Category Archives: Caribbean

Linda Munroe-Davidson in Dominican Republic (Friends of Dominican Republic)

Name: Linda Munroe-Davidson

Country of Service: Dominican Republic

Dates in Service: 1986-?

Keywords: Community Development, Education, Health, Literacy

Accession Date: February 23, 2021

Access: no restrictions

Collection Size: .5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Reports
  • Publications

Lorelei Christl Robinson and Gary D. Robinson in Colombia

Name: Lorelei Christl Robinson and Gary D. Robinson
Country of Service: Colombia
Service Project Title: Peace Corps Staff, 1965-1971
Dates in Service: 1961-1963-; 1963-1965
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: January 17, 2020 (updated May 7, 2021)
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Reconnecting with Heritage: The Peace Corps and Cultural Identities

When President Kennedy signed the Executive Order to establish the Peace Corps in 1961, he sought to “encourage mutual understanding between Americans and people of other nations and cultures.” Kennedy’s words echoed in the ears of those who lived during a decade of social tension and Cold War anxieties. Since the 1960s, the Peace Corps has trained and placed more than 235,000 volunteers, all joining for their own personal reasons: for peace, to improve the lives of others, and to learn new cultures. Several volunteers: Carolyn Gullat, Clinton Etheridge, Yancy Garrido, Shawnette Brandt, and Amina Johari, shared their desire to benefit the countries of their ancestors and reconnect with their heritage.

Carolyn Gullat is a Black Peace Corps Volunteer from Washington, D.C. She served as a teacher in South India from 1966-1968. Gullatt describes her choice to join the Peace Corps in an interview from Jonathon Zimmerman’s “Beyond Double Consciousness: Black Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa, 1961-1971,” featured in the December 1995 issue of the Journal of American History:

“For most of her own college career, Gullatt recalled, she had dismissed the Peace Corps as ‘for whites only.’ Then she met a Black recruiter, who ‘didn’t run down the usual jive propaganda about how nice it is to help people.’ Instead, ‘he talked about how I, as a Black person, could get ‘home’ and join with the Brothers and Sisters’ abroad, where ‘people have grown into Black pride naturally, where Black power is the status quo, and Black action is a working reality.’

“’Each year the Peace Corps sends hundreds of white ‘do-gooders’ to ‘help’ Black and Brown people throughout the world,’ Gullatt complained. ‘Black Americans owe it to themselves and to the Brothers and Sisters in developing countries to get up and get involved.’ – Page 1000, interview with Carolyn Gullatt by Donald M. Feeney, c.1971.

Clinton Etheridge joined the Peace Corps in 1970 and became the first African-American PCV to serve in Gambia, West Africa. Read more about Etheridge’s experience in an interview with Peace Corps Worldwide.

“I was a secondary school math teacher in Peace Corps Gambia from 1970-1972. I grew up in Harlem, came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, and was a black student leader at Swarthmore College in the late 1960s. Like many young blacks of that generation, I wore an afro and dashiki and was ‘black and proud’ and fascinated with Africa. I joined Peace Corps Gambia seeking my own answer to the question ‘What is Africa to me?’ posed by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen in his 1925 Heritage.

“I started out asking the question, ‘What is Africa to me?’…Then I asked the question, ‘What am I to Africa?’ when that Latrikunda schoolboy told me he didn’t have the math book to do the homework with because his father was ‘a poor Gambian farmer.’ Then, as a Stanford SEED business coach, I came to the conclusion that, moving forward; an important question will be ‘What is Africa to the world?’”  “What is Africa to Me?” National Peace Corps Association, June 4, 2018.

Yancy Garrido was born to Cuban parents who immigrated to the United States during the Cuban Revolution. Between January 1987 and August 1990, Garrido served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras within a community mental health program. In his interview with the Oral History Project at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Garrido explains his personal desire to serve in Latin America.

