Category Archives: Disease Control

John S. Jacoby in Nepal & South Africa

Country of Service: Nepal; South Africa
Place of Service: Bastipur (Nepal)
Service Type: Teacher at Bastipur High School in English (grades 6 & 7), Science (grade 6-8), & Math (grade 6); Peace Corps Country Director for South Africa
Dates in Service: 1970-1972; 2011-2014
Keywords: Agriculture, Architecture, Business, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, HIV/AIDS, Information Technology, Libraries, Literacy, Sports, Urban Planning, Youth

Accession Date: April 4, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: .5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications

Patricia (Penny) Jessop in Niger

Country of Service: Niger
Service Type: Public Health Educator, Maternal & Child Health
Dates in Service: 1970-1973
Keywords: Community Development, Education, Health, HIV/AIDS, Literacy, Youth

Accession Date: March 2, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: 3 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Sound
  • Training Materials

Katharine Gabell Panfil in Venezuela & Guatemala

Country of Service: Venezuela & Guatemala
Service Type: Community Development Work (Health & Sanitation)
Dates in Service: 1964-?
Keywords: Architecture, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, HIV/AIDS, Urban Planning

Accession Date: February 17, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: 1 open reel audio tape

Document Types

  • Sound

Carmine Grasso in Kiribati

Country of Service: Kiribati
Place of service: Onotoa
Service Type: Community Health Worker
Dates in Service: 1979-1981
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, Urban Planning, Youth

Accession Date: January 27, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: .25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Training Materials

“To Whom It May Concern”: The Peace Corps, Public Health, and COVID-19

In his capacity as tour manager for the University of Ibadan’s Shakespeare Traveling Theatre troupe, Tom Hebert brought renowned productions—like Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet among others—to audiences throughout Nigeria. The pictures above illustrate a core tenet of Shakespearian performance: audience interaction, which was anything but lacking in West Africa during the 1960s. In a recent blog post, Hebert recalls that millions of Nigerian students were required to study Shakespeare as part of their secondary education; consequently, audiences numbering in the “thousands would mouth the lines in an audible susurrus” during shows. [1] Hebert also came to understand that British colonialism and an entrenched caste system overshadowed the educational merits of theater: “literate African kids wandering the streets with nothing to do, and nowhere to go.”

In 1964, after two years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), the time had come for Hebert to return to the United States. Addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” a disease identity card (pictured below) marked Hebert’s return:

Disease Identity Card, April 1963, Shelf: 12.03.05, Box: “Tom Hebert,” Folder: “Hebert, Thomas L, Nigeria 1962-1964, Training Materials–Supplies and Medical Information,” Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Library, Washington, D.C.

In another example, an unnamed PCV received a similar card upon their return from India in 1968:

Disease Identity Card, 1968, Shelf: 12.03.02, Inquire for Box & Folder Information, Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Library, Washington, D.C.

These cards were a reminder to PCVs as to the prevalence of disease in their country of service. They were also ostensibly a precautionary measure—designed to warn physicians that the returning PCV might well be a public health risk, in which case subsequent isolation, treatment, contact tracing, and the like would become necessary. [2] Thus, in addition to coping with “reentry, readjustment, and reverse culture shock,” returning PCVs further faced the (remote) reality that they themselves might inadvertently bring lethal pathogens—for which there was little protection against—home to friends and family. [3]

An example: there was no vaccine to combat Dengue Fever—one of several diseases that Tom Hebert was potentially exposed to in Nigeria—in the 1960s. To this day, a “safe, effective, and affordable vaccine” for Dengue Fever remains elusive. [4]

This is not to say that the Peace Corps only took steps to protect PCVs on the back-end of their service. Additional evidence from the Peace Corps Community Archive is revealing; even in the 1960s, the fledgling Peace Corps had a robust front-end health program. It featured preventive medicine (where possible) and pre-departure education designed to reduce disease transmission:

Vaccination Appointment & Record Card, Shelf: 12.03.02, Inquire for Box & Folder Information, Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Library, Washington, D.C.

PCV Medicine Book, Shelf: 12.03.05, Box: “Tom Hebert,” Folder: “Hebert, Thomas L, Nigeria 1962-1964, Training Materials–Supplies and Medical Information,” Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Library, Washington, D.C.

In the case that preventive measures such as vaccination and sanitation failed, the Peace Corps also offered active PCVs reactionary treatment in the form of a standard medical kit:

Peace Corps Medical Kit with Health Guide, ID # 2011.0228.36, Transfer from the Peace Corps, National Museum of American History, https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1412958

Medical Kit Inventory, Shelf: 12.03.05, Box: “Tom Hebert,” Folder: “Hebert, Thomas L, Nigeria 1962-1964, Training Materials–Supplies and Medical Information,” Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Library, Washington, D.C.

