June 23, 2001 - Los Gatos Weekly Times: Leah Toeniskoetter spends two years working in Bolivia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: Peace Corps Bolivia : The Peace Corps in Bolivia: June 23, 2001 - Los Gatos Weekly Times: Leah Toeniskoetter spends two years working in Bolivia

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, April 05, 2003 - 3:03 pm: Edit Post

Leah Toeniskoetter spends two years working in Bolivia

Leah Toeniskoetter spends two years working in Bolivia

Local girl gives Peace Corps a chance

Toeniskoetter spends two years working in Bolivia

By Shari Kaplan

'Think globally; act locally." It's an oft-quoted slogan in these politically correct times, and it's moved many people to action. However, a little more than two years ago, lifelong Santa Cruz Mountains resident Leah Toeniskoetter took that slogan and reversed it.

She thought locally, here in her home country, then acted globally, trekking off to rural Bolivia for two years with the Peace Corps, a commitment she just completed.

Toeniskoetter was one of some 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers who currently serve in more than 70 countries throughout the world. Since the organization's founding in 1961, more than 165,000 Americans have volunteered in developing countries, working to eliminate hunger, disease and poverty and increase education, health and financial security for the people living there.

For Toeniskoetter, a 1995 Los Gatos High School graduate, joining the Peace Corps was something she had thought about since her sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame, where she was pursuing a bachelor's degree in business.

"I had always enjoyed volunteer work, but the feeling of really giving something back--and seeing progress--didn't come from any volunteering I had done prior [to joining the Peace Corps], mostly due to the short time duration," she recalls.

"I also felt I was ignorant as far as my knowledge of Third World countries, their culture and customs," she says, adding that being in the Peace Corps enabled her to step outside the "comfort zone" she enjoyed in the United States.

While still at Notre Dame, Toeniskoetter underwent the complex application process all prospective volunteers must complete before they are accepted into the program. Although she could specify the area of the world in which she wanted to serve--Latin America--she could not choose a specific country.

After graduation, Toeniskoetter found herself in Camargo, an arid town of 3,000 people in southwest Bolivia in which most houses are constructed of brick or adobe. "It's six hours by bus from any city, on some of the worst roads known to man," she relates.

With Camargo as her "base," Toeniskoetter worked in six communities in the area, which she reached by hiking, biking and taking buses. Her main goal was helping local women obtain sustainable incomes through the sale of shawls, scarves, bags and bedspreads--all made from wool they spun and dyed themselves. She also helped create an inventory system, opened a bank account with the women and taught them about fair trade.

As "secondary" projects, she taught English at local schools and initiated and completed a project to help with waste management in Camargo. "Hard to believe, but in a town of 3,000 with a good deal of bus traffic, we did not have one public trash can!" she says.

The lack of public sanitation also affected her in another way--in the form of food poisoning from eating contaminated food. From amoebic dysentery to e. coli infection, she had it all. She also found herself witness to civil unrest in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, including riots and roadblocks comprised of everything from rocks to cars to people.

In spite of a few negatives, Toeniskoetter says, her experience was extremely positive. Two of her favorite aspects were the lasting friendships she formed with the people she met and worked with, and the broadening of her world view--especially in respect to Third World countries.

"I have a much different and deeper understanding of Latin American culture, especially predominantly indigenous [culture]," she says. "My level of awareness on how another part of the world views the U.S. and Americans has grown a hundredfold, as well as my opinion regarding strategies used to eliminate poverty."

After falling in love with South America in general, Toeniskoetter recently moved to Brazil, where she says she is using every resource she has to find work and live there for a few years. She hopes to eventually return to school and pursue a graduate degree in international relations, business, public health or environmental issues.

"I can't pin it down yet, so I plan to use the next few years to figure that out," she says.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Los Gatos Weekly Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bolivia



By Hal Rifken (h-68-167-83-2.nycmny83.covad.net - on Sunday, May 02, 2004 - 12:18 pm: Edit Post

I would like to correspond with Leah Toeniskoetter--I also spent two years in the Peace Corps in Camargo, Bolivia from 1967-69, would like to know if some of my old friends are still around. Please convey this message to Leah. Best, Hal Rifken

Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.