Retelling the History of RPCV/W

In honor of Peace Corps Week, we are pleased to have Jesse Bailey, Historian of RPCV/W, as a Guest Blogger.  We invited him to tell us about his history project and the panel discussion held at American University on February 23rd.

RPCVW Panel

From right to left: Roger Landrum, Jerry Lutes, Debby Prigal, Lisa Martin, Jesse Bailey

Back in 2010 the board of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington DC (RPCV/W), started to organize for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, which happened in September of 2011. All this organizing, and recapturing the history of Peace Corps got the board wondering about the history of our own organization. The board has recently, mostly consisted of people in their late 20’s or early 30’s, with average service of 2-4 years. This has led to a lack of historical knowledge of what the group had done in the past. That is how the creation of Historian was born, and how I became appointed to the board to look into our own history.

Over the past year and a half, I have been tracking down and interviewing former board members to learn what we have done as a group. As it turns out, we have done a lot, especially in the first several years of our existence. RPCV/W was formed in 1978, and back then there were very few country or regional groups in existence. Because our location in the nation’s capital and Peace Corps Headquarters, we have had a long history of working with Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps Association to celebrate major Peace Corps milestones. It was RPCV/W that ended up organizing the first Peace Corps reunion, the 20th in 1981. Five years later, we organized the major 25th Anniversary, which was much bigger than the 20th. It was in the wake of the 25th that a large number of country and regional groups were first formed.

After interviewing several board members, and learning about some of these events, I realized that it was a story that should be told to others. I felt that once I had interviewed enough former board members, that I should have a history panel event, where they could tell the story in their own words. After interviewing several more board members, I finally felt that I had a good understanding of our 36 year history, and that I could now invite former board members who could tell the history of the first 25 years. Since American University has become the official archive of NPCA and a number of country groups, such as Friends of Columbia, it seemed like a natural place to hold the history panel.

I had previously interviewed three of the panelists and had heard some interesting stories, which I prompted them to retell for the benefit of the audience. The panel proved to be a very nice forum to distil all my interviews in to manageable hour, for those who wished to hear it. After the panel, we opened it up to Q and A, and it turned out that there were a few other former board members who also had some information to add, as well as a lively discussion about where RPCV/W is today. Overall, I think it was a successful event that enlightened some of the audience including current board members on our storied history as an organization. It was good to start this dialogue in an open way and there maybe another panel some-time in the future as there are many more stories to tell. It was great to see a sample of the objects the Library currently has, and to hear from Susan McElrath what the collection contains now and what they are looking to add. I will look forward to seeing their collection grow, as they solicit and receive materials from individuals, country groups and regional groups. Peace Corps is now on its’ 6th decade and has its’ own lengthy storied past. Now that the Kennedy Library is only accepting materials from the first few years of Peace Corps history, it is great that there is now a home for all things Peace Corps. It is an honor that our group has been able to play a role in the history of Peace Corps.

Combatting Malaria in Thailand

During the 1907s, Jonathan Green worked with a malaria control program in South Central Thailand’s Control Zone 3.  Accompanied by a crew, Green ventured into the jungle to spray local villagers’ homes with DDT.  If individuals suspected they might have malaria, the organization administered a blood test and provided medication for those who tested positive.

Here, Green wears his khaki uniform, like other Thai civil servant officials. According to Green, his boss suggested this type of uniform because villagers would be more trusting and recognize him as an official.

Green’s work took him into the jungle to visit local villages.

Green traveling by boat. Rain often made traveling on dirt roads impossible.

Members of the spray team walk along the trail carrying their equipment. Jonathan Green wrote, “Each sprayman carries a canvas bag containing several plastic bags of powdered DDT, his sprayer, and a bucket in which to mix the DDT with water. Powdered DDT is not soluble in water, so it is hard to mix. But then the whole idea is to spray a suspension on the interior walls of homes, so the water will evaporate and leave the powder adhering to the walls to kill mosquitoes who like to rest there.”

Spraying DDT underneath a dwelling’s eaves.

“Mr. Winai, the malaria control sector chief for Tongphum and Snagkhlaburi districts, examining a blood sample under the microscope.”

