Category Archives: 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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Thomas O’Brien in Morocco

Name: Thomas O’Brien
Country of Service: Morocco
Service Type OR Service Project Title: Teacher of English and Volunteer Leader
Dates in Service: 1986-1989
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: November 11, 2019
Access: No Restrictions
Collection Size: 0.01 linear feet

Document Types

  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Digital Surrogates

Dan C. Hoffman in Brazil

Name: Dan C. Hoffman
Country of Service: Brazil
Service Type: Community Development
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords:  Community Development

Accession Date: October 18, 2019
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Vickie Larson in Thailand

Name: Vickie (Newhouse) Larson
Country of Service: Thailand
Place of Service: Bangkok
Dates in Service: 1965-1967
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: July 17, 2019
Access: No Restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Diaries
  • Training Materials

David and Anita Kaufman in Puerto Rico

Name: David and Anita Kaufman
Country of Service: Puerto Rico
Place of Service: Arecibo
Service Type OR Service Project Title: Peace Corps Training Center, Camp Lawrence Radley
Dates in Service: 1966-1972
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: April 10, 2019
Access: No Restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Publications

Ellen Chapman in Brazil

Name: Ellen (Laurence) Chapman
Country of Service: Brazil
Place of Service: Rio Tinto, Paraiba
Dates in Service: 1964-1966
Keywords: Health

Accession Date: April 11, 2019
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Publications
  • Training Materials

Thomas J. Hassett in Nepal

Country of Service: Nepal
Service Type: Community Development
Dates in Service: 1965-1966
Keywords: Gorkha, Memorial service

Accession Date: October 16, 2017
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1.0 linear foot

Document Types: 

  • Correspondence (includes condolence letters to parents)
  • Photographs
  • Audiotape
  • Training booklet & certificate

Digital Surrogates:

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. Hebert 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.