Video: First Peace Corps volunteers look back

  1. Closed captioning of: First Peace Corps volunteers look back

    >>> not long ago here we brought you a "making a difference" report about the peace corps , returning to one of the world's most dangerous places, sierra leone . we got a ton of e-mails after that story and it led us to a kind of reunion of a group of men and women who were there when it started serving with an organization that's been making a difference, coming up on 50 years now. our report from nbc 's ron allen .

    >> reporter: they've come together to celebrate. back to rutgers university in new jersey, where they trained for what was a new volunteer program almost 50 years ago. a group of 62 young men without a real good idea of what they were getting themselves into.

    >> it's decision time and you're invarietied to go to colombia . well, yeah! you know, let's go. when is the plane leaving?

    >> reporter: they all say they signed up after hearing a young president's call to action .

    >> we'll send americans abroad who are qualified to do a job.

    >> reporter: what do you think those two years meant to your life?

    >> for me, there's no question, it was life changing. at 19, 20, 21, i had -- i had no direction. i didn't think about what i wanted to be.

    >> i got to live in different places and meet different people. i loved every minute of it.

    >> reporter: they served in colombia , south america , where nbc news first met mike wilson in 1962 , riding a horse back and forth to work.

    >> we built roads here, we've built some basketball courts , wells, water supplies.

    >> reporter: the group, known as colombia one, also is credited with helping pave the way for over 200,000 americans who would follow to more than 100 countries. often leaving a lasting impression. that's something we saw firsthand while reporting on the peace corps 's war torn sierra leon . he remembered a peace corps teacher from 40 years ago.

    >> ms. watson .

    >> reporter: ms. watson ?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: we had to pass that pesage along. ms. watson is marilyn scott , a retired social worker who still volunteers teaching english.

    >> isn't that nice? i got as much from them as they have from me.

    >> reporter: many from colombia one stayed with the peace corps , training new recruits. what do you guys share?

    >> it was an adventure that also maybe helped some other people and i was part of something bigger for my country.

    >> reporter: would you do it again?

    >> in a heart beat. well, if i were younger.

    >> reporter: a brotherhood then and now, that came together to try to lend a hand. ron allen , nbc news, new brunswick, new jersey.

By NBC News Correspondent
updated 1/5/2011 1:39:48 PM ET 2011-01-05T18:39:48

I kept telling everyone, "I couldn't do this." Maybe I could have when I was 22, but that was a while ago.

We were traveling through the small African villages outside Bo, Sierra Leone's second largest city. They're tiny communities. One was about a 20-minute walk down a dirt road that grew more narrow and more overgrown with brush as we made our way. We were visiting several American Peace Corp volunteers who had just arrived here a couple of weeks ago to begin a two-year commitment as teachers in local schools. The volunteers live with host families who "adopt" them, where they live as their families do. Life becomes very, very basic.

We watched as Jessica Arriens began her day drawing water from a well for a morning bucket shower. There's a trick to lifting the water from the well without spilling most of it, a trick Arriens thinks she's finally learned. There is no running water here. No electricity either.  It's very hot and dusty, temperatures hover in the 90s, and there is high humidity. Obviously, there are no fans or air conditioning. Most of the time I'm sweating profusely. Everyone else seems to be dealing with the heat a lot better than I am. Arriens is from West Chester, Ohio. She was working as a reporter at a small newspaper in New Hampshire before this. Perhaps that's why we connected.  

Breakfast on this morning was fried chicken and pineapple, prepared in an outdoor kitchen over an open fire. The host family, who consider it quite an honor to take an American in, watches while Jessica eats alone. She doesn't want to do things that way. But that's the local custom, one of many things turning life upside down for the young volunteers just settling in here.

After breakfast, Arriens walks to her daily Peace Corps training session with a colleague, chatting about the work ahead and the huge spider in one of the showers. They're excited, full of enthusiasm, exchanging morning greetings in the local language they're learning with their new neighbors along the way.

Not far away,  Ikena  Achilihu is also settling in, getting comfortable with the single room in the house he now calls home. A bed draped with a mosquito net fills the room. A few of his favorite books line a shelf. There's a shortwave radio to hear the BBC or Voice of America. He's bouncing a big exercise ball while excitedly telling us how he just got a full length mirror and saw himself for the first time in weeks. Outside he helps with cooking fish and plantains for dinner. Night is falling. Achilihu explains how he shuts off the battery powered light in his room, jumps under the mosquito net, and opens his window that doesn't have a screen for a bit of night air. It's stifling hot. The bugs are aggressive.