“I’m the son of Cuban refugees. My parents left Cuba because of the Cuban Revolution. Actually, would probably have never met if it had not been for the United States because my mother was the daughter of Batista’s diplomatic photographer—no one of high importance in the government, but still in the government—and my father cut sugar cane on a farm…But they met in New Jersey. And so, always in my mind was just being thankful for living in the United States. For having opportunities that I never would have had. So it was always in my mind, “How could I give back?”—not necessarily Peace Corps at the time, but to Latin America and represent my country…

“When the Peace Corps Volunteer came, the way they spoke about the experience was exactly what I wanted…The way it was pitched, I never thought Peace Corps was going to appeal to me…Once I spoke with the volunteer—they went “No, no, no—don’t get stuck with the messaging. You’re really going and working another country and you are trying to see if you can add value. And, if all goes well when you leave you’ll have helped establish something and people will continue that project without you.” The idea was to help get things started, not to actually take the place of someone. Because the last thing I wanted to do is take someone’s job.”

“So I applied, and of course my professors did not want me to go. They were grooming me to go get my doctorate and go be a professor of Spanish literature. My parents did not want me to go because they said “We left Latin America for you. Why are you going back?” But I went, and it’s the best decision I ever made in my life.”

Shawnette Brandt served in St. Lucia, Eastern Caribbean from 2013-2015. She speaks about her experience in the Peace Corps Stories blog on February 9, 2015:

“I was born in the United States and I am Guyanese. Although I had never been to Guyana, which was quite embarrassing to say especially around fellow Guyanese, I have always had a strong desire to visit the land of my parents… Even though I was cognizant of my dual American and West Indian heritage and the impact it could have on my work, I didn’t immediately understand the dichotomy of my culture was an asset and, in some cases, became quite a challenge.

“For the first time in my life, I lived in a country where the vast majority of the people looked like me, shared similar foods, music and a West Indian identity. It never occurred to me that I would face xenophobia. I tried to use this as an opportunity to gently challenge their prejudices either by comments and or deeds. I may not have changed minds but perhaps planted seeds for their further growth…Hearing the voices, the English Creole widely spoken all around me, felt more like coming home. And in a sense it was. I now have two countries that are my home.”

Amina Johari’s mother met her father while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya during the 1990s. Johari is currently teaching secondary school in Tanzania. In her 2019 article on the Peace Corps’ Stories blog, she reflects on her desire to understand more of her father’s culture:

“Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Africa was an opportunity to spend an extended period of time and have a positive impact in a part of the world I consider to be my second home. While I was born in Kenya and spent the first few years of my life there, a part of me always felt that in order to really understand my father’s roots and where I come from, I had to spend more time there than the short trips to Kenya my father took my sister and I on every other year…

While I do think about mom a lot, I think the person I feel like I am really getting closer to is my father. Growing up I sometimes felt confused by my father’s habits, prioritization, and world view. But all that seems to be changing. Every hour I spend working with the kids in the classroom, every tea break I spend in the staff room with my fellow teachers, and every conversation I have with my neighbors in my father’s native tongue, I can feel myself getting a better sense of the boy he was, the man he became, and the person he wanted to be.  – Amina Johari, “Why the Peace Corps? Reconnecting with my East African Heritage,” PeaceCorps.gov Stories, July 17, 2019.

Sometimes serving in the Peace Corps offers you the opportunity to follow the legacy of your parents, expand your understanding of ancestral culture, or give back to the country you’ve heard about so many times. No matter the reason, every Peace Corps Volunteer brings countless identities with them during their service. So, how does your identity impact your decision to go abroad and your relationships with those you meet along the way?

Find out more by visiting the National Peace Corps Association website, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s RCPV Oral History Project, and us—the Peace Corps Community Archive.

David and Anita Kaufman in Puerto Rico

Name: David and Anita Kaufman
Country of Service: Puerto Rico
Place of Service: Arecibo
Service Type OR Service Project Title: Peace Corps Training Center, Camp Lawrence Radley
Dates in Service: 1966-1972
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: April 10, 2019
Access: No Restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Publications

Wilcox in Dominican Republic Podcast Part 2 – Footprint

In his second year with the Peace Corps, Geer Wilcox changes his approach to development volunteering.  Rather than working directly with the students, he begins to work with the infrastructure of the school, hoping that developing infrastructure will last longer than work in the classroom.  Listen to the podcast below to hear straight from the source his reasoning and to understand how the Dominican Republic changed him, in return.

Music in this audio production was written by Kevin MacLeod.  The tracks used are “Notanico Merengue,” “Hackbeat,” and “Laid Back Guitars.”  To play the podcast, click to the far left of the black media bar.

