Author Archives: Steinhilber

About Steinhilber

Haley Steinhilber is the 2019-2020 Peace Corps Community Archives Fellow at American University. Twitter: @hstein054

Don’t Forget Your Helmet! Motorcycles and the Peace Corps

Since March 16, 2020, American University and Peace Corps Community Archives staff moved their tasks online to wait out the impact of COVID-19. While this bars access to our physical collections, the PCCA’s digital archives has a number of interesting journals, memoirs, and photographs available to explore.

As I flipped through the pages of a guestbook from the Volunteer Rest House in Kambia, Sierra Leone–donated by Jim Hiiter–one photo stuck out to me more than the rest.

A young woman perched on the seat of a motorbike, with the caption, “Posing with my ‘death machine’ and my controversial ‘to be a woman is not easy’ helmet. (Before the accident.)

Thankfully, Bernadette Chaloupka only injured her ankle after an accident on her motorbike; however, the Peace Corps still flew her back to Washington, D.C. to recover—cutting short her time in Sierra Leone. She writes about travelling back to the U.S. afer a local doctor called for surgery:

I’m a living example of why the Peace Corps has decided to ban motorcycles…Even though an operation was unnecessary, I tell Peace Corps plenti plenti tenki for that wonderful holiday!”

Chaloupka’s experience with motorcycles is just one of many. As I dug through Peace Corps policies, volunteer memoirs and letters home, I found that Chaloupka’s brief recovery period was a minor consequence compared with the many stories of motorcycle accidents.

Between 1961 and 2003, the Peace Corps reported that 89 volunteers died in motor vehicle accidents—21 of them involved a motorcycle. An article in the 1985 Peace Corps Times advised volunteers on motorcycle safety, reporting that in 1983, fourteen volunteers were evacuated to the United States due to motorcycle injuries.

That said, reliable transportation is an important piece of volunteer service, when distances between villages and cities could be several hundred miles away. For some, motorbikes were a beneficial way to get around during their assignments, connecting volunteers to important resources in other regions.

Alan Crew, a PCV in Nigeria 1965- 1966, mentions that as the only form of transportation available to him, his motorbike was important for travelling the long distances from his village to meet other volunteers or go into bigger cities. He wrote to his family in 1965,

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.

In the case of Jane Wertz, her motorcycle may have been the only thing that helped her safely leave Zaire during military-led riots in 1991. Wertz was featured in a Peace Corps News article following the event, relaying her journey from her host village to Kikwit, the closest city with a Peace Corps office. “Usually it’s about a 3 ½ hour trip, but it took me about six hours because I had too much stuff on my bike…It was dark. I had fallen about six times. The bike was really, really heavy. There were times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to pick it up.” Wertz’s motorcycle, as heavy as it was, was the only thing that could have gotten her to the office for evacuation.

Today, the Peace Corps allows volunteers to use motorbikes only on a project-by-project basis. Many of these exceptions are for volunteers in rural areas, only after comprehensive safety training. And, at the heart of the manual? Wear your helmet!

Sources:

Office of the Chief of Staff, “MS 523 Motorcycles and Bicycles” January 7, 2013. https://files.peacecorps.gov/documents/MS-523-Policy.pdf

Adventure in a Great Big World,” by Alan Crew, Peace Corps Community Archives, https://blogs.library.american.edu/pcca/adventure-in-a-great-big-world/

Angene Wilson and Jack Wilson, Voices from the Peace Corps: Fifty Years of Kentucky Volunteers (University Press of Kentucky, 2011).

Susan Trebbe and James C. Flanigan, “Exit from Zaire,” Peace Corps Times, Fall 1991. https://dra.american.edu/islandora/object/peacecorps%3A2500?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=680d78e377b816da1f3b&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=8

Pat Seaman, “Peace Corps and the Art of Motorcycle Safety,” Peace Corps Times, January-February 1985, 8-9. https://dra.american.edu/islandora/object/peacecorps%3A2463/datastream/PDF/view

Character Reflections from Kambia, Sierra Leone

In 1983, Jim and Carolyn Hitter left a notebook in the Peace Corps Rest House in Kambia, Sierra Leone, as a way to remember the work of their fellow volunteers. Scrawled on the inside cover of the faded notebook: “Dedicated to us, the PCV’s, VSO’s of Kambia. Twenty years of Volunteers have been here and left no record, no footprints…With this small beginning maybe our successors will know us by our deeds and misdeeds.” 

Once the first journal filled, other PCVs added another in 1988. Many of the entries are a bit of gossip, others are firsthand reflections and memories of their time in Sierra Leone.

Here are some entries from the two notebooks:

Dewey- N. Carolina

Econ major at UNC? Aggie [Agriculture] at Bapinga 1980-1982. Extended to fisheries winter of ’82. Lived with Pa Laurin. Seemed to get along well with farmers. Speak languages well. Mr. Generosity. Dewey gives things away!

Extremely conservative politically. 

Married Sierra Leonean, Regina Durwig, at Pt. Loko on 9 July 1983.

No; Dewey’s father came to S.L. to convince him that this was not a wise thing so Dewey’s wedding apparently turned into an “engagement party.” 

In fact, Dewey went home without Regina and apparently with an agreement that he would never come back, nor send for her.

Page from Jim Hitter’s Notebook, Jim Hitter Collection, Peace Corps Community Archives.

