Category Archives: Honduras

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.

Peace Corps Celebrates Halloween and Local Festivals

While Americans celebrate Halloween with crazy costumes, haunted houses, and trick-or-treating, people all over the world have been observing a variety of festivals. Peace Corps Volunteers, as temporary residents of various nations around the world, experience these celebrations.

Volunteers have one of three experiences:

1) They don’t celebrate at all.
Halloween is sometimes an easy holiday to overlook so either the volunteer forgets, they are too busy to celebrate, or there are just no celebrations. Bobbe Seibert, who served in Honduras, notes that she just carried on with her day.

Bobbe Seibert, Honduras, 2000. “Tuesday Oct 31 Halloween – not that anyone noticed here. I think tomorrow is day of the dead here too but am not sure. Up at 6:30 – swept & washed up 7:30 at the corredor.

2) They celebrate local festivals.
Claire Pettengill notes in a letter home that she was given a holiday to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, the “sheep-killing” holiday, which honors the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son at God’s command. She also had some time off for a Moroccan national holiday.

Claire Pettengill, Morocco, ’78-’80. “We get a long vacation for the sheep-killing holiday — 7 days beginning Oct. 30. I’m going to Berkane to see my adopted family for one day, then probably will head south to Marrakech with Amy. Haven’t had much time to travel.”

Claire Pettengill, Morocco, ’78-’80. “We have Monday off because of a national holiday (La Marche Verte–when Spain, in cooperation with Algeria, returned the Spanish Sahara to Moroccan control, in 1970-something, there was a huge peaceful march to that area, which is one of the biggest patriotic holidays each year) and Amy has gone to Taza, a Moroccan town.”

Both Winifred Boge in India and Al & Anne Briggs in Malaysia celebrated the Hindu Festival of Deepavali (Diwali). Also called the Festival of Lights it “spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair,” where people light and place candles all over their home, as Winifred mentions in her letter.

Winifred Boge, India, ’65’67. “Speaking of Christmas – Halloween passed with nary our indication of such – but week before we had Deepavali with candles outside.”

Al & Anne Briggs, Malaysia, ’64’66. “Today we had a holiday for the Hindu festival of Deepavali, but of much more importance to us, of course, are the elections at home. You will be voting while we are asleep.”

3) They celebrate American traditions.
Even though volunteers are far away from home, they are still able to share American customs with their communities.
Margaret Fiedler had a party with her students in Guatemala where she served from 1985-87. She introduced them to bobbing for apples.

That’s Chavez in the tree – in the other end of the rope is another boy – they jerk the rope so the kids can’t break the pinata right away. Notice the girl blindfolded with the big stick – it really gets exciting – the kids can’t wait to pounce on the candy as it spills out.

Lynda Smith-Nehr and fellow volunteers dressed up in costumes while they were in the Philippines.

Lynda Smith-Nehr, Philippines, 1962-1964. “Halloween, Lorrie & me.”

Lynda Smith-Nehr, Philippines, 1962-1964. “Halloween, Mrs. Pamplona.”

Halloween may not be an international holiday, but there are many different ways that people all over the world celebrate this time of year.

 

 

Creating their Stamp Around the World: Postal Stamps of the PCCA

Stamps often feature flora, fauna, or an interesting image related to the country or region it’s created for. Also, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) had the lucky chance to live and serve in countries all over the world. As a happy consequence, the two come together when PCVs send their mail home via exciting and new stamps from the countries they served. The Peace Corps Community Archive (PCCA) houses collections of correspondence between PCVs and their family and friends. These correspondences oftentimes include the envelopes each letter was sent in, which means the stamps are often intact. Much can be learned from these stamps, including, illustrations of native inhabitants, local flora and fauna, important technological advances, and much more. Not only do these stamps help carry connections back home for PCVs, but the stamps also share an insight into the exciting communities they served.

Charlotte Daigle-Berney served in Uganda from 1966-1968. On a postcard dated February 1967, she included these three stamps, which feature the local fauna of Uganda. The set of these stamps were released on October 9th, 1965. The stamps feature, from left to right, the Black Bee-Eater, the Narina Trogon, and the Ruwenzori Turaco. All three are native species to Uganda and represent the environmental climate of the country. These stamps offer insight into the vibrant fauna of the country in order to excite both visitors and locals to the nature around them.

 

In addition, Albert and Anne Briggs served in Malaysia from 1964-1966. Anne wrote a letter to her parents on January 5, 1967 and included these stamps. The stamp was released on November 15, 1965 and features the local flora of Malaysia, the Rhynchostylis retusa, also called the Foxtail Orchid. Below, it reads the name “Sarawak,” a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. By “reading” this stamp, one can connect the beautiful flora with a specific location in Malaysia and thereby gather important information about the stamp’s place of origin.

