Sep 5, 2011


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On a balmy October evening, the moon rose over San Marino, California. There on the garden back dropped by aging trees and pergolas in the secluded backyard of a lovely Spanish casa, former Peace Corps Volunteers assigned in the Philippines in 1961 along with invited guests from other groups gathered from all over the U.S. and Canada for their 48th year reunion. That evening in San Marino was the reunion’s third activity. It was their “Fiesta Filipino” night.

Karen Long Santos, organizers of the Fiesta Filipino in her frontyard with Kathy Sagagun Karen Long Santos, organizers of the Fiesta Filipino in her frontyard with Kathy Sagagun

Karen Long Santos, organizer of the Filipino Fiesta is married to a Zamboangueño, Dr. Rolando Santos. They own that lovely house in San Marino filled with antique furniture, statues and paintings collected from the Philippines, Mexico, Spain, other countries, movie sets and museums. For the Fiesta Filipino, Karen spruced up the lawn with tables covered with Filipino mats and centerpieces. The spacious lawn was adorned with Filipino decoration.

Dr. Rolando Santos introducing the Filipino Rondalla
Dr. Rolando Santos introducing the Filipino Rondalla

The evening included a Filipino rondalla and dance performances by Kambayoka Arts whose members are mostly alumni of the Mindanao State University. It was fittingly appropriate to have some MSU alumni because 13 of the PCV’s members were instrumental in the creation of the university. These former Peace Corps Volunteers call themselves the “Kwans” after a herd of Philippine “usa” (deer). They belong to the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers in the Philippines sent by President John F Kennedy in 1961.

In the beginning, they had classroom assignments in the areas of language, math and science that would evolve through the years and diversify into development work in agriculture, forestry, small business, health, urban and regional planning, water/sanitation, fisheries, and in all areas of education.

K-Arts performing the Maranao Sambi sa Malong dance K-Arts performing the Maranao Sambi sa Malong dance

The 4-day reunion started with a talk by Rick Santos, son of Rollie and Karen Santos. Rick is Chairman and CEO of CB Richard Ellis, Philippines, Real Estate Management and Development and 4-time president of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines. In his talk, he said emphasis is now the development of Mindanao. Maureen Carroll Co-coordinator of returned PCV’s Philippines gave an update on Philippine scholars supported by the group.

On the second day of the reunion there was a series of talks. One of the speakers was Barbara Cort Gaerlan, daughter of one of the staff members who lived for 2 years in Marawi, Lanao del Sur, Philippines now at UCLA Cener for Southeast Asian Studies.

Another speaker was former PCV Don Morisky, Program Director, UCLA School of Public Health. With his expertise in family planning, he spoke on HIV/AIDS in the Philippines which according to him has a lower AIDS rate than many countries because the US Army instituted a policy in the early years that sex workers had to be tested every other week for STDs and is still the policy.

“The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.

Many came in Filipino clothing for the Fiesta Filipin Many came in Filipino clothing for the Fiesta Filipin

“Since that time, more than 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from education to information technology and environmental preservation.

“The program in the Philippines is the second oldest in the Peace Corps. It began with the arrival of 123 education Volunteers in October 1961. Since then, more than 8,000 Volunteers have served in the Philippines. In June 1990, the program was suspended because of a threat from Communist rebels; it resumed in 1992.

Currently, Volunteers are addressing the country’s development priorities through projects in youth, education, environment and business development” (from the Peace Corps site).

The Kwans look forward to their 50th reunion in 2011 to reminisce once more their days under the Philippine sun.

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