In July 1967, Samoa welcomed the first group of United States Peace Corps* Volunteers.
Since the arrival of that group, more than 2000 Volunteers have served in the Samoan islands. Although a typical service lasts just 27 months, the memories created and lessons learned last a lifetime.
We asked four Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (R.P.C.Vs) about their most vivid memories and proudest moments of their Peace Corps service.
For Charles Delp, University of the South Pacific, 1998-2000, it was the successful completion of the Taro Improvement Project following the taro blight of the 1990’s.
“Cooperative taro growers who had worked to select improved blight resistant varieties gathered to display the new varieties and discuss the success of getting taro back in production,” he said.
Although Volunteers today are assigned to Primary Schools as Literacy teachers, many create secondary projects within their communities to address areas of need outside of the classroom.
Peace Corps Volunteers work hard to learn the local language and to integrate into their assigned communities.
For Sally Bojorquez, Fasito’o-tai, 2006-2008, her proudest moment was one of cultural integration.
“One of the moments I remember most clearly was when I was able to eat in the back of the church with the youth group instead of eating in the front with the matais.
I was so happy [to be] treated like the other people my age in the village.”
For Donna Barr, Poutasi, 2007-2008, her light hearted response to a vivid memory was something that anyone who has spent time in Samoa can relate to.
“The bus rides,” she said. “Sometimes it felt like I spent half of my Peace Corps service bouncing along on a hard wooden bus seat.”
Donna continued by addressing what she believes to be the most important impact that Peace Corps has.
“It’s the changes on individual lives. While large projects help the general population and are important for the future of the villages and the country, the little things, like teaching a child to read, or just being there for someone in time of need, are the most powerful impacts.”
The R.P.C.Vs reflected on the ways that Peace Corps and Samoa changed them.
Some mentioned tangible changes, such as the tattoo acquired mid-way through service, a host sister naming a baby after the Volunteer, or the ability to split open a coconut like a local.
But others discussed the effect it had on their lives.
David Nacmanie, Mulivai, 2010-2012, said: “Samoa taught me to slow down [and] enjoy what is available right in front of me.”
He went on to discuss the important way that Peace Corps serves as “a gateway into knowledge, experience and possibilities. [It] allows us to grow in ways we did not imagine.”
According to Donna Barr: “We must constantly remind ourselves that we all see the world from our own point of view. Since most world cultures are more communal than ours, understanding the importance of family, group, tribe, to others around the world is important. The primary thing that changed [for me] is appreciation of the differences between collectivist cultures, like Samoa, and our individualistic culture in America.”
All four R.P.C.Vs were elated at Peace Corps/Samoa reaching this milestone of 50 years of service and expressed a desire to return.
While their personal lives have forever been influenced by their 27 months of service, they are proud to have had made a lasting impact on the communities they served.
* This is the second in a series of several articles celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps in Samoa.