Category Archives: Belize

After the Peace Corps

Once a volunteer’s service has ended, they have to decide what to do after the Peace Corps. Some volunteers extend their service, some go on to graduate school, and some simply come home to the states and resettle into daily life.

The following are stories of what some volunteers did after their service.

When Alanna Randall was preparing to leave Belize in 2003 she was deciding between graduate school and joining Americorps, a Peace Corps-type program in the U.S. To help with her decision, Alanna used a chart that her local PCV magazine published.

Alanna Randall, Belize, 2001-2003. This chart is from the PC Belize Magazine “Toucan Times” Oct/Nov/Dec 2001

She eventually decided to join Americorps and served in Tuscon, Arizona as a Team Leader for Youth Volunteers. She then went on to pursue a Masters Degree in Teaching Spanish at the School for International Training in Vermont.

 

Tina Singleton started her service in Benin in 1992 and extended it two years to 1996. Even though her family encouraged her to serve another year, Tina decided she was ready to leave. However, she was debating between finding a job, taking courses in Community Based Rehabilitation, or applying to graduate schools. She eventually decided on graduate school in London.

Tina Singleton, Benin, 1992-1996. This postcard was sent to her parents from England while she was preparing to start graduate school.

Tina sent this postcard to her parents in March of 1997 and told them: “I managed to get through exams …!! I’m pretty sure I passed . . . now i can sit back (for a few minutes, anyway) and drink tea . . .”

 

Once Lynda Smith-Nehr completed her service in the Philippines in 1964 she traveled the world before heading home. Lynda visited Japan, India, Egypt, Palestine, Italy, Switzerland, England, DC, and New York.

Lynda Smith-Nehr,Philippines, 1962-1964. This was taken on her travels to Egypt after her service ended.

Lynda Smith-Nehr, Philippines, 1962-1964. This was taken on her travels to Greece after her service ended.

As evident from these examples, volunteers have a lot of paths to choose from when their service is over. And their two years in the Peace Corps gives them a lot of experiences to build their new lives with.

Experiencing Hurricanes While in the Peace Corps

Because Peace Corps volunteers serve in areas of the world that can have dangerous weather, they have to be prepared. Current volunteers in the Caribbean, particularly the Dominican Republic, were gathered at the capital for protection, but not evacuated, because of Hurricane Irma in early September, 2017 (according to a Peace Corps volunteer forum).

In October, 2001, Hurricane Iris hit Belize. Iris was a category 4 major hurricane, cost $250 million worth of damage, caused 36 fatalities, and was the most destructive hurricane in Belize since Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The hurricane inflicted the most damage on the Toledo and Stanley Creek districts of Belize. On the outskirts of this area, in Placencia, six weeks into her two year service was Alanna Randall.

Swearing in, Belize 2001. PCVs Erin McCool, Alanna Randall, and Jessica Walus with APCD Ken Goodson at the PC office in Belize City.

Alanna was in Belize from 2001-2003 as an Environmental Education Coordinator. Before the hurricane she was in Placencia working for Friends of Laughing Bird Caye National Park. However, when Iris hit Belize on October 8th everyone left. She details her return 2 days later in a collection of Peace Corps stories.*

“I barely recognized the village I called home. I almost didn’t recognize the place where my house once stood. Then it hit me. My house is gone! I saw faces numb with disbelief and hopelessness, but I also saw smiles on their faces despite the debris piled high around them.”

PCTs during training in Belize, 2001. San Narciso Village, Corozal, worked on a garden project with school.

Two months later, the Peace Corps magazine of Belize, “Toucan Times,” published a four page spread explaining hurricanes. Two pages detail how hurricanes are formed and facts about them. Two other pages detail hurricanes that had hit Belize in the past, from 0304 in 1931 and Janet in 1955 to Mitch in 1998.

Toucan Times, Oct.Nov.Dec. edition.

The name Iris was retired and will never be used again for a hurricane, Belize rebuilt, and Alanna found herself a new house on a hillside, “far away from the coast and the threat of another hurricane.”

PCV Alanna Randall at home in Cristo Rey Village, Cayo, Belize 2002.

 

*Alter, Bernie and Pat. “Gather the Fruit One by One: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories.” Jane Albritton. 2011.

Experiencing a New Culture through Food

In the collection of Alan Crew, who served in Nigeria from 1965-1966, is a copy of “The West African Gourmet” by Bill and Bee Welmers in which they advised, “As any shrink can tell you, the sine qua non of relating to a strange diet is flexibility, sensitivity, happy anticipation.” Peace Corps Volunteers had to adjust to various diets and delicacies during their time abroad. PCVs learned and adapted many local recipes and resources to fit their American taste-buds.

Holly Reed served in Senegal from 1979-1982. Like all PCVs, she could sometimes find familiar foods, but she also had to adjust to new ones.

