13 March 2009


In my previous post, I published my thoughts
on the Peace Corps after attending the 25th Peace Corps
Anniversary Conference in Washington DC in 1986.
The following is an update I wrote three years after
attending the Peace Corps conference held in June 2002.

[In 2005, I wrote:]
         In 2002, I attended the 40th Anniversary Peace Corps Conference. It had been scheduled for September of 2001. After the 9/11 tragedy, the organizers decided to go ahead as planned, because they felt we needed the PEACE, as exemplified by the Peace Corps, more than ever. But when Reagan Airport was shut down, the conference had to be postponed until June of 2002. 
        Like the 1986 conference I wrote about previously, it was a happy, joyous, nostalgic, emotionally-draining weekend.

        I briefly met Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter's grandson, who had recently returned from service in Africa, following in his great-grandmother's footsteps. (The president's mother, Miss Lillian, had served in India when she was 68-70 years old.)
        Sargent Shriver, already suffering from alzheimers, spoke briefly. Bill Moyers, who had been in on the planning of the Peace Corps, was in attendance.

        Alejandro Toledo of Peru was supposed to attend, but he conferenced in by phone due to a national emergency. In 1963, Toledo, then an adolescent shoe shine boy in a family of 16 children, developed a friendship with Peace Corps Volunteers Joel Meister and Nancy Deeds. 
        After Toledo graduated from high school, Meister and Deeds helped him gain admission to San Francisco City College and later San Francisco State University, where Toledo earned a degree in economics by obtaining a partial soccer scholarship and working at a gas station. Subsequently, he earned a scholarship for graduate studies at Stanford University where he earned advanced degrees in economics and education. He became a professor of economics at the Universidad del Pacifico in Peru and a guest professor in Japan. He also worked as a consultant for various international organizations including the United Nations.
        In 2001, Alejandro Toledo was elected to the Peruvian presidency. [During Toledo's presidency, the economy grew steadily and Peru showed one of the world's lowest inflation rates. He served until 2006. He has denied rumors that he may run again in 2011.]

        At the 2002 conference, I enjoyed being with others who had served in Brazil, including two other Returned PC Volunteers from my own Peace Corps group. Gary had been working for the Christian Children's Fund and returned to Brazil often. Vivian remained in Brazil for 20 years where she met her Chilean husband. They had recently moved to the Washington area and kindly allowed me to stay in their spare room. Brunie, the woman who overlapped me for one year at my Brazilian PC site, attended the conference with her husband, adopted son, her niece and grand niece. Several evenings, a small group of former volunteers who had served in Brazil met at several Brazilian restaurants to enjoy feijoada and other Brazilian dishes.

        One elderly woman, 86 at the time of the conference, had served in Brazil for 15 years teaching goat husbandry. Most Volunteeers serve two years, but may extend service to four, especially if time is needed to complete a project. Apparently, the Peace Corps had to travel to her site to physically remove her because she didn't want to leave. I don't remember what years she served, but since the PC stopped serving Brazil in 1980, that may have been her 15th year.

        Since 1961, more than 165,000 [now 195,000] volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as agriculture, small business and community development, education, environmental conservation, healthcare and information technology. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. The oldest volunteer was 84. Most programs require a college degree and all majors are welcome. Non-degreed applicants must have three to five years of experience in business, farming, ranching or a skilled trade. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment. Its benefits include language and cultural training, medical and dental coverage, housing, travel to and from the country of service, as well as a monthly stipend and 24 vacation days a year. Volunteers may defer repayment of various student loans while serving.

        With the Iraqi War costing this country billions of dollars and thousands of lives, I often wonder how much less it would have cost in both lives and money for us to send teachers, nurses, doctors, farmers and business professionals to Iraq and other mideastern countries to wage peace.

(©2005, with 2009 revisions, C.J. Peiffer)


  1. I really love your stories, Last week when in Sao Paulo, Toledo attended the dinner we were invited to. The group of people were (almost all)Peruvian and discussing the politics and the economy of Peru... a very interesting man and still active in his counties politics.

