Category Archives: South America

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: Gabe Skinner (Chile, 1964 – 1966), Susan Shepler (Sierra Leone, 1987 – 1989), and Bobbe Seibert (Honduras, 2000).

Gabe 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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.









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


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.


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.


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.”


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]


Peace Corps through Images: The People

Below are images of local citizens taken by Peace Corps volunteers.  Each photograph captures local culture and customs through the nation’s people — as artisans, students, families, and participants in celebrations.

“Paraguayan artisan making ‘nanduti’ (spider-web lace) in her home shop in Itagua, the center of the nanduti artistry.” Caption written by Robert Meade.


“Students husking–polishing the floor with a coconut husk. At 7:00 AM–before school duties.” Caption written by Joyce Emery Johnston


“Campesino home and family.” Caption written by Robert Meade.


PC Boge- Snake Charmer edit

Snake Charmer


Celebration. Captured by Norm and Janet Heise while working for Walt Sangree, professor of anthropology. circa 1963-1965.


New Arrivals: Peace Corps Orientation in Paraguay

As Paraguay III arrived in December 1969, Peace Corps staff greeted and educated new volunteers about the place they would call home for the next two years.

“Arrival of Paraguay III volunteers, Asuncion International Airport, December 1969.”


“Assistant Director Tony Bellotti addressing newly-arrived Paraguay III volunteers in Peace Corps office, Asuncion.”

The previous images, as well as the ones that follow, are part of the Robert Meade collection.  As a member of Paraguay II from 1968-1969, Meade travelled throughout Paraguay documenting his experiences.  Those images enabled Meade to create a slide show to educate new trainees, as well as others, about Paraguay.  Included in his slide show are images of eastern Paraguay, historic sites, Peace Corps activities, and the capital city Asuncion.  Meade’s orientation slide show presents unique images of the country and people, and ultimately provides volunteers with an idea of the places and work they might experience.  After completing his two-year commitment, Meade continued working as a trainer in Peace Corps training centers located in Escondido, California and Ponce, Puerto Rico. [Note: All image captions were written by Robert Meade.]

“Itinerant vegetable vendor, Asuncion.”

“‘Campo’ about 50 miles east of Asuncion along the main road.”

“Paraguayan girls selling ‘chipa,’ a chewy cheese bread found throughout the country, Eusebio Ayala.”

“Near Colonia Sroessner, far east Paraguay.”


“The Church of San Roque in Caazapa. Caazapa was founded in 1607 as a Franciscan mission. The town’s name means ‘after the forest’ or ‘in the clearing’ in Guarani.”


“Curing yerba mate over a mud over. Mate, an herbal tea, is the favored drink in the Paraguayan countryside.”

To see more images from Paraguay, visit the AU Archives and browse the Robert Meade Collection.

John E. Fletcher in Bolivia

Jeff Fletcher (John E. Fletcher)

Country of Service: Bolivia
Service Project Title: Bolivia Mines Community Development
Dates in Service: 1967-1969
Keywords: Community Development

Accession Date: March 10, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 2 linear inches

Document Types

  • Reports
  • Publications

Agricultural Extension Work in Paraguay

Peace Corps work in Paraguay began in January 1968.  The majority of volunteers in Paraguay I worked as agricultural extension agents.  It was their job to help local farmers improve the efficiency and output of small, rural farms.

“P-I Volunteer Rich Stockton and interim PC Paraguay Director Mike Doyle.”

In addition to assisting farmers, PCVs helped to establish and promote the 4-C clubs—an equivalent of 4-H in the US—among Paraguay’s youth.

“P-I PCV Rick Mines with ag. extension agent Ojeda doing grafting demonstration with a 4-C club in Pedro Juan Caballero.”


“4-C garden in Cheiro-Cue.”

Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Meade served in multiple locations throughout Paraguay promoting public health and agriculture.  According to Meade, PCVs played an instrumental role in encouraging local farmers to plant new crops and experiment with diverse agricultural projects visible in the images below.     

“Two Paraguayan farmers (“campesinos”) showing off melons grown in their gardens. PCVs were instrumental in getting farmers to try new crops for the market. Eusebio Ayala.”


“An ag. Extension agent with a local farmer with a tank to grow tilapia, another project started by Peace Corps Paraguay, Eusebio Ayala.”


“Raising rabbits for food and fur, another 4-C program backed by Peace Corps.”

All image captions above were written by Robert Meade.

These are only a few of the fascinating images documenting the work and experiences of PCVs in Paraguay.  To view more images, visit the Archives and Special Collections.

Going Above and Beyond: Community Partnerships

In a statement issued March 1, 1961, President Kennedy acknowledged that Peace Corps Volunteers would never make a fortune from their service abroad.  Most made enough to subsist. Nevertheless, volunteers often went above and beyond—taking on additional projects to satisfy the community’s needs.  Projects included recruiting volunteer labor and additional funding for renovating and construction projects.