On balance, the health measures enacted by the Peace Corps—from pre-service medical training and vaccinations, reactionary treatment options during service, and disease identity cards upon return—were largely successful. From 1962-1983, 185 PCVs died during their service; of those 185, 40 died due to illness. For context: some 235,000 PCVs have served in hundreds of countries since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961.

Relative to the Nigerians for whom he organized Shakespearean performances, Hebert enjoyed a position of privilege in terms of access to healthcare. For many PCVs, the prospect of becoming ill during service or bringing illness back to loved ones upon return was remote; indeed, the public health infrastructure of their home country, the United States, was robust compared to many countries where the Peace Corps operated.

However, what if the opposite were true? What if returning home was seemingly just as dangerous—if not more dangerous—to the well-being of PCVs? In March 2020, following the onset of COVID-19, this seeming impossibility came to fruition as all active PCVs were evacuated back to the United States. [5]

In a blog post for the Pacific Citizen, Kako Yamada—an evacuated PCV who had been serving in Comoros—recounts the abruptness of being evacuated due to COVID-19: [6]

Our plans for the remaining months or years of service vanished as we collected what we could of our belongings — some able to say their good-byes, others not so lucky.

I had been allotted one hour to pack and say my farewells to my host family — leaving my friends, students, teammates and co-workers in the dust.

Yamada did not fully grasp the gravity of the situation until she embarked on the long flight from Comoros—an island country off the coast of Africa—to her home in New York City:

On my layover in Addis Ababa, I saw people in full body suits; on the subsequent plane, flight attendants wore gloves and asked passengers not to help one another. Upon arrival at Newark Airport in New Jersey, a hollow silence echoed. Welcome home.

She also remembers questioning whether the evacuation was justified, especially because the situation in Comoros appeared much less dire (in terms of infection case numbers) than it did in the United States. It wasn’t until May 1 that the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Comoros; by then, in the month and a half since she had returned to New York, “there had been 304,372 reported COVID-19 cases in New York, a number that equated to half the population of Comoros.”

Moreover, in the United States, a crisis of public trust emerged—only compounding the threat posed by COVID-19. The situation rapidly devolved into a multifaceted culture war, one which pinned public health experts against conspiracy theorists and their sympathizers in government leadership. Anecdotal evidence and misinformation were disseminated to discourage mask wearing and promote unproven miracle cures, among other flashpoints of the culture war.

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, for example, were frequently touted by right-wing conspiracy theorists as miracle drugs in the fight against COVID-19. With the benefit of hindsight, and given that credible public health experts have historically warned of the untested efficacy of these drugs, we are now certain that neither chloroquine nor hydroxychloroquine are safe to administer to COVID-19 patients. [7] Records from the Peace Corps Community Archive do show, however, the historical—and empirically proven—use of chloroquine as an antimalarial drug in locales such as Senegal:

Chloroquine Program Document, Shelf: 12.04.02, Box: “Cherie Lockett,” Folder: “Cherie Lockett, Senegal 1979-1981, Health Care N.D.,” Peace Corps Community Archive, American University Library, Washington, D.C.

 Yamada grappled with guilt, for although the situation in the United States appeared dire upon her departure from Comoros, her evacuation ensured a better chance of survival:

It came down to privilege. After months of integrating — through language, food and dances — in the end, I am privileged. In a pandemic, I, as an American citizen and Peace Corps Volunteer, got to fly out to a country with better health care.

I could not escape the fact that I was a volunteer that would disappear if things got bad.

People often ask: how will the history of COVID-19 be written? What will history tell us about our response to a global pandemic? Historians and public historians themselves are asking different, more pointed questions: how will we remember our global response to COVID-19? Who gets to shape the memory of the American experience with COVID-19? Is it the historian’s place to weigh the immeasurable suffering and loss of human life against the resilience and moments of unity that will get us through this? Likewise, who and what dictates how Comorians remember COVID-19? What are the stakes if we omit the lived experiences of those who were and are the most vulnerable to COVID-19? Do public historians have a responsibility to interpret/challenge those actors who downplayed and mismanaged the crisis from its outset? For Yamada, her answer is fairly straightforward:

The situation of a country miles away, often labeled as one of the poorest in the world, is very much mirrored here in the United States.

The characteristics of denial, governmental inadequacies and systematic vulnerabilities of certain social groups over others are paralleled. However, one quality is certainly different: we have the resources, and yet, we dared to fail.

[1] Tom Hebert,  “Shakespeare and the Ins and Outs of Education Reform,” Peace Corps Writers, n.d., http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2001/0109/109cllkheb1.html.

