By Patricia Nyhan
Ron Ison served in the Peace Corps in Togo 1984-1987 in rural development/construction, and as a motorcycle trainer in Central African Republic in 1986. Photos c/o Ron Ison.
In a way, Ron Ison has never given up being a Peace Corps volunteer, although his service ended three decades ago. Today, he serves refugees – lots of them – in Cincinnati.
“Uncle Ron,” they call him.
“I am a direct service provider to refugees every day. I have had a refugee from somewhere in the world living in my house the past 15 years. Sometimes as many as seven at a time. I have taken in many asylees as well,” says Ison, a salesman for Cincinnati Precision Machinery with seemingly unlimited capacity for volunteering.
“I help families to find and purchase housing, anything to do with education or job placement, any legal, medical, or social issues they may encounter, drive kids to soccer and basketball practice, and seven or eight kids to school every day. I take groups of kids on trips to Florida, Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, and really anywhere every couple months,” he says.
His Peace Corps background helps make him effective in this work, Ison believes.
“Understanding cultural differences and being able to work shoulder to shoulder on a one-on-one basis would just be the beginning. Poverty is big business in Cincinnati and most big cities. Helping families to avoid generational poverty is first on my list of skills to impart.
“Peace Corps has the understanding of working yourself out of a job. Where I built one school in Africa serving 300, now that same school has grown to six buildings serving thousands. But, even more importantly is that they did it on their own after we planted the seed,” he says.
“The men and women who learned carpentry, concrete, or ironworker skills continue making a living building homes all around the schools that when they were first built were remote to the village. Those areas are thriving.
“Where we built two bridges to open up a cotton growing community to be able to sell their cotton, the chief of the village on my last visit proudly shows me a calendar photo of him with the President of the country declaring they are now the number one cotton producing village in the country.
“I carry these ideas forward when imparting self confidence and skills to refugees,” says Ison. For example, Gustel Bamanabio, a young man from Congo who first came to Ison’s house as a child, now is on his way to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis after declaring there was no way they would ever accept him.
“To see real success with individuals and families attaining more than they ever thought possible,” is what drives Ison. But he is no Lone Ranger. He joins with other RPCVs and local organizations to offer activities for refugee kids such as soccer and outings.
“Many coming together to serve refugees” he calls it.
Ison also volunteers with Refugee Connect, an umbrella organization for refugee support in Cincinnati: www.refugeeconnect.org. Why the additional volunteering, when he already does so much?
“We are stronger as a group than as an individual,” he says.