Peace Corps dream takes flight • The Yellow Springs News
This week, villager Dan Robrish carried out a plan that had been in the works for more than two years: he began his work with the Peace Corps.
Robrish, 51, who moved to Yellow Springs in 2020, was originally scheduled to leave for a Peace Corps assignment in 2020, but that move was put on hold due to the pandemic. On Monday, September 26, he and 16 other Peace Corps members arrived in North Macedonia, where they will serve until December 2024.
A few weeks before his departure, Robrish spoke to the News while running on a treadmill at the Wellness Center. His choice of location and activity for the interview, he said, was threefold: first, it would allow him to continue the daily workouts he had instituted since receiving a posting from the Corps of peace – for the second time – earlier this year, in anticipation of the medical clearance he is expected to receive before his departure. Second, having someone to talk to would make the hour-long run less tedious.
And third, it would make a much more interesting news photo.
“I know it’s a lot better to have a picture of someone doing something,” he said with a laugh, and picked up the speed on the treadmill.
Robrish’s knowledge of the intricacies of photojournalism – and his ability to multi-task – comes from a long career in the press. After stints in several small newspapers and 11 years working for the Associated Press, Robrish built the weekly The Elizabethtown Advocate, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, from the ground up. For seven years he was the newspaper’s editor, publisher and sole reporter.
That kind of dedication to his job, Robrish said, likely influenced his acceptance into the Peace Corps.
“I started a small-town newspaper from scratch and ran it on my own. They understood that they didn’t have to worry about me giving up on something difficult quickly,” he said.
Robrish remained with The Advocate as editor for another three years after selling it to another publisher. During that time, he said, he was looking to do “something different.” A trip to Yellow Springs to visit his mother, artist Alice Robrish, threw him into the path of villager and former Peace Corps volunteer Berch Carpenter, who suggested Dan Robrish check it out. eye by itself.
“I did some research and spoke to a recruiter,” he said. “And the more I learned, the more interested I was.”
And, it seems, the Peace Corps was also interested in him: “They get really excited when middle-aged people apply,” Robrish said.
Most candidates come to the Peace Corps right out of college as undergraduates, he added, but for some assignments, candidates from a wide range of ages — especially those who have a few extra decades of life experience – are a godsend. (The age of his cohort in North Macedonia, he wrote in a recent blog entry, ranges from 20 to 80.)
It also helped, he said, that his candidacy indicated he was ready to serve where most needed.
Robrish was accepted into the Peace Corps in 2019; he sold his house in Pennsylvania and left The Advocate in March 2020, staying with his mother in the village while awaiting his planned departure in June. He was tasked with training primary school teachers in The Gambia in West Africa – an assignment which he said at first surprised him.
“[A Peace Corps representative] said, ‘Well, it’s not because of the skills you have’ – and I was almost insulted here, but I listened,” Robrish said with a chuckle. “[He said] my CV showed that I have a lot of tenacity.
Tenacity, he added, or lack thereof, was a problem the Peace Corps encountered when attracting applicants to The Gambia, where they would live in a remote area with limited access to electricity and no running water. It would be difficult, but Robrish was up for the challenge.
Shortly after arriving in Yellow Springs, however, the world as a whole came to a standstill due to the pandemic. Robrish was informed that his departure would be delayed for at least three months; this delay stretched over two years.
So, for a time, Robrish settled into a different life than he had planned. He did freelance editing for a doctorate. briefs and for real estate companies. He organized a Yellow Springs chapter of the Rotary Club, a civic organization focused on community service. He is spending a few months in Ecuador, in order to improve his knowledge of Spanish, and plans to settle there if the Peace Corps does not reconnect.
Eventually, the Peace Corps reached out — and asked if he would be willing to reapply and consider other postings.
“I said, ‘Of course, absolutely’ – and asked, since things were changing, if they would consider sending me somewhere with plumbing and electrics,” he said. declared.
Robrish said he assumed the Peace Corps had that request in mind when they posted him to North Macedonia on April 29 this year.
“From what I’ve been told there will definitely be plumbing and electrics – but I shouldn’t expect them to always work,” he said.
His job in North Macedonia will be as a community development associate — a job title with broadly defined tasks, he said. According to the Peace Corps website, Robrish and his cohort “will focus on supporting local communities and organizations to effectively manage sustainable community development.”
Robrish elaborated on this detail, adding that after training, he and his cohort will help local organizations that present “interesting” development projects to the Peace Corps headquarters in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
The Peace Corps has set some cultural expectations for the Robrish cohort as they settle into their new home: North Macedonia being a “collectivist society”, volunteers should expect “a lot less time alone than they are used to”; housing will be “modest, but functional and safe”; and “respect tends to come with age and experience in North Macedonia”, among many other guidelines.
Outside of his Peace Corps duties, Robrish said he hopes to connect with other Rotarians; The work of Rotary International and the Peace Corps often overlaps, and in 2015 the two organizations drafted a memorandum of understanding to “expand [their] partnership with Peace Corps posts worldwide,” according to the Peace Corps website.
At the time of the interview, Robrish was still waiting to hear if he had obtained medical clearance to leave; a medical history that included high blood pressure and gout was concerning, he said, but his workout routine and his doctor’s assurance that he was not at risk of heart problems were reassuring. Just under two weeks before his scheduled departure, he was informed of his clearance.
Robrish and his cohort arrived in Washington, DC, on Friday, September 23, and spent the evening and the next day in orientation before flying out of Dulles International Airport on Sunday. He wrote to the News on his arrival in North Macedonia; he said his cohort will be staying in a hotel for five days as a precaution against COVID, that his trip was smooth and that he has already “adjusted to the new time zone”.
To learn more about Robrish’s Peace Corps journey, visit his blog at robrish.com.