With this, the 2018-2019 “season” has come to an end.  It has been an incredible experience to be the PCCA Fellow this year and to work with these collections and stories.  I want to thank several people, without whom I would not have been able to fulfill this role.  First, I want to thank Leslie Nellis.  As my mentor, she taught me everything I know about archives, and as my friend, she made this office an incredible place to work throughout my master’s program. I am grateful to her interest in and support of making the most of my fellowship this year.  It was with her help that I traveled to Morgantown, WV to present at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, by her suggestion that I curated exhibits for our hallway, and with her blessing that the blog has become as multi-media as it has.  I would also like to thank Dan Kerr and Trevor Owens who taught me the research and project-oriented history methods I utilized this spring semester.  Online exhibits and podcasts  wouldn’t have been possible if it had not been for them.  I am eternally grateful to the donors who shared their experiences with the PCCA and who allowed their materials and stories to be shared through our online media. Finally, I would like to thank you, dear readers, for coming with me all this way.

Between Foreign Aid and Self Determination

As the age of imperialism ended, new governments formed throughout the post-colonial world.  These newly autonomous nations developed in the shadow of the Cold War, which set the tone for their foreign policy. Communist and capitalist powers alike sent aid to develop and influence these nations.  All nations that sent aid held agendas; they desired the political advantage that came with influence in the developing world.  However, these newly formed nations held agendas of their own, such as an automatous, effective government and the ability to determine their own culture.  Native citizenry worked towards these goals while as they accepted foreign aid.  Collections from four volunteers who experienced the extreme example of this self- determination, revolution, informs this essay and clarify the relationship between self-determined culture and foreign aid.

The Peace Corps was contemporary with other development volunteering impulses.  Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) met volunteers from post-imperial, capitalist, and communist countries, which each had an interest in relations with the developing world.  Sometimes, relations between volunteers were professional.  On 16 August 1971, Gail Wadsworth (Uganda, 1971-73) wrote about her British colleague,
She’s quite nice but very anxious to return to England.  After one semester of teaching I’ll be second in experience in the English Department.  The turnover of teachers throughout the country is fantastic.  British contract usually come out for 2 years.[1]
Other times, the relationships were friendlier.  Wadsworth wrote on 15 December 1971, “There is a Danish volunteer here now, Ellen Knudson, 28 yrs.  She wants me to go on a trip with her and I’ve just about decided to go.”[2]  Ann Hofer Holmquist (Nigeria, 1966-68), too, mentions befriending and traveling with British volunteers to Niger.[3]  Such friendly relations typically developed between PCVs and other Western-bloc volunteers.

The Western-bloc were not, however, the only nations that took part in projects to develop gain political favor with the post-colonial world.  Projects led by communist nations were present in Uganda during Wadsworth’s stay.  On 16 September 1917, she wrote, “Just outside of Tororo the Russians are building a farm school which is supposed to be staffed by Russian teachers.  That could be really interesting if I could get to meet them.”[4]  This school appeared in another letter the next month, “The President is in Tororo again today.  There is a tractor mechanic school about 18 miles out, built & staffed by the Russians.  He came to open that.”[5]  This was not the only communist-led project in which the president was interested.  On 2 October 1971, Wadsworth wrote, “Well, the President or someone decided that the lawn of Tororo Girls School was the best place for the helicopter to land if the President were coming to Tororo.  He was coming to Tororo to dedicate a rice paddy (or something) that the Chinese had ‘built’ near here.”[6]  This communist presence shows that the development impulse was not an exclusively Western one, and extended across all nations trying to build alliances.

Yet, the host counties had their own agendas for developing both infrastructure and culture.  For example, throughout Wadsworth’s service, the Ugandan government grew increasingly nationalist and deported several groups of expatriates. [7] [8] In one letter, she wrote her parents, “The Tororo butcher was Somalian & his 2 brothers were killed 2 months ago in the trouble in Moroto.  He just gave up on this place & went to Somalia.  Now there is no meat in town.”[9] In addition to purifying the Ugandan race, the government also implemented policies to purify Ugandan culture.  In June 1972, Wadsworth wrote,
Well, the most talked-about news here these days is that hot pants, mini skirts, & v-split maxis have been banned.  The announcement was made last Saturday and 10 days were given, so it officially goes into effect next Monday.  The police will enforce it then but ‘people’ are doing so now.[10]
Such measures show that the citizenry of host nations determined their own cultural development.