Logan 72-74

History at Kolenten. Had a masters in World History and a BA in African History. (Orland was in his Form III Class). There was a riot at school because all the history students were getting poor grades. “Logan must go or die” was chalked on the streets. According to Orlando, “he resembled Jesus and he never laughed.

Jim Hitter, 1982-1984 Kambia
…”Lived” (in a matter of speaking) through 2-3 extensive beer droughts. Saw the price of STAR [beer] go from $.80 to $4.00.

…Never taught before this experience and never will again. In fact I expect never to work again. My background for this was some years as an engineer in the aerospace industry, VISTA (in a veterans project in Seattle) and 10 years retirement. I would have been long gone if it hadn’t been for the support/love/and good humor of Carolyn, my wife!

Martin Seviour, 
1980-1982, Sewafe/Kono
1982-1984, Kambia

I’m leaving this country tomorrow after 4 years, and it does seem a day too long! I’m a VSO. I taught secondary English in Sewafe for two years and came to Kambia to work in the KELT Primary English Project.

I dislike Kambia only slightly less than Jim Hitter and know only slightly more Temne…I would like to deny all rumours that I extended only to avoid the draft for the Falklands War. 

Hopefully, I will be the first of a long line of VSO’s using the Kambia Rest House. I would like to express my thanks to all the PCVs who have strived at all time to let me not feel inferior. Special thanks should go to Douglas whom I’ve only known for a short time but who has been a good friend (Keep the toilet clean Dough!) and to the Hitters who have put up with my verbal ramblings late into the might and have cooked wonderful meals and given me lots of encouragement and advice…”

Carolyn Hitter
1982-1984, Kambia, Primary Workshops

…The Hitters lived in the “suburbs” –on the fringe of Kambia at Kolenten. The greatest thing thaat happened in Kambia was finding Kemokoh, an excellent cook, an honest man, and the only Sierra Leonean to complete a job on time…

Jim and Carolyn, old enough to be the parents of other Kambia volunteers (47 and 45) showed their age by drinking more beer than most. All those years of practice, you know!

Jim and Carolyn Hitter, 1982. Jim Hitter Collection, Peace Corps Community Archives.

[Added by another volunteer:] “Pictured above in typical form. Great people who are well worth visiting should anyone pass through Seattle.”

And in the second journal…

Bernadette
“I succeeded Chris Lavin in Bayonde village. I have enjoyed living with the Jimbra people, and tell God “tenki” everyday that I was not placed in Temne-land; Bayonde is a “seke-free zone.”

…Unlike the other Kambia PCV’s and VSO’s, I was not particularly fond of Kambia, mostly because of the rude, obnoxious, ruff bobos that hung around the rest house, whose hobby was to taunt me…

Anyway, back to Bayonde and my Peace Corps “work.” I think all of us PCV’s have realized that we are not here for the work we do; we are here as cheap P.R. for the American government. I guess that’s not so bad as long as we realize that, and also realize that we are not going to “develop” this country. As I’m sure you’ve heard a zillion PCV’s say: It’s not the work that counts so much, it’s enjoying the people and the culture where you will get the most satisfaction. At least, this has been true in my case…

I am a living example of why the Peace Corps has decided to bag the motorcycles. I broke my ankle in a Honda spill and was unnecessarily sent back to D.C. (a Salone doctor wanted to operate–yikes!) Even though an operation was unnecessary, I tell Peace Corps plenti plenti tenki for that wonderful holiday!”

Bernadette on her motorcycle in Sierra Leone. Featured in her entry in the second notebook. Jim Hitter Collection, Peace Corps Community Archives.

After the program in Sierra Leone disbanded in the ‘90s, the journals made their way to the United States. In his own notes about the journals, Jim explains: “In 1994, when rebel activity became too much, the Peace Corps was ordered out of the country. The diaries (and the large US flag that hung on the Resthouse wall) were rescued by the Catholic fathers and sent to the US.” 

Another RPCV preserved the journals until 2002, when they were ceremoniously revealed at the Friends of Sierra Leone annual meeting and 40th Peace Corps Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C.

Performing the Peace Corps Way

 

During the fall of 1965, Anne Williams was part of a group training for service in India at Columbia University. Two of her trainers, Murray Frank and Peggy Gruenbaum, had just gotten married, and of course, the trainees and staff of India Urban Community Development Group XXIII wrote and performed a play to express their congratulations—and worries over the coming assessments.

The play contained six scenes—with volunteers playing the parts of other volunteers—and several original musical numbers. Various scenes played off of common tropes about the Peace Corps, anxiety over placement, and teasing of other volunteers. Some scenes are reproduced here:

Scene 1
Opening Song (sung by the entire cast) to the tune of Hello Dolly.

Hel-lo trainees, and hel-lo staffers,
It’s so nice to have you both with us tonite,
We’re so tired, but we’re still tryin,
Speaking Hindi till we’re just about to drop.
We feel the room swayin, with the trainees stayin,
‘til assessment sends them on their way back home,
Sooooh, grab a seat fellas, ready yourself for a treat fellas,
Training will never be like this again.

Hel-lo Murray, and hel-lo Peggy,
Its so nice to surprise you both this very nite
You’re still smiling, with your wedding brewin’,
And the trainees wish to toast to you tonight.
While Murray Franks livin, we’ll have a short Thanksgiving,
While he’s away on his long honeymoon.
So take your wife Murray, it’s late in life Murray,
Bombay will never be the same again!

