Category Archives: South America

James (Jim) C. Todd in Colombia

Country of Service: Colombia
Service Project: Educational Television Utilization Volunteer
Dates in Service: 1963-1965
Keywords: Architecture, Business, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, Information Technology, Libraries, Literacy, Urban Planning, Youth

Accession Date: April 16, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: 1 linear foot

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Stephanie Weise in Ecuador

Country of Service: Ecuador
Dates in Service: 1984-1986
Keywords: Agriculture, Architecture, Community Development, Environment, Urban Planning

Accession Date: April 16, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: .25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs

Jean Chu in Ecuador

Country of Service: Ecuador
Place of Service: Riobamba
Service Project Title: Income Generation in Handicrafts
Dates in Service: 1999-2000
Keywords: Business, Community Development, Education

Accession Date: March 24, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: .5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Textiles
  • Training Materials

Katharine Gabell Panfil in Venezuela & Guatemala

Country of Service: Venezuela & Guatemala
Service Type: Community Development Work (Health & Sanitation)
Dates in Service: 1964-?
Keywords: Architecture, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, HIV/AIDS, Urban Planning

Accession Date: February 17, 2021
Access: no restrictions
Collection Size: 1 open reel audio tape

Document Types

  • Sound

“Project Peace Pipe”: In Practice

In theory, Project Peace Pipe intended to attract Native American applicants, diversify Peace Corps volunteers, and build the skills and confidence Indigenous trainees needed to serve two years in Colombia. However, in practice, twenty-nine volunteers arrived for training, five received placements, and only two completed full service. In the final project evaluation report, surveyors attributed the program’s failure to “racism…bungling…bureaucratic deafness [and] …sheer ignorance” of program administrators, leading training officials to wonder if Project Peace Pipe was doomed from the start.[1]

Recruitment

During the 1960s, Peace Corps recruitment featured advertisements stressing adventure, personal growth, and building international relationships—things that appealed to many Americans, but failed to consider other barriers to entry. As mentioned in “Project Peace Pipe”: Developing the Program, the project was one of the first attempts by the Peace Corps to specifically draw individuals from disenfranchised groups. Officials determined that a targeted enrollment campaign and adjusted application requirements would help these efforts.

Looking at retention rates from earlier groups, Peace Corps officials found that volunteers aged 20 or older were more likely to complete service than their younger counterparts. Therefore, recruiters for Project Peace Pipe focused on older volunteers—making the average age of trainees around 23 years old. They also voted to give personal interviews more weight than written references, as previous statistics reported that lower socio-economic class applicants had more difficulty obtaining written references.[2]

Application Requirements
Project Peace Pipe Peace Corps
At least 20 years old At least 18 years old
High school diploma; some college High school diploma; some college; bachelor’s degree
Personal interviews Written references

Recruiting efforts focused primarily on colleges with a high population of Native students, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools, and areas with large American Indian populations. The BIA funded a grant for new brochures and hired BIA education officials to identify possible candidates. Yes, the federal agency that sponsored boarding schools for Indigenous children under the motto, “Kill the Indian…save the Man,” also supported efforts to train American Indian Peace Corps volunteers. [3]

Donald Broadwell recalls the recruitment process in a 1998 letter to Friends of Colombia President Robert Colombo:

I was atypical of the Project Peace Pipe volunteers, having had little real identification with Native American culture prior to my entry into the Project…Although I grew up in Mahnomen County, Minnesota, which is part of the White Earth Reservation, it is an “Open Reservation,” i.e., one which transferred the property to individual tribal members…The Project Peace Pipe recruiters took the attitude of “close enough!” and signed me up.

The other 29 applicants came from clusters of the West around South Dakota, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Arizona—with varying levels of involvement with their Indigenous culture. Despite the initial prerequisite to recruit volunteers over twenty, six were between eighteen and nineteen years old, although the rest ranged in age between twenty and twenty-nine.

Photo of biographical excerpt about Sammie Chischilly. It reads: "Sammie, 25, is a Navajo Indian from Pinon, Ariz. He graduated from Phoenix Indian High School, where he trained for building construction. After graduation, he went into the army and trained for "paratrooper", and went to Viet Nam for 13 months. During the 3 years of his military career, he travelled and visited Hawaii, Wake Island, the Philippines, Thailand, and Japan. His hobbies include oil painting, fixing and patching things and automobiles to electrical equipment. English is his second language; he has spoken Navajo all his life. Now he is learning Spanish. His favorite sports are rodeo, wrestling and football. Before joining the Peace Corps, he got married.

