Making Peace with the World Photographs of Peace Corps Volunteers by Richard Sitler
Other Places Publishing 2011
Published January 2011 Making Peace with the World Photographs of Peace Corps Volunteers by Richard Sitler Edited by Benjamin Cook and Amber Fricke Published by: Other Places Publishing www.otherplacespublishing.com All text and photographs copyright ÂŠ 2011 Richard Sitler Cover copyright ÂŠ Other Places Publishing All Rights Reserved ISBN 978-0-9822619-8-9 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise). No part of this publication may be sold or hired, without written permission from the photographer.
Dedicated to Lucille Sitler Brock, Margaret Brock and Mike Cupp.
Preface As the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps approaches, there will be many retrospective works celebrating the legacy of the agency that was founded on President John F. Kennedy’s vision. Thousands of young Americans heeded JFK’s famous call to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” by serving their country in the United States Peace Corps. There is much to look back on and remember from that time. This work, however, is not one of those retrospectives. This work is about the modern day continuation of the Peace Corps legacy. This book documents the everyday lives of today’s Americans who have continued to answer President Kennedy’s call by volunteering 26 months of their lives in “the toughest job you will ever love.” Over 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries throughout the past 50 years. Currently, Peace Corps Volunteers serve in over 70 countries with new programs projected to open or reopen in countries such as Rwanda, Indonesia, and Haiti in the near future. As the needs of the developing world change, Peace Corps continues to evolve, but the agency holds fast to its original mission of promoting peace, friendship, and cultural understanding among diverse nations. The volunteers represented in this book are a selection of PCVs from around the world, and their photographs and stories illustrate the many varied aspects of life in the Peace Corps. Every Peace Corps experience is unique, and the images in this volume show the differences between PCVs and the communities that they serve. Nevertheless, the images reveal what is common and universal to every Peace Corps experience. If you were a Peace Corps Volunteer in the past, you will see changes reflected in these photographs. You will see images of volunteers using technology; computers and cell phones populate the developing world, in the hands of not only volunteers but also their host country counterparts. You will also see aspects of service that time has not changed: volunteers working side by side with host brothers and sisters, volunteers washing clothes by hand.
As a photographer, my desire is that these visual stories of today’s volunteers will help inspire the next generation of tomorrow’s volunteers. JFK envisioned a Peace Corps twice as large as today’s. He believed that an agency of that size would not only benefit people in developing nations but also Americans, who would acquire a broader worldview and increased understanding of different peoples. As the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps approaches, many people are working to make JFK’s vision of a larger Peace Corps a reality. There are returned volunteers lobbying Congress to increase the agency’s budget, and President Obama has reiterated his pledge to expand the Peace Corps. So, at the half-century mark, this is a time for reflection, a time to look at pictures and read stories from the past 50 years, and a time to marvel at how far we have come. It is also a time to look ahead toward future goals of growth, expansion, and the advancement of the Peace Corps mission. This work is a tribute to the volunteers of today. My hope is that the people pictured within these pages are as inspirational to you as they are to me.
People are People Photographing Peace Corps Volunteers around the world has given me the opportunity to meet many people. The volunteers who have been my subjects are a diverse group. They are from different parts of the United States and are of different ethnicities. I have photographed volunteers in their 20’s, 30’s, and one volunteer over 80 (although she seems younger). What the volunteers have in common is their willingness to share their skills. They are also generally open-minded and willing to take on challenges. They are not afraid of change. Having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica and having met volunteers in the United States and abroad, it was not surprising to me that the volunteers I have come across are interesting and generally impressive people with lots to offer. What has been surprising is the host country nationals I’ve met. Going into this project, I assumed that I would be a fly on the wall and not interact much with the local people. Because, in most countries, I would not know the local language or understand the local customs I figured that I would defer to the PCV I was visiting and have little interaction with the local people. I was very wrong. One of the things that has made this work so rewarding is the interaction I’ve had with host country nationals. Of course, my interaction has been facilitated by the volunteers who have done the “heavy lifting” of cultural integration by learning the language and understanding the culture. Because I am connected to these wonderful volunteers, host country nationals—by extension—immediately grant me the same kindnesses and acceptance that it took the volunteers time to achieve. I have tried to reciprocate and recognize that it is due to the volunteers’ relationship with the people of their community that this goodwill has been extended to me. To me, this is the why Peace Corps is so important. I believe a single PCV in a community goes much farther than any amount of aid dollars. Why is this? Because other forms of U.S. assistance only foster dependence, corruption, or resentment. In the end, they do little to help real people. Peace Corps Volunteers foster an exchange. Vol-