Again, I'm thinking, "I couldn't do this!"

They volunteered for the Peace Corps. The organization chose where they were most needed.They're among the first group of Americans here in 16 years, a long time away because of Sierra Leone's long brutal civil war that ended in 2002. The country hasn't been safe enough for the Peace Corps to return until now.

Story: Sierra Leone and Peace Corps

This group of 37 volunteers is pretty typical. They're all in their 20s, from 22 different states. Only one has never traveled abroad before. Some have parents or know someone who served in the Peace Corps. They're all adventurous, all drawn to the organization for different reasons, but they all seem to see it as a rare opportunity to broaden their horizons, live in the wider world, and do whatever they can to help people much less fortunate.

Learning how to live here, without so many of the creature comforts they used to take for granted, is a big transition. However, the essence of their mission will be teaching science, math and English in local schools. The Peace Corps sends them to places most in need. Each volunteer lives and works alone. They're connected by cell phones. Someone will be an hour or two bike ride away. And they'll be working in a place where the illiteracy rate is about 70 percent, where well-trained teachers are rare, where school children often do not have books, pens or pencils, where most kids never finish grade school.

Perhaps by now you're also thinking, "I couldn't do that!"

But that's exactly what these determined souls are going to do, and no doubt they'll do it with a lot determination and huge, open hearts.

Story: Were you in the Peace Corps? Share your photos


We hope you'll enjoy our story on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,and the extended interview, video clips and pictures linked here, as much as we enjoyed the actual time spent in Sierra Leone.

From Africa to the NFL, and back again

Greetings From Freetown

Africa marks a day for children

'Thank you' to a Peace Corps volunteer 40 years later

NFL's Madieu Williams honors mother's memory in Sierra Leone

Slideshow: Surprising beauty amidst struggle in Sierra Leone

Timeline: Timeline: Sierra Leone and the Peace Corps

After suffering the ravages of civil war for more than a decade, the country is once again hosting American volunteers.

Explainer: Your photos from the Peace Corps

  • NBC's Nightly News featured a story about U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers returning to Sierra Leone after a 16-year absence due to the brutal civil war there.

    As part of our coverage, asked former Peace Corps Volunteers for their photos from their service around the globe. We got an amazing response from hundreds of former volunteers who worked all over the world — from Vanuatu to Lesotho to Ukraine. Check out our gallery and submit your own photos here.

  • A Vanuatu volunteer's story

    Submitted by John Wheatley

    John Wheatley, hails from State College, Pa. and was a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2001-2005 in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. He's seen here with some villagers after their annual land-diving ceremony which is intended to improve the yam crop.

    I served in the Peace Corps from 2001 to 2005 as an agribusiness volunteer in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. I lived in a bamboo and grass hut with no electricity or running water on the edge of a jungle on the island of Ambae (better known to the outside world as Bali Hai, the island immortalized in James Michener's "South Pacific.") 

    Though I worked with the villagers on a number of projects, including disaster preparedness and mitigation, my biggest project involved traveling around from village to village on the three islands in my province to teach people how to run small chicken farms to provide their communities with fresh eggs and their families with a small income. I came to be known as the chicken man, or, in the pidgin English of their country, "man blong faol." 

    My experience was similar to many Peace Corps volunteers whom I've talked to, in that I got far more than I gave. My life there was idyllic. I had my own garden from which I harvested organic vegetables, I fished from the ocean for animal protein, and I raised my own flock of chickens for eggs. The people were the kindest, happiest people I have ever met. So giving, so welcoming, so open-hearted.  If only I could have given to them all that they gave to me. 

    Peace Corps was undoubtedly the greatest experience of my life, and I may well return to Peace Corps service in my retirement. It is a fantastic program - one of the few things I think our government actually gets right!

  • John Wheatley Vanuatu 2001-2005

    Submitted by John Wheatley

    Young girls in traditional grass skirts in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

  • John Wheatley Vanuatu 2001-2005

    Submitted by John Wheatley

    A few guys from my village wait for me in the canoe while I dive down to spear a few fish for our dinner.

