Category Archives: Nigeria

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.

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.

 

Experiencing a New Culture through Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Timing their Training: Scheduling Peace Corps Volunteers’ Training

Before leaving for a foreign country, Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s were required to complete intensive training to help prepare them for their experiences abroad. This training occurred at universities all over the United States. They learned a variety of tasks ranging from agriculture and livestock care to language studies. Each PCVs’ training varied by where they attended training, their service type, and other factors.

Peace Corps Volunteers all received informational packets on their training, much like this one from Karen Keefer who trained at Columbia University for her service in education in Nigeria.

Peace Corps Volunteers all received informational packets on their training, much like this one from Karen Keefer who trained at Columbia University for her service in education in Nigeria.

 

One of the earlier PCVs is Thomas Hebert, who trained at University of California, Los Angeles in June of 1962. Herbert served in Nigeria from 1962 to 1964 educating youth and managing the University of Ibadan’s Shakespeare Traveling Theatre program. Hebert spent a total of 419 hours training for his service in Africa. The bulk of his training program was an orientation on Africa and Nigeria, totaling 92 hours, where he learned how to effectively communicate and understand the culture he would be serving in. Interestingly enough, Hebert also had a total of 81 hours of training in American Civilization and Institutions, which would “[enable] the volunteers to see political events more perceptively, to view the interchange of political interests more realistically, and to articulate democratic values more convincingly,” according to the training informational packet.

Hebert also spent 60 hours learning educational practices for Nigeria, in order to understand how to effectively reach his students abroad. He also had 55 hours of training in the languages of Hausa, Ibo, and Yoruba, the three major indigenous languages of Nigeria. In addition to his practical training, Hebert also spent 43 hours on health training and 56 hours in physical education. The Peace Corps emphasized the importance of each PCV’s health during their service. Lastly, he also spent 32 hours on “Special Features,” which ranged from lectures to documentaries.

Winifred Boge attended training at University of California, Davis from February to May 1965. The program totaled 720 hours of work over a 12-week period, resulting in an average of 60 hours per week. Boge served on the Health Nutrition Project in India, but her training also covered a variety of topics to assist with her transition into life in a different country.

 

As part of her training at UC Davis, Winifred Boge learned agricultural techniques.

As part of her training at UC Davis, Winifred Boge learned agricultural techniques.

 

For Boge, the most time was spent on language training, with a total of 300 hours on learning Telugu. Next, she focused on technical studies on health and nutrition, for a total of 200 hours. Following this, she also learned area studies and world affairs for 105 hours in order to understand the history and culture of her place of service. Also required for training was physical education as well as health and hygiene to ensure the health of every PCV.

One of the more interesting areas of study is the topic of Communism for 15 hours total. While each area of study in the information packet includes a description and list of teachers, Communism lacks this information. Even though the Red Scare of the 1950s had passed, the Peace Corps probably wanted to prepare their PCVs for different types of government in the world.

 

Many Volunteers enjoyed their training because it gave them a chance to get to know fellow PCVs. Pictured here by Boge, PCVs interact during their training at UC Davis.

Many Volunteers enjoyed their training because it gave them a chance to get to know fellow PCVs. Pictured here by Boge, PCVs interact during their training at UC Davis.

 

Peggy Gleeson Wyllie trained at Brooklyn College from 1963-1964 for her time as a nurse in Colombia. She spent most of her time–a total of 360 hours–in intensive language studies in Spanish. Not surprisingly, the second highest element of training at 106 hours was technical studies, along with 30 hours of health education. Technical studies included techniques in Nursing as well as the prevention and treatment of diseases found in Colombia. Wyllie also spent 72 hours learning the history and culture of Colombia, as well as 60 hours studying American studies, world affairs, and Communism. Like Boge, Wyllie learned “critical appraisal of the developing concepts and organizational challenges of the Communist world.” Lastly, she attended classes in physical training for 72 hours and a general “Peace Corps Orientation” for 20 hours.