 

Lastly, Bobbe Seibert served in Honduras in the year 2000. Some of her communication with back home was through email, however, Seibert did send a multitude of letters. The first stamp features a nurse tending to a patient and the words, “Correos de Honduras” or “Post of Honduras.” The stamp celebrates Red Cross nurses and the care they have for their patients. The design for the stamp has gone through numerous designs but this stamp was released in 1999.

Another stamp features Ramón Valle, a Honduran olympian from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Valle went to the Olympics in 1996 to represent Honduras in men’s swimming. “Translating” these stamps allows us insight into the perception of Honduras. First, the country values its medical care to those in need. Next, a successful Olympian is a symbol of Honduras and represents their country abroad and at home. Since Valle did not represent Honduras in 2000, but rather, represented the country in 1996, the stamp was possibly produced to encourage the country’s interest and support in the Olympic games. This is supported by the fact the stamp was produced on September 13, 2000 and the Olympic opening ceremony was on September 15, 2000.

All of these stamps share insight into the countries and regions they represent. While some PCVs didn’t notice which stamp they sent their mail home with, other stamp collectors reveal at the significance each stamp offers.

 

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.

Peace Corps Volunteers as Artists

Whether it’s a letter home or a diary entry, Peace Corps Volunteers frequently document the varied images they see during their service. While abroad, Peace Corps Volunteers are often immersed in a stimulating and beautiful new environment. Many volunteers therefore wish to tell their family and friends back home about their new adventures, or find a way to memorialize their surroundings so they can revisit them in the future.

While some PCVs have chosen to photograph their travels, some PCVs have documented their different surroundings through their artistic abilities. In letters, a quick sketch will assist to visually explain complex designs in architecture or costumes. Detailed drawings in a diary entry encourage reflection when PCVs have a moment to themselves.

David Day served in Kenya and India from 1965-1967. He sent regular letters to his parents and included quick sketches of what he saw during his travels. His drawings vary from a scooter driver to a detail of an Indian street. He even drew a few of the homes he stayed in to explain the varying architectural designs to his parents.

David Day quickly sketched a typical Shamata house from his time in Kenya. He sent the letter to his parents to update them on his experiences in the Peace Corps.

David Day quickly sketched a typical Shamata house from his time in Kenya. He sent the letter to his parents to update them on his experiences in the Peace Corps.

 

Day illustrated his home in India to his parents and detailed the differences between his home and the rest of the village.

Day illustrated his home in India to his parents and detailed the differences between his home and the rest of the village.

Bobbie Seibert volunteered in 2000 in Honduras. Seibert spent her free time sketching and would detail the various scenes before her. She captured a variety of locations, from still lifes to landscapes. On one drawing, she notes she was waiting for someone to fix her chimney but gave up after two hours.

 

Bobbie Seibert artistically sketched this landscape of Azacualpa, Honduras.

Bobbie Seibert artistically sketched this landscape of Azacualpa, Honduras.

 

Seibert sketched the corner of her temporary apartment as she waited for her site to become available.

Seibert sketched the corner of her temporary apartment as she waited for her site to become available.

 

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.

Adjusting to New Worlds

When browsing the collections of the Peace Corps Community Archive it is difficult to miss material that demonstrates excitement, fatigue, curiosity, or frustration surrounding issues of adjustment to life in a foreign country.

Often, volunteers expressed these sentiments through letters, diary entries, and artwork. In some cases, notation of adjustment can even be found in the official Peace Corps paperwork.

In this post, we’ll explore the materials of three new collections to illustrate how volunteers adapted: Gage Skinner (Chile, 1964 – 1966), Susan Shepler (Sierra Leone, 1987 – 1989), and Bobbe Seibert (Honduras, 2000).

Gage Skinner, an anthropologist by training, joined the Peace Corps in 1964. As one of the first groups of Peace Corps volunteers, Skinner used his time in Chile to teach Mapuche Indians the practice of beekeeping. But he was unaccustomed to the long hours spent traveling by foot around rural Chile, so Skinner inquired about horses for sale in nearby towns.

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Sunday, February 14, 1964, Skinner wrote about walking four hours “back into the hills” to see a horse “offered for sale.” PCCA.

Skinner purchased a horse in late April 1964. To document the event, he glued this picture drawn by his little brother Greg into his journal.

Skinner_Journal2065

This drawing by Greg of Skinner’s horse appears in Skinner’s personal journal. PCCA.