Nationalist sentiments and a citizenry’s desire to develop their nation could also lead to revolution.  Though this discontentment focused on the government and not at foreign aid, circumstances sometimes progressed to the point where evacuation was necessary.  Wadsworth was evacuated from Uganda, as was Geer Wilcox (Dominican Republic, 1963-65) when the Dominican Civil War grew too dangerous.[11] Holmquist was present for the Nigerian Civil War, but because the fighting stayed distant she stayed in Nigeria.  In her tapes, she spoke against the need to fight, comparing internal skirmishes to those of the European Medieval Era that only weakened the nation.[12]  Finally, Debby Prigal (Ghana, 1981-83) experienced difficult conditions both before and after the coup.  Ghana had had unpredictably stocked shops,[13] the world’s most over-valued currency,[14] and an incredibly unreliable postal system.  After the coup took place, Prigal wrote home,
I am perfectly fine; there has been a coup.  There is no reason to worry.  Things are perfectly normal.  Tell everyone I’m fine.
I will write but I’m not sure how the mail will be.  At this point the borders are closed but when they open up I’ll try to get a letter through.
I had a nice vacation and school is supposed to start next Monday.  Things are quiet here; there is a curfew but that is about all.
All’s well.[15]
Things returned to normal quickly and Prigal returned to work.  On 26 July 1982, she wrote home, “Sister Mary told me that 9 out of 12 of my students passed their ‘A’ level math.  The national average is 30%.  Last year 7 out of 9 failed, so she is happy.”[16]  Together, these experiences show that in these instances governments were changed due to native address of deep-rooted systemic flaws.  Whether the Peace Corps perpetuated the problem, as was the case in Uganda, or was merely a symptom of much larger problems, such restructuring shows that host nations continued to develop themselves, even as foreign aid was accepted.

At once, nations self-identified as ‘developed’ offered aid to the developing world and the developing world also took great pains to develop itself.  While these goals are fundamentally aligned, there are nuances in their implementation which caused tensions between the foreign aid and the desire for development by the governed.  One tension resulted from an integral conservatism in foreign aid.  Foreign aid is given by a government to a government.  The prerequisite understanding of the aiding government is that the aided government will remain consistent and that aid will be given within such parameters.  However, there were times when development aid was not enough for the native citizenry; to function as a collective, their government itself had to change to reflect the needs of the people.  A second friction can be seen in the cultural development.  While a PCV can work on projects determined through partnership of the two governments, they cannot develop the local culture, such as arts, fashion, and crafts.  This development had to be done by the native people, seen here most prominently in the Ugandan desire to be rid of all expatriates.  Such tensions are a part of any foreign aid endeavor and can to a greater or lesser extent determine the usefulness and impact of foreign aid to a partner nation.  The examples here show that such aid is often coveted and necessary, yet only within the prerequisites of an independently functioning government and a vibrant local culture.

[1] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 16 August 1970, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 4: Correspondence 1969-71 (1/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[2] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 15 December 1971, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 5: Correspondence 1971-72 (2/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[3] Audio recording, Hofer Holmquist, Peace Corps Community Archives: Hofer Holmquist, Box 1, Reel 9727, Side 2, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[4] Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 16 August 1970.

[5] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 26 September 1971, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 2, Folder 5: Correspondence 1971-72 (2/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[6] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 2 October 1971, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 5: Correspondence 1971-72 (2/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[7] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 16 August 1970, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 4: Correspondence 1969-71 (1/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[8] Uganda being a developing country there is a definite need to create a “national” character.  This is particularly difficult here with the number of tribes in this country.  Ceclaring English as the national language was one attempt at this, but there is also a lot of pressure to change it to Kiswahili.  Neither English nor Kiswahili is native to Uganda, but Luganda is too closely connected with the Baganda people.  There is also being initiated a National Service which would require all educated personas to donate 2 years to the service of the country.

Also the Indians run most of the shops.  Many of the Indians were born here.  Some have British, or Indian, or Ugandan citizenship, but some have no citizenship.  Well, beginning this month the government has been moving in, taking over the shops & turning them over to Ugandans, and deporting the Asians.  My Asian students told me that they all had to be out of the country by next March.  The Kenyans are being returned to Kenya between September & December.  Peace Corps may be next on the list.  AID is pulling out by December 1971, after which Tororo Girls School will have no more American contract teachers.