Jonathan Green’s collection is the only one currently in the Peace Corps Community Archive documenting a volunteer’s experience in Thailand.  Green wrote detailed captions explaining each image and elaborating on his Peace Corps service.

To view more photos, visit Jonathan Green’s Facebook page.

Peace Corps Week 2014

This week marks the Peace Corps’ 53rd birthday.  The annual event commemorates the organization’s accomplishments at home and abroad, while also encouraging Peace Corps community members to renew their commitment to service.  

Whether returned or currently serving, the Peace Corps charges volunteers to increase cultural awareness by sharing their personal experiences and first-hand knowledge with other Americans.  This mission is fulfills the Peace Corps’ Third Goal, which seeks to promote peace through awareness and understanding of the diverse cultures around the world.

You can find more information about events in Peace Corps history by exploring the Interactive Timeline.

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.

Peace Corps Community Archives’ Milestones

The Peace Corps Community Archives (PCCA) began at American University in spring 2013.  During its short existence, more than 12 collections have been added to the Archive.

Included below are a few fun statistics about what you can find in our PCCA collections (Note: Numbers refer to number of individual collections.).

17 Men, 10 Female

A few of the collections document the work of volunteers who served with their spouse.  Most volunteers, however, entered as single, young adults.

Most Common Types of work:

  • education
  • health and sanitation
  • community development

Countries where Volunteers Served:

Colombia- 11
Nigeria- 5
Philippines- 2
India- 2
Paraguay- 1
Belize- 1
Thailand- 1
Fiji- 1
Afghanistan- 1
Antigua- 1
Ukraine- 1
Suriname- 1

Decade of Service:

1960s- 21
1970s- 4
1980s- 0
1990s- 0
2000s- 2
2010s- 1

We are excited about the diverse and interesting collections currently available for the public to use, but we would also love your help to keep the Archive growing.  We are always looking for collections to add to the PCCA.  If you can help fill in the gaps, or are interested in finding a home for your collection of Peace Corps materials, please contact us by email at archives@american.edu or by phone (202) 885-3256.

Going Above and Beyond: Community Partnerships

In a statement issued March 1, 1961, President Kennedy acknowledged that Peace Corps Volunteers would never make a fortune from their service abroad.  Most made enough to subsist. Nevertheless, volunteers often went above and beyond—taking on additional projects to satisfy the community’s needs.  Projects included recruiting volunteer labor and additional funding for renovating and construction projects.

During his service in Paraguay, Robert Meade oversaw a school partnership project to build an elementary school.  A school in Bethesda, Maryland partnered with the Paraguay community and raised $700 for the construction.  Meade documented the efforts of local volunteers, as well as the entire building process, through photography.  The partnerships created during the school project represent the essence of the Peace Corps.  Robert Meade created the captions below.

 

Paraguayan workers on the building of Maria Auxiliadora Elementary School.  Bricks were made nearby and all labor on the school was voluntary.

“Paraguayan workers on the building of Maria Auxiliadora Elementary School. Bricks were made nearby and all labor on the school was voluntary.”

"Putting on the roof of Maria Auxiliadora."

“Putting on the roof of Maria Auxiliadora.”

"Oxcart delivering bricks for the school project."

“Oxcart delivering bricks for the school project.”

To learn more about Peace Corps Volunteers in Paraguay, visit the Peace Corps Community Archive at American University.

“Bringing to Man that Decent Way of Life”

The Peace Corps traces its history to a speech given by Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960.  In the midst of the Cold War and a presidential campaign, Kennedy, on October 14th, challenged University of Michigan students to travel abroad giving their time and talents to nations around the world.  “How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” Kennedy asked in an unplanned speech.

Those in attendance followed up with a petition which was eventually signed by one thousand students who affirmed their willingness to leave the comforts of the United States to work in developing countries.  Their signatures and commitment to service inspired the Peace Corps.  Once elected, President Kennedy followed up on his challenge and issued Executive Order 10924 establishing the Peace Corps on a temporary basis.