Cast

Roles Actors
Narrator Taradash
Barda Loren
Linas Falstein
Langdon Kevin
Ryan Nelson
Ladd Grear

Narrator: Sets scene, composite room introduces characters. Scene opens as the alarm goes off. Ladd, Ryan and Linas come staggering in, wine bottles in hand, singing “Irish Eyes.”

Barda: Jumps up with a start and says “Ap kaun hair? (Short pause, then) No good man, no good.”

Meanwhile Ryan, Linas, and Ladd staggering and trying to sing “Irish Eyes.”

Ladd: “Gotta go to goddam Hindi class.”

Linas: “No let’s go get another beer.”

Barda: “No good man, no good.”

Langdon: “Reaches in the laundry bag, pulls out a shirt, smells both pits, grabs the can of Right Guard and sprays it down, and says while putting the shirt on “cough, cough, mumble, mumble.”

Everyone sings Sixteen Words and Exits.

Sixteen Words”
You learn sixteen words,
And whaddya get;
Another day of Hindi
Another day of sweat.
Don’t push us Mr. Carr
‘Cause last night we spent in a bar.
We hope you don’t expect us to get very far.

“Officer Doris”
Chorus:
Gee Officer Doris, we’re very upset
We never had the chances that the others did get
And now that assessment’s about to take place
Now is the time to set forward our case. 

Solo:
Dear Officer Doris, you must understand, 
My local draft board is getting way out of hand.
They want me to fight, the Vietnam way, 
Ho-ly Mo-ses, must get to Bombay!

Chorus:
Gee loveable Doris, there’s much more to say,
There are other reasons we must get to Bombay.
So therefore you mu-st heed our pleas,
And when selection comes, no ginahis.

Solo:
Well Officer Doris, I’m sure up a tree
The girl I thought I’d left behind is now chasing me.
I don’t want to marry her, she’s really a pig,
Ho-ly, Je-sus, my plight you must dig!!

Solo:
Dear Officer Doris, we’ve had all our shots
Our arms are all aching, and hurting a lot
What good will the typhoid, plague and jaundice do,
If we’re all cut and sent back to school?

Chorus:
Well Officer Doris, our fate’s In your hands.
We’ve tried to get across, our various stands
Have nothing left to say that we feel we should, 
Gol-ly Do-ris, you must believe we’re good.

Scene VI

Cast

Roles Actors
Murray Loren
Peggy Morey


Narrator-
sets scene, after a hard day’s work Peggy and Murray finally get a chance to relax together.

Peggy: “Ho, Murray, I love to sit her and run my fingers thru your head.”

Murray Frank: “Yeah, they used to call me Furry Murray.”

Peggy: “Murray, do you think we’re too old?”

Murray Frank: “No, we’re not too old. (Pause) Too old for what?”

Peggy: “Well let me articulate it for you.”

Murray Frank: “Oh, no, I can’t stand it when you articulate it.”

Peggy: “Well, let me try anyway. I love you…hmmm?”

Murray Frank: “You love me? Hmm. I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

Peggy: “Will you Murray me? (Wistfully)

Murray Frank:  Let me ask the Panchayat [village council, in Hindi]. I usually let them make the important decisions.”

Peggy: Pats him on head. “Oh, angel lambie pie cutie, honeydoll.”

Murray Frank: “Oh moonie Grunie”

Peggy: Pats him on belly. “How’s your tankie  Frankie?”

Murray Frank: “Listen Peggy, I understand your name is Gruenbaum.”

Peggy: “That’s right, Murray, but I’ll be Frank with you.”

Entire cast comes out and sings “Tonight.”

Tonight
Tonite, Tonite, is not just any nite,
Tonite, is the eve of assessment.
Tonite, tonite, our fates with you tonite,
And for some, dreams will stop where they are.
Sometimes the reading goes so slowly,
The Hindi drags along, yet still our hopes are high,
Peace Corps, our life, and the goals we
Seek tonite, may go-on, to-nite.

So thus tonite, we hope you like tonite,
Cause tonite, we had to let off some steam.
And Peg and Murray, we toast with you tonite,
For your love, to go on, for ever more,
Now we’ll end our little skit, and
Drink and dance along, with
Our hopes in our hearts,
O staff, think twice, and let
Our goals to go to Bombay, Gi Ha!

Before donating her materials to the Peace Corps Community Archive, Williams briefly noted where her fellow volunteers ended up.

Most of the cast members finished their training and departed for Bombay (now Mumbai), including Joseph Barda, Richard Falstein, Daniel Grear, Linas Jurcys, Kevin Kane, Michael Ladd, David Langdon, Kathleen Morey, Joseph Ryan, and Alan Taradash. In India, they did a mix of urban community development and traditional social work.

For information about all the the India 23 trainees see the Biographical Sketches booklet (kindly scanned by Eric Souers).

Brookens Designs a National Park

Eric Brookens joined the Peace Corps in 1964, where he served in Panama on the Rural Community Development and Agriculture Cooperative project. He lived in Cerro Punta, Chiriqui Province—a mountain village 6,000 feet within the mountains of Volcán Barú. During his service, Brookens painted houses, assembled English classes, constructed a school, ran a local summer youth camp, and worked with a potato surplus cooperative—among other things. A year after he arrived in Cerro Punta, Brookens and another PCV Duane got the idea to create a national park on Volcán Barú.