  • Marisa Wong, Niger, West Africa

    Submitted by Marisa Wong

    Marisa Wong, Niger, West Africa, currently lives in Honolulu, HI

    Niger, West Africa. A young Wodaabe girl looks away from the action at a traditional male beauty contest, where hundreds of Wodaabes gather in the desert for the annual Guerwol festival. The Wodaabes are a subgroup of the nomadic Fulan ethnic group. They share a truly unique cultural identity and way of life.

  • Marisa Wong, Niger, West Africa

    Submitted by Marisa Wong

    Niger, West Africa. The solemn and proud president of a Peace Corps-initiated student government stands before a motorcycle.

  • Marisa Wong, Niger, West Africa

    Submitted by Marisa Wong

    Niger, West Africa. Young girls from different bush villages around the Zinder region are united during a Girls Empowerment Camp organized by Peace Corps Volunteers.

  • Patricia Day Teneyck, Mali 1987-1990

    Submitted by Patricia Day TenEyck

    Patricia Day Teneyck, Mali 1987-1990, currently lives in Portland, OR

    I was a Peace Corps Volunteer from June 1987 until December of 1990. I was a Water Resources Management Volunteer - one of only three women trained in this field. We trained teams of locals to hand dig reinforced wells instead of the traditional wells which were just holes in the ground. 

    My first two years I live and worked with the Dogon people on the Bandiagara Platuea - on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.  The deepest well we dug while I was there was approximately 25 meters deep - all by hand, hauling up buckets of dirt one at a time with a rope and pulley - that was how we went in and out of the well, too. 

    After two years, I was asked to stay on a third year and go to a region of Mali that had never had volunteers before.  Four of us went to the Kayes Region to work in Manantali with a large population of Malinke who had been removed from their ancient villages to make way for a large dam. The team had to Agriculture volunteers, a forester and me as the water volunteer. We worked with 37 villages to help ease the transition to their new homes. 

    Above is a photo of me with my Miriamu, my "mom" in Bandiagara, Mali 1988/89.

    She fed me, looked after me, filled me in on all the local gossip and taught me how to kill a chicken. I only did it once, and only because she wanted me to.  She was an incredible woman.

    Peace Corps was an incredible experience for me. When I think back on my life it is divided before and after Peace Corps and before and after children - the two most important things that have shaped who I am.  It was hard - but I would not change a minute of it.

  • Jay Mather, Malaysia 1969-70

    Submitted by Jay Mather
    At the end of a long day of planting rice, a woman rests before walking home.

    Jay Mather, Malaysia 1969-70, now lives in Sisters, OR.

    I served in Malaysia during 1969 and 1970. While I was working with local staff in a rural health clinic I found many opportunities to photograph the rich culture that combined Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian traditions. Health education, especially family planning, was important in the rural areas where the family income was small.

  • Jay Mather, Malaysia 1969-70

    Submitted by Jay Mather

    A boy and his older sister walk along a path towards their home in southern Malaysia.

  • Bob Butler, Samoa 1980-82

    Submitted by Bob Butler

    I served as a High School Math Teacher in Samoa in 1980-82. This picture is of me during training as we learned how to make palusami - coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves and baked on hot rocks. I still crave it from time to time.

    One of my favorite memories is from a visit to the home of one of my students. He and another student from his village were walking down the road with me, talking about how much they didn't like palagi (westerners).

    "Palagi think they know more than us." "Palagi are rude." Comments like that. After this went on a couple of minutes, I reminded them that I was a palagi. Their reply: "No, you're not a palagi. You're a Peace Corps." That's a reputation I can live with.

  • Richard Sitler, Jamaica, 2000-2002.

    I served two years as a youth development volunteer in Lluidas Vale, St. Catherine, Jamaica from 2000 to 2002. I returned to Jamaica for six months in 2006 as a Crisis Corps Volunteer (now called Peace Corps Response). As a Crisis Corps volunteer I worked as a curriculum coordinator developing a life skills training center in Ewarton, St. Catherine.

    Before Peace Corps I was a photojournalist. I worked on staff at papers in Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

    Submitted by Richard Sitler

    I took a break from my photojournalism career serve in Peace Corps because it was something I always wanted to do. Peace Corps was a great experience. Because Peace Corps was such an important part of my life I wanted to do something to help promote it.

    I just finished traveling around the world photographing Peace Corps volunteers on five continents in over twenty countries. My work will be published this fall by Other Places Publishing. For more information about my project go to my Facebook page.  

    As a volunteer I worked for what is called an "All Age School", which is a school for grades one through 8. I mostly took photos during my Peace Corps service as a way of helping get better integrated into the community.