During his service in Paraguay, Robert Meade oversaw a school partnership project to build an elementary school.  A school in Bethesda, Maryland partnered with the Paraguay community and raised $700 for the construction.  Meade documented the efforts of local volunteers, as well as the entire building process, through photography.  The partnerships created during the school project represent the essence of the Peace Corps.  Robert Meade created the captions below.


Paraguayan workers on the building of Maria Auxiliadora Elementary School.  Bricks were made nearby and all labor on the school was voluntary.

“Paraguayan workers on the building of Maria Auxiliadora Elementary School. Bricks were made nearby and all labor on the school was voluntary.”

"Putting on the roof of Maria Auxiliadora."

“Putting on the roof of Maria Auxiliadora.”

"Oxcart delivering bricks for the school project."

“Oxcart delivering bricks for the school project.”

To learn more about Peace Corps Volunteers in Paraguay, visit the Peace Corps Community Archive at American University.

Improving the Health of a Community

Peace Corps volunteers educated local citizens about topics other than math, English, and science.  Health care and wellness provided an opportunity for volunteers to share basic information with citizens, while working to improve the community’s overall well-being.  Assignments included educating local citizens about the importance of clean water and sanitation, in addition to other issues of public health.  However, in order to educate local citizens, volunteers not only had to understand another language, but also needed to speak proficiently.  Knowledge of the country or region’s native language ensured volunteers’ ability to communicate essential information to local citizens.

Dahl Trainees 1963

Peace Corps Trainees at Presbyterian Clinic, Penasco, New Mexico, Oct. 1963

The image shows the Peace Corps trainees, of the Rural Community Action and Health Program, at the Presbyterian Clinic in 1963.  While they were not nurses, volunteers provided essential instruction to locals regarding hygiene, nutrition, child care, and health practices for expectant mothers.

Dahl Sweeping 1964

Dana Dahl, Piojo Health Center, June 1964

Volunteer Dana Dahl Seaton, learned Spanish in college before joining the Peace Corps.  Her knowledge paid off because she delivered a speech to the people of Piojó, Colombia shortly after arriving in-country to work as a health educator.  She explained to community members what the volunteers would be doing.  Her handwritten speech is in the collection.

In addition to the initiatives for community development and health education, the Peace Corps began sending professionally trained nurses to Colombia in the 1960s.  Peggy Gleeson Wyllie, one of eighteen who volunteered, served in the Peace Corps’ first group of nurses sent to Colombia.  Training took place at Brooklyn College, where nurses were paired together and prepared for working in urban locations.  Sent to Fusagasuga, Colombia, Wyllie trained in local hospitals before she taught practical nursing classes, in Spanish, to local students.

Such stories show the diversity of educational projects carried out by Peace Corps volunteers.  Many experiences highlight the importance and value of understanding and speaking the country’s native language.

Strengthening Communities: Non-formal Education

The Peace Corps not only educated students in school classrooms, but used the wider community as a platform for spreading information to local citizens.  Although many volunteers worked in formal education, others were assigned to community development projects.   Non-formal education sought to establish community programming and workshops based on areas of need.  While some focused on a specifically on health care or sanitation, others were encouraged to assess the local community’s greatest needs before developing projects on-site.  Community outreach included youth and business development, in addition to environmental and health education.

In Colombia, Christine Hager sought to educate young girls and women about cooking and sewing.  Serving in Dagua Valle, Colombia (1968-1970), Hager organized clubs for mothers and young girls to provide support.  The community development also included experiential learning on raising chickens, planting seed beds, and gardening.

Brian Adler and Cynthia Elliot also worked with non-formal rural community education in Marshall Creek, Suriname.  Instead of formally teaching students in a classroom, Brian and Cynthia organized community libraries, after-school programs for youth, and workshops to teach English to adults in the community.

The collections documenting the variety of community development reinforce the Peace Corps’ commitment to educating communities and improving people’s lives.

Robert Meade in Paraguay

Robert Meade

Country of Service: Paraguay
Place of Service: Carmen del Parana, Asuncion, Puerto Rico
Service Type: Public Health
Dates in Service: 1968-1969
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Health

Accession Date: October 29, 2013
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.75 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • 35mm slides
  • Training Materials
  • Reminiscences of Paraguay I (1997)
  • Publications- Image of Paraguay and Paraguay (Paraguay’s geography, culture, and history)

Peggy Gleeson Wyllie in Colombia

Peggy Gleeson Wyllie

Country of Service: Colombia
Place of Service: Fusagasuga and Guapi
Service Type: Nursing and Nursing Education
Dates in Service: 1963-1965
Keywords: Education, Health, Nursing

Accession Date: February 2011; Friends of Colombia Archive
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 3 folders

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Slides