Photo taken atop the mountain Cerro Punta looking towards El Hato de Volcan and Cosa Rica in the far background, March 1965. Eric Brookens, Panama 1964-1966, Box 1, Peace Corps Community Archives, American University Library.

Brookens and Myklejord spent the spring and summer of 1965 exploring the mountain, collecting notes on the wildlife, vegetation, waterfalls, and volcanic craters at the summit. The U.S. Geological Survey measures Volcán Barú at 3,475 meters—the tallest mountain in Panama. The summit offers clear views of both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea on a clear day. After their hikes, Brookens jotted down five essentials to maintaining a successful national park: signs, flattened areas for camping, paved roads up the mountain, laws against burning and waste, establishing borders, and publicizing the park in tourist offices around Panama.

Plans for the park went public in May 1965, when Brookens traveled to David, the capital city of Chiriquí Province, to meet with Governor Sitton about the project. Pleased with the idea, Sitton introduced Brookens to the Engineer Manuel Barrelier, chief of CAM (an agency within Panama’s Public Works Ministry)—who had direct power over plans for a national park.

Yellow sheet of paper with plans for National Park in Spanish

Notes for the National Park at Volcan Baru. Eric Brookens, Panama 1964-1966, Box 1, Peace Corps Community Archives, American University Library.

Brookens describes the meeting with Barrelier in his diary:

I presented the plan written out on the yellow sheet of paper, and between frequent interruptions he finally said that he thought he could work it out, but would like pictures of the planned areas and groups of people that might be willing to cooperate, such as the Boy Scouts. I told him I would try and work it out and return in a month or so to give him the pictures and a report on what I proposed. Everything seemed to be OK when I left, but I always try and cut myself from by too optimistic with the Panamanian government!

To bolster their proposal, the volunteers joined forces with local groups, including a tree conservation club, “Los Amigos del Arbol.” They also connected with the Forest Service, the Director of Land Reform, the Department of Agriculture, and the Smithsonian Institute in the Canal Zone.  The proposal began:

“Hermosa Catarata Descubren en Volcan,” La Razon, May 6, 1965. Eric C. Brookens, Panama 1964-1966, Box 1, Peace Corps Community Archives, American University Library.

North America, during more than a hundred years of intensive exploration and settlement of the wilderness, ruthlessly destroyed several of the once numerous species of animal life and beautiful forest areas. Fortunately today, conservation has reversed the trend of diminishing wildlife and forests through the use of national parks…”

“After hiking extensively around the area, seeing its wildlife, thick vegetation, a 400 foot waterfall, numerous extinct Volcanic craters at its top, and overall natural beauty; we want to present the thought to the Panamanian people of forming their first national park.

Brookens submitted a proposal to Barrelier in December 1965, with suggested steps to attract tourists and get the area ready for camping and hiking.

Plans for the park began to falter during the winter of 1965-1966 as Panamanian interest waned and the volunteers became involved with other projects. Brookens and Myklejord continued to hike the mountain, and used it for activities during a youth camp in February 1966. By their termination of service in July, plans for the national park had fallen by the wayside; however, Volcán Barú did acquire national park status in 1976. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the volcano is still active and expected to erupt again “in the near or distant future.” Continue reading

Jim Hitter in Sierra Leone

Name: Jim Hitter
Country of Service: Sierra Leone
Place of Service: Kambia
Dates in Service: 1982-1984
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, Youth

Accession Date: March 5, 2020
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types
• Photographs
• Diaries

Digital collection

“Project Peace Pipe”: In Practice

In theory, Project Peace Pipe intended to attract Native American applicants, diversify Peace Corps volunteers, and build the skills and confidence Indigenous trainees needed to serve two years in Colombia. However, in practice, twenty-nine volunteers arrived for training, five received placements, and only two completed full service. In the final project evaluation report, surveyors attributed the program’s failure to “racism…bungling…bureaucratic deafness [and] …sheer ignorance” of program administrators, leading training officials to wonder if Project Peace Pipe was doomed from the start.[1]

Recruitment

During the 1960s, Peace Corps recruitment featured advertisements stressing adventure, personal growth, and building international relationships—things that appealed to many Americans, but failed to consider other barriers to entry. As mentioned in “Project Peace Pipe”: Developing the Program, the project was one of the first attempts by the Peace Corps to specifically draw individuals from disenfranchised groups. Officials determined that a targeted enrollment campaign and adjusted application requirements would help these efforts.