Sammie Chischilly served three years in the army as a paratrooper in Vietnam prior to joining the Peace Corps. He and his wife Cynthia left training while in California. Sammie Chischilly, Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

Training Programs

Project Peace Pipe applicants joined “Colombia- Rural Community Development- Group B,” (RCD-B) however, the Project Peace Pipe program was a sub-category within this larger Peace Corps group. These volunteers attended six extra weeks of training in Arecibo, Puerto Rico before joining volunteers from the general group. The pre-training operated under the assumption that “lack of confidence was a major barrier for Indians interested in Peace Corps Service,” and so the program was devoted more towards developing Native “self-awareness” and skills for service overseas.[4]

To do so, OIO (Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity) inverted the Peace Corps’ cross-cultural training model by designing a pre-training that sought to reverse “psychological effects of internal colonization, [and instead] emphasize the racialized and economic inequalities within the United States rather than impending culture shock abroad.”[5] Like the typical Peace Corps training, Peace Pipe trainees received intense Spanish language training; however, in place of Colombian history and practical skills training, they received “communication” and “attitudinal” training directly focused on changing the temperaments of Peace Pipe volunteers. One component consisted of a week “imaginal education” course and discussion groups three times a week for self-confidence counseling.[6]

Project Peace Pipe recruits speaking with Senator Fred Harris during training in Puerto Rico, 1967. Featured in Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century, Duke University Press, 2012. Courtesy of the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (490-G-63-82068-C2-19)

The Project Peace Pipe pre-training seemed to be a success, with close relationships formed between the trainees and staff, and most of the volunteers transitioning into the general Peace Corps training. However, Donald Broadwell describes the altered atmosphere following the arrival of other Peace Corps volunteers:

Most of the Project Peace Pipe volunteers were, like me, young and without college educations. Most of us had had some college experience, but most had not completed a degree. We were a group who were interested in an adventure, but most of us did not have the inner resources to be fully independent. We enjoyed our Pre-training experience in Puerto Rico, where we received intensive training in Spanish and a little bit of training in establishing cooperatives.

Many of us found the transition to the training program in California to be a difficult one to make, and many volunteers began opting out of the program. Other volunteers joining us for RCD-B were largely college educated and a few years older than the Project Peace Pipe volunteers. Many of us felt we couldn’t “measure up” to the other volunteers joining us, and began to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of being independent in a foreign country, whose language we spoke only haltingly.

The issue of retaining Peace Pipe trainees continued throughout training and service. An article by LaDonna Harris and Dr. Leon H. Ginsberg, social work professor at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, reported: “In addition to the pressure of selection for Peace Corps service…, the composition of the training group itself was perceived as potentially threatening for some American Indian trainees.”[7] Whereas the middle-class Ivy League and large state university volunteers experienced culture shock overseas, the psychologists within the RCD-B training reported adjustment issues with Native volunteers once merged with the predominantly white trainees.

The language used by Broadwell, Harris and Ginsberg attribute this issue to intimidation from the superior experiences of other volunteers; however, a survey of the group’s biographical pamphlet reveals something else. While the project evaluators described Peace Pipe volunteers as lacking confidence and skills in communication, the pamphlet reported that most had attended some higher education schooling, spoke two or more languages fluently, and already performed leadership roles within their local communities. Several had traveled around Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico, and one woman served as a Congressional intern on Capitol Hill.[8] While many may have felt that they didn’t “measure up” as Broadwell suggests, others felt suffocated by rigid expectations. One unidentified Peace Pipe trainee complained in an interview with the Washington Post, “Peace Pipe seems like an effort to make us nice little WASPS so that we can fit in…”[9] Ironically, the fears that Peace Corps officials had regarding the agency’s “lily-white” composition destroyed their intentions to appeal to minority group volunteers.

The Results

Project Peace Pipe ran for three years—just long enough to train and place 2 groups of volunteers—before termination. By 1970, only six trainees from Project Peace Pipe served full terms in Colombia. The Washington Post, who wrote about the results in November 1970, reported that undercurrents of racism marked the program and the instructors believed the program was doomed to fail:

The report charges the Indians were not trained for Colombia, were discriminated against on draft deferments, were lied to about assignments, and got such miserable medical care that many were ill for weeks…

…An outside consultant, according to the evaluation office, viewed the program with open disgust. Said the consultant, “Anyone who doubts there was racism can look at what Peace Corps did to help the two Indians who had draft problems. Nothing at all—while everyone was killing themselves for some of the white trainees.” [10]

Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indiana Project Fails,” Washington Post, 4 November 1970.