unteers introduce skills and ideas and put an American face—a friendly face—into a foreign community. In return, volunteers learn about the people they serve. They also learn a lot about themselves and their own country. I know I learned much about the United States as a result of living away from it. In many ways, I came to understand the United States and acquire a broader view. No matter what benefits the Peace Corps may engender on a global scale, the most important benefits in my opinion are at the individual level. The Peace Corps is about relationships, and isn’t that the most important thing to human life? It is about getting along, and Peace Corps goes a long way to helping volunteers and host country nationals see that no matter what differences people have with each other, it is always possible to get along. What I value most from my service in Jamaica is the personal relationships I made during my time as a volunteer. Those relationships are lasting, and I still keep in touch with many people in Jamaica. I recently spent a day sitting in the classroom of a woman who supervised my service. During breaks in her teaching we reminisced, and we discussed how much we both learned from the whole experience. I have so much respect for her and other teachers who were my colleagues. I also keep in contact with my host family. They are not just my host family—they are family. Traveling to different countries, I’ve been fortunate to meet the most wonderful people. In Panama, one of those people was Gloria, a good friend of PCV Shazia Davis. Gloria opened her home and served Shazia and me a wonderful meal. We laughed and took pictures. Shazia took a picture of her friend Gloria and me standing on a log on a beach that sums it up—we are smiling and we are friends. If it were not for Shazia and Peace Corps, I would not have met this woman in Panama who lives by the sea and sells hot dogs and sodas from her home. We didn’t speak the same language or have anything else in common; but that did not matter, we were able to laugh and smile and enjoy each other’s company. In Guatemala, the very first night in PCV Aron Rosenthal’s site, Aron had a prior engagement, so he sent me to have dinner at the home of some locals who lived up the road. They were a Mayan couple with two children. I did not speak their language and was not feeling too well after a bumpy six-hour bus ride into the Guatemala highlands. Fortunately, there was another volunteer at the dinner, so I had a translator. There were also two Guatemalan college students there. The language difference did not matter too much. The volunteer translated some, and one of the college students spoke some English. One of the two children was also studying English. The evening was magical. I learned some Mayan words; I learned that the husband and wife were from different areas and actually spoke differ10
ent dialects. It is just so amazing to be taken into a total stranger’s home and to have such wonderful experiences and feel such warmth. Also in Guatemala, I met Aron’s four neighbor children, who ranged in age from about six to ten. When you travel around Guatemala and come across the Mayans, you will find them to be reserved and often suspicious of outsiders and rightfully so, as they have been crossed by outsiders many times in their history. Many of the children that I have observed while traveling abroad are very shy. Not the girls who visit Aron. What live wires! They laughed and giggled the whole time. They danced for us. They wreak havoc on Aron’s little room, but they also clean it up and do his dishes. Their presence would put a smile on anyone’s face. All four had distinct personalities, but all four were kind and caring little girls. Aron raises rabbits as a side project. He pampers his rabbits with fresh greens and takes good care of them. In return, the rabbits provide the ingredients for mulch and a worm farm. Once, while Aron was away from home, some street dogs broke into the rabbits’ enclosure. The neighbor girls heard the ruckus and ran over to chase the dogs away. Then, they took the rabbits into their home to protect them until Aron got back. I am grateful for the opportunity just to meet these kind and charming little girls. In Paraguay, I was introduced to a cultural ceremony that is a way of life for the people of that country. The tereré ceremony, which involves the drinking of yerba mate, is integral to everyday life in Paraguay. It requires people to slow down and have interpersonal contact. In the ceremony, one person pours the tea-like drink and hands it to another to drink. He or she hands it back, more is poured, and the next person receives the cup. One can find people participating in this ceremony at almost any place or time. Through the tereré ceremony, I met many people in Paraguay, and instead of merely exchanging passing greetings, I was able to sit down and enjoy their company. Dr. Christopher Doran, the Peace Corps Volunteer whom I shadowed in Botswana, has a good analogy illustrating the challenges of Peace Corps service. He turned the tables and asked how we as Americans would react to a volunteer from someplace like Japan coming to our community. Imagine, he said, that they have three months or less of language training so they speak some English but are not fluent. They do not understand our culture and are often doing things that we consider strange. Say that this volunteer is well-educated and skilled. Maybe he or she is an engineer or doctor. He or she comes into an American community where things have done been a certain way for years. This volunteer proceeds to start telling the locals different ways of doing things. They are full of foreign thoughts and ideas that they are trying to impress on the locals. How would we respond? 11
