Life begins and ends with family. Families celebrate life together at the dawn of new beginnings and in times of exciting transitions. And families grieve together in times of sorrow. Families share the joy of new life, and they bear the terrible burden when life ends.
Families also come in many forms, and involve many different people. In this time of our collective grief, I want to spend a few minutes recognizing the different families that helped John Petersen realize his dream of living and working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia.
The first is the family that raised John to be a kind and caring young man who sought to dedicate his life to the service of others. Sally and Robert Petersen raised a son dedicated to public service, a son who helped provide local residents in Massachusetts with food, clothing and shelter following natural disasters. They raised a son who traveled across the world to give selflessly what they and John’s brother, Mark, had taught him. The suffering they must now face is immeasurable.
John’s first family in Namibia was Louda Cloete, who hosted John when he arrived in Okahandja six months ago. Louda recognized the goodness in John and helped him discover how he could benefit other Namibians with his knowledge and abilities. John’s passing is a loss to the Cloete family.
John’s other family is one that you all know very well – the family of Peace Corps Namibia staff. As they did with many of you, the Peace Corps staff here supported JP throughout the rigors of training and orientation to Namibia. The staff stood by JP and gave him their time and attention to help him realize his fullest potential as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Peace Corps trainers seek to connect to their new Volunteers, and, like parents or the best teachers, they celebrate their accomplishments and commiserate when the challenges seem overwhelming. JP’s very positive impact at the COSDEC in Swakopmund tells me that he and his trainers built that important connection. This is as much a testament to the goodness of the trainers as it is to the goodness within John.
For Peace Corps Namibia’s trainers and staff to lose John Petersen is for them to lose one of their own.
John’s newest family was at the COSDEC in Swakopmund. Katrina Amupolo and Yvonne Maketsky welcomed John into their lives at the COSDEC where they, like JP, gave of themselves to help people find ways to improve their own lives – and by so doing, to create a better Namibia.
John Petersen’s passing has left all of us, including in the Embassy community, in grief. But you Volunteers shared the special family connection with JP that develops among Peace Corps Volunteers who live, train, work, love, laugh and cry together as you embark on your shared Volunteer experience.
To the Peace Corps Volunteers who embraced John Petersen as part of your family, you can be proud of the role you played in John’s life. You may never know how your smile came at just the right time, when he needed it most. You might not realize how sharing your own story helped get JP through a tough time, or how talking about your own challenges made John appreciate and understand his situation all the more.
But don’t ever doubt the critical role you played in John Petersen’s life, as part of John’s family.
I would be remiss if I did not also recognize another family that developed in our time of crisis: the local community members in Kunene region, the local police, and the search-and-rescue team who tirelessly combed the area to locate John and bring him home.
This crisis family also included many people in the United States, who prayed and supported and kept us all in their thoughts throughout our ordeal.
John Petersen will soon be returned to his family in Massachusetts, but I am confident that he will remain forever in the hearts of his other families here in Namibia.