Category Archives: Education

Love and Marriage in the Peace Corps

Not only did the Peace Corps experience provide opportunities to travel and develop skills, but also led to the development of romantic relationships between volunteers.  Norm Heise noted the Peace Corps’ reputation for “being the best ‘unofficial matrimonial agency’ going at the time.”  The PCCA collection includes several stories of volunteers’ dating escapades, but there are also two instances where volunteers married during their service.

August 18, 1963, St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University

Norm and Janet served as teachers at Toro Teaching Training College, in Northern Nigeria, from 1963-1965.  After meeting in training at Columbia University, Norm Heise proposed to Janet Driggs.  The two had known each other for less than a week.  The couple married in August before departing in September for their assignments in Nigeria.  As a result of their marriage, Peace Corps altered their placements to ensure the couple traveled, lived, and shared the experience together.  Their collection includes photos and stories of their work in Nigeria.

Norm and Janet Heise in Toro, Nigeria, 1963

The DeAntoni’s story is a bit different.  Both members of Turkey IV, Ed and Karen met during training and maintained contact while working in separate towns.  The two friends began a romantic relationship, in the midst of their service, after connecting at a party.  Karen wrote her parents on August 12, 1965, “I’m afraid this will come as an awful surprise, but then it’s more fun that way—last night I got engaged!”  Because of the distance and the realization her parents did not know Ed, Karen anxiously awaited their response.  Ed informed his parents by writing, “Before you start reading this, sit down, get composed, light a cigarette…In a word, it’s too good to be true.  Karen and I became engaged last night, and I’m so happy I could cry.”  Their collection of letters uniquely presents their same experiences from different points of view.

Karen’s letter to her parents announcing her engagement to Ed DeAntoni, August 12, 1965

PC Karen DeAntoni Letter 002

Karen’s letter (pg. 2), August 12, 1965

PC Karen DeAntoni Letter 003

Karen’s letter (pg. 3), August 12, 1965

Although Ed and Karen initially planned to return to the US to marry, they quickly decided to hold a wedding in Ankara, Turkey.  Their desire to travel together, avoid inconveniencing roommates, and being in love seemed sufficient enough.  The approaching marriage influenced many of the couple’s letters home—especially Karen’s—discuss wedding plans, financial needs, and concerns about family planning.

The DeAntoni’s wedding invitation, 1966

It is not surprising that living closely with other volunteers and sharing life-changing experiences established lasting bonds—both friendly and romantic.  In a letter to his parents, Ed explained, “This common experience has given us a tremendous basis for learning about each other, a common feeling for so many things, and the ground for our love to grow and flourish.”  For many volunteers, this experience of surviving a new place, establishing relationships, and sharing similar goals fostered the development of many romantic relationships.

Christine Wenk-Harrison in Sierra Leone

Christine Wenk-Harrison

Country of Service: Sierra Leone
Service Type: Education
Dates in Service: 1967-1969
Keywords: Education, Youth

Accession Date: April 1, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1 linear inch

Document Types

  • Art work
  • Lesson plans
  • Training materials

New Arrivals: Peace Corps Orientation in Paraguay

As Paraguay III arrived in December 1969, Peace Corps staff greeted and educated new volunteers about the place they would call home for the next two years.

“Arrival of Paraguay III volunteers, Asuncion International Airport, December 1969.”

 

“Assistant Director Tony Bellotti addressing newly-arrived Paraguay III volunteers in Peace Corps office, Asuncion.”

The previous images, as well as the ones that follow, are part of the Robert Meade collection.  As a member of Paraguay II from 1968-1969, Meade travelled throughout Paraguay documenting his experiences.  Those images enabled Meade to create a slide show to educate new trainees, as well as others, about Paraguay.  Included in his slide show are images of eastern Paraguay, historic sites, Peace Corps activities, and the capital city Asuncion.  Meade’s orientation slide show presents unique images of the country and people, and ultimately provides volunteers with an idea of the places and work they might experience.  After completing his two-year commitment, Meade continued working as a trainer in Peace Corps training centers located in Escondido, California and Ponce, Puerto Rico. [Note: All image captions were written by Robert Meade.]

“Itinerant vegetable vendor, Asuncion.”

“‘Campo’ about 50 miles east of Asuncion along the main road.”

“Paraguayan girls selling ‘chipa,’ a chewy cheese bread found throughout the country, Eusebio Ayala.”

“Near Colonia Sroessner, far east Paraguay.”

 

“The Church of San Roque in Caazapa. Caazapa was founded in 1607 as a Franciscan mission. The town’s name means ‘after the forest’ or ‘in the clearing’ in Guarani.”

