Category Archives: South America

Services Asked for, Given, and Received

For this next installment in the PCCA blog, I have decided to try something a little different.  For the last several months, I have worked on expanding the kinds of interpretation that can be done with the collections, including editing reel-to-reel tapes into digital podcasts and putting both visual and auditory media into exhibits.

In the AU Library Archives, we have a three-case exhibit space where small exhibits can be displayed.  If you follow the blog and live near DC, I encourage you to stop by and see in person how these items come together to tell slice-of-life stories about the PCV experience.  But, since many of our lovely readers do not live in the DMV area and since exhibits rotate, the exhibits are now going digital, starting with the current exhibit, Services Asked for, Given, and Received.

This exhibit explores the disconnect that sometimes occurred between what a PCV thought they would do and what they were asked to do, and the disconnect between what a partner government or community wanted from their volunteers and what they received.  This tension shows up in several of the collections, but featured here are pieces from the Geer Wilcox, Gail Wadsworth, Debby Prigal, and Ann Holmquist collections.

I hope you enjoy this little exhibit, and we would love to hear from you and your experiences.  So, what about you?  As a PCV, have you ever experienced this kind of disconnect?  Or in any other line of work?  Let us know in the comments!

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.  

Ray Warburton in Bolivia and Peru

Country of Service: Bolivia and Peru
Service Type: Rural Community Development and Earthquake Relief Program
Dates in Service: Bolivia: 1966-1968; Peru: 1970
Keywords: Rosario, Huarez, Michael Willingham, Rural Community Development, Earthquake Relief Program

Accession Date: October 17, 2016
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs (digital)
  • Letters
  • Articles

Kay Muldoon-Ibrahim in Chile; Peace Corps Photographer

Kay Muldoon-Ibrahim

Country of Service: Chile
Keywords: Education, Health, Community Development, Fisheries, Crafts, Mapuche Indians

Accession Date: January 14, 2016
Access: Copyright retained by Ms. Muldoon-Ibrahim
Collection Size: 79 digital files

Document Types

Gage Skinner in Chile

G. Gage Skinner

Country of Service: Chile
Place of Service: Temuco
Service Type: Community Development
Dates in Service:1964-1966
Keywords: Arts and Crafts, Mapuche Indians, Beekeeping

Accession Date: September 16, 2015, November 9, 2018
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.75 linear feet

Document Types

  • Diaries
  • Biographical Information
  • Training materials (post Chile – related to staff work in Colombia)
  • Publications

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.

Skinner_Journal3066

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.

Schepler_Recipe063

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.

Siebert_Corn067

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.”

Siebert_NewFam070

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

 

Interview with Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Meade

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

 

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

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

Q: What inspired you to enter the Peace Corps?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

“Weevils and Beetles”: An Amusing Peace Corps Anecdote

Brian Adler and Cynthia Elliott, a married couple, served together in the Peace Corps in Suriname (2002-2004). His extensive diary records the daily life of a Peace Corps volunteer. In addition to assisting in community projects, Brian and Cynthia also found time to travel the countryside. In doing so, Peace Corp volunteers not only adapt to different and local cultures, but also to the environment as well. This amusing anecdote, taken from Brian’s diary, shows how volunteers, placed in new locations, cope with the forces of Mother Nature.

Harlequin Beetle in Hand, Brian Adler, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

Harlequin Beetle in Hand, Brian Adler, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

“The bugs have gotten better and braver at night. This hasn’t pleased Cindy, She woke me up with a start the other night scared out of her wits. I think it was the Mephoquin. We both heard buzzing in the walls and at 3:30 in the morning I could care less so I quickly took to some light hearted joking by naming the insect “The Wood Weevel.”

Cindy was unimpressed. She made me get up several times to look for it, turn on the lantern, turn off the lantern because it smelled, etc. I never did get back to sleep because she would violently shake her bug netting every 20 minutes. I finally got up and told the jungle to stop it but I don’t think it listened.”

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 traveled 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.