[9] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 3 September 1971, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 5: Correspondence 1971-72 (2/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[10] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 1 June 1972, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 5: Correspondence 1971-72 (2/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[11] Audio recording, Geer Wilcox, Peace Corps Community Archives: Geer Wilcox, Box 1, 38a, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[12] Ann Hofer Holmquist, Reel 9727, Side 2.

[13] Letter, Debby Prigal to the Van de Nove’s & the Prigals, 25 July 1981, Peace Corps Community Archives: Debbie Prigal, Box 1, Folder 7: Ghana 1981-1983 Letters to Debby’s Parents 9/17/81-5/15/83, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[14] Letter, Debby Prigal to the Prigal Family, 17 September 1981, Peace Corps Community Archives: Debby Prigal, Box 1, Folder 7: Ghana 1981-1983 Letters to Debby’s Parents 9/17/81-5/15/83, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[15] Letter, Debby Prigal to Everyone, 4 January 1982, Peace Corps Community Archives: Debby Prigal, Box 1, Folder 7: Ghana 1981-1983 Letters to Debby’s Parents 9/17/81-5/15/83, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[16] Letter, Debby Prigal to Mom & Dad, 26 July 1982, Peace Corps Community Archives: Debby Prigal, Box 1, Folder 7: Ghana 1981-1983 Letters to Debby’s Parents 9/17/81-5/15/83, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

The Making of Global Citizens

When people volunteer for the Peace Corps, they understand their role as a conduit of development and a representative of a developed nation.  The often-overlooked factor is what they might learn from their host country.  The four volunteers whose collections inform this article experienced regime changes in their host country, but what are more present are the changes within themselves.  The collections show a process of: preliminary research about their host country, attempts to bring their old home to their new country, attempts to bring their host country to their old home, full and celebratory acceptance of the new culture, and finally they leave with a desire for greater understandings of global perspectives.  Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) become global citizens through this process.

Preliminary research done by a PCV comes from materials published by the Peace Corps[1] and their host country.[2]  The Peace Corps publications emphasized the variety of jobs performed by the PCVs along with the work ethic and values of the American people that would aid other nations.[3]  Yet this was not the singular characteristic of the Peace Corps mission.  A brochure of Debby Prigal’s (Ghana, 1981-83) emphasizes the mutualist nature of the Peace Corps experience, “Ghanaians are wide awake and have a lot to offer you for your personal development.  Their only problem is that there is a shortage of manpower in vital areas of their economy.  That’s where you fit in.”[4]

Peace Corps publications were useful in understanding the Peace Corps mission, but Gail Wadsworth (Uganda, 1970-72) also consulted Ugandan brochures and postcards to understand her host country better.  These brochures advertise Uganda for foreign tourists and emphasize luxury hotels,[5] safari and the natural wonders of Uganda,[6] local coffee,[7] and crafts.[8]  To prove Uganda’s appeal to Westerners, many brochures quote Winston Churchill’s My African Journey, 1908,

Uganda is a fairy-tale.  You climb up a railway instead of a beanstalk and at the top there is a wonderful new world.  The scenery is different, the vegetation is different, the climate is different and, most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa.[9]

All such curated representations did not fully represent what one would experience as a PCV.

In early months of service, PCVs tried to find ways to bridge the gap between American culture and the culture of their new home.  Wadsworth wrote home unsure of her ability to relate to individuals whose experience was so far outside of her own.  In one letter, she asked for help bringing American culture to Uganda:

I’ve asked mother, but perhaps you & the kids could also help.  I would like pictures (magazine, etc.) of ANYTHING.  When one girl told me that a beaver was a bird, I realized how crucial visual aids are going to be.  How do you tell someone about the sea or steak when they’ve lived their entire life in a mud hut and eaten bananas 3 times a day?  Also, I’ll teach units in advertising so any examples of that would be appreciated…Any with black people would be especially nice.  Thanks![10]

This request shows both a readiness to make American cultural context readily available and accessible to the Ugandan students as well as a resistance to teaching the English language within the Ugandan cultural context.  A month later, Wadsworth had begun to shed the notion that she needed to teach American culture along with English language.  On 8 August 1970, she signs off a letter, “Take care; take a ride on the next Tilt-a-Wheel that comes round for me. (I couldn’t imagine describing that to a Ugandan!) Love, Gail.”[11]