 

“Curing yerba mate over a mud over. Mate, an herbal tea, is the favored drink in the Paraguayan countryside.”

To see more images from Paraguay, visit the AU Archives and browse the Robert Meade Collection.

Agricultural Extension Work in Paraguay

Peace Corps work in Paraguay began in January 1968.  The majority of volunteers in Paraguay I worked as agricultural extension agents.  It was their job to help local farmers improve the efficiency and output of small, rural farms.

“P-I Volunteer Rich Stockton and interim PC Paraguay Director Mike Doyle.”

In addition to assisting farmers, PCVs helped to establish and promote the 4-C clubs—an equivalent of 4-H in the US—among Paraguay’s youth.

“P-I PCV Rick Mines with ag. extension agent Ojeda doing grafting demonstration with a 4-C club in Pedro Juan Caballero.”

 

“4-C garden in Cheiro-Cue.”

Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Meade served in multiple locations throughout Paraguay promoting public health and agriculture.  According to Meade, PCVs played an instrumental role in encouraging local farmers to plant new crops and experiment with diverse agricultural projects visible in the images below.     

“Two Paraguayan farmers (“campesinos”) showing off melons grown in their gardens. PCVs were instrumental in getting farmers to try new crops for the market. Eusebio Ayala.”

 

“An ag. Extension agent with a local farmer with a tank to grow tilapia, another project started by Peace Corps Paraguay, Eusebio Ayala.”

 

“Raising rabbits for food and fur, another 4-C program backed by Peace Corps.”

All image captions above were written by Robert Meade.

These are only a few of the fascinating images documenting the work and experiences of PCVs in Paraguay.  To view more images, visit the Archives and Special Collections.

Daily Journaling: A Volunteer’s Experience

Journals and diaries offer space for reflection.  For many Peace Corps volunteers, journals provided an unbiased place to flesh out one’s private thoughts.  Whether written in frustration, excitement, or simply recording the mundane events of the day, journals and diaries promoted a safe opportunity to think and write about experiences in a country far from home.

For young, inexperienced volunteers, keeping a journal provided a way to process and cope with new surroundings.  Journals also include reflections on new foods, community events, local culture, and the living and working conditions experienced abroad.

Winifred Boge, Journal, January 31, 1966

Winifred Boge, Journal, January 31, 1966
Boge recalls trying a traditional Indian cheese for the first time.

 

Boge, Journal, February 19, 1966

Winifred Boge, Journal, February 19, 1966
In addition to working with local citizens, Boge encountered a variety of creatures: mice, lizards, and dogs.

Journals also allow us to understand the routines, experiences with illness, and the developing relationships which occurred between volunteers and local citizens.  Boge reflected on her first year as a Peace Corps volunteer in India–including the challenges she faced working with people very different from herself.

Winifred Boge, 1 Year Report, February 1966

Winifred Boge, 1 Year Report, February 1966

 

Winifred Boge, 1 Year Report, February 1966

Winifred Boge, 1 Year Report, February 1966

Most people who journal or keep a daily diary do so without considering the benefits it may yield to researchers in the future.  Rather than document their daily activities for someone else to read, many authors record events for their own memories.   Winifred Boge’s diary provides a window into the events of a volunteer’s day, in addition to discussing the complexities and challenges of serving in a foreign country with strangers.  Journals and diaries provide insight into the individuals who served and the experiences in country that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

The Benefits of Peace Corps Service

Ever wonder what a Peace Corps volunteer actually gains from their experience abroad?  What new insights do they leave with?  What did volunteers learn about themselves?

Randal Participants 2002

Summer Program Participants, Cristo Rey Village, 2002

“I’ve survived the challenge of Peace Corps and found that I really like working with little kids.  I also found that I like to write and edit,” reflected Alanna Randall in an email to family and friends in the United States.  As a volunteer in San Ignacio, Belize, Randall worked as an Environmental Education Coordinator.  It makes sense that you might not love every aspect of the job you are assigned to do.  Yet, the Peace Corps environment provided many young individuals a chance to work in positions they might not originally choose.  Randall reflected on her own experience, “I’ve learned quite a bit about our environment, but I still don’t really feel qualified to be an ‘environmental educator.”

Volunteers like Randall left the Peace Corps with a deeper understanding of areas they were interested in pursuing post-Peace Corps, as well as those they unquestionably felt were not for them.

Randall Children 2002

Alanna Randall with Summer Program Participants, 2002

Adventure in “a Great Big World”

Alan Crew used letters to describe experiences in Benin City, Nigeria to his family in the United States.  Included in his donation to the PCCA, a memoir—compiled years after his experience—contains typed copies of the letters he wrote home, as well as transcriptions of audio tapes and photos.  His letters capture the excitement and hard work of serving in the Peace Corps.

