1962.03.01: March 1, 1962: Headlines: COS - Ghana: 1960s: The Volunteer: John Demos writes: The Peace Corps begins in Ghana

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John Demos writes: The Peace Corps begins in Ghana

John Demos writes: The Peace Corps begins in Ghana

From' the very start the question Of motives was raised: i.e. "why did you join the Peace Corps?" Everyone seemed to want to know-newspapermen, psychologists, politicians, and even the' people you iriet at cocktail parties. Invariably we gave these queries' an unfriendly response-partly because they soon acquired the hollow ring of a cliche; partly because the reasons were complex, profound, and personal; and partly', perhaps, because we weren't quite sure of the answer ourselves.

John Demos writes: The Peace Corps begins in Ghana


by John Demos

According to the telegrams which started it all, we had been selected for "a Peace Corps teaching project in China." That was last June, and we were scattered over a huge area from Idaho to Iran. Some of us wondered briefly if the Director's enthusiasm had not for once got the best of him; but further information from Washington put us right. Our destination was to be the small but important West African country of Ghana.

We began with a seven-week training program at the University of California at Berkeley. The pace of the program was fast, and the atmosphere somewhat tense; but all in all, most of us found it stimulating, and even enjoyable. In the mornings we were, treated to a wide variety of intellectual fodder-language lessons almost before our eyes were open; Dr. Stiles' horror movies on Health; sober sociological comment from Prof. Apter and colleagues ("Area Studies"); and occasional doses of American History and "International Studies" as well. In the afternoons many of us tried valiantly to learn how to play soccer. In the evenings we were psychologized, or instructed in such exotic. arts as "high-life" dancing and "how to be a man (or woman) in West Africa." Often, too, there was time for a late-evening visit to the local beer-halls, where the events of the day could be rehashed (or 'forgotten?). At the time, these various parts of our training-program seemed somewhat diffuse and chaotic; but looking back later on, we knew that we had learned a great deal-about Africa in general, and Ghana in particular.

From' the very start the question Of motives was raised: i.e. "why did you join the Peace Corps?" Everyone seemed to want to know-newspapermen, psychologists, politicians, and even the' people you iriet at cocktail parties. Invariably we gave these queries' an unfriendly response-partly because they soon acquired the hollow ring of a cliche; partly because the reasons were complex, profound, and personal; and partly', perhaps, because we weren't quite sure of the answer ourselves.

In general, though, we held to a sharply restricted view of our role as Peace Corps teachers. Indeed, this soon became a source of pride, and around it there developed a remarkable kind of group loyalty. Probably we were sensitive to public criticism of the Peace Corps as opening the floodgates to youthful, naive idealism; in any case we struck the exact-opposite pose. We were "hard-headed." We were "realistic." We were definitely not "salesmen for the American way." First and last, we aimed to succeed simply as teachers, Such was the basis of our own special esprit de corps,

In the last week of the training-period, as wc labored over our "workbooks," the matter of final selection obliterated all other concerns. Rumors flew from one person to the next, and grew prodigiously in the passage. In the end, though, only a few had to be left behind; altogether some fifty were chosen (plus two added later on). We finished with a gala celebration, at which many libations were poured and the program faculty accepted cigarette-lighters inscribed with the heaviest pun of the year: "Here today, Ghana tomorrow." But so (almost) it was. . . .

We had a last, brief spell of home leave, receptions at the White House and Ghanaian Embassy, and on the afternoon of September first we were set down in Accra. Our first impressions were nearly all favorable: the mild (rather than hot) weather; the spacious, handsome compound of the University of Ghana (where we spent two weeks in further "orientation"); and the warm welcome of Ghanaians in every place we visited. We were greeted by the Ministry of Education, the local council, the American Ambassador, and an assemblage of local chiefs. The ministry arranged bus-tours to some of the interesting sites in and around Accra: to markets, hospitals, and schools; to old slaving castles along the coast (now museums), and impressive new construction projects such as the Volta Dam. It was hard to reduce all this to any sort of pattern. What struck us most, perhaps, was the incredible mixture of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern. . . , We had our first taste of Ghanaian food. Inevitably, we discovered the notorious Lido (nightclub), where two of our number promptly won second-place in a high-life dance contest. And on the beach at Win-neba we had a mild object-lesson in the possible discrepancy between intentions and results. Spying some fishermen ponderously hauling in their nets from the sea, a group of us rushed to help out. Our most strenuous efforts succeeded only in breaking the lines!

In mid-September the period of our preparation came to an end, and we went to our various posts throughout the country. As expected, we were all assigned to secondary schools (roughly comparable to American high schools, but modeled on the British system in most essentials). In a few cases, these were Ghana's oldest and most distinguished schools; but more often they were brand-new, or nearly so-the spearhead of a great drive to increase educational facilities in all parts of the country. They are alike only in accomodations for staff; these, we found, are almost embarrassingly plush (six-room bungalows, with modern furniture, electricity, and running water). Classroom facilities are generally ample, laboratory supplies very thin, students intense and eager. Most of us have substantial classroom-loads and housemaster (or mistress) responsibilities. There are also extracurricular activities (coaching sports, and "societies"); and a few volunteers do some adult education as well. In nearly every instance we have been received with the greatest courtesy and warmth, by students and fellow-teachers alike.

There is little time to get bored or lonely, or to loaf, but occasionally on a weekend some of us contrive to ride in from the backcountry to one of the larger cities (Accra or Kumasi). Some come to do errands, some to perfect their high-life-and some to get married! There have been three weddings within our group since last October (we must surely lead all other projects in this department); and there is a rumor that the next member of the Peace Corps staff in Accra will have a background in marriage-counselling.

It would be premature to attempt an estimate of our success in our jobs; but so far most of the signs are heartening. There remain, though, some puzzling questions about the whole idea of Peace Corps service. For example: are we "different" from other "expatriates" in Ghana? (There are many of them teaching alongside us in the schools.) If so, how are we different? And in what way should we express this? The old question "why did you join the Peace Corps" has been somewhat altered to "what will you make of it now that you are here?" This is something which each of us must work out for himself.

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Peace Corps Annual Report: 1962; Peace Corps Ghana; Directory of Ghana RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Ghana RPCVs; The 1960's

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