Community integration is one of the hardest tasks faced by a Peace Corps Volunteer, but also, in my opinion, one of the most important tasks for the volunteer. Community integration means that volunteers become knowledgeable about all aspects of the communities in which they serve. They know who the movers and shakers are. They know the needs of the community. They learn the history of the community. The volunteers learn what is valued and important in the community. The volunteers become a vital part of the community. There are many ways of achieving community integration. In training, volunteers are taught to map their community, and by doing this they learn much about the community. Some methods are active such as attending community meetings, going to church, or being present at sporting events or other community activities. In the United States, some people are integrated into the community more than others. When I think of people who are integrated into their communities, I think of people who are active in civic organizations such as Rotary. I think of people who volunteer their time to coach little league baseball. In the same way, Peace Corps Volunteers seek to become active in their communities. Some ways of achieving community integration are less formal than what Iâ€™ve mentioned above. As a new volunteer in Jamaica, I felt like there were days when I was doing nothing. I felt like I was accomplishing very little. Maybe because I am an American, I felt as though a person should be actively accomplishing something every day. In fact, even on what I thought were slow days, I was becoming integrated into my community without realizing it. It was not until a couple of years after my service that I realized the importance of some of the things I did during my service. As a volunteer, it is rare for people you serve or work alongside to praise your efforts. Perhaps, it is not part of their culture to lavish praise on others, or they may not know how to tell you that you are doing a good job. This was how it was for me; I often wondered whether I was doing a good job. I went back to my community in Jamaica a couple of years after my service. I met with my Jamaican counterpart, and we reminisced about my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She told me that I had been a good volunteer, so I asked her why she had said that. I thought of the long hours that I put in, the new ideas that I introduced, and the problems I solved. She replied that I took time to meet and talk to people. I spent time in the community. I always greeted people as I went through the community. Most importantly, she said, I listened to the people. A volunteer in Lesotho said that just by keeping her door open or sitting on her stoop, she is able to become integrated into the community. The second overarching goal of the Peace Corps is to foster a better understanding of 12
Americans on the part of host country nationals and a better understanding of other countries on the part of Americans. That sounds pretty basic. It does not seem profound or important, but it is because it creates understanding between disparate peoples. I believe it is a lack of understanding amongst peoples that is the root cause of many of the conflicts of today and yesterday. So those hours I spent sitting in front of Foodyâ€™s wood shop with my Jamaican friends, which at the time seemed like a way to pass the time, were a very important part of my service. Those soccer matches that PCV Jerry Wagner plays in the evening with the youths of his village in Belize are just as important as the formal activities he organizes. Opportunities for this cross-cultural interaction and community integration are endless. Peace Corps Volunteers are always on duty. Peace Corps is truly a twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week job. Even when relaxing or socializing, Peace Corps Volunteers are having interactions with the people of their host countries. The cultural integration of Peace Corps Volunteers is impressive, and I think that it is something that almost all volunteers achieve during their service to some extent. I cannot think of any other agency that achieves the level of integration that the Peace Corps achieves. Volunteers live and work alongside the people. Volunteers take public transportation; they shop at the local market. In Jamaica where I served, if we had a social gathering of Peace Corps Volunteers, it almost always included Jamaicans as well. Peace Corps Volunteers do not retreat to a gated compound at the end of the day. Peace Corps Volunteers do not drive around in SUVs with tinted windows. Peace Corps Volunteers are on the ground. They are among the people whom they are serving. Peace Corps Volunteers learn while they are teaching. Traveling to countries served by the Peace Corps has been fascinating. I have been to countries both on and off the beaten tourist path. Even in countries that are frequented by American tourists, I am usually going to areas that few tourists visit. At first, I felt like I might be missing something by not going to Mayan temples in Guatemala or to Macchu Picchu in Peru. One evening, while staying in a hostel, I listened as some fellow travelers talked about all the sites that they felt like they had to see. It sounded like they were trying to complete a syllabus. As they talked, all the sites they mentioned blended together. I realized that although they were seeing many things in the country, they were not really seeing the country. A country is more than its monuments and landmarks. Seeing the country means interacting with local people. Most travelers are not able to sit down to a traditional meal with a local family. It is through the hospitality and warmth of local people that I have begun to see the countries that I have visited. In another hostel in Zambia, I came across a number of fellow travelers who were there to go on safaris and 13
see lions, giraffes, and elephants—a good reason to travel to Africa, but not the only reason. The hostel was staffed by very friendly young Zambians who spoke fluent English. In my observations, I noticed that my fellow travelers for the most part spoke to staff members only when they wanted or needed something. When I arrived, I had to wait for my room to be made up before I could get settled in. I stopped to talk to two of the young ladies working there. We had a nice conversation, and I learned several things about the area that I didn’t even know to ask about. Because I was open and friendly with the staff, they went out of their way for me. That evening I had dinner at the hostel. In Zambia and other African countries, it is common to eat with one’s hands, and there is a certain way of going about it. The ladies serving me my dinner asked if I knew what to do, and they took it upon themselves to teach me the right way to eat with my hands. I noticed that the extra attention I was receiving was not given to other guests, and it was because I showed interest in them as people. Every day, Peace Corps Volunteers show sincere interest