The TCU – PNG Connection
By Jonathan Pearson on Monday, June 13th, 2011
The lifeblood of advocacy for the Peace Corps lies with the meaningful stories of friendship, understanding and sustainable development – and the powerful multiplier effect those stories portray.
Brian Glenn and Fran Huckaby (Papua New Guinea 97-99) have such a story. But it doesn’t only extend to the six rural villages in the Eastern Highlands Province where the couple served as Rural Community Development Facilitators. The power of their Peace Corps experience boomerangs back to their hometown of Fort Worth Texas, and the campus of Texas Christian University.
In three weeks the couple will return to Papua New Guinea twelve years after their service. Twelve years after they worked closely with village elders and community leaders in determining that basic education was one of the top priorities for the region.
Twelve years ago, Brian and Fran exemplified the important role of “facilitator” as they worked with the community to select local teachers and elect a community school board. They assisted with curriculum development and teacher training programs. They helped secure grants that led to the construction of six K – 2 schools. Construction and planning addressed other needs as each school included a catchment tank for drinking water, a small community library…there was also a grant to provide travel support for a community health worker.
While they don’t know exactly what to expect upon their return, the RPCVs know that several of the schools – perhaps four or five of them – received local government recognition and are still operating. “That means the government is now providing resources to support the schools and the teachers,” said Brian.
The impact of this Peace Corps success story does not, however, end in the remote villages of a country too many Americans would be hard pressed to find on a map.
It extends to the campus of Texas Christian University (TCU).
As an Associate Professor in the College of Education at TCU, Fran regularly applies some of her Peace Corps experiences as she prepares the next generation of classroom teachers. When teaching courses such as Diversity in American Education, or Philosophy and Ethics in Education, Fran often refers back to her Peace Corps experiences.
Occasionally, Fran has a “PNG Day” in her classroom. She sets up the classroom like a PNG village, speaks to the college students only in the local language (“I can do this because I haven’t run into anyone yet who speaks Melanesian Tok Pisin!”) and then has the students take a test. The exercise is designed to give her future teachers the feeling of what it might be like for some of their future students who may speak a different language and be unfamiliar with the local environment, culture and customs.
Part of Fran’s travel back to Papua New Guinea is to update her cultural knowledge of the country. She also plans to lay the groundwork for what she hopes will be an interdisciplinary study abroad program in which TCU students would learn – not by studying simply in an overseas university classroom – but more by traveling to various communities around the country. If launched, Fran and Brian believe the program could be the first study abroad program to PNG in the nation.
Brian and Fran are both excited and anxious about their return visit. The strict gender roles within village society will be a challenge, as they were before. With electronic communication still very limited, the couple has sent letters, but isn’t certain that they have been received so that people know they are coming. And with a life expectancy of only 45 years, there is the uncertainty of who may – or may not – still be there to share in their upcoming reunion.
Fort Worth was the first stop of NPCA’s seven-city swing through Texas. Austin (Monday) and San Antonio (Tuesday) are next up. Follow this link for all the details.