The Welmers compiled a list of tips and tricks for anyone visiting or staying in Western Africa. Their humorous anecdotes shed light on the differences in food selection and preparation. From mangoes to mushrooms, the Welmers detail all types of food available for consumption. For example, there are three different types of Guavas, each tasting like strawberry, peach, or pear. They also offer tips and tricks to keeping and storing food. Upon finding ants in one’s food, the Welmers advise, “Putting the food, dish and all, on a warm stove will give the ants a hotfoot; but don’t overheat or you’ll have fried ants.”

Many PCVs would taste authentic meals prepared by the locals they worked alongside. Picture by Holly Reed.

Peace Corps Volunteers newsletters could include native recipes for PCVs to try. Alanna Randall served in Belize from 2001-2003 and received the Toucan Times, the Peace Corps Belize newsletter, during her service. The Toucan Times contained everything from crosswords to articles. Jill Hepp, a fellow PCV, created four recipes to share in the Toucan Times‘ Winter 2001 edition. Hepp’s recipes range from “The-You-May-Nevah-Go-Back-To-Salsa-Casera-Salsa” to “Fresh Ginger Muffins.” All of her recipes feature local ingredients. The recipe for Polenta includes adjustments to turn it into a pizza.

PCVs could also learn new ways to prep and serve food. Pictured here, local women use mortars and pestles to grind ingredients. Picture by Holly Reed.

Even after PCVs finish their service, the food they consumed leaves a lasting impression. BarbaraLee Toneatti Purcell served in Nigeria from 1962-1964 and included a recipe for Groundnut Stew in her memoir. She made adjustments to the list of ingredients to replicate the methods her local cook used.  Both immediately after serving and many years later, PCVs can look back at the meals they ate and remember the different tastes of culture they experienced.

 

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.

“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love”: Serving in the Peace Corps

Since President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, over 220,000 volunteers have served in 140 different host countries across the world. Once assigned to a country, volunteers serve a variety of roles. Departments of specialization include education, development, and health. While actively working with communities, Peace Corps volunteers have to adapt to life in a new culture and environment.

Volunteer Meghan Keith-Hynes speaking to a Haitian woman near a stone circle plot.

Volunteer Meghan Keith-Hynes speaking to a Haitian woman near a stone circle plot.

Although passionate and eager to serve developing communities, Peace Corps volunteers may not necessarily have previous experience in their field of work. The sense of being “thrown into” such work can create both excitement and anxiety for new volunteers. Through their previous connections at home and their new connections abroad, Peace Corps volunteers successfully navigate their exciting and unexpected experiences.

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The Peace Corps, Disaster, and the Written Word

"Toucan Times: July, August, September 2002"

“Toucan Times: July, August, September 2002”

One of the official goals of the Peace Corps is to “help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Peace Corps volunteers achieve this goal through immersion within their respective communities. Peace Corps volunteers also form and maintain relationships and bonds with each other. Unofficial newspapers created by Peace Corps volunteers help foster community bonds between volunteers. These newsletters contain editorials, poetry, recipes, book reviews, and announcements relevant to volunteers.

One such magazine, the Toucan Times, documented PCVs serving in Belize. In 2001 and 2002, the Toucan Times devoted much space to how PCVs dealt with the effects of Hurricane Iris. Hurricane Iris hit Belize in early October of 2001. The disaster caused approximately 250 million dollars worth of damage and left thousands homeless. Several Peace Corps volunteers, including Alanna Randall, relocated to new homes. Alanna Randall, an environmental education and community development volunteer and one of the editors of the Toucan Times, expressed her emotional turmoil via a newspaper article. She wrote how, “many of the familiar landmarks were missing or moved, I almost didn’t even recognize where I lived…Stepping carefully around scattered pieces of plywood, I spotted my fan lying near a gravesite. Feeling numb and disbelieving, I sifted through the rubble. Random items were unearthed until I felt satisfied that all that could be was recovered.”

"In the rubble of my house"

“In the Rubble of my House”, Toucan Times, April/May/June 2002. 

In a message home, Randall wrote, “I’m officially a refugee of Hurricane
Iris. My peace corps family is sheltering me and searching for funds to get me started again…I’m doing fine. Anyway,”there’s nothing left to
do, but smile, smile, smile.”

The Peace Corps assisted with Alanna’s move to Cristo Rey Village and later San Ignacio. This story highlights the resilience of Peace Corps volunteers in the face of unpredictable hardships. Alanna’s hardships also show how Peace Corps newsletters like the Toucan Times provide volunteers with creative space to express and share their Peace Corps experiences.

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

Alanna Randall in Belize

Alanna Randall

Country of Service: Belize
Place of Service: San Ignacio
Service Type: Environmental Education
Dates in Service: 2001-2003
Keywords: Education, Environment, Placencia, Cristo Rey Village, Chaa Creek Natural History Center, Cornerstone Jumpstart English Program

Accession Date: August 12, 2013
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence (including printed email messages)
  • Photographs
  • Publications (The Toucan Times 2001-2003)