in the people they are serving and learn how to become more integrated into their community. In Lesotho, PCV Nick Hopchack from Virginia showed me around Maseru. We walked around an area called the taxi/bus rank, where one can catch a bus or taxi to anywhere in Lesotho. There were also a number of shops and vendors in the area. Talk about being integrated. After only a couple of years, Nick is fluent in Sesotho, the local language. As we walked around the area, he stopped and talked to vendors in Sesotho. People came up to him to chat. He introduced me to the bus conductor for the bus he takes to his rural site. He stopped by a clothing shop to talk to the proprietor, a Chinese woman. After a while I realized that he was speaking to her in Mandarin. Nick had studied Chinese and had lived in China briefly. He told me that the shopkeeper has been in Lesotho a short time and that she still goes back to China. Nick is a good example of how integrated Peace Corps Volunteers become. By and large, PCVs are an impressive group of people. They show a genuine interest in others and are good communicators. PCVs learn the local language and often become fluent in it. Even if they don’t master the language, volunteers become adept at communicating through nonverbal means. Many asked me how I would cope traveling to countries where I do not speak the language. At the outset, it was a question I asked myself, but it has not been as difficult as I imagined because of the nonverbal communication skills I picked up as a PCV. Also, I am usually with a local PCV who acts as a translator when necessary. Sometimes, though, I have to remind the PCV to speak English to me. I believe that the Peace Corps is a good investment for the United States. It creates goodwill among foreign peoples; that has been a central rationale for the Peace Corps since JFK started it. Since the invasions of Iraq and 14
Afghanistan, there has been a lot of talk about winning hearts and minds. I don’t know how successful the United States has been in winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis and Afghans. I know that Peace Corps is successful in the countries in which it operates. The United States could improve its foreign policy, in my opinion, by reducing military presence as well as monetary foreign aid while increasing the number of Peace Corps Volunteers. Peace Corps Volunteers work at the grass roots level. They do sustainable work, and they leave a positive legacy. While shadowing PCVs Christopher “Kip” and Maureen Doran, I joined them at a workshop on HIV/AIDS. As the workshop ended, an elderly man came up to Kip and Maureen to meet them. He had heard that they were Peace Corps Volunteers and was keen to meet them. As he shook their hands, he informed them that he was taught by Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s and has great respect for Peace Corps. He also said that he remembers the sad day when John F. Kennedy died. In turn, Kip and Maureen shared their memories of John F. Kennedy’s death. I think that Kip and Maureen’s experience shows why Peace Corps has been an important and lasting organization and why it is still relevant after 50 years. I encountered similar exchanges in many of the countries I visited. Visit a community that has been served by a Peace Corps Volunteer; speak to the people of the community. Before long, you will hear stories about that volunteer. They may have been taught by a PCV. Their house or community center may have been built with the help of a PCV. They may have hosted a PCV in their home. Peace Corps Volunteers impact the communities where they serve and leave a lasting legacy. Bulgaria PCV John Kennedy points out that two of the Peace Corps’ three overarching goals involve the exchange of culture and ideas, something that is accomplished primarily through interpersonal relationships. John works at an orphanage for Roma children. He has a close working relationship with the director, and after spending a short time at the orphanage, I can attest to the mutual respect they hold for each other. I grew up during the Cold War, and I am amazed to see people who once lived behind the Iron Curtain feel warmly toward an American. The host father of another PCV in Bulgaria, Joe Waling, expressed his love for the United States of America, its system, and people. In the Philippines, I shadowed Peace Corps Volunteer Philip Olaleye, who is a youth development volunteer. He works with a community of Bajau people. They are indigenous to Southeast Asia but have been forced to immigrate to the Philippines. They are the most marginalized people in Philippines. Philip is assigned to work for a faith-based NGO called GLIM (God’s Love for the Indigents Ministry). GLIM was started by Filipinos Edwin and Perla Villanueva to serve the needs of the Sama Bajau ethnic tribal community in the district of Apalit. The day I 15
spent shadowing Philip was his birthday. I was first given a briefing about the work of GLIM and then introduced to the Bajau community they serve. Later that evening, I was invited to join in the birthday celebrations that Edwin and Perla’s family held for Philip and witnessed another example of the personal connections that are made as a result of the Peace Corps. Philip lived with Perla’s mother and father when he first moved to Apalit, and now lives just around the corner. The whole family lives in the same block of buildings, and they were there for the birthday celebration, including all the food and video karaoke. Edwin and Perla are not only Philip’s counterparts; it was immediately apparent that their extended family is also now Philip’s family. The volunteers and countries in this book are by no means representative of all experiences of Peace Corps Volunteers. They make up just a small snapshot, so to speak, of the Peace Corps Volunteer experience. The experiences of volunteers differ widely from country to country and from individual to individual. There are over 70 countries that currently host Peace Corps Volunteers, and new countries are constantly being added. The third goal of the Peace Corps is to promote understanding of foreign countries in the United States, and PCVs do this in many ways. It is my hope that this relatively small sample of images will spark interest in Peace Corps and other cultures of the world.