[2] Amy Lauren Fairchild, Lawrence O. Gostin, Ronald Bayer, “Contact Tracing’s Long, Turbulent History Holds Lessons for COVID-19,” The Conversation, July 16, 2020, https://theconversation.com/contact-tracings-long-turbulent-history-holds-lessons-for-covid-19-142511

[3] Peace Corps, RPCV Handbook: You’re on your way Home (Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services, n.d.), 10, https://files.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/staycon/rpcv_handbook.pdf

[4] World Health Organization, “Questions and Answers on Dengue Vaccines,” Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, April 20, 2018, https://www.who.int/immunization/research/development/dengue_q_and_a/en/

[5] Jody K. Olsen, “Peace Corps Announces Suspension of Volunteer Activities, Evacuations due to COVID-19,” Peace Corps, March 15, 2020, https://www.peacecorps.gov/news/library/peace-corps-announces-suspension-volunteer-activities-evacuations-due-covid-19/

[6] Kako Yamada, “Welcome Home? From Peace Corps Service to COVID-19 America,” Pacific Citizen, May 22, 2020, https://www.pacificcitizen.org/welcome-home-from-peace-corps-service-to-covid-19-america/

[7] United States Food and Drug Administration, “FDA Cautions Against Use of Hydroxychloroquine of Chloroquine for COVID-19 Outside of the Hospital Setting or a Clinical Trial due to Risk of Heart Rhythm Problems,” July 1, 2020, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-cautions-against-use-hydroxychloroquine-or-chloroquine-covid-19-outside-hospital-setting-or

 

 

Interview with Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Meade

The following post features an interview with Returned Peace Corps Robert Meade. Meade served in Paraguay from 1968-1969, and remained active in training future PCVs. In 2013, Robert Meade donated many of his Peace Corps materials to the Peace Corps Community Archive, including his correspondence, 35mm slides, training materials, reminiscences, and additional publications from his time in Paraguay.  We thank Robert Meade for his time in answering our questions.

 

"Volunteer Robert Meade on the patio of the Hotel Terraza in Asuncion. The hotel was the unofficial Peace Corps home-away-from-home for Paraguay PCVs when they came to Asuncion from their posts." PCCA

“Volunteer Robert Meade on the patio of the Hotel Terraza in Asuncion. The hotel was the unofficial Peace Corps home-away-from-home for Paraguay PCVs when they came to Asuncion from their posts.” PCCA

Q: What inspired you to enter the Peace Corps?

A:  I was in high school when John F. Kennedy proposed and established the Peace Corps. The idea struck me as something I might want to do once I got through college.  Like many people of that era, I was motivated by the idea of service to my country. I had an idealistic streak, too.  My older brother was encouraging. He was close to people in the Kennedy administration and a backer of the Peace Corps from its beginning.

 

"Paraguay II PCV Vince Francia (far left) and PCV Bob Meade (center) at the health center in General Artigas with U.S. YMCA representatives and Paraguayan nurses and student nurses." PCCA

“Paraguay II PCV Vince Francia (far left) and PCV Bob Meade (center) at the health center in General Artigas with U.S. YMCA representatives and Paraguayan nurses and student nurses.” PCCA

Q: What surprised you most about your first few weeks outside the United States?

A: I think I was surprised by how little I really knew about the work I was supposed to do. My service involved work in rural public health and sanitation. I asked myself, “how I could play a useful role during my time in Paraguay?”

It all seemed a bit overwhelming at first. Even though the people I worked with were very friendly, they didn’t quite know how to deal with the whole notion of a “volunteer” who left behind a “rich” life in the US to live with them and help them improve their lives.  Such altruism was very foreign to the Paraguayans.

 

"PCA Bob Meade and PCV Bpb Caruso (P-III) play soccer with the shoeshine boys who frequented the area around the Peace Corps office in Asuncion. The volunteers "adopted" these boys and took them on excursions to parks, professional soccer matches, picnics, etc." PCCA

“PCA Bob Meade and PCV Bob Caruso (P-III) play soccer with the shoeshine boys who frequented the area around the Peace Corps office in Asuncion. The volunteers “adopted” these boys and took them on excursions to parks, professional soccer matches, picnics, etc.” PCCA

Q: What projects did you work on during your Peace Corps service and what challenges did you face during their completion?

A: The principal focus of my work was public sanitation, especially the effort to control the parasitic hookworm among the general population in rural Paraguay.  This involved projects aimed at providing clean water and the use of sanitary latrines (outhouses). I also educated people in basic hygiene such as washing hands, wearing shoes, and constructing latrines at their houses and schools. Fortunately, I had a Paraguayan counterpart who had a pretty good idea of how to attack these problems.  One of the challenges we faced were the lack of financial and physical resources to carry-out our work. We also had to confront the basic ignorance of the population about preventing an endemic disease that was just part of life for many of them. Explaining the life cycle of the hookworm, an intestinal parasite, to a mainly illiterate population was no easy task.