 

After completion of their training, many PCVs received a certificate like this one. Steve Bossi completed his training in conducting Science Workshops in India from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

After completion of their training, many PCVs received a certificate like this one. Steve Bossi completed his training in conducting Science Workshops in India from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

 

Each training session, no matter how different in terms of location of training, location of service, or service type, served to best prepare each PCV for the challenges and successes they experienced during their service. Training takes into account the culture and society each PCV is entering in order to provide guidance for the most effective approaches to help both the Volunteer and community alike.  

Karen Keefer in Nigeria

Country of Service: Nigeria
Place of Service: Offa, Nigeria
Service Type: Education
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: August 25, 2016
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Governmental Publications
  • Language Training Materials
  • Peace Corps Training Materials
  • Teacher Training Materials
  • Textbooks
  • Tourist Publications

Ann Hofer Holmquist and Richard Holmquist in Nigeria

Ann Hofer Holmquist
Richard Holmquist

Country of Service: Nigeria
Place of Service: Zaria
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Nigeria, Education, Audiotapes

Accession Date: June 18, 2015
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 7 items

Document Types

  • Audiotapes (open reel 2-3”)
  • Audiotape Excerpts (9mp3s)

Ripples of Influence

This morning, CNN posted a fascinating article about business life in Lagos, one of the fastest growing cities in the world. To better understand business culture in Lagos, CNN asked Lagos business workers to tweet responses to the question, “You know you’re running a business in Lagos when….” Some of the responses included Nigerians telling CNN the importance of electric generators, proper business meeting etiquette, and an ability for creativity and flexibility.

52 years, ago Peace Corps Volunteer Duane Hudson arrived in Nigeria to assist youth in science education. He educated young Nigerians as they prepared for their futures. Many of his students wrote to Hudson, telling him about their hobbies, their favorite subjects, and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many wanted to give back to Nigeria with the hope of becoming doctors and lawyers. In one letter, responding to why he liked math, a student wrote, “It is this subject I like in school Since I have wished to become an engineer by profession, and this math is one of its main branches, I liked it much. It also helps the doctors, scientists, technologists, and lawyers in their studies. You can earn your living by teaching math. You can study mathematics for a Ph.D.”

From the time of Hudson’s service to today’s article on Lagos business culture, Nigeria has experienced much economic, cultural, and developmental change. Although difficult to quantify the results of Peace Corps service, the qualitative influence of volunteers such as Hudson on developing communities and individuals makes the Peace Corps an evergreen opportunity for fostering positive change throughout the world.

 

 

“The Comrade Corps”

During a speech at San Francisco’s Cow Palace on November 2, 1960, soon to be President Kennedy spoke of the need for Americans to take action to ensure friendly relations abroad. He told the audience, “Out of Moscow and Peiping and Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany are hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, studying in those institutes, prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism… being prepared to live their lives in Africa as missionaries for world communism.” Kennedy therefore proposed, that the U.S. create “a peace corps of talented young men and women, willing and able to serve their country in this fashion for 3 years as an alternative or as a supplement to peacetime selective service.” Even before the election, Kennedy had already a foundation for what would become the Peace Corps.

While serving in Africa, several Peace Corps volunteers worked alongside what one American termed “the Comrade Corps.” This organization consisted of teachers and volunteers the Soviet Union sent to developing countries, the same men and women Kennedy spoke of in his speech at the Cow Palace.

In 1965, Ray Silverstein, a Peace Corps volunteer, wrote to the Tilley Lamp, a Nigerian Peace Corps Volunteer newsletter, chronicling his encounter with these Russian volunteers. He told readers, “One has to seek them out. Once this is done, many of them will open up, eager to socialize and talk English with someone “who can correct” them…One girl that I met acknowledged the West’s superiority in twist music and rock n’roll, and mentioned that the Charleston is the rage in Russia now.”

Elizabeth Cobb Hoffman discusses Russian volunteers and PCV relations in Ghana in her 1998 work All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s, “The volunteers’ attempts to be friendly towards the Russian youth would…prove the intention of the United States to wage the Cold War peacefully…The Peace Corps teachers, who shared accommodations with volunteers from other countries, reported that the Russians returned their sociability (Hoffman, 162).”

Despite Cold War tensions, Russian and American youth workers shared cultural experiences and perspectives with each other during their respective service across the world.