The article also indicated that the failure resulted in the creation of the Peace Corps’ first Office of Minority Affairs, as part of the agency’s “New Directions” initiative. Peace Corps Director Joseph H. Blatchford appointed the former director in Tanzania and Black American, William Tutman, as the office’s new head.[11] Tutman resigned the following April, writing that “while dedicated to cross-cultural understanding abroad, [the Peace Corps] has failed to deal with the subcultural misunderstanding in its midst.”[12] An article in the New York Times reported that Tutman pointed to specific examples of discriminatory hiring practices and preference given to “white males.” The article also cited Blatchford’s statement regarding the resignation, asserting, “the record of the Peace Corps in minority affairs has been outstanding,” and promised to name a “prominent black American” to fill the post.

The Peace Corps’ reputation regarding racial and cultural sensitivity has improved since the ’70s. Today, volunteers from a variety of backgrounds share how their identities impact their service on the official Peace Corps blog. Here, you can read reflections by several Indigenous volunteers serving in the 2010s—Madiera Dennison, Anthony Trujillo, and Dennis Felipe Jr.

References:

Peace Corps Honors American Indian Volunteers, October 31, 2008.

Peace Corps Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month, November 5, 2009.

Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

Sterling Fluharty, “Harris, LaDonna Vita Tabbytite,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=HA035.

Fritz Fischer, Making Them Like Us: Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), 102 –3.

[1] Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indian Project Fails,” Washington Post, November 4, 1970, B19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[2] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 23.

[3] Charla Bear, “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many,” NPR, May 12, 2008. npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

[4] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 23.

[5] Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century, Duke University Press, 2012, 104.

[6] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 25.

[7] Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe: Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 23.

[8] Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

[9] Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indian Project Fails,” Washington Post, November 4, 1970, B19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[10] Jack Anderson, “Peace Corps Indian Project Fails,” Washington Post, November 4, 1970, B19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[11] “Director Blatchford Names New Peace Corps Program For Minorities and Women,” The Harvard Crimson, November 7, 1970. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1970/11/7/director-blatchford-names-new-peace-corps/

Joseph H. Blatchford, “The Peace Corps: Making it in the Seventies “Foreign Affairs, October 1, 1970. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1970-10-01/peace-corps-making-it-seventies

[12] “Peace Corps Aide Quits In Protest,” The New York Times, April 19, 1971. Page 41. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/04/19/archives/peage-corps-aide-quits-in-protest-minority-affairs-director-charges.html

“Project Peace Pipe”: Developing the Program

What makes a good Peace Corps volunteer? Is it experience and compassion, leadership or flexibility? Or, is it confidence? What does it mean to be a Peace Corps volunteer, and what do we expect to gain from volunteering abroad? These were the questions that Peace Corps officials mulled over as they prepared a special training program directed at young Native American volunteers.

Ladonna Harris is speaking to a group of people out of the frame, wearing a blazer and carrying a hat in her left hand. Her right hand is raised as she speaks.

LaDonna Harris in 1976. (2012.201.B0250.0666, photo by P. Southerland, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

Developing the Program

“Project Peace Pipe” was created in 1966, as a collaborative program between the Peace Corps and a Native-led organization called Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO). The project specifically recruited and trained Indigenous adults for service in the Peace Corps, following OIO’s mission to improve the lives of American Indians by offering programs for community development, work experience and placement, and youth activities.[1] Comanche political activist and OIO founder LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris hoped that Peace Corps service would help the volunteers develop “talents for organization and skill in mobilizing community action…applicable to the problems of Indian communities in all parts of the United States where skilled Indian leadership is needed, but often unavailable.”[2] Not only would these volunteers return with practical skills, OIO envisioned that American Indian RPCVs would have greater opportunity to work in federal agencies and provide healthy role models for other Indigenous youths.

Photograph of Donald I. Broadwell with biographical data, reading "Donald, 19, born in Park Rapids, Minnesota, is from Fosston, Minnesota. He studied at Bemidji State Collece, Bemidji, Minnesota, majoring in English and French. He has extensive experience in library materials circulation. He has experience in grounds maintenance and with pre-sensitized photographic plate processing. He also has general farm background. He attended Peace Corps pre-training program in Peurto Rico. Don has held various leadership positions in 4-H and other school and college organizations. He has done volunteer teaching in remedial reading. Hobbies include skiing, swimming, hiking and other individual sports."