We also had to confront the fairly ubiquitous presence of “curanderos” (witchdoctors) in rural areas who, because they sometimes prescribed an efficacious herbal remedy, had some credibility in the local population. Another challenge was transportation. We had to use my counterpart’s motorbike to get around or take public transportation and walk to many of the sites we had to get to.  The problem of hauling equipment such as pumps and piping for wells had to be arranged. We had no budget for this purpose, nor did we have money to buy cement, bricks, wood, etc. to build latrines.  This money problem was a constant struggle and, often, I used my PC living allowance to purchase supplies.

 

"PCV Bob Meade working in the garden at Kilometro 5." PCCA

“PCV Bob Meade working in the garden at Kilometro 5.” PCCA

Q: How has your Peace Corps service influenced you in your post-Peace Corps work?

A: Despite the difficulties of Peace Corps service, my two years in Paraguay made me decide to pursue a career focused on Latin America and in public service of some sort.  Immediately after Paraguay, I completed a Master’s Degree in Latin American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. I also worked for 15 months as a trainer for the Peace Corps in California and Puerto Rico.

In 1973, after having passed the written and oral exams, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service as a commissioned officer with the U.S. Information Agency (now part of the State Department).  In this role, I worked for 23 years overseas and in Washington.  I had assignments working in cultural and educational affairs in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Spain, with domestic tours for eight of those years.

My Peace Corps experience continued to serve me throughout my professional life. My experience gave me excellent command of the Spanish and Portuguese languages. I also gained an ability to work in foreign countries and develop meaningful relationships with people of different cultures while serving my country at the same time.

 

Q: What advice would you give current and future Peace Corps volunteers?

A: The Peace Corps experience is a very personal one, and how a volunteer reacts to an assignment and “fits in” varies greatly from person to person. I would recommend that you enter into service with an open mind. Do not have too many preconceived ideas about how things should be done.  Remember that you are only “passing through” your place of service.  In all probability, you will get a lot more out of the experience than you will leave behind. You will be a better person for having been a PCV. Lastly, bring back your new-found knowledge and perspectives to your fellow citizens.

 

Waterways and Local Communities

Marines Fisheries photo jpg

“Marine Fisheries Trainees Doing Artificial Reef Construction,” Avram Primack, Peace Corps Community Archive

Avram Primack served his time in the Peace Corps (1987-1989) in the Philippines working with marine fisheries. One of the goals of the Peace Corps is to “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.” For many Filipinos, fishing is a major source of both nourishment and trade. Coastal Resources Management Volunteers continue to support the Filipino communities by creating eco-friendly environments that provide food and revenue for local fishermen.

One of the methods employed by Peace Corps volunteers is the construction of artificial reefs. The practice of artificial reef construction is thousands of years old. Recently, such reefs have been used to create semi-permanent habitats for fish as well as preventing erosion of crucial shorelines. These reefs give local communities the environmental support they need for economic development, which is especially crucial in the islands of the Philippines.

Between 1973 and 1975, Jonathan Green served in the Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand assisting with malaria control. While in Thailand, Green observed how communities use rivers to transport goods and materials. During the rainy season, roads become impassable quagmires. Rivers are thus the primary means of transportation and communication when there are no asphalt roads in the area.

Service in the Peace Corps gives volunteers the opportunity not only to assist local development, but to gain new appreciation for the environment and how other cultures live side by side with various environmental concerns.

People are loading bamboo in barges, presumably to take down the river to sell in the big cities, Jonathan Green, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

“People are loading bamboo in barges, presumably to take down the river to sell in the big cities”, Jonathan Green, American University Peace Corps Community Archive. In other countries such as Thailand, Peace Corps volunteers observe how crucial waterways are in the economy of local communities.

 

 

 

 

Combatting Malaria in Thailand

During the 1970s, Jonathan Green worked with a malaria control program in South Central Thailand’s Control Zone 3.  Accompanied by a crew, Green ventured into the jungle to spray local villagers’ homes with DDT.  If individuals suspected they might have malaria, the organization administered a blood test and provided medication for those who tested positive.

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

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

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

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

Spraying DDT underneath a dwelling’s eaves.

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

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

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

Through the Lens of a Camera

Dizon Relief

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

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

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

Dizon Transport

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

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

Dizon Wrestling

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

Jonathan Green in Thailand

Jonathan Green

Country of Service: Thailand
Place of Service: Kanchanaburi Province
Service Type: Malaria Control
Dates in Service: 1973-1975
Keywords: Environment, Health

Accession Date: July 10, 2013

Document Types

  • Photographs

Digital Files

  • Photographs
  • Memoir

See Also:
Jonathan Green’s facebook photo album.