Looking at retention rates from earlier groups, Peace Corps officials found that volunteers aged 20 or older were more likely to complete service than their younger counterparts. Therefore, recruiters for Project Peace Pipe focused on older volunteers—making the average age of trainees around 23 years old. They also voted to give personal interviews more weight than written references, as previous statistics reported that lower socio-economic class applicants had more difficulty obtaining written references.[2]

Application Requirements
Project Peace Pipe Peace Corps
At least 20 years old At least 18 years old
High school diploma; some college High school diploma; some college; bachelor’s degree
Personal interviews Written references

Recruiting efforts focused primarily on colleges with a high population of Native students, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools, and areas with large American Indian populations. The BIA funded a grant for new brochures and hired BIA education officials to identify possible candidates. Yes, the federal agency that sponsored boarding schools for Indigenous children under the motto, “Kill the Indian…save the Man,” also supported efforts to train American Indian Peace Corps volunteers. [3]

Donald Broadwell recalls the recruitment process in a 1998 letter to Friends of Colombia President Robert Colombo:

I was atypical of the Project Peace Pipe volunteers, having had little real identification with Native American culture prior to my entry into the Project…Although I grew up in Mahnomen County, Minnesota, which is part of the White Earth Reservation, it is an “Open Reservation,” i.e., one which transferred the property to individual tribal members…The Project Peace Pipe recruiters took the attitude of “close enough!” and signed me up.

The other 29 applicants came from clusters of the West around South Dakota, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Arizona—with varying levels of involvement with their Indigenous culture. Despite the initial prerequisite to recruit volunteers over twenty, six were between eighteen and nineteen years old, although the rest ranged in age between twenty and twenty-nine.

Photo of biographical excerpt about Sammie Chischilly. It reads: "Sammie, 25, is a Navajo Indian from Pinon, Ariz. He graduated from Phoenix Indian High School, where he trained for building construction. After graduation, he went into the army and trained for "paratrooper", and went to Viet Nam for 13 months. During the 3 years of his military career, he travelled and visited Hawaii, Wake Island, the Philippines, Thailand, and Japan. His hobbies include oil painting, fixing and patching things and automobiles to electrical equipment. English is his second language; he has spoken Navajo all his life. Now he is learning Spanish. His favorite sports are rodeo, wrestling and football. Before joining the Peace Corps, he got married.

Sammie Chischilly served three years in the army as a paratrooper in Vietnam prior to joining the Peace Corps. He and his wife Cynthia left training while in California. Sammie Chischilly, Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

Training Programs

Project Peace Pipe applicants joined “Colombia- Rural Community Development- Group B,” (RCD-B) however, the Project Peace Pipe program was a sub-category within this larger Peace Corps group. These volunteers attended six extra weeks of training in Arecibo, Puerto Rico before joining volunteers from the general group. The pre-training operated under the assumption that “lack of confidence was a major barrier for Indians interested in Peace Corps Service,” and so the program was devoted more towards developing Native “self-awareness” and skills for service overseas.[4]

To do so, OIO (Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity) inverted the Peace Corps’ cross-cultural training model by designing a pre-training that sought to reverse “psychological effects of internal colonization, [and instead] emphasize the racialized and economic inequalities within the United States rather than impending culture shock abroad.”[5] Like the typical Peace Corps training, Peace Pipe trainees received intense Spanish language training; however, in place of Colombian history and practical skills training, they received “communication” and “attitudinal” training directly focused on changing the temperaments of Peace Pipe volunteers. One component consisted of a week “imaginal education” course and discussion groups three times a week for self-confidence counseling.[6]

Project Peace Pipe recruits speaking with Senator Fred Harris during training in Puerto Rico, 1967. Featured in Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century, Duke University Press, 2012. Courtesy of the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (490-G-63-82068-C2-19)

The Project Peace Pipe pre-training seemed to be a success, with close relationships formed between the trainees and staff, and most of the volunteers transitioning into the general Peace Corps training. However, Donald Broadwell describes the altered atmosphere following the arrival of other Peace Corps volunteers:

Most of the Project Peace Pipe volunteers were, like me, young and without college educations. Most of us had had some college experience, but most had not completed a degree. We were a group who were interested in an adventure, but most of us did not have the inner resources to be fully independent. We enjoyed our Pre-training experience in Puerto Rico, where we received intensive training in Spanish and a little bit of training in establishing cooperatives.

Many of us found the transition to the training program in California to be a difficult one to make, and many volunteers began opting out of the program. Other volunteers joining us for RCD-B were largely college educated and a few years older than the Project Peace Pipe volunteers. Many of us felt we couldn’t “measure up” to the other volunteers joining us, and began to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of being independent in a foreign country, whose language we spoke only haltingly.

The issue of retaining Peace Pipe trainees continued throughout training and service. An article by LaDonna Harris and Dr. Leon H. Ginsberg, social work professor at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, reported: “In addition to the pressure of selection for Peace Corps service…, the composition of the training group itself was perceived as potentially threatening for some American Indian trainees.”[7] Whereas the middle-class Ivy League and large state university volunteers experienced culture shock overseas, the psychologists within the RCD-B training reported adjustment issues with Native volunteers once merged with the predominantly white trainees.

The language used by Broadwell, Harris and Ginsberg attribute this issue to intimidation from the superior experiences of other volunteers; however, a survey of the group’s biographical pamphlet reveals something else. While the project evaluators described Peace Pipe volunteers as lacking confidence and skills in communication, the pamphlet reported that most had attended some higher education schooling, spoke two or more languages fluently, and already performed leadership roles within their local communities. Several had traveled around Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico, and one woman served as a Congressional intern on Capitol Hill.[8] While many may have felt that they didn’t “measure up” as Broadwell suggests, others felt suffocated by rigid expectations. One unidentified Peace Pipe trainee complained in an interview with the Washington Post, “Peace Pipe seems like an effort to make us nice little WASPS so that we can fit in…”[9] Ironically, the fears that Peace Corps officials had regarding the agency’s “lily-white” composition destroyed their intentions to appeal to minority group volunteers.