David Gustavo Marxuach
Central America 79
Belize PCV Jerry Wagner is a Youth Development volunteer and one of four PCVs who serve as a Youth Agent with 4H Belize. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Jerry was an intern and a junior consultant for the UN World Food Program in Rome, Italy. When it came time to make decisions for life after college, Jerry saw the Peace Corps as an adventurous opportunity to continue his work with developing nations. He may be a long way from his home in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, but Jerry has found a place for himself in the small village of Lucky Strike, Belize. Belize is unique among Central American countries. The nation’s coast is comprised of over 400 small islands and is bordered by the 200-mile long Belize Barrier Reef, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Once the location of ancient Mayan city states, today the former British colony is a cultural hybrid of Mayan tradition and Caribbean influences. Both the reef and the Mayan ruins play integral roles in driving an increasing number of tourists to visit Belize each year. Located just 31 miles from Belize City–although you would have to pass through about three hours of dense jungle to reach it–Lucky Strike is home to its own Maya ruin. Altun Ha sits three miles away from the city center in Rockstone Pond village. With the ruin in such close proximity, most of the village is employed through tourism. Jerry, however, spends his days working with the village youth, organizing workshops through the Belize Red Cross, and coaching high school basketball. The open and friendly nature of people from Lucky Strike has surpassed Jerry‘s expectations of what Peace Corps would be like. “I am continually impressed by the amount of community support the village has for one another even as financial means are not always comfortable.”
Opposite: Jerry exits the community center in Lucky Strike village. According to Jerry, “It was here at the Lucky Strike community center I learned that breast feeding in public and men bringing hunting rifles to meetings were par for the course.” Lucky Strike, a village of 320 people, is also home to a basketball court, a soccer field, two churches, a primary school, and King’s College, the boarding school where Jerry lives. Jerry considers himself fortunate to have running water, electricity, and indoor plumbing in his two-bedroom board house that sits on concrete stilts. While microwaves, dishwashers, or laundry machines do not exist in his or many other homes throughout the country, Jerry’s only additions to his house have been a hammock and a radio.
Above: Jerry meets with one of the members of the 4-H club, Jerusha Aldana, and her family, Mark Herbert and Michelle Aldana, in front of their home. Jerusha sports a 4-H wristband and an evaluation sheet of the National 4-H Environmental Camp on Caye Caulker from where she has just returned. Jerry was instrumental in organizing the camp, a first for Belize 4-H, which he considers one of his most memorable experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer. For one week, Jerry and three other Belize PCVs, entertained 31 youth from around the country on Caye Caulker, a beautiful island an hour and a half off the Belizean coast. The camp’s activities ranged from educational sessions with the Belize Audubon Society to swimming lessons, kayaking trips, and an all-out toothpaste war in the boy’s room.
Above: Eulogio Sosa, King College’s handyman, skillfully outlines the dimensions of the first corn hole set made in Lucky Strike. Corn hole, a popular yard game in the U.S., is one example of an American tradition that Jerry has shared with his Belizean friends. Opposite top: Jerry acts as the “pace bike” in a two-mile children’s bicycle race from “downtown” Lucky Strike to the Mayan temple of Altun Ha. Peace Corps Trainees and Belizean 4-H Adult Leaders developed the relay race for children from the villages of Lucky Strike and Rockstone Pond. Jerry enjoys taking daily bike rides through the village and greeting everyone he passes. “The children are so precious,” Jerry says, “They yell, ‘Hey Mista Ja—wee!’ I’m pretty sure that will never happen again anywhere else I live.”
Opposite bottom, left: Jerry showcases his double dig method at a PCV training
session in the Lucky Strike school garden as other trainees look on. Jerry’s gardening and cooking efforts have greatly benefited from the support of his host family, the Galvezes. “We share many laughs and there are loads of positive memories from being their host son,” Jerry says. (Left to right: Trainer Molly Gogginkehm and Trainees Eric Saltzman, Ashley Murdock, and Kyle Robert)
Opposite bottom, right: Jerry relaxes with fellow PCV Kimberly Bernard-Joyce and a bottle of Belize’s finest Belikin beer. Jerry and Kimberly met during the first phase of their Peace Corps training in the United States. Kimberly, the daughter of Guyanese immigrants, grew up in New York.