    I was the first Peace Corps volunteer to serve in Lluidas Vale, a village amidst the sugar cane fields of the Worthy Park Plantation, patented in 1670. The plantation was still the center of everything in the community and little had changed in respect to the socio-economic situation of the people there. This is one of my favorite pictures I took during my service.

  • Muriel Johnston, 84-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanant, Morocco

    Submitted by Richard Sitler

    For my book photographing the every day lives of volunteers of today I met some wonderful people including the current oldest serving volunteer, 84-year-old Muriel Johnston.

    Muriel is a volunteer in Tanant, Morocco. Muriel and her host mother and daughter share a laugh in this photo. Muriel lived with this family through the three months of training.

    She was thrilled to find out that she had been placed to serve in the same community, so now she lives in her own place, but within walking distance of her host family, so she visits often.

  • Merrill Nosler, Lesotho 2008-2010

    Submitted by Merrill Nosler

    Merrill Nosler, Lesotho 2008-2010, currently lives in Folsom, Ca.

    I served 2 years in the country of Lesotho (Sub-Saharan Africa) 2008-2010 as a community health volunteer. My primary job was training youth to teach about HIV/AIDS. Lesotho is the number 3 country in the world for HIV/AIDS prevalence at 32%. The life expectancy is 37 years old. Between the ages of 20-49, 50% have HIV/AIDS

    Some Basotho thought that dying of AIDS was inevitable. One Basotho woman told me "We Basotho, we just know we will die young." But many of the younger people were willing to learn. They wanted to help. They wanted a different future. The kids in Lesotho inspired me!

    I also went into schools to teach life skills and English. I joined other volunteers to help with HIV/AIDS outreaches. I did anything I could to spend time with kids, because in Lesotho, they are the only ones who can change their country.

    One of Peace Corps tag lines is "the toughest job you'll ever love." I agree. The job was the hardest I had ever done. It was also the best job I had ever done. I know we are there to help them, but for me It changed my life...changed how I see the world... changed my capacity for love. What's more sustainable than that?

    Soccer (or fut ball) is the favorite sport in Lesotho. In this picture some Basotho boys are playing in a soccer tournament. When it is over they will participate in other activities that teaches HIV/AIDS awareness.

  • Merrill Nosler, Lesotho 2008-2010

    Submitted by Merrill Nosler
    Peace Corps Volunteers come together to build a keyhole garden. Keyhole gardens primarily benefit people who are too old or too sick to work out in the fields. A good keyhole garden will feed a family of 8 all year round.

    Merrill Nosler, Lesotho 2008-2010, currently lives in Folsom, Ca.

    Peace Corps Volunteers come together to build a keyhole garden. Keyhole gardens primarily benefit people who are too old or too sick to work out in the fields. A good keyhole garden will feed a family of 8 all year round.

  • Marc LaPlante, Marshall Islands

    Submitted by Marc LaPlante

    After graduating from Washington State University in 1979, I decided to join the Peace Corps to see the world. I was sent to the beautiful Marshall Islands in Micronesia. I taught health and English in the outer islands for two years.  At that time, there were no planes that arrived, only the field trip ships every three or four months with food, mail, and kerosene! 

    It was ironic that I was so isolated, yet with my battery operated radio, I could sing along with the Top 40 and listen to world news from Kwajalein Atoll nearby.  Learning Marshallese was 'sink or swim' as I was the only American on an island of 100 or so Marshallese. 

    I've returned to Wotho Atoll via Google Earth, and there sits the original two room school I taught at, with its tin roof, concrete walls, and no windows.  I remember entering that school for the first time and finding a couple pieces of chalk and one book. 

    Here is a photo of me outside a traditional thatch house in 1980.

    Today I teach Gifted and Talented students on the island of Guam, but return to the Marshalls from time to time to visit friends and make new ones.  Peace Corps — it is the toughest job you'll ever love.  Yokwe!

  • Paul Gamble, Sierra Leone 1981-1983

    Submitted by Paul Gamble

    Here are pictures from my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Magbele Ferry, Port Loko District, Sierra Leone (Sept 1981 - Dec 1983).

    Submitted by Paul Gamble
  • Diane Hall, Micronesia 1988-1990

    Submitted by Diane Hall  /  Dancers on the island of Yap in Micronesia
    Dancers on the island of Yap in Micronesia

    Diane Hall, Micronesia 1988-1990, currently lives in Kansas City, MO.

