Orrin Luc posted an articleA Haitian American Volunteer navigating the uncertainties of a time of crisis see more
Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya (2006–08) and Zambia (2008–09) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Haiti (2010)
As told to Ellery Pollard
Photo: Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake: Carlos Jean-Baptiste, in blue shirt, assisting with relief. Courtesy Carlos Jean-Baptiste
I identify as a first-generation Haitian American, born of an immigrant mother. I grew up in a community where my grade school was 50 percent first-generation American, so I experienced the world through these relationships. I was always aware of how big the world is. Peace Corps was a path to experience it firsthand, and it helped me understand the complexity of identities and how we have a responsibility to parse those identities — our own and those of people we live and work with.
When I arrived in Kenya as a Volunteer, I was petrified. But when my host father met me, he embraced me, and he said, “Today, my son, you were born in Africa, and your name is Makau.” To be embraced by a community, by someone who doesn’t know you, and to immediately feel a sense of belonging — that’s a very significant feeling.
While I was in Kenya, I was a behavior change communicator for Deaf audiences. It was a pilot program, and most of us who went were artists and graphic designers. The idea of being able to create visual media to communicate behavior change was promising and exciting. It was an amazing experience to get the chance to work with the Deaf community — people who see themselves as their own tribe, but who all represent different ethnic groups within Kenya.
I was in service for about 18 months before Peace Corps suspended the program due to civil unrest following the 2007 elections. Four of us went to Zambia and met with the country director. She asked if we were interested in doing a pilot there, which ended up being a great way to build something new and carry on from our previous service.
The earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010. I was working in Ethiopia at the time. I immediately started trying to find ways to help.
The earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010. I was working in Ethiopia at the time. I immediately started trying to find ways to help. I did some fundraising, but I was ultimately able to volunteer with Peace Corps Response, working with USAID. That was my first time in Haiti; it was unfortunate that it took the earthquake to get me there.
The program was put together as quickly as possible, trying to find the right skill sets to be most effective. It was a disaster response situation: I came in from the airport and they sat me at a table and told me to read all these documents and explain what I was going to do. Those first hours were cathartic. It’s all epiphany, it’s all learning — what I know, what I don’t know, how to move forward. Not knowing everything is fine. But knowing people is an expertise as well — how to read cues. Leaning on experiences I had from Kenya and Zambia and Ethiopia, I knew that if you don’t ask the right question, or don’t ask it the right way, you’re not going to get the answer you really want. Sometimes people are going to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what you need to know.
What I did was fill gaps for a long time: I would be an informal interpreter in the field; then I worked as the liaison to the United Nations Clusters. Any given day, you could be working on something totally different, responding to immediate needs. We were facilitating specific parts in the recovery via monitoring and evaluation, recommendations about what people should do. I was able to work on a project at its inception and then work in a different agency to develop and implement it. So I got the chance to see the fruits of my work in a way that a lot of Volunteers don’t.
In terms of identity, in Haiti I could be Haitian — but also American. I could speak Kreyòl in a really comfortable way, but also speak English. It was the first time that everyone around me was speaking the language that I grew up speaking. How many people have that moment where you swear you’re an expert, and then you’re confronted with however much you really know — or don’t? It’s incredibly humbling — but not humiliating.
This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.
Communications Intern posted an articleBefore Milana Baish served as a Volunteer, she interviewed 15 who had served across the decades. see more
Before Milana Baish served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she interviewed 15 who had served across the decades. Then came the global evacuation.
Interview by Jordana Comiter
Meeting multiple returned Volunteers while studying at University of Texas, Austin, led Milana Baish to interview 15 RPCVs and write an honors thesis on how they perceived their experiences’ impact — in their communities and on themselves. They served from the 1960s to 2015, from Ghana to Sri Lanka, Brazil to Ukraine.
Then it was Baish’s turn. Her service in Zambia was cut short by evacuation. A Coverdell Fellowship brought her to Clark University for a program in development economics and international development.
Why did you decide to serve?
A lot of it had to do with the people I talked to. I wanted to learn about another culture. My time teaching in the Peace Corps solidified the path that I want to follow, working on education and equity in the U.S. and abroad. Most meaningful were relationships with fellow teachers and my host sister, learning from other women in the community, and learning from my students.
Teaching was hard. My classes were really large, up to 80 students. We were meant to work with another teacher, but my school was short staffed. We held teacher meetings to choose difficult topics and create a lesson plan together. Then someone would put on this class, and we’d all observe. With my English teaching, it was just me. I started an English club also; students could do extra material or homework. If they were trying to learn a phrase, I would make sure I knew how to say it in Bemba.