Eventually, PCVs experienced a reversal of this phenomenon as they realized that the people at home no longer shared their point of view.  Volunteers responded in different ways.  Wadsworth wrote, “It is difficult to convey much if anything about a country in writing.  If I had only stayed here for 3 weeks I could write reams, but after 3 years I shall probably be able to say almost nothing.”[12]  Ann Hofer Holmquist (Nigeria, 1966-68) found a solution and began to send soundscapes home over reel-to-reel recordings so her family could hear her new home.[13]  She supplemented these with photographs, though not many.  Things like the Niger desert, she explained, had to be experienced rather than seen in a photograph.[14]  Geer Wilcox (Dominican Republic, 1963-65) had a similar experience with political ideologies.  Through his stay, he warmed to the idea of communism, something that would be difficult to explain to Americans back home and something he decided to explore further in his own travels to Cuba.[15]

This shift in perspective was a part of a larger phenomenon of integrating with the host culture. One of Wadsworth’s last letters included a beautiful and affirming description of coming-of-age ceremony that she had attended.[16] [17]  Prigal also grew to appreciate and embrace local culture.  She wrote home, “One of my students’ mother, who is also my seamstress, was made Queen Mother of her hometown and they invited me.  I had a great time.  There was dancing, drumming…”[18]   Holmquist made similarly open-minded observations towards the end of her service about the nature of honesty in different countries.  Nigerian willingness to trust others and the consistency with which they lived up to that trust pleasantly surprised her.[19]  She said that if she dropped money in the market, it was likely that someone would hand it back to her, rather than pocket it.[20]  If one merchant could not make change for her, he allowed her to carry her groceries as she finished her shopping because he trusted her to come back with the right amount.[21]  So, she figured, if they charged her twice as much because she did not know to bargain, that was fair, too.[22]  These accounts show an appreciation for the other culture and the other ways of understanding that were different from American, yet just as legitimate and important.

The greatest development seen in these collections are the personal journeys as the PCVs underwent the process of becoming global citizens.  Their day-to-day lives changed incrementally, but, by the end of their service, they learned the value of experiencing and internalizing another culture.  By the end of Wilcox’s stay in the Dominican Republic, he had begun to question the role of American anti-communist propaganda and planned to travel to Cuba to learn more about its people and culture.[23]   Holmquist showed, during a debate regarding the validity of warfare, an immense interest in foreign perspectives.[24]  Like Wilcox, Prigal’s post-PCV plans involved travel; her closing remarks were, “Well, this is it!  I’m leaving for London tomorrow…My plans are to see Julia and others and then travel, perhaps to Greece.”[25]  This process of becoming more globally minded began with letting go of certain aspects of American culture and accepting the logics and customs of their hosts.  Curiosity and the desire to continue to learn other cultures calcified this personal journey.

[1] Sargent Shriver, The Peace Corps (Washington: Peace Corps) Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 1: Application Materials Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[2] Publicity Services Ltd. on behalf of Uganda Hotels Limited, UGANDA: Hotels Limited (England: Brown Knight & Truscott Ltd.)  Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 2: Brochures & Postcards Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[3] Shriver, The Peace Corps.

[4] Peace Corps, Peace Corps in Ghana (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office) 1979.  Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 2: Brochures & Postcards Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[5] Publicity Services Ltd. UGANDA.

[6] Uganda Hotels, Ltd., PARAA: Safari Lodge Murchison Falls National Park Uganda (Kampala: Uganda Hotels, Ltd.) Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 2: Brochures & Postcards Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[7] Publicity Services, Ltd., Uganda Coffee (England: Brown Knight & Truscott Ltd.) Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 2: Brochures & Postcards Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[8] Uganda Crafts, Uganda Crafts (Kampala: Uganda Crafts) Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 2: Brochures & Postcards Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[9] Publicity Services Ltd., UGANDA.