Donald Broadwell, Peace Corps Escondido, Summer 1968. Colombia Rural Community Development Group B, August 28-October 14, 1968.

Donald Broadwell, a PCV recruited through this program, also believed that the project operated under the assumption that Native Americans would have a greater ability to understand with the life experiences and bond with rural Colombians, many of whom were subsistence farmers with strong Mayan backgrounds.

As for the Peace Corps, the project was one of the first attempts to attract volunteers with working-class and marginalized backgrounds. Although the Peace Corps sought to emphasize “self-reliance, racial equality, the right to self-determination, and social justice,” the organization struggled to attract volunteers of color.[3] An article in the Journal of Black Studies reported that in the 1960s, most Black youths considered the Peace Corps to be “an agency for White, middle-class Americans.” While service was possible to many white, middle-class individuals fresh out of college, many people of color and working-class graduates took jobs to support their families or sought to improve their own communities. [4]

Peace Corps officials used the interest in Project Peace Pipe to counter this WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) image and attempted to create more accessible avenues for “socio-economically deprived minority group youngsters.”[5] While there are no available records that mention the origin of the project’s name, the use of the term “peace pipe” traces back to the arrival of European colonists, who applied the term to Indigenous ceremonial pipes.[6] It is likely that the name “Project Peace Pipe” may have just been the result of the Peace Corps’ desire for “peace” imagery, and the irony was not lost on volunteers.

In an article in the August 1968 issue of the Peace Corps Colombia monthly newsletter, Porvenir, one editor commented:

“Regardless of the appropriateness of this name, it is curious that a program, intended to integrate, labels the group in question with a title that differentiates them. Names serve to categorize and tell things apart; why make a distinction when the intent is to show the similarity of different Americans when working toward a common end? Even if the title “Operation Peace Pipe” proved useful in training and recruiting, that should be the extent of its function.”

The unique title was not the only difference that set the group apart from the other volunteers. The OIO and Peace Corps officials designed the program around the idea that Native youths, “because of their lack of self-confidence, felt they had little to contribute to persons overseas.” Working under this assumption, the program designed targeted recruitment processes and a five week pre-training to build confidence and develop communication skills.

Peace Corps-Indigenous Relationships and Red Power

Project Peace Pipe was not the first interaction Native communities had with the Peace Corps. In fact, impoverished conditions on reservations were so similar to underdeveloped areas in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that the Peace Corps used them for preliminary community development training. In at least one instance, in 1962 volunteers stationed at the University of Arizona prepared for service at Gila River Reservations in Arizona. The Peace Corps Volunteer reported other development programs at the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. [7]

Black and white photo of three men dig in dirt with shovels. Another group of men stand along a wooden fence in the background.

Peace Corps Volunteers during training at the Gila River Reservation in Arizona. 1962. University Archives Photographs, Arizona State University Library.

The Project also coincided with the rise of the Red Power movement. Across the country, Native Americans mobilized to protest and rewrite the history of American Indigenous peoples, address high levels of poverty, and bring legal suits against states stealing Indian land and violating federal treaties.[8] During the 1960s, communities formed organizations like the National Indian Youth Council (NYIC) and the American Indian Movement (AIM), leading groups to Washington, D.C. to occupy the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, called the “Trail of Broken Treaties.”

In fact, three volunteers recruited through Project Peace Pipe were Sioux members from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where the town of Wounded Knee is located. Growing up in Pine Ridge, these volunteers were likely influenced by the violent confrontations between white supremacists and their community, and the increased political militancy of the organized Red Power movement. If the volunteers returned after their service in 1970, they could have been involved with the AIM occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973; however, no available records mention this. To learn more about the history of Wounded Knee, visit Democracy Now and the History Channel.

Landscape color photo of the Pine Ridge road sign, covered in bullet holes.

Pine Ridge Sign, October 17, 2016. posted to Flickr Creative Commons by Orientalizing.

So why did a Native-led organization like Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity join forces with a federal agency at the height of the Red Power movement? The answer lies with activist LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris. Harris founded OIO after Oklahomans elected her husband Fred Harris to the Senate. After her family relocated to Washington, D.C., Harris loudly advocated for Native rights and legislation, including championing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. Her determination and husband’s political networks put her in a place to help Indigenous communities gain federal recognition and push for change. Seeing an opportunity for youth engagement, Harris instigated a partnership with Peace Corps and established authority over the program design from the onset. 

