Category Archives: Kenya

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.

Paula Hirschoff in Kenya

Paula Hirshoff

Country of Service: Kenya
Place of Service: Sakwa Location, Nyanza Providence
Service Type OR Service Project Title: Nyamira Girls’ Secondary School
Dates in Service: 1968-1970
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: March 15, 2019
Access: Open
Collection Size: 6 inches

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Publications

Gail Wadsworth in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania

Country of Service: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania
Service Type: Secondary Education, Librarian
Dates in Service: 1970-1972, 1973-1976, 1980-1982
Keywords: Education, Libraries

Accession Date: March 9, 2018
Access: No restrictions.
Collection Size: 4.0 linear feet

Document Types

Uganda
Photographs
Correspondence
Sound
Official Paperwork
Training Materials
Assignment
Articles
Travel brochures, maps, postcards

Kenya
Photographs
Correspondence
Official Paperwork
Assignment
Travel brochures, postcards

Tanzania
Photographs
Correspondence
Official Paperwork
Assignment
Travel postcards

Records We Collect; Records That Tell Stories

Throughout the blog, you have probably noticed the various records we use to tell the stories of Peace Corps Volunteers. This post highlights some of the more common types of records that volunteers donate and record their experiences with.

The most common type of record that PCVs donate that tell their story is letters. Volunteers send correspondence back and forth with their family and friends for two years in which they express their accomplishments, frustrations, and describe their everyday life. A letter like the one below, air mail, was a familiar sight for families as it was the fastest and most common way volunteers sent letters.

Joyce Emery Johnston served in the Philippines in Education from 1965-1967.

Similar to correspondence is volunteers’ journals or diaries. These are where volunteers write more in depth about their daily activities and daily thoughts. Diaries are used to preserve memories, and some volunteers even start keeping diaries in the language of their host country as seen below.

David Day served in Kenya and India in Agriculture from 1965-1967.

David Day served in Kenya and India in Agriculture from 1965-1967.

A way that volunteers formally share their experiences is through memoirs. Alan Crew compiled his memoir as a gift to his son upon his graduation from college. In it he details his life in Nigeria and includes pictures of where he worked.

Alan Crew served in Nigeria in Education from 1965-1966.

Along with writing, volunteers also take many photos during their service to show their friends and families where they work and live. While most volunteers take regular digital photos, many early volunteers also used slides.

Patricia Kay served in Kenya in Education from 1966-1968.

Patricia Kay served in Kenya in Education from 1966-1968.

Volunteers also send home postcards when they travel or want to share more photos of their host country.

Tina Singleton served in Benin in Health Education from 1992-1996.

Along with these records, some volunteers also take videos of their service experience. The video below was taken by Brian Adler who served in Suriname with his wife Cindy from 2002-2004. In this clip he gives a tour of where he and Cindy lived, and the video goes on to show a village party, soccer game, and conversations with the villagers.

Bryan and Cynthia Adler in Marchall Kreek 

For volunteers who either could not write home or found this method easier, they recorded audio tapes. This audio clip is from Richard Holmquist to his fiance Ann. In the full recording, he discusses his work as a professor at UMBC, how he met Ann, and what he did in Nigeria from 1966-1968. In this clip he discusses a need in Nigeria for lifeguards.                                           (play button is on the far left).

 

Along with these personal records, Peace Corps Volunteers also donate some of their official Peace Corps paperwork. These include certificates of training and service completion, letters of service acceptance, and volunteer ID cards like Debby Prigal’s below.

Debby Prigal served in Ghana in Education from 1981-1983.

The Peace Corps Community Archives holds many other different types of records such as architectural drawings, posters, newspapers, training materials, correspondence from the Peace Corps and various governments, and much more. But the handful of records highlighted here are the main forms of learning about what a Peace Corps Volunteer experienced while abroad.

 

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.

pcca_kann_0005a

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.

Anita P. Turner in Kenya

Anita P. Turner

Country of Service: Kenya
Service Type: Small Towns and Community Development (USAID)
Dates in Service: 1982-1984
Keywords: Business, Community Development

Accession Date: June 23, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Reports
  • Training materials
  • Memoir

A Peace Corps Exhibit at Gallaudet University

The webpage for "Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers," which debuted at The Gallaudet University Museum.

The webpage for “Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers,” which debuted at The Gallaudet University Museum.

In October 2011, Gallaudet University Museum opened an exhibition centered on the experiences of deaf Peace Corps volunteers.  “Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers” incorporates photographs and objects to tell the stories of returned deaf volunteers.  Volunteers’ experiences abroad span from 1967 to 2011 and the countries of service include various locations including Ghana, Kenya, Ecuador, Zambia, Nepal, and the Philippines.  Using volunteers’ artifacts and personal experiences, the exhibit discusses issues relevant to society’s perception of the deaf, accessing education, and international relations.

To learn more about the experiences of deaf Peace Corps Volunteers, visit the exhibition located in the Weyerhaeuser Family Gallery and Exhibition Hall of the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center.