    I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia from 1988 to 1990.  I lived in a tin hut with a water cachment to collect rain water and read at night by lantern light. 

    As a volunteer teacher, I was assigned to a boarding school run by a local island religion, Modekngei.  My students were fun, funny, and very respectful of teacher. 

    Here is a picture of dancers on the island of Yap in Micronesia.

    In Micronesia, volunteers have 'host families' which is a much more committed relationship than the American concept of 'host family' which usually applies to foreign exchange students who are guests for a semester.  Microneisans have a long standing tradition of adoption and volunteers are incorporated as fully into families as the volunteer is comfortable with.  I am still in touch with several Micronesian family members, though my host parents have long since passed away.

    Like most volunteers, at my close of service, 2 years after 'swearing in', I felt that I'd gotten more than I'd given...and certainly learned more than I'd taught.

  • Carol Apacki, Thailand 1964-66

    Submitted by Carol Apacki

    Carol Apacki, Thailand 1964-66, currently lives in Granville, OH.

    I was in the Peace Corps from 1964-1966 in one of the early groups that served in Thailand. I taught English in a small town in central Thailand at a girls school.

    Here is a photo of me with other teachers at Satri Saraburi Girls School, Saraburi, Thailand, 1964.

    I shared a lovely little teakwood house on high stilts with four Thai teachers. A water buffalo often grazed underneath. I was warmly welcomed and embraced by the people of my town and actively participated in the many festivals and celebrations that are so integral to Thai culture. It was a transformative experience and I have since returned to Thailand three times.

    Submitted by Carol Apacki

    Two of my daughters have also lived in Thailand — one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a Rotary Exchange student.

    In 2006 I joined several other former Peace Corps volunteers to run a Fun and Friendship camp for children who suffered great loss during the tsunami. (Photo above) Like many other Peace Corps volunteers who served there, I consider Thailand my second home.

  • Matthew Renninger, Mongolia

    Submitted by Matthew Renninger  /  Zunmod, Mongolia
    Zunmod, Mongolia
    Submitted by Matthew Renninger  /  Mandalgovi, Mongolia
    Mandalgovi, Mongolia

    Some photos from my service as a Health Extension Volunteer in Mongolia.

  • John Sneed, Burkina Faso 1967 -1969

    Submitted by John Sneed

    I was a volunteer in the first program in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso in 1967. The program focused on digging large diameter wells, public health and agriculture.

    Here is a photo of some locals loading a Jeep with well construction supplies.

    In 1994 I returned  and with a friend who had lived in the same village as I in 1972 and found one of the wells still providing clean water for the village of  Lilougou. Between 1967 and 1969 our program provided the resources for over 200 wells in a country where water borne diseases are a major problem.

    Submitted by John Sneed

    Here is a photo of me in 1968 with my usual form of transportation: horse. 

    Submitted by John Sneed

    Here is one of the wells we built and saw on a return visit — still supplying fresh clean water 35 years later.

    Since Peace Corps service I have continued to stay connected to the people of Burkina through the Friends of Burkina Faso, an organization I founded. FBF supports a number of grass roots projects in the country, focusing on increasing opportunities for girls education.

  • Buck Denton, Madagascar 2000 - 2002

    Submitted by Buck Denton

    Buck Denton, Madagascar 2000 - 2002, currently lives in Lansing, MI.

    During my Peace Corps Service in Madagascar, I lived in a tiny village called Marolafa near the town of Beforona. 

    These are children from my village sitting in front of a rice paddy. I always enjoyed making people laugh.

    Each day, I reminisce about my Peace Corps Service and the little village that I called home for two years. I have very fond memories of Madagascar and Peace Corps. I learned more about life during those two years than at any other point of my life. 

    I was extremely fortunate to have lived in Madagascar, and I hope I gave as much to my village as they gave me.

  • Laura Hanks, Western Samoa in the South Pacific 2006-2008

    Submitted by Laura Hanks

    I served in Western Samoa in the South Pacific 2006-2008.  I lived in a hut in a village with 250 people.  My primary project was in the form of a 6-year-old boy named Malaki who could not hear. I helped him and his family learn sign language and by the end of my two years we were able to obtain a hearing aide for him for Australia.