Above: Jerry and students from the National 4-H Environmental Camp upload pictures of their week on Caye Caulker. Jerryâ€™s primary responsibility as a PCV is to create after school programming for the youth of Lucky Strike. In addition to promoting educational and recreational events, Jerry also assists the primary school teachers with their literacy initiatives. His goal for the next year is to create five or six national events in honor of 4-H Belizeâ€™s 50th anniversary. (Left to right: Quincy Jones, Akeem Jones, Raheim Jones, and Dion Popper of Dangriga)
Opposite: On an outing with his photography club, David poses with half of the group in front of a popular mural depicting the river that defines Los Chiles.
Costa Rica Costa Rica, known in the United States primarily as a luxurious tourist destination, is a beautiful, tropical country just 10° north of the equator. David Gustavo Marxuach is relatively new to the country, but he is not there to enjoy the beaches. “I work with Costa Rican counterparts to promote children’s rights, healthy lifestyles, and community service,” says David, a Peace Corps Volunteer in the village of Los Chiles. The oldest stable democracy in Central America, Costa Rica is the highest ranked country according to the Happy Planet Index, a measurement of human well-being that considers environmental sustainability. Peace Corps Volunteers like David have been serving in Costa Rica since 1963. David was born in Veracruz, Mexico, but he has lived in Iowa, Puerto Rico, and Connecticut. A graduate of the University of Iowa, David has always been interested in living and working abroad, but he waited until completing graduate school to apply to the Peace Corps. He was assigned to work with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, Costa Rica’s national child welfare agency, in Los Chiles. Los Chiles is a small town of 6,000 inhabitants less than four miles south of the Nicaraguan border in the province of Alajuela. As a youth development volunteer, David words with the youth center in Los Chiles as well as with the local middle school.
Above: From time to time, David takes students from the youth center in Los Chiles to a home for senior citizens. The students visit with residents and assist in arts and crafts activities. Here, David helps Maria, Ronny, Yuelka, and Elisabeth make a piñata. Many of the youth that David works with live in the precario, or shanty neighborhood, north of the town center near the Nicaraguan border. David’s host mom and her daughter rent out rooms in their large home to several tenants including two doctors. “Before coming to Costa Rica,” David explains, “I thought I would be living in an urban environment, perhaps in a shanty or slum. I think the vast majority of volunteers here live pretty comfortably in rural to semi-rural communities.” Opposite top: David helps Julian and Jose Luis take some photographs in Los
Chiles. One of David’s most rewarding projects has been organizing and leading a photography group for children called AvenTuristas. The group plans to produce postcards from pictures of their community and sell them to tourists.
Opposite, bottom right: David accompanies Maripaz, Eraida, and Julian, members
of AvenTuristas, on a trip to take photographs. David emphasizes the role that friendships with community members have had in making his service successful. “At the end of the day,” David says, “I think folks in the community will remember what kind of person you were rather than the projects you did.”
Opposite, bottom left: Maripaz practices taking photos in a local ice cream shop as David and Eraida look on. David has written a grant proposal to get more cameras for the student group. As one of the poorest counties in Costa Rica, Los Chiles sees involvement from various government institutions, international organizations, and NGOs.
Above: David visits with a group of students in front of the Centro Infantil, a youth center operated by a local NGO. As a youth development volunteer, David works at the Centro Infantil to provide safe, educational, and engaging activities for children when they are not in school. David reflects on his experiences as a volunteer thus far: â€œFor me, the most important thing about a project is who I am doing it with.â€?
Above: David helps Marcela with her English homework at the Centro Infantil. David splits his time between the Centro Infantil and a local middle school. Some volunteers in Costa Rica teach formal English classes at night to adults through an agreement with a local English-teaching center.
Guatemala “I decided early in life that I was going to be living and working abroad,” says Aron Rosenthal. “After working for five years as the executive director of an international NGO in China and Colorado, I finally decided that I needed to return to grassroots development.” Thus, Aron resigned his job in order to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, a dream he had had for over ten years. Now, Aron works as a municipal development volunteer in Uspantan, Guatemala. “I live in the area where the Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Túm was born,” explains Aron. The effects of Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, which ended in 1996, and Menchú’s struggle for peasant rights are still felt in the community of Uspantan. Nevertheless, the people of Uspantan are known for their friendliness. Uspantan, a large, heavily agrarian municipality, is located in the Guatemalan highlands, seven hours from the capital of Guatemala City. Guatemala has a complicated history as a Spanish colony, a nation torn by civil war, and a developing democracy. Located immediately south of Mexico, it is a country of geographic and biological diversity. In Guatemala’s mountains, deserts, lowlands, forests, and coastal waters live 1,048 unique species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, according to the World Resources Institute. Aron keeps busy in Uspantan. His primary assignment is to work with the town’s municipal planning office. However, he spends most of his time volunteering with non-municipal projects and working with committees outside the jurisdiction of the municipal government. Many NGOs are active in the immediate vicinity, and Aron often assists with appropriate technology projects, English education, youth development programs, and public health initiatives.