Moving Forward

Only 5 years prior, President Kennedy announced to the nation, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” before establishing the Peace Corps.  Project Peace Pipe also considered what Peace Corps could do for Indigenous youths. But how did the actual volunteers compare with the judgments made by OIO and the Peace Corps?

Project Peace Pipe Part 2 will explore the practical aspects of specialized training, the experiences of volunteers, and the outcome of the program following the merge into the rest of Peace Corps Colombia- Rural Community Development-B.

References:

Amin, Julius A. “The Peace Corps and the Struggle for African American Equality.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No.6, July 1999, 817. (Accessed January 22, 2019) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2645886.pdf

Chavez, Aliyah, “LaDonna Harris ‘stumbled’ into a legacy of impact,” Indian Country Today. August 18, 2019.

Harris, Mrs. Fred R. and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968

Moore, Powell A. (1959). The Calumet Region: Indiana’s Last Frontier. Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 20 August 2015.

Old Elk, Hunter “127th Remembrance of the Wounded Knee Massacre,” Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Decmber 29, 2016. (Accessed January 27, 2020) https://centerofthewest.org/tag/wounded-knee/

Peace Corps Division of Volunteer Support, The Peace Corps Volunteer, a Quarterly Statistical Summary, (Columbia University: The Division, 1962), 13. https://books.google.com/books?id=mIOKCxx-scUC&pg=RA16-PA13&lpg=RA16-PA13&dq=peace+corps+training+on+indian+reservations&source=bl&ots=grUjRQ3-TY&sig=ACfU3U1fOyhvcjnt_zwg5KA-EumuUzxTaA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwie_rKY7YXnAhWQq1kKHRbRBUMQ6AEwEnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%20indian%20reservations&f=false

Peltier, Leonard “Wounded Knee II, 30 Years Later,” Democracy Now, May 9, 2003. (Accessed January 27, 2020) https://www.democracynow.org/2003/5/9/wounded_knee_ii_30_years_later

“The Native American Power Movement,” Digital History, 2019. (Accessed January 27, 2020) http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3348

“Wounded Knee,” History, November 6, 2009. (Accessed January 27, 2020) https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/wounded-knee

[1] Mrs. Fred R. Harris and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 22.

[2] She left OIO in 1968 after President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the National Council on Indian Opportunity (NCIO), but the organization’s inaction led her to resign and continue grassroots activism.  Mrs. Fred R. Harris and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 21.

[3] Julius A. Amin, “The Peace Corps and the Struggle for African American Equality.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No.6, July 1999, 811. (Accessed January 22, 2019) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2645886.pdf

[4] Julius A. Amin, “The Peace Corps and the Struggle for African American Equality.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No.6, July 1999, 817. (Accessed January 22, 2019) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2645886.pdf Marshall, M. (1984, October). The Peace Corps: Alive and well, and looking for Blacks. Ebony Magazine, pp. 48-54.

[5] Mrs. Fred R. Harris and Leon H. Ginsberg, “Project Peace Pipe:Indian Youth Pre-Trained for Peace Corps Duty”, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, January 1968, 22.

[6] Moore, Powell A. (1959). The Calumet Region: Indiana’s Last Frontier. Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 20 August 2015.

[7] Peace Corps Division of Volunteer Support, The Peace Corps Volunteer, a Quarterly Statistical Summary, (Columbia University: The Division, 1962), 13. https://books.google.com/books?id=mIOKCxx-scUC&pg=RA16-PA13&lpg=RA16-PA13&dq=peace+corps+training+on+indian+reservations&source=bl&ots=grUjRQ3-TY&sig=ACfU3U1fOyhvcjnt_zwg5KA-EumuUzxTaA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwie_rKY7YXnAhWQq1kKHRbRBUMQ6AEwEnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%20indian%20reservations&f=false

[8] “The Native American Power Movement,” Digital History, 2019. (Accessed January 27, 2020) http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3348

Martin Hupka in Colombia

Name: Martin A. Hupka
Country of Service: Colombia
Dates in Service: 1963-1965
Keywords: Community Development

Accession Date: January 29, 2020
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Lorelei Christl Robinson and Gary D. Robinson in Colombia

Name: Lorelei Christl Robinson and Gary D. Robinson
Country of Service: Colombia
Service Project Title: Peace Corps Staff, 1965-1971
Dates in Service: 1961-1963-; 1963-1965
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: January 17, 2020 (updated May 7, 2021)
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Good Intentions and the Cold War: Exploring Peace Corps Service in the 1960s

Sarah Leister is an anthropology graduate student in Dr. Adrienne Pine’s Craft of Anthropology I course (ANTH-601). This blog post was written in fulfillment of a course assignment.

