Peace Corps Expos Provide Venues to Collect Stories
By Erica Burman on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011
Stories have long been a centerpiece of the life of Ernie Zaremba (Tanzania 64-66). A professor for many years at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor Michigan, Ernie taught a life stories class until his retirement in 2000.
That’s when he turned his attention to the Peace Corps community.
“I love these Peace Corps stories. They’re really unique.”
Gathering Stories Becomes a Way of Life
Ernie was first inspired to capture Peace Corps stories after meeting Bob Klein (Ghana I) who was collecting oral histories for the Kennedy Library. Ernie began filming in 2004, as he sought out all 26 surviving members of his group – Tanganyika 4.
Then he took it to the next level. Accompanied by his partner, Helene Biegel, and traveling around the country as full-time campers in their motor home, Ernie started to reach out to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) along the way. Armed with his camera and the NPCA member directory, Ernie would make impromptu phone calls to individuals when he arrived in a town, asking if he could interview them. “People would say, ‘Wow, nobody wants to hear my story!’”
But more than 280 interviews later including interviews gathered in Tanzania , Ernie is amassing a growing catalog of Peace Corps stories, reflections and accomplishments. He hasn’t kept track of how much time he’s devoted to the project. “We just do it. We don’t look at it in terms of hours. Our (mobile) home is our office.”
New technologies and an increasingly interconnected world are creating more opportunities for collecting Peace Corps stories. Ernie credits a brainstorming session with NPCA Development Director Khalisa Jacobs for the idea of connecting with people via Skype to collect their stories. And, the ability to record and store his interviews on his iPad gives Ernie incredible flexibility to share his interviews with others.
Last October Ernie traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where many RPCVs attended University of Michigan events marking the start of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary. He has since attended the Jacksonville, Raleigh, Madison and San Diego 50th Anniversary Around the World Expos, which have proven to be ideal venues to connect with fellow RPCVs—and record their stories.
See You in Santa Fe!
His next stop? Santa Fe, New Mexico. This last Expo will be special, in that it will serve as the kick-off event for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. The Folk Art Market, now in its 8th year, was conceived by RPCVs and its success – it draws over 20,000 visitors during the first weekend July – is due in no small part to the tireless efforts of the local RPCV contingent marshaled by the New Mexico Peace Corps Association (See “Folk Art Market is natural fit for former Peace Corps members” – Santa Fe New Mexican) 6/5/11)
So if you can, please join us in Santa Fe on Thursday, July 7 for the opening of the Peace Corps Around the World Expo Tent and procession of International Market artists (details here). Stay the weekend for the Market. And look for Ernie in his colorful Peace Corps Tanzania jacket, so that you can share your Peace Corps story with him!
P.S. Ernie will also be coming to Washington, D.C. on September 22-25 for four days of culminating Peace Corps 50th Anniversary events, reunions and more! Get all the details here.