Peace Corps Voices Features the Following Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
(listed in chronological order by years of service)
Meryl served in Ghana as a member of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers to arrive in-country. The Ghana I volunteers and the Tanganyika I volunteers, who left about the same time, attended a Rose Garden send-off ceremony on August 28, 1961. Each volunteer was photographed shaking the hand of President John F. Kennedy. Meryl carried with her a heavy (what was considered “portable” at the time) reel-to-reel tape recorder 50 years ago. She sent home recordings of the sounds around her, including music and students speaking varied languages of Ghana. She taught French in Ghana and, when she returned to the United States, taught French and then elementary school. She lives in Wallingford, Connecticut.
In the earliest days of the Peace Corps, Nigeria became the location of the new agency’s first major public relations incident. Aubrey discussed the aftermath of an inflammatory postcard written by a member of his group with Congressman Silivo O. Conte, who visited Nigeria as part of a congressional fact-finding mission. Conte, a representative from Massachusetts, recorded his conversation with Aubrey for a radio show back home. In Nigeria, Aubrey worked as a secondary school teacher. He now lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Louise Cox crossed a raging river in a dugout canoe to reach her village in Sierra Leone. She and the locals paddling the boat were attacked by fire ants before they could dock, but they—and her tape recorder—arrived safely. Among her recordings are children telling Biblical stories in their local language. Years after Peace Corps, Louise taught in Saudi Arabia and Brazil. She now lives in Windsor Locks, Connecticut where she helps English language learners.
Jim served a total of three years in Peru after training in an undergraduate program at what is now SUNY Brockport. The college track specifically prepared students in math and science to work as education volunteers in the Peace Corps. In addition to running teacher-training programs during the summers, Greene traveled over rugged terrain to visit the teachers in their schools and see how they were implementing what they’d learned. He lugged along a film projector and showed science films in the villages he visited. After Peace Corps, Greene taught high school math and computer science in New Mexico and Texas. The Spanish language skills he gained in Peace Corps were very helpful during his teaching career. Greene lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Peggy Winnett, Jamaica, 1983-85 and Thailand, 1989-91
Peggy joined the Peace Corps right out of college—but she was already in her late 40s when she graduated and turned 50 in Jamaica. Her work in Jamaica involved helping complete a community center building and getting its myriad programs underway. Later, in Thailand, she worked with mothers and grandmothers to create educational materials for young children from cast off supplies such as empty thread spools and matchboxes. Winnett had lived in Sri Lanka and India before the Peace Corps and after her second tour of service she went to China to teach English. Now retired, Winnett lives in Leeds, Massachusetts.
John Waite worked at a credit union during college, which helped him see that collaboration and cooperation were not anathema to business success. He signed up for the Peace Corps to help small business owners get started and he’s done similar work abroad for other agencies and back home in western Massachusetts where he is currently the director of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation. Between his volunteer service in Burkina Faso and his next overseas assignment, John worked as a Peace Corps recruiter in New York. That’s when he met his wife, Eve Brown-Waite, who wrote about their adventures together in First Comes Love Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life. John lives in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Jeffrey served as a horticulture extension agent in a remote community in northeast Nepal. His projects included cold-cellar storage for citrus farmers, agro-forestry and fish-farming training, school latrines, Earth Day celebrations with Girl Scout troops and a Nepali folk/American bluegrass concert in the town square. During his service, a good friend in Chicago routinely sent him cassettes documenting life in the states. Meanwhile, Jeffrey did the same from Nepal and, over two years, the pair exchanged more than 175 hours of recordings. He has returned to Nepal numerous times and was a Fulbright Scholar there in 2001-2002. He is currently directing Because We Were Born Here . . ., an ethnographic project in northeastern Nepal. This 30-year project seeks to document in sound and images, the living history of one Himalayan village as it struggles to join the ‘modern’ world. He works for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wisconsin.
An adult literacy program offered evening classes all over the island of St. Lucia when Michelle arrived, but the Ministry of Education asked her to create teaching manuals for the program’s facilitators. Later, she also worked with some adult learners to create public service announcements for TV and radio that promoted the literacy classes. Michelle was in St. Lucia for the 35th anniversary of the Peace Corps, a celebration that included many past volunteers who returned to the island for the event. Michelle continued to teach adults when she returned to the United States, first in her hometown of Oklahoma City. After graduate school in Hawaii, she taught graduate courses in second language literacy and pedagogy to teachers on the Navajo Nation. She’s currently a writing instructor at UC Berkeley, working primarily with writers for whom English is not their first language. She lives in El Cerrito, California.
Brooke served as a health extension volunteer, assisting nurses and midwives with health education campaigns. She also worked with women on agricultural projects and participated in some national Peace Corps activities such as an AIDS bike-a-thon. She extended for a third year and moved from a small village to the capital city, Ouagadougou. Just before leaving the country, Brooke married a man from the village where she’d spent the first two years. Brooke’s husband, Issa, queried village elders for wedding rituals that had been long neglected and the result was a more traditional celebration than the community had seen in years. Brooke and Issa now live in Las Cruces, New Mexico with their 3-year-old son, though they hope to live in Africa again.
Kerry went to Togo as a natural resources volunteer and helped set up tree nurseries in villages. But she also worked with another volunteer to launch a contest for kids to create public service announcements opposing bush burning. Community radio stations supported the effort and a Togolese hip hop star participated. The winning PSA aired in much of the country. Living in a village in Africa helped Kerry gain the confidence to pursue her dream. She works on a farm in Amherst, Massachusetts and is looking for land to launch her own farm.
Betsey Yetter, Ukraine, 2004-06
With a background in social work and business, and a grown son who was on his own, Betsey finally fulfilled a long-time dream of serving in the Peace Corps. She worked with women in a small city in Ukraine to help them organize community services and raise money. Along the way, she came to realize just how steeped in the Cold War fear of all things Soviet she had been—and how wonderful it was to finally let that go. Betsey lives in Leyden, Massachusetts.
Todd’s recorder captured a variety of sounds from his years with the Nawda people in Togo including a capella gospel, funeral dance drumming, and the village griot player. During his Peace Corps service, Todd worked with a locally-run community development NGO to open a small computer center, then helped a microfinance organization establish a branch in his village. He worked closely with women and young girls in teaching basic business skills and helping them obtain access to capital for starting small businesses. Before he left, the village honored him with an initiation ceremony, declaring him an adult Nawda. After Peace Corps, Todd returned home to Omaha, Nebraska where he helped his brother launch a sustainable restaurant (The Grey Plume) and works as a writer for an architecture firm.
Blair Cochran, The Gambia, 2007-09
Blair conducted teacher training workshops “up-country” in The Gambia and helped teachers develop materials to use in their classrooms, such as over-sized books to read aloud. After her Peace Corps service, she stayed in The Gambia an additional year teaching in the capital. She now runs an after school program in Boston.