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Peace Corps Country Director of Kiribati, Joe Keyerleber (seated second from the right), with some other volunteers, took time out to speak with the crew of the Odyssey about their experiences.
Photo: Chris Johnson

January 17, 2001
The Peace Corps in Kiribati
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Gilbert Islands in Kiribati, where we have been pleasantly surprised to encounter a strong Peace Corps presence. Peace Corps are American volunteers, young and old and from all races and backgrounds, who make a commitment to serve in countries that have requested outside assistance. More than 150,000 Americans have served in over 100 countries as Peace Corps volunteers in areas ranging from health, nutrition, food and water, to economic development, housing, energy and conservation. Today we invited a few members of the Peace Corps to spend the afternoon aboard the Odyssey. We had the opportunity to talk with Joe Keyerleber, the Country Director of Kiribati, as well as some of the volunteers who have spent the last year working amongst I-Kiribati communities on the outer islands. Her is a little of their story;

Joe Keyerleber:

    Peace Corps began officially in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy and that was really exciting to a lot of people, but the idea of the Peace Corps pre-dated that by a number of years. I was in college from 1957 - 1961 and there were groups of students talking about this type of thing. Couldn't there be some way for Americans to do something overseas to help people. There was a lot of unfocused idealism. Certain politicians got wind of this through student organizations and John Kennedy, when he was running for President, began hearing about these things. There was a famous night at the University of Michigan in 1960 when he was scheduled to give a campaign speech and have a meeting with the students. He was late. He did not arrive until two in the morning. That was the moment when he announced that if he were elected President, he would establish a governmental program; I think he used the 'Peace Corps' in that speech. He said that the Peace Corps would be an opportunity for men and women to go overseas for a period of time to do something helpful and useful. I was in one of the first groups to go into Peace Corps training in 1961. My group went to Chile and I was a Peace Corps rural community development worker for two years. We also used the old principle of labor organizing which goes back to the days of Saul Linsky and early days of the labor organizing movement. His analogy was that he would hold up a matchstick in a meeting and tell the workers "You know if you are one person, you are just like this matchstick, you just snap it and it breaks right in half - you're broken. But then he took up a whole handful of matches and he said if you people stick together and work together, you can't break these matches…they're solid as a rock. If you do that and work together, you can solve your problems. That really is the underlying philosophy of rural community development as the Peace Corps practiced it then and how they as practice it now. So for me what is really interesting to look at between 1961 and 2001 is not so much about what is different in the Peace Corps but what's the same.

Nona Cresswell:

    My name is Nona Cresswell, and I have been a Peace Corps volunteer here for three years. On Beru, I lived in a small school community in a village where for the most part there is no electricity or running water, however there was a United Nations project to put in solar pumps at all of the schools in Kiribati in the Gilbert Islands. I lived pretty much the same as you might have lived 100, 200 or even 1000 years ago actually. It's a very strong community life here in Kiribati and that's one of the things I most appreciate is how people are there for each other and how they share everything. It can be very beautiful; they really give of themselves and anything they have.

Neilish Shelat:

    My name is Neilish and I am a health volunteer on the southern most island of Arorae. The training program we went through was about an 11 week program, where we live with a host family, we were in Abaiang, and we get language lessons for about an hour or two a day along with cross-cultural lessons. Then we discuss and talk about projects that we may want to do. So what I do, I work with the women's group a little bit and development projects with the women. Health wise we are working on building toilets at schools and the airport and little health and sanitations practices from just the baseline things like washing you hands before you eat and washing your hands after you eat. Stuff like that… the slogan of the Peace Corps is that it's the 'toughest job you will ever love'. I know that there are countless times that I am sitting on my outer island thinking, "Why the hell am I doing this? I am so lonely. I am out in the middle of nowhere." It's like a double; you have down times and up times. An old woman will come over and just talk, or an old man will just come over and talk and completely cancel out what you were feeling the day before. I know for all of us we can complain, we are just lonely sometimes. I know at the end of this year it will be truly something that we have grown to love.

Gina Beyer:

    My name is Gina Beyer. I'm an education volunteer on the island of Arorae, the same island as Neilish. I work in the junior secondary school, which is grade 7-9, and I also work with the primary school. It has made me realize that I can live on a tiny little island without anything and I can work hard without any type of resources I can teach these kids and they're learning. You don't need all of the things that we have in the States to teach. You just need your minds and their minds… That's all that you need.

Throughout our discussion with the volunteers, we discovered many parallels between their work and our own work here aboard the Odyssey. An always challenging, sometimes lonely but infinitely rewarding lifestyle. As the crew of the Odyssey spends time researching sperm whales in remote locations around the globe, we hope to come in contact with many more Peace Corps volunteers.

Log by Genevieve & Chris Johnson

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