The Results

Project Peace Pipe ran for three years—just long enough to train and place 2 groups of volunteers—before termination. By 1970, only six trainees from Project Peace Pipe served full terms in Colombia. The Washington Post, who wrote about the results in November 1970, reported that undercurrents of racism marked the program and the instructors believed the program was doomed to fail:

The report charges the Indians were not trained for Colombia, were discriminated against on draft deferments, were lied to about assignments, and got such miserable medical care that many were ill for weeks…

…An outside consultant, according to the evaluation office, viewed the program with open disgust. Said the consultant, “Anyone who doubts there was racism can look at what Peace Corps did to help the two Indians who had draft problems. Nothing at all—while everyone was killing themselves for some of the white trainees.” [10]

Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indiana Project Fails,” Washington Post, 4 November 1970.

The article also indicated that the failure resulted in the creation of the Peace Corps’ first Office of Minority Affairs, as part of the agency’s “New Directions” initiative. Peace Corps Director Joseph H. Blatchford appointed the former director in Tanzania and Black American, William Tutman, as the office’s new head.[11] Tutman resigned the following April, writing that “while dedicated to cross-cultural understanding abroad, [the Peace Corps] has failed to deal with the subcultural misunderstanding in its midst.”[12] An article in the New York Times reported that Tutman pointed to specific examples of discriminatory hiring practices and preference given to “white males.” The article also cited Blatchford’s statement regarding the resignation, asserting, “the record of the Peace Corps in minority affairs has been outstanding,” and promised to name a “prominent black American” to fill the post.

The Peace Corps’ reputation regarding racial and cultural sensitivity has improved since the ’70s. Today, volunteers from a variety of backgrounds share how their identities impact their service on the official Peace Corps blog. Here, you can read reflections by several Indigenous volunteers serving in the 2010s—Madiera Dennison, Anthony Trujillo, and Dennis Felipe Jr.

References:

Peace Corps Honors American Indian Volunteers, October 31, 2008.

Peace Corps Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month, November 5, 2009.

Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

Sterling Fluharty, “Harris, LaDonna Vita Tabbytite,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=HA035.

Fritz Fischer, Making Them Like Us: Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), 102 –3.

[1] Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indian Project Fails,” Washington Post, November 4, 1970, B19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[2] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 23.

[3] Charla Bear, “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many,” NPR, May 12, 2008. npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

[4] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 23.

[5] Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century, Duke University Press, 2012, 104.

[6] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 25.

[7] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 23.

[8] Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

[9] Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indian Project Fails,” Washington Post, November 4, 1970, B19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[10] Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indian Project Fails,” Washington Post, November 4, 1970, B19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[11] “Director Blatchford Names New Peace Corps Program For Minorities and Women,” The Harvard Crimson, November 7, 1970. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1970/11/7/director-blatchford-names-new-peace-corps/

Joseph H. Blatchford, “The Peace Corps: Making it in the Seventies “Foreign Affairs, October 1, 1970. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1970-10-01/peace-corps-making-it-seventies

[12] “Peace Corps Aide Quits In Protest,” The New York Times, April 19, 1971. Page 41. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/04/19/archives/peage-corps-aide-quits-in-protest-minority-affairs-director-charges.html

“Project Peace Pipe”: Developing the Program

What makes a good Peace Corps volunteer? Is it experience and compassion, leadership or flexibility? Or, is it confidence? What does it mean to be a Peace Corps volunteer, and what do we expect to gain from volunteering abroad? These were the questions that Peace Corps officials mulled over as they prepared a special training program directed at young Native American volunteers.

Ladonna Harris is speaking to a group of people out of the frame, wearing a blazer and carrying a hat in her left hand. Her right hand is raised as she speaks.

LaDonna Harris in 1976. (2012.201.B0250.0666, photo by P. Southerland, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

Developing the Program

“Project Peace Pipe” was created in 1966, as a collaborative program between the Peace Corps and a Native-led organization called Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO). The project specifically recruited and trained Indigenous adults for service in the Peace Corps, following OIO’s mission to improve the lives of American Indians by offering programs for community development, work experience and placement, and youth activities.[1] Comanche political activist and OIO founder LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris hoped that Peace Corps service would help the volunteers develop “talents for organization and skill in mobilizing community action…applicable to the problems of Indian communities in all parts of the United States where skilled Indian leadership is needed, but often unavailable.”[2] Not only would these volunteers return with practical skills, OIO envisioned that American Indian RPCVs would have greater opportunity to work in federal agencies and provide healthy role models for other Indigenous youths.

Photograph of Donald I. Broadwell with biographical data, reading "Donald, 19, born in Park Rapids, Minnesota, is from Fosston, Minnesota. He studied at Bemidji State Collece, Bemidji, Minnesota, majoring in English and French. He has extensive experience in library materials circulation. He has experience in grounds maintenance and with pre-sensitized photographic plate processing. He also has general farm background. He attended Peace Corps pre-training program in Peurto Rico. Don has held various leadership positions in 4-H and other school and college organizations. He has done volunteer teaching in remedial reading. Hobbies include skiing, swimming, hiking and other individual sports."

Donald Broadwell, Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

Donald Broadwell, a PCV recruited through this program, also believed that the project operated under the assumption that Native Americans would have a greater ability to understand with the life experiences and bond with rural Colombians, many of whom were subsistence farmers with strong Mayan backgrounds.