Embrace: Silvia Mwape, left, with Volunteer Milana Baish. Seated: Abigail Shamz. They hosted Milana as mother and sister. Photo courtesy Milana Baish
Talk about the evacuation — and who and what you left behind.
My group had gone for literacy training in the capital. There staff told us, “We’re evacuating you guys. You don’t have time to go back to your village, say goodbye, or pack. We’re flying you out from the capital.”
It was very sudden and still feels like an open chapter. I talk to people in my community, checking in. But I’m only able to keep in contact with people with smartphones. I can sometimes give messages to students through the teachers.
I was the first Volunteer at my site. Seven months is not a lot of time. There were a lot of things the community wanted to get done. We started a women’s group that did income-generating activities, as well as adult literacy classes. We were about to start our big project — beekeeping. I have heard from the local carpenter, who built structures for the nests; he is helping the women continue the project. We wanted to build a kitchen at the school as part of a meal program for students who go through 15-hour school days hungry. We talked about writing the grant but never got started.
What do you think it means to serve now versus then?
One thing we learn in Peace Corps training is, “You’re not going to be happy if you’re comparing yourself to the other Volunteers.” Everyone has different communities and schools they’re working in.
I went in knowing what other Volunteers had done but tried to have no expectations. The goals of the Peace Corps are the same. The world seems so large, but it’s really so small. It’s been an important part of the Peace Corps to just show us that we’re all in this together.
Teacher training: Students with Milana Baish. Photo courtesy Milana Baish
Talk about concern over neocolonialism and white saviorism.
That’s an important conversation being had now. I’m half Hispanic, but I’m very white passing. Going to Zambia, I’m just seen as a white woman. That was something I thought a lot about, because of the history of colonialism.
A couple times in my community someone would say, “You’re gonna bring all these great things to our community.” I would say, “We’re going to do this together. I want to know what you guys want to do.” I was there to help support, learn, and share.
A lot of Volunteers I spoke to for my research reflected on how their race might have affected things. Some were people of color who were treated differently by their communities. In Guatemala, one was the first Black person many had met.
It’s critical to have diversity in the Peace Corps, because that’s how the United States is.
Would you do it again?
Yes, 100 percent. Without a doubt.
International Women's Day, 2020: “We had a parade around the village and then celebrated with dancing and cooking at the school,” writes Milana Baish. Photo by Milana Baish
Jordana Comiter studies political science and communications at Tulane University. She serves as an intern with WorldView.
Steven Saum posted an articleWork Amber Cohen was doing was small-scale, in-person, and hopefully long-lasting and sustainable. see more
Zambia | Amber Cohen
Home: Washington, D.C. Area
In the village of Itinti, a 15-hour bus ride from the capital, Amber Cohen assembled a meeting of the farmers with whom she’d built 27 fish ponds during almost two years. “It didn’t really hit me that this was the last meeting I’d be having.”
Her work as an aquaculture Volunteer was small-scale, in-person, and hopefully long-lasting and sustainable. In training she learned to speak Bemba, one of Zambia’s 72 languages, and gathered resources to teach fish pond construction and management.
She lived in the compound of the “head man” — a big house but, more important, just steps from the village well. People visited her throughout the day when they came for water.
Also important: the commitment of the village leader and her counterpart, Laston Mukuka, to the idea of fish farming in the village. “I arrived in May, and we had ponds built by September,” Cohen says. Mukaka even dug his own 20-meter by 15-meter pond alone. “Laston! Ask your friends for help,” Cohen begged him. “No, I got this,” he replied.
“We all change, but Peace Corps makes you reflective. We are all learning now how to be alone with our minds. To accept changes and growth.”
The ponds were stocked with green-headed tilapia — palé in Bemba — to provide food security and surplus to sell. Many ponds were owned by individuals, one by a women’s club, one by a collective.
Evacuation came quick. It felt like walking through a dream, Cohen says. In the last meeting, the fish farmers sat outside her house. “I gave them a speech about how proud I was of the work we did,” Cohen says. “We talked about coronavirus and why I was being evacuated. How it could be coming to Zambia. They didn’t have any cases; in Zambia there’s a big greeting culture. But prevention strategies were being talked about by government health workers.”
Cohen is headed back to southeastern Africa — to Malawi this time, as coordinator for a malaria prevention project. “I am not the same person I was,” she says. “We all change, but Peace Corps makes you reflective. We are all learning now how to be alone with our minds. To accept changes and growth.”