[10] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mrs. Leroy Allport, 13 July 1970, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 4: Correspondence 1969-71 (1/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[11] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 8 August 1970, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 4: Correspondence 1969-71 (1/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[12] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Dr. Milton M. Shulman, December 1970, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 4: Correspondence 1969-71 (1/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[13] Audio recording, Hofer Holmquist, Peace Corps Community Archives: Hofer Holmquist, Box 1, Reel 9724, Side 1, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[14] Audio recording, Hofer Holmquist, Peace Corps Community Archives: Hofer Holmquist, Box 1, Reel 9727, Side 1, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[15] Audio recording, Geer Wilcox, Peace Corps Community Archives: Geer Wilcox, Box 1, 38b, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[16] Letter, Gail Wadsworth to Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Wadsworth, 19 August 1972, Peace Corps Community Archives: Gail Wadsworth, Box 1, Folder 5: Correspondence 1971-72 (2/2) Uganda 1970-72, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[17] This being an even numbered year, as I have told you before, the Bagishu tribe of the Mbale area are having circumcision of boys, and yesterday I went to a circumcision ceremony…For two nights before, the boys wouldn’t have slept, but would have been dancing and running.  They, as well as anyone else, is smeared over face and arms with millet flour and yeast paste.  The boys have strings of beads around the neck and under each armpit, fur headpieces, cowrie shell belts, and bells on their legs.  At the very place we were waiting two boys were to be done although several others would be at about the same time at various points along the mountain.

A few minutes before we arrived the boys and a huge group of people had been there after running up.  Then they went off racing down the mountain as they had to go to a certain stream at the bottom to be smeared with mud.  There are such a lot of people that destroy crops in running down but they don’t mind.  They are not allowed to slip and fall down and they don’t.  as I said it took us over an hour of climbing – well they raced down and up again through the mud in a matter of minutes.  While we were waiting the circumciser showed us the ‘very sharp’ knife.  What surprised me particularly was that the circumcisers are nervous and somewhat afraid.  I was standing next to the man just before and he was very tense.  One who was going to do some boys down was polishing the knife on some leaves and then suddenly leapt up with a shout and went racing down the hill to find them.

Anyway, they came racing back up and people began crowding into the makeshift area but the man in charge told us to come in and stood us right in front.  The first boy came in, planted his feet firmly on the ground and clasped a short pole over his shoulders.  He then has to stand looking straight ahead without showing any pain.  The circumciser then steps in quickly, pulls the skin forward and cuts.  When he has cut completely, eh holds the knife in the air and everyone shouts and someone throws handfuls of malwa (thick, yeasty millet beer) over their heads.  Immediately after the cutting, some powder is rubbed on to curb the blood dropping down.  The second boy was then done.  After some minutes they are allowed to take off the beads and sit down.  That is actually the end although the boys will be nursed and fed very well.  For the next week or so they wear a cloth which is shorter than the knees wrapped round rather than any type of trousers (obviously).

[18] Letter, Debby Prigal to Mom & Dad, 20 July 1982, Peace Corps Community Archives: Debby Prigal, Box 1, Folder 7: Ghana 1981-1983 Letters to Debby’s Parents 9/17/81-5/15/83, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[19] Audio recording, Hofer Holmquist, Peace Corps Community Archives: Hofer Holmquist, Box 1, Reel 9726, Side 1, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Audio recording, Geer Wilcox, 38b.

[24] Audio recording, Geer Wilcox, 38b.

[25] Letter, Debby Prigal to Mom & Dad, 22 June 1983, Peace Corps Community Archives: Debby Prigal, Box 1, Folder 7: Ghana 1981-1983 Letters to Debby’s Parents 9/17/81-5/15/83, American University Archives and Special Collections, American University Library.

Developing a Community Abroad: Kim Herman’s Peace Corps Work in the Dominican Republic

Kim Herman served as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in Community Development in the Dominican Republic from 1967 to 1969. A large part of his work in the Dominican Republic consisted of building schools, roads, and other projects for many of the communities he encountered. Herman saved documents, project reports, and slides from his work, which helps us look back on what role PCVs had in the communities they served.

Herman assisted a small community named Cano Prieto in Boca de Yuma, Dominican Republic. In 1968, the community was about 2 1/2 kilometers outside of Yuma, with a total of 35 families. Many of the families relied on farming as their source of income, with cane sugar becoming more and more important. Herman created project reports for his work in the community. These reports, paired with his slide collection, offer valuable information about his work in the Peace Corps. The “Cano Prieto One Room Block School” and the “Los Naranjos Road Project” are two examples of his work projects.

The beginnings of the foundations for the Cano Prieto school project.