In an earlier entry, dated January 13th, 1964, Skinner journals about how difficult it could be for volunteers to acclimate to their housing. As seen on the page below, he bemoans the uncomfortable living conditions in his first home in Chile:

“There are chickens and cats in the kitchen. They are flea-ridden. They defecate on the floors. There are flies in the kitchen.”

Skinner_Journal1064

Wednesday, January 13th, 1964, Skinner described his housing situation in rural Chile.  PCCA.

Susan Shepler, who taught mathematics in Sierra Leone in the late 1980s, offers little in her notes about discomfort. In fact, a survey she filled out in the April 1989 issue of Di News De, a local newsletter produced by the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, reveals Shepler’s openness to the new cuisine and customs.

Schepler_Quiz2062

This is the second page of a “Volunteer Survey” filled in by Susan Shepler from the April 1989 issue of Di News De. PCCA.

In this same issue of Di News De, however, researchers will encounter comics, short stories, and other creative expressions that indicate some of the challenges many volunteers faced. Two examples include a bus ride gone awry and a recipe to recreate familiar food.

Schepler_LorryRide060

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 1989 issue of Di News De. Susan Shepler collection. PCCA.

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April 1989 issue of Di News De. Susan Shepler collection. PCCA.

Unlike Shepler, Bobbe Seibert described distaste for some local foods and created her own recipes abroad. Seibert, who joined the Peace Corps later in her adult life, detailed her cooking practices in a letter to her father and stepmother, Jean.

On October 17, 2000, Seibert wrote to her parents to explain how she used corn to make a “wonderfully hot, smooth, and comforting” cream soup because she was “not particularly fond of” the homemade tortillas.

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Letter from Seibert to her father and stepmother on October 17, 2000. PCCA.

In the same letter, Seibert  enclosed a photograph of her house. On the back of the image she cautions her parents about visiting, noting “Honduras is not a comfortable country.”

Siebert_Pic1068Siebert_Pic2069

Photograph from a letter to Seibert’s father and stepmother dated October 17, 2000. PCCA.

Seibert served on an agricultural team in Honduras in 2000 until a family emergency brought her back home to Alaska. Yet, her time as a volunteer is well chronicled in her journals, artwork, and correspondence.

In a letter to her husband John, for example, Seibert expresses excitement regarding her new host family and housing:

“My family is perfect.”

“Dona Marlen is a housekeer – not a maid, and they have two wonderful kids, Marleny – she’s eight years old and we go everywhere together and Edward who is two years old and mostly just smiles all the time.”

“The roof is corrugated but of very good quality it sounds wonderful when it rains as it did last night – quite hard.”

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This letter from Seibert to John on February 6, 2000, offers a positive reaction to a new housing arrangement. PCCA.

Celebrating or overcoming adjustments is part of the Peace Corps volunteer experience. By carefully studying the collections in the Peace Corps Community Archive, researchers can build an enriched understanding of a volunteer’s daily life, including the joys and struggles associated with adjusting to a new world.

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

 

Bobbe Seibert in Honduras

Bobbe Seibert

Country of Service: Honduras
Service Project Title: Hillside Farming Extension
Dates in Service: 2000
Keywords: Agriculture, Business, Community Development

Accession Date: July 29, 2015
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

    • Correspondence
    • Photographs
    • Reports
    • Diaries
    • Training Materials
    • Artwork
    • Memorabilia

Peace Corps Service in 1960s Honduras

Peter Cooey served in Honduras from 1966 to 1968. He worked on community development in the town of Orocuina. While there, Cooey used his camera to document his experiences. Below are a selection of his images recently donated to the PCCA. These photographs highlight not only the Peace Corp’s community development projects, but also the vibrant communities which Cooey was immersed in during his time abroad.

 

Community Development Project, PCCA.

Community Development Project, PCCA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Cooey on Mule, PCCA.

Peter Cooey on Mule, PCCA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boy with Box in Honduras, PCCA.

Boy with Box in Honduras, PCCA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man in Honduras, PCCA.

Man in Honduras, PCCA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Participants at Community Development Program

Participants at Community Development Program, PCCA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructor with Students, PCCA.

Instructor with Students, PCCA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Cooey in Honduras

Peter Cooey

Country of Service: Honduras
Place in Service: Orocuina
Service Type: Community Development
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Orocuina, CARE, Community Development

Accession Date: February 10, 2015
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1 linear inch

Document Types

  • Biographical Information on Peter Cooey (resume, articles)
  • Photographs (Paper and Digital)
  • Maps
  • Correspondence
  • Notebooks
  • Newspaper articles