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Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.
Kaylee Jensen posted an articlePeace Corps community gives feedback on Worldview magazine see more
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer posted in Zambia. I lent a copy of [the Spring 2019] WorldView to some members of my community and they saw the article about TCP Global, “Empowering a Village.” They’re interested in microfinance and would like loans to help with various projects they want to pursue in our village. Then they formed a group of ten and asked me to get in touch with Helene Dudley at TCP Global. The leader of them is Stanley Shikoki.
Would it be possible for TCP Global to provide micro-loans in my community?
Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia
One of the virtues of print — it’s easy to share a magazine with friends! TCP Global responded in the affirmative regarding micro-loans, sent materials to Calvin Yahn, and requested mentoring support from Friends and RPCVs of Zambia. Let us know how we can help you connect with the broader Peace Corps community. —Ed.
I want to say how pleased I am with WorldView. So many great stories from countries everywhere in the world. I wish all middle and high school students had access to a subscription to our magazine through their school libraries and/or their social studies teachers. When my nephew was a social studies teacher, I was sending past issues and Madison’s International Calendar to him for his classroom or the school library.
The Peace Corps community should be especially grateful to hear from our Latin America veterans in the Summer 2019 issue on the Northern Triangle, and El Paso, too. Those articles make me feel so proud to be an RPCV. Sadly, I later read reports that the State Department deputy secretary for Latin America, Kimberly Breier, apparently resigned over a dispute regarding White House plans to make U.S. asylum seekers apply first in Guatemala. What have we come to?
I like the changes in WorldView, too. I used to have trouble reading the text because of the lack of contrast between the typeface print and the white pages. The new type looks great. The font is still a bit small but the darker print makes for great easier reading. I also need to check out the digital version.
Côte d’Ivoire 1965–67
We hope you’ll all check out the digital version, too! You can find more than a decade’s worth of archives on our app right now. Right now that’s free for everyone in the Peace Corps Community. Write us for details. And if you’d like to support a gift subscription, let us know. You have great stories to tell. —Ed.
In your Winter 2019 issue on page 6 it was very good to see the terrific story about Ron Venezia drawn from his 1996 oral history. You credited the Library of Congress for conducting this interview, but while such oral histories are also filed there, the credit really goes to the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, which is the home of this and thousands of other fascinating oral histories of State and USAID people, many of whom also served in the Peace Corps. This diplomatic archive is a tremendous resource and deserves recognition for its wonderful ongoing oral history program. I urge your readers to check it out at ADST.org.
Peace Corps staff, 1963–67
Amanda Silva posted an articleRPCV Camillia Freeland-Taylor helps community build school in Southern province of Zambia. see more
The Community Fund: Perpetuating a Lifelong Commitment to Peace Corps Ideals
At National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), we understand the impact Volunteers make in host communities, as well as those host communities make upon Volunteers. Both resonate for decades. The Community Fund thrives on sustaining that relationship and impact.
An example are Camillia Freeland-Taylor’s (Zambia 2013-15) efforts to support the children of her village, Magalela, who must walk nine miles and cross two rivers to attend school. Many families do not allow their girls to attend because of the two-hour walk. During Camillia’s service, a first grade boy drowned on the journey.
The village children need a local primary school to ensure their basic human right to education. Camillia worked both during and after service to meet this need.
The grant she originally received as a PCV provided the amount necessary to lay the foundation of the school. As an RPCV, Camillia sought out NPCA to purchase cement and other building materials to complete the project by plastering the school's walls, finishing the floors, building latrines, and fitting windows with glass. The Zambian government will then provide teachers.
“It’s good to have a school because our children won’t have to walk so far (usually six-eight kilometers one way), and they don’t have to worry about crossing the river during the rainy season, which is extremely dangerous. Right now we have no choice, but we are trying to change that through the new school” says Jethrow Siatubi, Magalela Village Head.
Education has a compounding effect, and the result of allowing an entire community of children access to a primary education is profound. Studies show that with each additional year of education, an individual will earn more as an adult and prevent extreme poverty. Moreover, women who receive a primary school education are less likely to lose children in the first five years of the child’s life.
“I remember one time I went to the hospital and they gave me the wrong medicine. If I wasn’t educated I wouldn’t have been able to tell the medicine was meant for someone else and for a different problem. I was able to do so because of education. I want my children to have a better education and a chance at a brighter future” remarked Julius Simombeh, a school committee member.