  2. Hello,

    I came across your site when searching for Brazil and Peace Corps in Google. I'm trying to find the answer as to why service was discontinued in Brazil. All I can find on the matter is that it was discontinued and that happened in 1980.

    Thank you for any light you can shed on the subject!

  3. Adam, I don't have specific details on why the PC left Brazil in 1980, but I can make some guesses. First, the host country has to want the PC. So, my first assumption is that we were no longer wanted or needed. At that time, Brazil was emerging from its underdeveloped state. Brazilians are very proud and proud of their country. It is possible that they wanted to shed the image of the Third World. By accepting PC Volunteers, they would be admitting the country was backward and needed help. Brazil progressed a great deal even in the two years I was there 1967-1969, so I imagine, the next decade showed great progress as well. There might have been a little worry that the country was shedding its Brazilian culture and adopting U.S. culture and values. There could, of course, have been some political or diplomatic reasons for no longer wanting the PC ---or there may have been incidents with specific volunteers. I don't know of any, but it is possible.

    The reason I mention this is, at the time I served, nearly everyone was a recent college graduate, young & inexperienced. Many were left alone in small towns, not speaking the language fluently yet nor understanding the culture extremely well. It is possible that some used poor judgment or made mistakes in the foreign culture. I understand that some Volunteers get into trouble with alcohol or drugs. I went through a period of depressing culture shock and I wasn't alone. Fortunately, I am not prone to drinking problems, but I can see how it might happen. I was very lucky that I was assigned to a town with a Volunteer who had been there a year already. I'm not sure I would have survived without her help.

    I know there has been interest on the part of the PC to serve Brazil again, but apparently not on the part of the Brazilian government.

  4. Ginger ---how nice that you were able to meet Toledo. I had written a bit about him when I originally wrote this piece a few years ago, but I searched for more info on him to add to it now. Considering his home life, he is truly an amazing man. Those PC volunteers may have encouraged him and helped him to get into college, but he had to have worked very hard to earn his degrees and earn international respect. Even though I speak Portuguese well enough to get along in Brazil, I can't imagine understanding a foreign language well enough to earn graduate degrees and a PhD.

  5. Thanks for all the info, Carolina!

    I read one article about what you mentioned, how many were sent there without much experience and Brazil was requesting people with high levels of experience. The story also covered how some volunteers had to create their own position.

    The reason I asked is I'm deeply invested in Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language and I have no qualms about living the PC lifestyle. At the moment, I'm considering Cape Verde where Portuguese is widely spoken and PC operates but that obviously would mean giving up on Brazil for awhile.

    I've got a site as well on Brazil which can be seen by clicking on my name here.


  6. If that stamp didn't say "Peace Corps" the caption could be, "Hey, let me tell you about Jesus"

  7. Dr Zibbs, If a Peace Corps Volunteer had said that, s/he would probably be on the way home. There is definitely no proselytising allowed in the Peace Corps. That is not the purpose of the organization and might be extremely offensive to the local people. Let's say a group of Saudi Arabians volunteered to come to America to work with people in New Orleans who were made homeless by Katrina. Their main purpose might be to help people restore or build homes. How do you think most Americans would react if the volunteers started saying, "Hey, let me tell you about Mohammed" with the obvious goal of converting them?

  8. You are a very talented writer and keep me engrossed all the way to the end :)
    Take good care and......

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  9. I have several nephews that when time to go on their 'missions' through their church - they ask for donations. I sent a check to both - with the notation "make an effort to learn about these people you go to 'save', they already have their churches and their Gods and knowledge to pass to you" I paid cause I thought them seeing others outside their small southern town could only help them later in life - but I am offended by the idea that they (we) must pass their religon on instead of their christian attitudes of love and hope.

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  11. Wow Carolina! I am riveted!

    I loved that the elderly lady had to be removed becaause she didn't want to leave. It must have broken her heart though to have to.

    I've added you to my sidebar so I can follow your story. (even if it is about snakes)