    Malaki and I practicing our vowels. Notice his hearing aide

  • Moe O'Brien, Dominica in the West Indies from 1994-1996

    Submitted by Moe O'Brien

    Moe O'Brien, Dominica in the West Indies from 1994-1996, currently lives in Orange, MA.

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Dominica in the West Indies from 1994-1996. I lived in a small village near the northern end of the island called Vieille Case. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

    I was brought in to teach science using a garden, but end up doing so many different things. I taught P.E. at my school. I helped in organizing sports for the young people in the area who traveled down to the capital city of Rosseau to compete.  I also  opened up  two libraries. One was at the school. The other was out of my house for the adults in the village.

    I also played on the first woman's basketball team as well as the women's National Volleyball Team. Here is a photo of me mixing cement to fix up a basketball court.

    I loved every minute of my time in Dominca!

    Besides being a beautiful country (The nature island of the Caribbean). The Dominicans themselves are such a kind, caring group of people. They make people feel right at home.They take the time to get to know someone.They work hard for what they have, and are always willing to give a helping hand. Dominicans seem to have a deep appreciation for little things in life and the beauty that surrounds them on the island.

  • Josef Donnelly, Micronesia

    Submitted by Josef Donnelly  /  A Micronesia sunset.
    A Micronesia sunset.

    Josef Donnelly, Micronesia, currently lives in Bellefontaine,OH

    I was a Peace Corps Volunteer on Oneop, a tiny coral atoll in Chuuk State, Micronesia. The island is incredibly small and I could walk around it in less than one hour. I taught 8th grade English and helped build a computer lab at the local elementary school.

    The islanders were incredibly friendly and always willing to share whatever they had. I made numerous friends, and even met my wife.

    Submitted by Josef Donnelly
    Hanging out while building a thatch house.

    I am forever indebted to the Peace Corps for all the lessons I learned. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that left me with an indelible impression about the importance of helping others.

  • Patrick Guilfoy, Senegal

    Submitted by Patrick Guilfoy

    I was a Small Business Development Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa. Peace Corps was an incredible experience that helped to change my views of the world. This a photo of a local family where I lived.

    Watching the segment on the Nightly News reminded me those scenes could have been anytime in the past 49 years!

    Thank you NBC for taking a few minutes today to remind Americans there are many ways to serve our country and world!

  • Richard Dooley, Liberia 1989

    Submitted by Richard Dooley

    Richard Dooley, Liberia 1989, currently lives in Tucson, Az.

    Working on school latrine for town of Kle, Liberia. 1989

    Submitted by Richard Dooley

    Children of Fan Do, Liberia in front of the children's latrine in 1989. Designed and constructed to only accommodate children so they will take ownership and keep clean. 

    Submitted by Richard Dooley

    Children of Fan Do, Liberia, 1989

  • Kate Aselson, Tonga 2008-2010

    Submitted by Kate Asleson

    Kate & Brett Aselson, Tonga 2008-2010, currently live in St. Paul, MN.

    My husband Brett and I served in the Peace Corps from 2008-2010 in the island nation of Tonga in the South Pacific.

    We lived in the most remote region of this nation of 177 islands, on an island 6 miles long by 1/2 mile wide. I was a business advising volunteer teaching computer skills, while Brett taught English. This photo shows Brett teaching English to primary school students in our local village.

    It was an incredible experience, we have so many great memories of the people, scenery and culture. We were welcomed into the lives of the locals, and only hope we had as much of an impact on them as they did on us.

    Submitted by Kate Asleson

    This photo was taken on the beach of an uninhabited island, just after a storm had passed.

    I am currently writing a travel guidebook on Tonga for Other Places Publishing (, which will be available at the end of this year. In Tonga you can experience local polynesian culture, amazing dive sites, and swim with humpback whales.

  • Jeffrey Janis, Ukraine

    Submitted by Jeffrey Janis

    Jeffrey Janis, Ukraine

    The photo above is of one of my secondary projects — teaching American Sign Language to deaf Ukrainians.

    I think we all believe that we had a “unique” Peace Corps experience – different from all other PCVs. In my case, my unique niche seems to be that I left for Ukraine as an activist in both the LGBT community and in the Jewish community–and I also did this mid career when I was 44 years old. I made the decision, as an open gay man, to go back in the closet. And I was placed in a country with one of the worst histories in terms of its treatment of Jews. I realized that I also had to go in the closet as a Jew. It was not an easy decision, and yet I knew if I wanted to be a successful volunteer, this was my best option. 