Herman created the Cano Prieto school through the help of locals, after gathering supplies from local businesses. “We began the construction and organized the community according to work days corresponding to the separate members of the committee,” writes Herman, “Each committee member was responsible for a section of the community and also for his day of work on the project. He was to find workers for the project from his section of the community and have them at the work site on the day appointed to him by the committee.”  The school was inaugurated on September 28th, 1969. The members of the community, the mayor and city council of Yuma, and other locals welcomed the new school into the community with a short ceremony with the passing of the keys.

The inauguration of the Cano Prieto school, attended by the community and local officials.

 

The Los Naranjos road before the start of the road project.

Following the Cano Prieto school project, Herman saw community value in a road development project for the Los Naranjos road. Since the community relied on farming, a road to transport their product was essential. The road passes through 3 barrios, or neighborhoods, which would help a large number of communities, but also created difficulties for Herman because he was dealing with multiple groups. The project required cooperation from local land owners to widen the road onto their land. While Herman encountered difficulties to persuade land owners to part with their land, he ultimately found compromises.

The 1904 steamroller used on the Los Naranjos road.

The finished Los Naranjos road, which allowed access to many remote communities.

After many issues with the construction, Herman was able to successfully complete the Los Naranjos road project following months of work. He also used a lot of the skills and knowledge gained from the Los Naranjos road project for future projects. The road helped open up communities that otherwise were difficult or impossible to enter during the rainy months.

Through his various projects, Kim Herman was able to learn how to work with the communities he hoped to help and in the end created viable resources for many generations to come.

 

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.

Traveling Light: What to Bring on a Peace Corps Trip

Packing for a trip is overwhelming work. For Peace Corps Volunteers, packing for a two year service trip is even more difficult. PCVs were often traveling to remote locations in far off countries. They had to consider climate, type of work, and culture when they selected what to bring with them. The Peace Corps not only sent detailed lists of what to pack ahead of each PCVs’ trip, they also provided kits of their own to ensure each Volunteer had what they required.

 

Pictured here, Meghan Keith-Hynes is ready and packed for her trip to Haiti, where she volunteered in Agroforestry in 1986.

 

Steve and Janet Kann served in the Eastern Caribbean in Practical Education Development in 1980-1982. On their packing list, they are instructed to bring as much washable and cotton clothing as possible due to the warm and humid weather they would encounter. They were also not expected to bring a lot of formal clothing.  The list includes a number of items which might be hard to find on the islands they traveled to.

 

Tom Hebert served in Nigeria from 1962-1964 as a teacher and as the Tour Manager for University of Ibadan’s Shakespeare Traveling Theatre. Hebert received this list of items of household items that the Peace Corps would provide him. In addition to kitchen supplies and bed linen, it includes a clock, flashlight, and lock.

PCVs had a limited number of possessions during their service, many of which they brought with them from the start. These lists helped narrow down the essentials for PCVs to pack.

 

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.

Wish You Were Here: Postcards from Peace Corps Travels

 

For Peace Corps Volunteers, postcards were an easy way to communicate with their loved ones and show them the sights they witnessed on their travels. Postcards shed a variety of insights into PCVs and the types of experiences they had during their service. For many PCVs, postcards allowed them to take the image on the front and detail their environments, such as weather and natural beauty.  Postcards are a great way to see what PCVs thought important enough to share with family and friends.

 

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Claire Pettengill sent this postcard at the beginning of her service in Morocco before her training, where she stayed from 1978-1980. In her card, she mentions the camel on the front picture and notes she hasn’t seen any yet. She also mentions her love of the city she’s staying in but also comments on how intimidated she is by her surroundings.

 

Anne Briggs served from 1964-1966 in Malaysia with her husband, Albert and sent this postcard from Hawaii where she trained. Briggs chooses to focus on describing her surroundings in her card home. She notes the beauty of the island and the mild weather. She also expresses her excitement to sight see.

 

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David Day served in Kenya and India from 1965-1967. Day wrote in Swahili on one card and translated to English on another. It is interesting that Day wanted to share both languages with his family back home. He also writes about how expensive postage for postcards was in Nairobi and how he likely will not send another postcard.

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Steve and Janet Kann sent this postcard from Saint Lucia, while they were serving in the East Caribbean from 1980-1982. Their short description paints the picture of a lively marketplace with shouting and pushing. The image on the postcard paired with the description brings an image to life, where anyone who reads the card can get a taste of what the Kanns 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.