2006.06.06: June 6, 2006: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Agriculture: Casa Grande Valley Newspapers: Carolyn Ramsdell works in agriculture as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: Peace Corps Bolivia : The Peace Corps in Bolivia: 2006.06.06: June 6, 2006: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Agriculture: Casa Grande Valley Newspapers: Carolyn Ramsdell works in agriculture as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia

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Carolyn Ramsdell works in agriculture as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia

Carolyn Ramsdell works in agriculture as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia

"For me being in agriculture, we learned about composting, organic gardening, animal husbandry, bee keeping, fruit trees. They give you extensive training courses in all of these things, and during those three months, you're living with a host family, and you're immersing yourself in the culture, eating meals with them, practicing your Spanish, attending social events and going to church with them. You become a part of the family."

"The work is only one part of what the Peace Corps experience is about. The rest is about the cultural exchange, living in a community and completely immersing yourself in another culture, learning another language. Sharing my life with the Bolivian people was just as important and as rewarding as the work I did in helping them establish a thriving industry. All of that inspired me to give another year of my life to the Peace Corps and the people of Bolivia."


Carolyn Ramsdell works in agriculture as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia

Less popular, but CG volunteer finds rewards in Peace Corps

By ALAN LEVINE, Staff Writer

June 06, 2006

"After discussions with my recruiter, we decided that my best fit was in agriculture because it had been of interest to me, and I had some experience in gardening, and I expressed a desire to work outdoors."
- Carolyn Ramsdell

After spending more than two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, Carolyn Ramsdell is spending some time with her parents in Casa Grande before returning for another tour of duty, this time for a year.

A few decades have passed since service in the Peace Corps was a hot topic at many college graduation ceremonies. But something akin to the Peace Corps first was suggested by Sen. Brien McMahon, D-Conn. Shortly after World War II, he proposed the formation of an army of young Americans to act as "missionaries of democracy" in mostly Third World countries.

Nearly a decade later, President John F. Kennedy ran with the idea, dubbed it the Peace Corps and within a year after his election, he signed an executive order creating the organization. Kennedy saw the Peace Corps as a means of countering the notions of the "Ugly American" and "Yankee Imperialism," especially in the emerging nations of postcolonial Africa and Asia.

Kennedy brother-in-law R. Sargent Shriver was appointed as the first Peace Corps director and on Aug. 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. Congress formally authorized the program on Sept. 22, and within two years, 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers were serving in 44 countries. By June 1966, volunteers numbered around 15,000, the largest number in the organization's history.

Enrollments bottomed out at about 5,300 during the 1980s and early 1990s. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush pledged to double the size of the Peace Corps by 2007.

"The American reputation has taken a hit in the last couple of years," Joseph Kennedy said. "The need for the Peace Corps couldn't be more urgent. The Peace Corps shows what is best in America, the generosity of spirit."

Ramsdell's service in Bolivia not only is emblematic of that generosity of spirit, but also gives testimony to what the Peace Corps is all about.

"The first time that I heard about Peace Corps was shortly after I graduated from high school, and I kind of kept it in the back of my mind as something that sounded very interesting ... something that I might want to do. I did some research along the way and made a decision that when I graduated from college that would be my next step.

"I started the application process during my last year at NAU, and I was nominated to become a Peace Corps volunteer. They were going to send me to Africa, but I missed my window of opportunity to leave with the African group, because I was clearing up some college loan debts and I couldn't leave the country until I was debt free.

"The application process is actually very thorough. It takes some people up to a year or longer to get through it. You have to have a college degree, transcripts, letters of recommendation, criminal background checks, credit checks, a medical examination, and you have to go through lot of testing and interviews. You need to have clearance in all of these things before your application is even considered.

Ramsdell left for Bolivia in January 2004. She did not have a choice as to the country, but she did have a choice of a region. Applicants are allowed to select their three top regional preferences such as Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe and so forth. Ramsdell didn't have a preference at the time and simply told her recruiter to send her wherever she was needed.

"You also get to select your top three projects," she said. "You can work in education, agriculture, health care or any number of projects within the scope of the Peace Corps. After discussions with my recruiter, we decided that my best fit was in agriculture because it had been of interest to me, and I had some experience in gardening, and I expressed a desire to work outdoors.

"Once I missed my window of opportunity to go to Africa, they called me back and asked me how I felt about going to Latin America, and for me that was even better, because my sister-in-law is from Panama, and I have three little bi-lingual nephews."

Before arriving in Bolivia, she was part of a group of 24 trainees that spent three days of staging in Miami, which included getting her passport in order and going through an orientation period.

"When the three-day orientation period is over, you leave with your group for your host country, and once you arrive there, you go through three months of intensive training before you actually become a volunteer. It includes language and technical training, safety and health training. We spent five hours a day, five days a week in language class. On top of that, we were doing technical training every afternoon.

"For me being in agriculture, we learned about composting, organic gardening, animal husbandry, bee keeping, fruit trees. They give you extensive training courses in all of these things, and during those three months, you're living with a host family, and you're immersing yourself in the culture, eating meals with them, practicing your Spanish, attending social events and going to church with them. You become a part of the family."