Above: Aron attends a meeting in the municipal planning office in Uspantan. “After the signing of the Guatemalan Peace Accords of 1996,” explains Aron, “a decentralization plan was set in motion. Now, even at the village level, the Guatemalan pueblos have the legal right to plan the development of their own communities.” Aron helps train Guatemalans in community planning and works to include the voices of women and youth. “Training local development councils at the village level and working to increase citizen participation are the main goals of the Peace Corps Guatemala Municipal Development Program,” Aron says.
Above: Aron enjoys a burrito dinner with fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Kelly Lyman (left), who is an environmental education volunteer, and several Guatemalan university students. The students, who are completing an internship in Uspantan, are currently interviewing people about their experiences during the Guatemalan Civil War. Although corn tortillas are an important part of a Guatemalanâ€™s daily diet, Aron and his friends are here enjoying flour tortillas. Among the stranger foods that Aron has tried in Guatemala are fried ants.
Above: Aron and ecotourism volunteer Laura Boggess, one of Aronâ€™s three site mates in Uspantan, discuss potential health programs with two members of a local public health committee. Given that the inhabitants of Guatemala are friendly but slow to trust outsiders, Aron is particularly proud of his successes in becoming integrated into the community where he serves and gaining the trust of locals.
Above: Aron relaxes in a hammock along with a young Guatemalan friend at the site of agriculture volunteer Richard Johnson. Aron, who has worked as the executive director of an international NGO, has had to adapt to the slow pace of development in Guatemala. “I’m used to identifying problems, creating solutions, and working hard to see results. Here, things happen at a slower pace than U.S. Americans are accustomed to.” Opposite top: Aron lives in the hotel Casa Blanca with the Mexican woman who
owns the hotel, her Guatemalan husband, and their children. He shares a bathroom with hotel guests and other permanent tenants. Though he lived alone in a small apartment during the first three months of his service, Aron moved to the hotel in an effort to become more integrated into his community and to have more opportunities to practice speaking Spanish. “It was a good decision to move into this hotel,” says Aron. “It has a large piece of property behind the building where I can raise rabbits and keep my worm compost and vegetable garden.”
Opposite, bottom right: In addition to his work as a municipal development
advisor in the town planning office, Aron has many secondary volunteer projects. Here, he tends to a few of his many rabbits, which are a cheap way for people in Guatemala to add protein to their diet. Aron also uses the rabbits’ waste and worms to create topsoil for his vegetable garden. Among Aron’s other secondary projects are working with NGOs, teaching an English class, helping to start youth groups, and managing community committees focused on preventative health issues and trash management.
Next page: Aron and sustainable agriculture volunteer Richard Johnson (right) enjoy a walk in the highlands of Guatemala. Reflecting on his experience in the Peace Corps, Aron describes his time spent abroad as a “hodgepodge of emotions, sights, sounds, and other sensory inputs.” He adds, “Everyone should live abroad in order to see their country from the outside in.”
Opposite, bottom left: Aron attempts to maintain his composure after biting into an exceptionally hot chili dish. His site mates Richard Johnson and Laura Boggess are not fooled.
Panama Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. Roughly the size of South Carolina, the country is home to one of the largest rainforests in the western hemisphere and is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean Sea. Panamaâ€™s long, thin geographical composition made it the ideal location for the Panama Canal in 1904. Three hours southeast of Colon City, Panama, down a rough road filled with potholes, there is a small Afro-Caribbean village named Palenque, the home of 350 Panamanians on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. Most of Palenqueâ€™s inhabitants are the descendants of slaves who escaped from the nearby port town of Portobelo and formed their own village. When Shazia Davis moved to Palenque as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she hoped to expand her horizons and learn about new cultures. Now that she is here, her work as a community and economic volunteer continues to broaden her worldviews, to teach her spontaneity and flexibility, and to confirm what she already knew--that people everywhere are essentially the same.
Opposite, top left: Shazia washes dishes in her host family’s restaurant as they prepare fish for frying. The Vergara family opened the restaurant shortly after Shazia began her service. In addition to assisting with the business administration aspects of the restaurant, Shazia also spends her evenings helping in the kitchen. Opposite, top right: Maximo and Shazia share a candle during a procession for
the Saint of Miramar. Every town in Panama has a patron saint, and once a year, towns celebrate their saints with a traditional procession. Village leaders carry statues of the saint through town while most of the community marches behind with candles. Processions are festive evening events filled with music, drumming, and sometimes even firecrackers.
