Volunteers in Time
A UM alumna finds Peace Corps to be the toughest job
she’s ever loved—at 60.
By Louise Krumm
Photos By Karen Ramsey
Our Peace Corps vehicle lumbered
down the dirt road to the small village of Kidjaboun, where
volunteer Meghan Gallagher and her soccer girls waited. Meghan
had originally promised me that her girls club would present a
theater sketch on one of the many themes of the education and
empowerment program: school dropouts, forced marriage, child
trafficking, or HIV-AIDS. But the girls wanted to play soccer
Village chief and local women at a school meeting
Earlier in the year, Meghan had responded to the soccer
pressure by organizing a ten-community girls soccer league in a
remote area in western Togo. She “shamed” her friends
and family in the United States into purchasing and sending her
ten soccer balls and persuaded the shy female teacher in the
middle school to coach. Now the girls had an opportunity to show
their stuff before the directrice of the U.S. Peace Corps in
A soccer match
Home team advantage meant the visiting team had to begin its
ten-kilometer walk to the game site early that morning. After
formal introductions and greetings, the game began. None of the
players had shoes or shin guards but Meghan’s home team
sported bright green jerseys and a cheering crowd of spectators.
Their emboldened coach jogged along the sidelines shouting
instructions as her baby, wrapped on her back, peered around the
side of her hip to catch the action.
The locals dominated, the school principal’s daughter
scoring the winning goal. As the town cheered its winners, the
losers began their return trek home under the mid-morning sun.
Meghan’s pleasure over the victory was momentary; a new
challenge emerged. She was going to have to convince the U.S.
manufacturers to make good on their “two-year stitching
guarantee” on the soccer balls, which had been worn thin
after only six months of practice and play by enthusiastic young
My husband, Don, and I missed President John Kennedy’s
call to join the Peace Corps when we were students at UM in the
’60s. Nearly forty years later, the Peace Corps beckoned.
Don had retired from the U.S. Department of State and was working
part time on humanitarian and transitional development issues
around the world, work he could continue from any country with an
airport. I retired from Georgetown University in February 2002
and the next day entered training for a thirty-month assignment
as the Peace Corps’ Togo country director.
Peace Corps literature describes volunteer assignments as
“the toughest job you’ll ever love.” The slogan
proved true for this country director as well.
Home in another land
Let me get you oriented. Togo is a tiny sliver of a country in
West Africa sandwiched between Ghana and Benin. Both our home and
the office were located in Kodjoviakopé, a fishing
village-turned-neighborhood in Lomé, the capital. The job
of country director brought a refreshing management challenge.
There were 140 volunteers and trainees to support, a local staff
to manage, governmental relationships to sustain, an office
complex, a health unit, and five transit houses throughout the
country, as well as a fleet of eight vehicles to maintain. In
short, my job was to do everything necessary to keep the
volunteers productively engaged, healthy, safe, and supported in
villages throughout Togo’s five regions.
Living in Lomé naturally involved immersing oneself in
another culture. But, unlike the volunteers, most of whom live
without electricity or running water, my administrative job had
definite benefits. Our residence was a comfortable four-bedroom
house overlooking a lush tropical garden. At tiny stalls along
our streets, we could purchase plastic sachets of
hibiscus-flavored juice, peanuts packaged in discarded whiskey
bottles, locally brewed beer, badly burned fish, roasted
plantains, varied canned goods, and even a small voodoo fetish.
Market women stopped by the house each day with offerings in
baskets—fish, fruit, and vegetables stylistically arranged
like giant bouquets of flowers.
