Peace Corps volunteers educated local citizens about topics other than math, English, and science. Health care and wellness provided an opportunity for volunteers to share basic information with citizens, while working to improve the community’s overall well-being. Assignments included educating local citizens about the importance of clean water and sanitation, in addition to other issues of public health. However, in order to educate local citizens, volunteers not only had to understand another language, but also needed to speak proficiently. Knowledge of the country or region’s native language ensured volunteers’ ability to communicate essential information to local citizens.
The image shows the Peace Corps trainees, of the Rural Community Action and Health Program, at the Presbyterian Clinic in 1963. While they were not nurses, volunteers provided essential instruction to locals regarding hygiene, nutrition, child care, and health practices for expectant mothers.
Volunteer Dana Dahl Seaton, learned Spanish in college before joining the Peace Corps. Her knowledge paid off because she delivered a speech to the people of Piojó, Colombia shortly after arriving in-country to work as a health educator. She explained to community members what the volunteers would be doing. Her handwritten speech is in the collection.
In addition to the initiatives for community development and health education, the Peace Corps began sending professionally trained nurses to Colombia in the 1960s. Peggy Gleeson Wyllie, one of eighteen who volunteered, served in the Peace Corps’ first group of nurses sent to Colombia. Training took place at Brooklyn College, where nurses were paired together and prepared for working in urban locations. Sent to Fusagasuga, Colombia, Wyllie trained in local hospitals before she taught practical nursing classes, in Spanish, to local students.
Such stories show the diversity of educational projects carried out by Peace Corps volunteers. Many experiences highlight the importance and value of understanding and speaking the country’s native language.