Working as a teacher at the Edo Boys’ School, Crew taught literature, English grammar, and French.  The Boys’ School, surrounded by an old rubber plantation, appeared to be a difficult assignment.  In a January 19, 1965 letter home, Crew wrote “The school has real problems and as Sam Selkow, our regional representative (administrator in charge of the Midwest Peace Corps volunteers) says, –it’s the most challenging assignment he’s ever given anyone.”  Despite the challenges that lay ahead, Crew eagerly admitted,

The veteran Peace Corps volunteers are really exciting, and as independent as anything I’ve ever seen or imagined.  I guess that the living alone does it to you, but man are they self sufficient.  I get the feeling that they’d be right at home on the moon! The next two years look to be tough, challenging and intense.  I think I’ll like it.

Based on his letters, Crew’s possession of a motorcycle enhanced the overall experience in the Peace Corps.  On January 22, 1965, Crew informed his family about the new mode of transportation.  “My school has just provided me with a rather large motorcycle for transportation, and, as you can imagine, I’m having a ball with it.  As the Peace Corps supplies us all with crash helmets, the danger of serious injury is lessened, so you needn’t worry.”

This isn’t the only time he mentions his motorcycle in letters home.  As Crew adjusted to living in Nigeria, he also got used to traveling by motorcycle.  On January 27, 1965 Crew wrote,

My motorcycle is running beautifully, although it still isn’t completely broken in.  I can understand the almost reverent feeling the old volunteers have for their machines, as they afford one the only means of mobility available…There are 104 of us within 125 miles of each other so that we can all get together on weekends if we like.  Therefore, the mobility of the motorcycle takes on a new dimension of importance.

By reading Crew’s letters, it is easy to get a sense of what’s important.  They also possess insight into the volunteer’s  thoughts about their experiences, how they dealt with the challenges that arose (being in a new country, work, living conditions, illness, etc.), as well as what they did for fun.  Peace Corps volunteers’ letters, like Crew’s, also convey their attitudes and feelings towards a range of topics.  Crew claimed in a letter on March 10, 1965:

Whoever said that P.C. life was dull and frustrating must have had his head in the ground.  I’ve got so much to do now that I don’t know when I’m ever going to find time to feel bored.  And you talk about excited! Why, man, there’s a great big world outside of the states that I didn’t even know existed until I left.  It’s really a sin more people don’t see it.

Preparing for New Experiences Abroad

Bossi Letter 1966

Stephen Bossi, Peace Corps Training Letter, 1966

The Peace Corps Community Archive includes many fascinating stories conveyed through letters, photos, and diaries of returned Peace Corps volunteers.  However, many of the collections also include volunteers’ handwritten notes, outlines, exams, and other materials from their Peace Corps training.  All volunteers attended some form of training prior to their departure, or, in later years, immediately upon arriving to the country of service.

Frum Certificate 1965

Jennifer Frum, Certificate of Completion of Training, 1965

The training materials provide insight into what the Peace Corps considered essential for volunteers to know about the country’s culture, history, and language.  They also demonstrate the process Peace Corps trainers used to educate and prepare volunteers for living and serving in a culture very different from their own.  Several collections include images of service and construction projects undertaken during the volunteers’ training.  Construction projects, as well as visits to local social, industrial, and government agencies provided experiential knowledge for volunteers preparing to work in community development.

Frum Training 1965

Jennifer Frum, Introduction to Field Experiences, 1965

Other documents in the collection include training schedules, exams, note outlines, and diary entries detailing the daily training experience.

Strengthening Communities: Non-formal Education

The Peace Corps not only educated students in school classrooms, but used the wider community as a platform for spreading information to local citizens.  Although many volunteers worked in formal education, others were assigned to community development projects.   Non-formal education sought to establish community programming and workshops based on areas of need.  While some focused on a specifically on health care or sanitation, others were encouraged to assess the local community’s greatest needs before developing projects on-site.  Community outreach included youth and business development, in addition to environmental and health education.

In Colombia, Christine Hager sought to educate young girls and women about cooking and sewing.  Serving in Dagua Valle, Colombia (1968-1970), Hager organized clubs for mothers and young girls to provide support.  The community development also included experiential learning on raising chickens, planting seed beds, and gardening.

Brian Adler and Cynthia Elliot also worked with non-formal rural community education in Marshall Creek, Suriname.  Instead of formally teaching students in a classroom, Brian and Cynthia organized community libraries, after-school programs for youth, and workshops to teach English to adults in the community.

The collections documenting the variety of community development reinforce the Peace Corps’ commitment to educating communities and improving people’s lives.