Don quickly dubbed Togo “the land of perfect
posture” because of the stunning carriage of Togolese men
and women. In Togo, absolutely everything is transported on
heads—from school children’s book bags to
fifty-five-gallon oil drums, irrigation pumps, firewood, water,
PVC pipe, sewing machines, ceiling fans, and commercial
During the hot dry season, the sand streets of our
neighborhood deepened, and driving was reminiscent of gunning our
car through Montana snow drifts. When we became stuck there were
no sand plows to help, but local kids knew they could get cent
francs (20 cents) for a rescue operation.
|UM and the Peace Corps
A continuing source of UM pride is the University’s
impressive turnout of Peace Corps volunteers. With thirty-five
participants in 2004, UM ranked tenth nationally among
medium-sized colleges, ahead of Yale, Notre Dame, and
One explanation for UM’s hefty numbers can be found in
the College of Forestry and Conservation’s International
Resource Management program. According to Professor Stephen
Siebert, the University’s IRM coordinator, Peace Corps
administrators initiated the partnership several years ago when
the corps found itself in need of volunteers who were qualified
in the areas of wildlife conservation and health care. UM was one
of several universities the Peace Corps chose to engage in the
mutually beneficial exchange.
Once in the IRM program, UM students must complete an
interdisciplinary core curriculum and additional coursework in a
specific area of academic and professional interest. Next, they
must embark on an international assignment. The Peace Corps is
one of several choices. “The Peace Corps is popular among
the IRM students,” says Siebert, who adds that about
seventy-five percent choose it for their assignment.
While in the corps, many UM students have effected lasting,
positive changes to the countries they visited.
• Anna Moline served her Peace Corps time in Paraguay,
where she became interested in teaching science using the
vegetable gardens common in the country’s grade schools.
Seeing ways to integrate the gardens’ scientific phenomena,
such as photosynthesis, into the school curriculum, Moline put
together a year-long series of educational manuals that are now
used all over the country.
• While serving the Peace Corps in Bolivia, Verner Kruger
documented the cost effectiveness of reduced-impact logging,
identified and flagged future crop trees, and laid out road
systems. His approaches to a new, improved logging system have
been adopted in the Bolivian Amazon basin.
Volunteers & their projects
Managing the support staff in Lomé was challenging and
rewarding, but visits to volunteers in their villages were
downright exhilarating. One of my first trips was to visit John
Sheffy, a UM graduate student in international forestry and a
natural resource management volunteer. John came to Togo through
the Peace Corps and UM’s International Resource Management
program. When Don and I arrived in John’s tiny village on
Togo’s mountainous border with Ghana, villagers directed us
down the hill and across the creek to John’s mini
demonstration farm. John already had begun construction on what
would become a garden, a tree nursery, a maize field, and a fish
pond. He was bien integre (well-integrated) into the region where
he became known as the American who worked as hard as a Togolese.
As villagers watched and worked beside John, they learned about
sustainable agricultural practices that included
multiple-cropping, composting, organic pesticide use, erosion
control, and live fodder fencing.
By the end of John’s two years of service, he had helped
his community establish an organic, shade-grown coffee business.
Kuma Coffee was the best coffee we could find in Togo. And the
shaded habitat in which it grew helped protect the area from
deforestation. John also worked with locals to establish poultry
raising and bee-keeping co-ops.
To meet his UM requirements, he conducted a case study of
three participatory conservation and development efforts. This
will form the basis of his master’s thesis,
“Village-based forest management in the Togo Ghana
Togo Peace Corps volunteers are assigned to one of four
programs—education, like Meghan; agriculture, like John;
community health and HIV-AIDS prevention; and small business
development. All volunteers maintain a grassroots approach,
working with community leaders, families, teachers, and youth to
identify and develop sustainable projects that will improve local
Lacy Cook and Koranic School students
Volunteer Ken Spear was a natural for his assignment in the
northern savannah outback. As an American Muslim, he had sought
work opportunities in the active Islamic community in Dapaong,
the regional capital. His hard-earned fluency in Hausa, the local
language, earned him easy integration. Before long he was
offering both his energy and expertise to help organize and
support an association of Islamic women, Nour Harira. Near the
end of Ken’s two-year assignment, U.S. Ambassador Gregory
Engle and I were honored guests at the inauguration of a newly
constructed Islamic Women’s Community Center. No one was
excluded from the singing, dancing, and celebrating—not
even the modest young women dressed in their conservative Koranic
School uniforms. In Ken’s two years of service, the
association had expanded into a network of more than twenty
women’s groups that included weavers, teachers, lawyers,
market women, and small business operators, all striving to
improve the lot of women in the Savannes.