In a statement announcing the Peace Corps’ establishment on March 1, 1961, Kennedy acknowledged the real challenges waiting ahead for participants.  However, he stressed that the rewards, compared to the challenges, would be far greater.   Kennedy claimed, “For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

On August 28, 1961, President Kennedy hosted a ceremony honoring the first group of volunteers, Ghana I and Tanganyika I, in the White House Rose Garden.  Days later, fifty-one Ghana I volunteers arrived in Accra to serve as teachers.  Less than a month later, the Peace Corps became a permanent federal agency with the Peace Corps Act.

Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Sources:

“About Us.” Peace Corps.  http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/

“Peace Corps.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/Peace-Corps.aspx

All images are courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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.

Sharing Experiences With the World: Memoirs of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

Whether sharing tales of overcoming the challenges, adjusting to a new culture, or the humor found in daily adventures, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers each possess invaluable stories about the places they lived and worked.  Adventure, challenge, and personal connections built across cultural boundaries provide the basis of volunteers’ memoirs and narratives.  Regardless of where they served, each story serves as a way to educate Americans about the rest of the world.

In addition to what’s available in the Peace Corps Community Archive, check out the library’s growing collection of Peace Corps memoirs.  This list is far from exhaustive, but includes some of the best memoirs on the shelf.  Browse the shelves for other great reads.

 

Beyond SiberiaBeyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place by Sharon Dirlam
Based on a collection of journals written during their time abroad, Sharon Dirlam presents the story of her and her husband’s work as Peace Corps Volunteers in Birobidjan.  Serving in a Jewish Autonomous Region of Russia, removed from most foreigners, the volunteers learned about native Russians and their culture in a unique way.

 

 

From Microsoft to MalawiFrom Microsoft to Malawi: Learning on the Front Lines as a Peace Corps Volunteer by Michael L. Buckler
Buckler’s memoir, inspired by his journals, depicts his yearning to serve after divorcing and completely changing career paths.  The narrative recounts the fruitful collaboration between volunteers and locals in order to make significant changes within the community.

 

 

South of the FronteraSouth of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir by Lawrence F. Lihosit
Lihosit narrates a story about joining the Peace Corps after losing his job, which led him to meet the woman he would eventually marry.  In addition to providing a sense of adventure, he presents the professional and personal challenges of living, working, and traveling throughout Mexico and Honduras during the 1970s.

 

 

TThe Unheardhe Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh Swiller
The Unheard presents a different perspective on the Peace Corps experience.  Josh Swiller attempted to act normal and fit in despite being deaf.  He joined the Peace Corps to experience a new opportunity.  His memoir recounts the daily events, as well as his work at a local health clinic.  This story provides insight into the challenges and rewards of serving in the Peace Corps with a disability.

 

Going Up CountryOther books in the library’s possession include collections of stories from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  Varying from region of the world and type of work, the stories reflect on past experiences abroad.  Going Up Country includes writers who return to the country of service to document the nation’s growth, change, and what any visitor should know about the place.  Tales from Colombia presents the perspectives of the earliest Peace Corps volunteers to Colombia called to action by President Kennedy’s charge.  Humor evades the stories, ranging from around the world, included in The Funniest Job You’ll Ever Love.

 

Additional Suggestions:

  • A Land Without Time: A Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan, by John Sumser
  • Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories, edited by Jane Albritton
  • Going Up Country: Travel Essays by Peace Corps Writers, edited by John Coyne
  • Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders, by Jason Carter
  • Tales from Colombia: The Deeds and Misdeeds of 41 Peace Corps Volunteers Who Answered President Kennedy’s Call to Serve, by Gary Dean Peterson
  • Tarnished Ivory: Reflections on Peace Corps and Beyond, by Peter Bourque
  • The Funniest Job You’ll Ever Love: An Anthology of Peace Corps Humor, edited by Lelah Conrad

Peace Corps and International Relations: UGA’s Russell Library Collection

Robert J. Bielen served as a staff physician for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s.  While living abroad, Bielen and his wife witnessed the 1965 revolution and U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic.  Bielen recently donated his collection of personal papers and related artifacts to the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia.

The collection includes manuscripts, scrapbooks, reports, slides, photographs, articles, and newspaper clippings.  To learn more about the collection, visit http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/index.html or contact russlib@uga.edu.