Ramsdell noted that the host families receive a stipend to help pay for the volunteer's room and board and that the trainees receive very little in the way of spending money because the Peace Corps covers most of their needs.

"We also learn how to bleach and iodize fruits and vegetables so you don't get sick ... to boil and filter your water. We aren't accustomed to the bacteria levels, and that's why so many volunteers get sick. Those are the kinds of things that we learned during our training period along with technical things relevant to our projects.

"After the three months, you're sworn in as a volunteer. That's when you make your commitment to serve for two years. Then we're sent out to our host communities where we will live and work for two years. The two-year sign-up does not include the three months of training, so it's actually a 27-month tour of duty."

Ramsdell said that Peace Corps volunteers are forbidden to discuss politics as it applies to the countries they are serving. "As volunteers, we are supposed to remain neutral in order to gain the confidence and support of the indigenous people. Even when I'm there, I can't express my opinion on what's going on politically. Peace Corps is a very independent organization - nonpolitical, nonreligious."

Ramsdell said she never felt unsafe during her two years there despite the fact that at one point during her stay, she was extracted from one area to another because of some kind of political unrest. "As Peace Corps volunteers," she said, "we go out and live in these really small rural communities, and in many cases, you are the first Americans that they've ever met, and that's the mission ... is to kind of be an ambassador of the United States. In the small mountain community of 400 people that I lived in, I was the first white person that many of these people had ever seen before, so I became the face of the United States.

"In Villa Esperanza, they only had electricity for the past five years and running water for the past three years. They were just being introduced to things like television, refrigeration, electric tools and lights. The introduction of electricity changed the dynamics of the community.

"I wasn't there to change anybody or to introduce any American ideals. Part of the work was you go in and do a community diagnostic, an analysis to find out what the community feels their needs are. You organize them and help them make a plan for the future."

When she arrived, Ramsdell began teaching English from seventh grade to seniors, because there was a huge interest in wanting to learn it. She also held workshops, teaching women to do transformation of products such as making marmalades and peanut butter and canning vegetables.

"There was a small group of people that knew that I had worked with honeybees and knew about apiculture, so I had people knocking on my door telling me that they wanted to work with bees and asking for my help. Once there was enough interest expressed, I decided to hold a community interest meeting, and about 20 people attended. I decided that there was enough that I would hold a meeting every Wednesday, and I would teach them apiculture. It turned into a small group of 10 families that showed enough interest that we decided to form an organization."

Every Sunday, Ramsdell and her group went out and prepared the land where they were going to build the apiaries. Once they were really under way, she wrote a small projects assistance (SPA) grant to request funding from U.S. Aid, and she received $2,000 that was used to buy some of the materials necessary to work with bees - the boxes for the hives, masks, gloves, smokers and other tools.

"The SPA grants money was for materials. What we did to get the bees was to go out and capture wild beehives, because there were a lot of wild bees in the area. They were semi-Africanized, and they can be very aggressive, depending on the queen and the race of the bees. We found the hives in trees, sometimes under the root system of the trees, even inside an old adobe home."

Prior to capturing the wild bees, the group bought 10 hives from an area beekeeper that included a small nucleus of bees. It came with four frames that included the eggs, larvae and pupa, some honey, one queen and about 3,000 bees in each box.

"The reason that we bought the first 10 was that the queens were thought to produce a calmer, less aggressive race of bee. They give more honey and are easier to work with. Then we went out and captured 20 wild hives."

At the conclusion of their first season, Ramsdell began working with the group on transformation of products, making shampoo and lip balm from bee's wax and medicated solutions from the prop olio, which is a hive product produced by the bees that can be used as an antiseptic or antibiotic.

"The work is only one part of what the Peace Corps experience is about. The rest is about the cultural exchange, living in a community and completely immersing yourself in another culture, learning another language. Sharing my life with the Bolivian people was just as important and as rewarding as the work I did in helping them establish a thriving industry. All of that inspired me to give another year of my life to the Peace Corps and the people of Bolivia."

Ramsdell applied for a third-year position with the Peace Corps, and she'll serve as the Peace Corps volunteer coordinator for the Sucre City region (the second of two capital cities in Bolivia, the first being La Paz).

"I'm still a volunteer," she noted, with a hint of humility, "but as a coordinator of volunteer support, I'll be working in a more professional setting. It's a promotion, and it includes a raise in pay. I was only making about $150 a month, and now I'll be making close to $300. It will be nice to live in the city and have access to a market and a hot shower, and all those things that I've been missing for the last two years."

Ramsdell's third year of service will end sometime in May of 2007, and from that point, she's planning on taking her GRE exams to get into graduate school to pursue a master's degree in sustainable development.

"Working as a professional development worker the past two years has really been a huge influence on me and what I want to do with the rest of my life. It's work that I've really enjoyed, and it's something that I'd like to pursue. I'll probably end up working for a nonprofit organization either here or in another country. I would like to continue traveling to other parts of the world, helping underdeveloped communities empower themselves to make their lives a little bit better."

©Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. 2006





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Story Source: Casa Grande Valley Newspapers

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