volunteers from the final group and many from earlier ones, too.
As with every farewell there were speeches, which not only expressed the goals achieved by Peace Corps Volunteers over the years but the sadness of leaving Poland and the friends made here.
Perhaps Mr. Charles Baquet III, the Acting Peace Corps Director expressed not only his own feelings when he said, "I think that for many of us this is a sentimental occasion (...but...) I prefer to think about my many years in Poland." He added, "Studying English is like studying Polish. Language is culture. I would like to think about how many Americans we have now in our country - close to 1,000 -- who understand Poland almost better than anyone in America, to represent the culture and interests of Poland, as ambassadors of this country."
Timothy Carroll, the first Peace Corps Director in Poland, who helped to swear in the 1st group of Volunteers, injected some humor into the occasion to lighten the mood. In jest, he even bragged, "I'm proud that I was here early in those tough years and made it easier for you." This was followed by cheers and peals of laughter.
The last fully fledged Peace Corps director, Robert McClendon, quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, who once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." He recalled that after World War II many dreamed of a free, fully independent and democratic Poland. One of these dreamers was an American of Polish heritage, Edward Piszek, who encouraged former U.S. president George Bush to send Peace Corps Volunteers to Poland. He even donated one million dollars to support this dream.
Over the past 11 years, Peace Corps Volunteers have taught English to more than 400,000 young Poles. Not only that, they have helped to educate tens of thousands of Polish English teachers. They have worked in many national parks throughout Poland in the environmental field, while others have worked in small towns as administrative and small business advisors. Many started projects which are still active today, even though the inspirational Volunteers have gone home. A total of 900 Peace Corps Volunteers served in Poland from start to finish, mostly for two years, although many extended their stay to three. Almost from the beginning and right to the very end, The World of English has been on the scene to report the Peace Corps' progress, welcome the next new group of Volunteers and inform its readers of all of their activities and projects.
It was Shakespeare who wrote, "Parting is such sweet sorrow", and so it is. Many public schools and language colleges all over Poland will miss the help and guidance of U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers. The legacy they have left behind is the knowledge of the English language, a two-way cultural exchange and a window opened to understanding the world. The Peace Corps Volunteers are gone but are certainly never to be forgotten for their hard work and unending efforts to serve others.