This blog post will analyze two items from the AU Archives associated with Margaret (Peggy) Gleeson’s volunteer services in the Peace Corps. Gleeson was a nurse who joined the Peace Corps in 1963, just two years after it was founded by President John F. Kennedy. She volunteered in a small village in Colombia called Fusagasugá, where she was tasked with teaching classes to Colombian nurses who worked at the local hospital. This post will focus on Gleeson’s Peace Corps training before she went to Colombia by analyzing two documents: the training manual and her biographical sketch. These documents highlight the political context of the Cold War and how Gleeson and her fellow volunteers felt about their upcoming Peace Corps service.

Cover of Gleeson's Peace Corps training syllabus, reads "Peace Corps Training Program. Colombia Nurses Brooklyn College of the University of the City of New York. October 28, 1963 to January 31, 1964."

Gleeson’s Peace Corps training syllabus.

In the early 1960s, Cold War tensions were high. The Cuban Revolution had succeeded in 1959, and the 1961 CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion that attempted to reverse it had failed. The U.S. aimed to prevent a supposed threat of communism in other Latin American countries. This imperial project coincided with updated Social Darwinist ideologies proposed by U.S. economist Walt Whitman Rostow that placed Latin American countries (and especially the indigenous communities within them) in an earlier stage of development and modernity than the United States (Geidel 2010).

It is against this political backdrop that Gleeson embarked upon an intensive Peace Corps training program in 1963 at Brooklyn College. She was a member of the first group of nurses to be sent to Colombia by the Peace Corps. According to the program’s syllabus, the training included courses on common diseases in Colombia, Colombian history, Spanish language, and ten sessions on “The Challenge of Communism.”

As I looked through the Peace Corps Training Program syllabus, I was surprised to see that Brooklyn College, rather than a U.S. governmental entity, was responsible for training the Peace Corps volunteers. Fernando Purcell and Marcelo Casals (2015) point to the crucial role of U.S. universities in offering training during the Cold War, which were known to give volunteers “theoretical and practical knowledge about modernity and community development, along with a reinforcement of ideological values that were defended during the Cold War” (2). The Brooklyn College syllabus includes readings by staunch anti-communist Zbigniew Brzezinski—an advisor to President and Peace Corps founder John F. Kennedy. It explicitly frames communism as a threat and focuses on the study of Soviet models while glossing over the “great variety of revolutionary models” in Latin America (Purcell and Casals 2015).

Page from The communism section of the Peace Corps training syllabus.

The communism section of the Peace Corps training syllabus.

Also in the syllabus, a letter to the volunteers from the Office of the Mayor of New York City states “We in New York City are proud that one of our great municipal institutions is becoming part of the world-wide efforts of the Peace Corps to help the underprivileged peoples of the world.” Similarly, most of the volunteers in Gleeson’s training group stated that their reason for joining the Peace Corps stemmed from a desire to help or serve others.

Photograph of Gleeson and her biographical info, reads "Margaret J. Gleeson, from New Rochelle, New York where she was graduated from high school. Her professional work was done at the Nursing School in New Rochelle. She received her B.S. in Nursing Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her most recent position was as Administrative Supervisor at the New Rochelle Hospital. Margaret enjoys out door sports, theater and travel. The Peace Corps is her means of living with and helping people of another culture."

Gleeson’s biographical sketch featured in a booklet of volunteers’ biographical information.

These documents show an interesting parallel between the U.S. government’s battle against perceived communist threats and the volunteers’ desires to help. They also shine light on the ways in which volunteering, aid efforts, and even social science research have coincided with U.S. imperialism, despite volunteers’ and researchers’ good intentions. While Gleeson and many other Peace Corps volunteers went abroad with a desire to be helpful, a consideration of the broader political context might evoke the title sentiment of Ivan Illich’s provocative speech given to a group of U.S. volunteers in Mexico in 1968: “To Hell with Good Intentions.”

As a white anthropology student from the U.S. who has also traveled to Latin America with good intentions, I am in many ways similar to Peggy Gleeson and other Peace Corps volunteers. This leads me to ask, how can U.S. students, volunteers, and workers analyze their individual intentions within structures of power? To what extent do our intentions matter? How can we make our intentions match up with our actions? How can we combine our intentions and actions in pursuit of international solidarity and social justice, rather than as charity that ultimately reinforces empire?

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