As for the Peace Corps, the project was one of the first attempts to attract volunteers with working-class and marginalized backgrounds. Although the Peace Corps sought to emphasize “self-reliance, racial equality, the right to self-determination, and social justice,” the organization struggled to attract volunteers of color.[3] An article in the Journal of Black Studies reported that in the 1960s, most Black youths considered the Peace Corps to be “an agency for White, middle-class Americans.” While service was possible to many white, middle-class individuals fresh out of college, many people of color and working-class graduates took jobs to support their families or sought to improve their own communities. [4]

Peace Corps officials used the interest in Project Peace Pipe to counter this WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) image and attempted to create more accessible avenues for “socio-economically deprived minority group youngsters.”[5] While there are no available records that mention the origin of the project’s name, the use of the term “peace pipe” traces back to the arrival of European colonists, who applied the term to Indigenous ceremonial pipes.[6] It is likely that the name “Project Peace Pipe” may have just been the result of the Peace Corps’ desire for “peace” imagery, and the irony was not lost on volunteers.

In an article in the August 1968 issue of the Peace Corps Colombia monthly newsletter, Porvenir, one editor commented:

“Regardless of the appropriateness of this name, it is curious that a program, intended to integrate, labels the group in question with a title that differentiates them. Names serve to categorize and tell things apart; why make a distinction when the intent is to show the similarity of different Americans when working toward a common end? Even if the title “Operation Peace Pipe” proved useful in training and recruiting, that should be the extent of its function.”

The unique title was not the only difference that set the group apart from the other volunteers. The OIO and Peace Corps officials designed the program around the idea that Native youths, “because of their lack of self-confidence, felt they had little to contribute to persons overseas.” Working under this assumption, the program designed targeted recruitment processes and a five week pre-training to build confidence and develop communication skills.

Peace Corps-Indigenous Relationships and Red Power

Project Peace Pipe was not the first interaction Native communities had with the Peace Corps. In fact, impoverished conditions on reservations were so similar to underdeveloped areas in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that the Peace Corps used them for preliminary community development training. In at least one instance, in 1962 volunteers stationed at the University of Arizona prepared for service at Gila River Reservations in Arizona. The Peace Corps Volunteer reported other development programs at the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. [7]

Black and white photo of three men dig in dirt with shovels. Another group of men stand along a wooden fence in the background.

Peace Corps Volunteers during training at the Gila River Reservation in Arizona. 1962. University Archives Photographs, Arizona State University Library.

The Project also coincided with the rise of the Red Power movement. Across the country, Native Americans mobilized to protest and rewrite the history of American Indigenous peoples, address high levels of poverty, and bring legal suits against states stealing Indian land and violating federal treaties.[8] During the 1960s, communities formed organizations like the National Indian Youth Council (NYIC) and the American Indian Movement (AIM), leading groups to Washington, D.C. to occupy the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, called the “Trail of Broken Treaties.”

In fact, three volunteers recruited through Project Peace Pipe were Sioux members from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where the town of Wounded Knee is located. Growing up in Pine Ridge, these volunteers were likely influenced by the violent confrontations between white supremacists and their community, and the increased political militancy of the organized Red Power movement. If the volunteers returned after their service in 1970, they could have been involved with the AIM occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973; however, no available records mention this. To learn more about the history of Wounded Knee, visit Democracy Now and the History Channel.

Landscape color photo of the Pine Ridge road sign, covered in bullet holes.

Pine Ridge Sign, October 17, 2016. posted to Flickr Creative Commons by Orientalizing.

So why did a Native-led organization like Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity join forces with a federal agency at the height of the Red Power movement? The answer lies with activist LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris. Harris founded OIO after Oklahomans elected her husband Fred Harris to the Senate. After her family relocated to Washington, D.C., Harris loudly advocated for Native rights and legislation, including championing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. Her determination and husband’s political networks put her in a place to help Indigenous communities gain federal recognition and push for change. Seeing an opportunity for youth engagement, Harris instigated a partnership with Peace Corps and established authority over the program design from the onset. 

Moving Forward

Only 5 years prior, President Kennedy announced to the nation, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” before establishing the Peace Corps.  Project Peace Pipe also considered what Peace Corps could do for Indigenous youths. But how did the actual volunteers compare with the judgments made by OIO and the Peace Corps?

Project Peace Pipe Part 2 will explore the practical aspects of specialized training, the experiences of volunteers, and the outcome of the program following the merge into the rest of Peace Corps Colombia- Rural Community Development-B.

References:

Amin, Julius A. “The Peace Corps and the Struggle for African American Equality.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No.6, July 1999, 817. (Accessed January 22, 2019) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2645886.pdf

Chavez, Aliyah, “LaDonna Harris ‘stumbled’ into a legacy of impact,” Indian Country Today. August 18, 2019.

Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968

Moore, Powell A. (1959). The Calumet Region: Indiana’s Last Frontier. Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 20 August 2015.

