Author Archives: Admin

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.

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.

A Peace Corps Exhibit at Gallaudet University

The webpage for "Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers," which debuted at The Gallaudet University Museum.

The webpage for “Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers,” which debuted at The Gallaudet University Museum.

In October 2011, Gallaudet University Museum opened an exhibition centered on the experiences of deaf Peace Corps volunteers.  “Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers” incorporates photographs and objects to tell the stories of returned deaf volunteers.  Volunteers’ experiences abroad span from 1967 to 2011 and the countries of service include various locations including Ghana, Kenya, Ecuador, Zambia, Nepal, and the Philippines.  Using volunteers’ artifacts and personal experiences, the exhibit discusses issues relevant to society’s perception of the deaf, accessing education, and international relations.

To learn more about the experiences of deaf Peace Corps Volunteers, visit the exhibition located in the Weyerhaeuser Family Gallery and Exhibition Hall of the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center.

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

Improving the Health of a Community

Peace Corps volunteers educated local citizens about topics other than math, English, and science.  Health care and wellness provided an opportunity for volunteers to share basic information with citizens, while working to improve the community’s overall well-being.  Assignments included educating local citizens about the importance of clean water and sanitation, in addition to other issues of public health.  However, in order to educate local citizens, volunteers not only had to understand another language, but also needed to speak proficiently.  Knowledge of the country or region’s native language ensured volunteers’ ability to communicate essential information to local citizens.

Dahl Trainees 1963

Peace Corps Trainees at Presbyterian Clinic, Penasco, New Mexico, Oct. 1963

The image shows the Peace Corps trainees, of the Rural Community Action and Health Program, at the Presbyterian Clinic in 1963.  While they were not nurses, volunteers provided essential instruction to locals regarding hygiene, nutrition, child care, and health practices for expectant mothers.

Dahl Sweeping 1964

Dana Dahl, Piojo Health Center, June 1964

Volunteer Dana Dahl Seaton, learned Spanish in college before joining the Peace Corps.  Her knowledge paid off because she delivered a speech to the people of Piojó, Colombia shortly after arriving in-country to work as a health educator.  She explained to community members what the volunteers would be doing.  Her handwritten speech is in the collection.

In addition to the initiatives for community development and health education, the Peace Corps began sending professionally trained nurses to Colombia in the 1960s.  Peggy Gleeson Wyllie, one of eighteen who volunteered, served in the Peace Corps’ first group of nurses sent to Colombia.  Training took place at Brooklyn College, where nurses were paired together and prepared for working in urban locations.  Sent to Fusagasuga, Colombia, Wyllie trained in local hospitals before she taught practical nursing classes, in Spanish, to local students.

Such stories show the diversity of educational projects carried out by Peace Corps volunteers.  Many experiences highlight the importance and value of understanding and speaking the country’s native language.

“Pomp and Tradition” in India

Bossi Invitation 1967

Stephen Bossi, Invitation, 1967

It’s not every day that you’re invited to a party at the local palace.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer working with the Andhra Pradesh Science Workshop in Hyderabad, Steve Bossi received an invitation to attend a celebration at the new Nizam’s home.  The celebration took place the evening of April 6, 1967 at the Chow Mahala Palace following the formal instillation of Mir Barkat Ali Khan as the Nizam.  This example demonstrates the unique opportunities presented to Peace Corps volunteer while living abroad.

In a letter home, written the following day, Bossi detailed the evening’s events and reflected on the significance of the experience.  Bossi wrote, “They really turned out to be very gracious and very approachable—both Ray and I shook his hand and spoke to him (Ray got a picture of me with him—Hope it comes out.)”  Bossi’s photo with the Nizam did in fact turn out.

Bossi Nizam 1967

Stephen Bossi (right) meets the Nizam. Caption on image reverse: “Meeting the Nizam of Hyderabad—grandson of the former Nizam—April, 1967”

He continued, “But the most exciting part was just seeing first hand the kind of pomp and tradition which surrounds even the modern shadow of a court with the kind of history this one has.”  Not only did the Peace Corps offer volunteers a chance to travel to a foreign country and provide service, but also gave individuals an opportunity to learn about the country’s government and history personally.  This event reflects the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities presented to Peace Corps volunteers during their service.  Peace Corps was not only about working hard.  It provided volunteers with diverse occasions to experience and enjoy the local culture.

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.

Through the Lens of a Camera

Dizon Relief

The Wait. Copyright for image is held by Ron Dizon.

Ronald Dizon served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan from 1971-1973.  During his time abroad, he worked with Operation Help—a joint project between the US Peace Corps and USAID.  The project fed the Afghan people who suffered from starvation, disease, and destitution worsened by a severe two-year drought.

Dizon created a photo essay about the project for the Afghan Government.  The images capture the effects of drought on the lives of people.   Not only informative, the images are simply fascinating.

Dizon Transport

Food Transport to Darzak Valley. Copyright for image is held by Ron Dizon.

Additional images from the project are located in the collection.  The collection also includes a letter from the Afghan Government noting the importance of Dizon’s contribution to Operation Help in Afghanistan.

Dizon Wrestling

Village Wrestling Match. Copyright for image is held by Ron Dizon.

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 Elliott 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.