Opposite, bottom right: Shazia chooses vegetables from the truck that comes once a week to sell produce. A traditional meal in Panama includes rice, beans, and some type of meat, usually beef, pork, chicken, or fish. Opposite, bottom left: Shazia lends a hand to help paint the Catholic church in
the center of town. The majority of Panamanians practice Catholicism, and most villages in Panama have a church at their center.
Above: Life is very tranquilo or slow moving in Panama. People often sit out-
side their houses and visit with neighbors as they pass. Here, Shazia chats with her host dad, Daniel, who is wearing a traditional Panamanian hat. Learning to communicate with her neighbors in Spanish is one of Shazia’s proudest accomplishments. Because people love to stop one another on the street to chat, “sometimes it can take two hours to walk what would normally take fifteen minutes,” Shazia says. “The people in Palenque are very giving, patient, and kind.”
Nicaragua In recent years, Nicaragua’s geographical and cultural diversities have caught the interest of tourists from around the world. Between the Central American Volcanic Arc that runs through the center of the country and the multiethnic population crowded into the booming capital, Managua, there is something for everyone in Nicaragua. But in the rural mountain villages, coffee is the talk of the town. “The place where I live is a 40-family farming community. Since we grow shade coffee there are big old tall wide trees everywhere and the family homes are tucked in under the forest cover. Everyone where I live works for coffee growers or grows coffee.” Originally from Seattle, Washington, when Ranae Desouza joined the Peace Corps she moved from one coffee community to another. Now, as an agriculture extension volunteer, Ranae facilitates community needs assessments to promote the adoption of sustainable practices for NGOs in rural villages.
Below: Peace Corps Volunteers Ranae DeSouza and Danny Murphy talk with
their former host sister, Danielka M. Zeledon, at her family’s food stand in Matagalpa. Both Ranae and Danny lived with the Zeledon family at different times during their Peace Corps training.
Previous, top left: Ranae talks to a friend in San Sebastian de Yali, the farming community where she first served as a PCV. Yali is a town situated high in the mountains and primarily grows coffee. While the land in Yali is fertile, the costs associated with transporting crops to the nearest market prevent local farmers from making substantial profits. One of Ranae’s aims as an agriculture extension volunteer is to help assess farming needs for a variety of communities. Previous, top right: Ranae meets with Jose Antonio Talavera, Secretary of the Soppexcca Coffee Cooperative in Jinotenga. Ranae partners with the Nicaraguan Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, the mayor’s office, and other foreign and domestic organizations to provide support for area cooperatives like the one Jose represents. Previous, bottom left: “One of my most rewarding
achievements is the relationships I have made in Nicaragua,” Ranae says. Because Ranae has served in multiple sites during her time as a PCV, she has lived with several families. At one time, Ranae lived under one roof with a family of fourteen people. “Lots and lots of people living together makes for a great time,” she says. Even though Ranae no longer lives in the same town, here she is pictured helping a former host family member with homework in San Sebastian de Yali.
Previous, bottom right: Like many volunteers, Ranae
does her laundry by hand. Here she is hanging clothes to dry in a courtyard behind her house. Sunshine is hard to come by in Jinotenga. Locals call the mountain town “the city of mists” which makes drying clothes a long process.
Right: Ranae kneels to pray in the cathedral of San
Rafael del Norte. Odorico D’Andrea, an Italian priest who arrived in San Rafael in 1954, played a significant role in developing the village and was a driving force in the cathedral‘s construction. Among other feats, D’Andrea is credited with setting up a local health center and bringing potable water and electricity to the village.
Above left: At a community center in Matagalpa, Ranae listens to instructor
Rigoberta Hernandez Flores and his student play traditional music. Rigoberta teaches guitar, which is an integral instrument in Nicaraguan folk music.
Above right: Ranae, who studied classical guitar in college, tries out one of
Rigoberta’s guitars in the community center. Ranae calls the frequent opportunities to meet and interact with new people “a good life lesson and really rewarding in the present, too.”
Opposite top: After returning home from work, Ranae grabs a bite to eat and listens to her host mother’s recollection of the day’s news. The average Nicaraguan diet consists of small boiled red beans, corn tortillas, squash, and lots of bananas. “People here are overflowingly generous and love having visitors,” Ranae says. “They are great hosts and very loving.” Opposite bottom: George Baldino, the Nicaraguan Peace Corps Country Director, catches up with Ranae during a party for newly sworn-in PCVs. The party was held at the home of Carol Barrick, Peace Corps Nicaragua Program and Training Officer. Ranae hopes to continue her work in Nicaragua after Peace Corps and is planning a future in rural community development. 103
Published on Feb 14, 2011
In June 2009, Richard Sitler embarked on an epic journey to document Peace Corps Volunteers serving communities around the world. Over the n...