Old Elk, Hunter “127th Remembrance of the Wounded Knee Massacre,” Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Decmber 29, 2016. (Accessed January 27, 2020) https://centerofthewest.org/tag/wounded-knee/

Peace Corps Division of Volunteer Support, The Peace Corps Volunteer, a Quarterly Statistical Summary, (Columbia University: The Division, 1962), 13. https://books.google.com/books?id=mIOKCxx-scUC&pg=RA16-PA13&lpg=RA16-PA13&dq=peace+corps+training+on+indian+reservations&source=bl&ots=grUjRQ3-TY&sig=ACfU3U1fOyhvcjnt_zwg5KA-EumuUzxTaA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwie_rKY7YXnAhWQq1kKHRbRBUMQ6AEwEnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%20indian%20reservations&f=false

Peltier, Leonard “Wounded Knee II, 30 Years Later,” Democracy Now, May 9, 2003. (Accessed January 27, 2020) https://www.democracynow.org/2003/5/9/wounded_knee_ii_30_years_later

“The Native American Power Movement,” Digital History, 2019. (Accessed January 27, 2020) http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3348

“Wounded Knee,” History, November 6, 2009. (Accessed January 27, 2020) https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/wounded-knee

[1] Mrs. Fred R. Harris and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 22.

[2] She left OIO in 1968 after President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the National Council on Indian Opportunity (NCIO), but the organization’s inaction led her to resign and continue grassroots activism.  Mrs. Fred R. Harris and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 21.

[3] Julius A. Amin, “The Peace Corps and the Struggle for African American Equality.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No.6, July 1999, 811. (Accessed January 22, 2019) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2645886.pdf

[4] Julius A. Amin, “The Peace Corps and the Struggle for African American Equality.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No.6, July 1999, 817. (Accessed January 22, 2019) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2645886.pdf Marshall, M. (1984, October). The Peace Corps: Alive and well, and looking for Blacks. Ebony Magazine, pp. 48-54.

[5] Mrs. Fred R. Harris and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 22.

[6] Moore, Powell A. (1959). The Calumet Region: Indiana’s Last Frontier. Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 20 August 2015.

[7] Peace Corps Division of Volunteer Support, The Peace Corps Volunteer, a Quarterly Statistical Summary, (Columbia University: The Division, 1962), 13. https://books.google.com/books?id=mIOKCxx-scUC&pg=RA16-PA13&lpg=RA16-PA13&dq=peace+corps+training+on+indian+reservations&source=bl&ots=grUjRQ3-TY&sig=ACfU3U1fOyhvcjnt_zwg5KA-EumuUzxTaA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwie_rKY7YXnAhWQq1kKHRbRBUMQ6AEwEnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%20indian%20reservations&f=false

[8] “The Native American Power Movement,” Digital History, 2019. (Accessed January 27, 2020) http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3348

Eric C. Brookens in Panama

Name: Eric C. Brookens
Country of Service: Panama
Place of Service: Cerro Punta, Chiriqui Province
Service Type: Department of Agriculture, Division of Cooperatives
Dates in Service: 1964-1966
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Health

Accession Date: February 4-6, 2020
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.75 linear feet

Document Types
• Reports
• Training Materials
• Journals
• Photographs

Postmarked “Peace Corps”

On this day in 1972, the United States Postal Service released a First Day of Issue, or First Day Cover (FDC) stamp, “Honoring the Peace Corps.”

What in the world is a First Day Cover? The FDC is an envelope featuring a stamp “cancelled on the day [it] is initially placed on sale by the postal authorities.” Some collectors actively participate by placing the stamp on an envelope and sending it to the National Postal Service for cancellation.

A new stamp release is a large event, and is typically on the day significant to the stamp’s subject. The United States Postal service released the Peace Corps stamp on February 11, 1972—which seems to bear no special significance to the organization; however, according to the National Postal Museum, the timing was indicative of the agency’s decline. In 1971, the Peace Corps had been absorbed into the Nixon Administration’s umbrella domestic volunteer service agency ACTION. The Peace Corps petitioned for a stamp to celebrate the Peace Corps’ 10th Anniversary in an effort to boost recruitment and reassert independence.

Although the proposed stamp did not meet the criteria for the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee (eligibility of commemoration in multiples of 50 years, themes of widespread national appeal, or ineligibility of government agencies or non-profit organizations) Peace Corps officials submitted designs from their 10th Anniversary poster contest.

Officials settled on the first runner-up poster design submitted by David Battle of Yellow Springs, Ohio, which features the flag’s stars turning into doves. This symbolism proved contentious after the stamp was first issued, with various people writing to the Postmaster General to complain about the disrespectful use of the flag and its reference to the peace movement.  In an interview with the National Postal Museum, Battle said, “the doves were not inspired by the “peace movement” but rather represented the birth of an idea reaching out into an international arena. The stars morphing into birds represent a daring venture, much like the Peace Corps itself.”

In January, Dr. Robert Englund donated this envelope and stamp, addressed to Dr. J Allen Metz, to the Peace Corps Community Archive.

References:

“A Short Course on First Day Covers,” American First Day Cover Society, n.d. (Accessed January 21, 2020). http://www.afdcs.org/fdccourse.html/

Raynor, Patricia and James O’Donnell, “Object Spotlight: 1972 Peace Corps Stamp,” Smithsonian National Postal Museum, c. 2011 (Accessed January 2020) https://postalmuseum.si.edu/collections/object-spotlight/1972-peace-corps-stamp

“Stamp Subject Selection Criteria,” U.S. Postal Service. (Accessed January 21, 2020) https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/csac/criteria.htm