    Being a gay and Jewish activist gave me the unique challenge of going back into the closet after a life and professional career dedicated to openness and reconciliation with identity. Although I came out of the closet more than 25 years ago, I didn’t struggle with the decision to go back into the closet as I knew it was my only choice if I wanted to be accepted in Ukraine. And due to the rampant anti-Semitism, I knew I had no choice but to go in the closet about being Jewish.  In fact, the Peace Corps advised me to not tell my host family that I was Jewish.

    Upon arrival, I faced many of the same struggles that all Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine endure. The culture shock was so intense that I often slept 12 hours a night. I had to learn a complicated new language. I lived for three month intervals with two randomly selected host families. After more than 25 years of not eating red meat, I learned to subsist on pork and salo (raw pig fat). I learned how to drink multiple shots of homemade vodka and not get drunk. I lived through the Orange Revolution and secretly joined in when more than one million people were protesting in the streets in the dead of winter. I had to deal with bird flu and the health implications of the fallout from Chernobyl. I lived on the average wage of most Ukrainians, less than $200 a month. I took bucket baths and had to hand wash all my clothes in my bathtub. All of this made being a Peace Corps Volunteer difficult. 

    But I think what surprises them the most is when I tell them that none of that was very difficult. I am convinced that the one common thread that all share PCVs was dealing with the loneliness. In so many ways, our Peace Corps experiences are so incredibly parallel whether we served in Ukraine, Oman, or Somalia. We all left our comfortable surroundings and went to a foreign country–probably one we have never visited before, didn’t know a single person, or speak a word of the language. We knew nothing about the culture or the people.  And yet, most of us survived to come home and share our stories with our friends and families.

    I love to speak to groups about my experience.  I knew that every day I was having a tangible impact in other people lives. It’s something which got me out of bed every single day. Knowing I was needed and knowing I was also truly making a difference. Isn’t that really what all of us want? To make a difference in this world. To be remembered. How often do we get the opportunity to see that we are making a tangible difference-and to feel that we are truly needed and have had an impact? And I talk about the importance of following your dream and doing something to make this world a better place. Isn’t that what life is all about?

  • Saira Amir, Honduras 2006-2008

    Submitted by Saira Amir

    Saira Amir, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras from 2006 to 2008 who currently lives in Washington, D.C. submitted this photo.

    Though the small town of Yuscarán, Honduras is most well known for its aguardiente production, it is slowly but surely gaining a reputation for the annual game of donkey polo that is played during the feria patronal.

    Peace Corps volunteers from around the country travel to the small town in the Department of El Paraíso to play for the Peace Corps team. However, even after more than a decade of competition, they have yet to defeat the opposing team consisting of Yuscarán locals.

  • Susie McGowan, Sierra Leone 1988-90

    Submitted by Susie McGowan

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, 1988-90. I taught high school math at Scarcies Secondary School in Mambolo, a village in the northern province of Sierra Leone. Here is a photo of me teaching in Mambolo in 1989.

    I am certain I learned more than I taught and the experience has affected me for a lifetime.

    Sierra Leone is a special place with the most lovely people. I miss the people and the food!

  • Ron Sand, Jamaica 2010-2012

    Submitted by Celeste Koscik

    These photos are of my parents, who are current Peace Corps Volunteers in Jamaica. They retired early and wanted to give back in a big way, so they joined the Peace Corps! They arrived in March of this year, and will serve for approximately 2 years.

    Ron Sand is working to help small villages in the Blue Mountains have access to a continual supply of clean water. He is seen here with some local neighborhood boys.

    Carole Sand is working with literacy programs for children and adults. Both Ron and Carole are working together on community projects, such as restoring a town library.

  • Carol Sand, Jamaica 2010-2012

    Submitted by Celeste Koscik

    Carole Sand with Jamaican girls at the children's summer "fun camp."

  • George Carter, Ghana 1961

    Submitted by Steffanie Carter

    My father in law, George Carter, was the first envoy sent to start the Peace Corps with a group they called Ghana I. Here is a photo of him arriving in Ghana in 1961.

    My husband lived there and my brother-in-law was born there.

    Many fine people volunteered to make that first journey that lead the Peace Corps to be what it is today! Enjoy the pictures. I have more!

    Submitted by Steffanie Carter - proud daughter in law!

  • George Carter, Ghana 1961

    Submitted by Steffanie Carter

    George Carter meets with Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps.

  • Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy starting the Peace Corps, March 1, 1961.

    Submitted by Steffanie Carter

    This is a copy of the Executive Order starting the Peace Corps and one of the pens President Kennedy used to sign it! March 1, 1961

  • Audra Helser, Koutiala, Mali

    Submitted by Richard Sitler

    My visual profiles of currently serving Peace Corps volunteers show a wide range of experiences. Many people have a stereotypical image in their mind of Africa and mud huts when they think of Peace Corps.

    My book will show that the range of where volunteers serve, the volunteers themselves and the people served are very diverse. Of course, there are still volunteers serving in settings that would fit the stereotype, such as Audra Helser who serves as a water sanitation volunteer in Koutiala, Mali.

    Here, Audra ( or Mariam as she is known in the village) gets her water from a well.

  • Gregory Smith, Sierra Leone 1974-75

    Gregory Smith, Former Sierra Leone Volunteer

    I have no surviving pictures from my Peace Corps days in Sierra Leone in 1974-75. I do have new pictures from our current project in Sinkunia that can trace their roots to my Peace Corps tour. 

    Please visit our website,, for more information.  Please contact Sheiku Mansaray,, for even more information (son of the Paramount Chief currently studying in London and the community development project manager of our organization).

    Submitted by Gregory Smith

    The new Senior Secondary School in Sinkunia during construction phase.

  • Gregory Smith, Sierra Leone 1974-75

    Submitted by Gregory Smith

    Gregory Smith, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone in 1974-75, recently returned with his family and is working on a school building project.

    He submitted this photo of his daughter, Lily (girl with cap) surrounded by children in Sinkunia, in the northeast corner of Sierra Leone.

  • Aida Ana Branez, Albania 2008-2010

    Submitted by Aida Ana Branez

    I joined Peace Corps as a means to adventure, travel and to improve my chances for graduate school (I am currently a Master's student at Leiden University for International Relations and Diplomacy).

    Yet I continually am amazed at how much I grew to love my community and got tied to my students' dreams of finding opportunities and changing the world. While I don't think I made visible changes to my community, I know I changed the lives of some special students and thus can entrust them to create better future to their country.

    In this photo taken during the winter of 2008, I'm teaching some of my young students in Corovode, Albania, English through Christmas songs! I organized a little holiday show where ticket profits would buy presents for children from the most impoverished families in the area.

  • Elizabeth Whitton, Morocco 2007- 2009

    Submitted by Elizabeth Whitton

    Morocco's King Mohammed VI visited my mountain village in spring of 2008. Being a foreigner with a camera has its advantages; I got to witness all the pomp and circumstance of the visit from behind the scenes.This photo is of two teenage girls —members of my host family and a part of the welcoming ceremony — and me.

  • Elizabeth Whitton, Morocco 2007- 2009

    Submitted by Elizabeth Whitton

    In Islam, the holy day is Friday. Most families in Morocco celebrate with a large lunch featuring couscous. Preparing the meal requires a significant amount of time and labor, so therefore it is only made on Fridays and special occasions. This is a bowl of couscous before it was devoured by other PCVs, the Moroccan family we came to know and love, and myself.

  • David Forssard, Philippines 1985-87 & Zambia 2003-2005

    Submitted by David Frossard

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer twice — once from 1985 to 1987 in Ifugao Province, on the spine of the Cordillera mountains of Luzon, Philippines, and once (as a married volunteer) in Zambia, 2003-2005. So I guess you could say Peace Corps is so nice, I did it twice.

    I might not have joined Peace Corps a second time if not for my wife, Ginny Lee, who had apparently heard enough of my stories of my old Peace Corps days in the Philippines and decided she wanted to experience that too. We ended up in a very remote site in the Northwest Province of Zambia, near the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola borders, working with farmers to increase production from fish ponds. It turned out to be a hugely popular and successful project.

    The picture above is of a special gift the Philippine villagers gave me at my going-away party in 1987: the best part of a pig.

  • David Forssard & Ginny Lee, Zambia 2003-2005

    Submitted by David Frossard

    My wife, Ginny Lee, and me, at home sweet home, Mufumbwe, NW Province, Zambia, 2003. The 6x15-foot mud-brick house was built by farmers for our arrival.

  • David Forssard & Ginny Lee, Zambia 2003-2005

    Submitted by David Frossard

    Ginny Lee teaching a sewing workshop, Mufumbwe, Zambia, 2004.


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