A trash collection system
When residents of Sotouboa asked volunteer Natalie Tabacchi
for help in setting up a trash collection system, this high
energy woman realized there was no better way to build community
pride and improve health conditions in this town of 22,000
population in central Togo. Two thousand dollars from a Small
Project Assistance grant provided the incentive and cash for the
construction of four trash-hauling pull carts, the purchase of
uniforms—shirts, gloves, boots, hats, and summoning
whistles—for the ten trash collectors, training for
community members and collectors, paint for addresses on each
dwelling, and the establishment of a collection and
record-keeping system. That was the easy part of the project.
Natalie was, after all, a business volunteer.
The hard part turned out to be mapping the entire town before
the collection system could be established. Natalie and her
counterparts visited every house, held community meetings to come
up with names for all the streets, and painted blue numbers on
Last May I celebrated my sixty-first birthday at the
inauguration of the trash collection system. The mayor of
Sotouboua and I tromped behind the handcarts as the collectors
gathered the tiny piles of trash neatly stacked in front of
nearly every house. Most residents along this Monday collection
route had understood the rules and prepared for the collection.
At houses with scattered trash the collectors blew their shiny
new whistles, and the surprised occupants were issued stern
warnings by the mayor. This program has become so popular that
community trash collectors are now cheered as heroes when they
walk through the market.
Louise and Don with UM volunteers Kassy Holzheimer and John
Saving a waterfall
Whenever Don and I wanted to be reminded of our hiking days in
western Montana, we would trek to the Cascade d’Akloa,
where small business volunteer Elisha Moore-Delate and natural
resource management volunteer Greg Parent joined forces to
promote a magnificent waterfall. Greg worked with local farmers
and guides to protect the drainage and rebuild the trail. Elisha
worked with the village committee to establish a fee collection
and accounting system, an advertising campaign, and a community
management board. The success of the project brought a dramatic
increase in visitors and an accompanying spike in revenues.
However, a two thousand dollar windfall to the community prompted
significant disputes concerning how to spend the money, a
challenge Greg and Elisha left for the community to resolve.
Hope for tomorrow
All volunteers in Togo include HIV-AIDS education in their
work, but health volunteers in the northern “capital”
of Kara have taken on a bigger project as they strive to develop
a systematic response to this pandemic. Volunteer Kevin Fiori,
an epidemiologist, joined with volunteer Peter Davenport, a
medical doctor, and volunteer Don Weaks, an architect, to help a
small association of people living with AIDS. The Association
Espoir pour Demain (Hope for Tomorrow) had received funding to
construct a clinic for people living with AIDS. This fledgling
organization was overwhelmed not only by the construction
project, but also by the challenges of building an association
that could respond to the ever-increasing demand for effective
services and support.
Using a team approach, Don has been able to oversee the clinic
design and construction while Peter advises on medical care.
Kevin works with the AED association board to design programs
that include counseling, medical care, a food and nutrition
program, and assistance for AIDS orphans. The prospect of
increased support from the Global Fund drives this group to build
the capacity to receive and administer funds that could one day
include anti-retro viral medication.
As our tour neared an end, we welcomed our last group of Peace
Corps trainees to Togo. Among them was UM graduate Kassy
Holzheimer. Kassy completed her eleven-week training program and
was sworn in as a volunteer in August 2004, just days before
volunteer and UM graduate student John Sheffy completed his two
years of service and Don and I boarded an Air France jet for our
return home to Washington, D.C.
As we sipped champagne and toasted our adventure, we drew up a
list of Peace Corps highs. We had dusted off our rusty
UM-acquired French; we had lived among the wonderfully welcoming,
hard-working Togolese; and we had been a key part of the support
system that enabled hundreds of Americans, including six
Montanans, to learn about themselves, a very different culture,
and the challenge, complexity, and importance of U.S. engagement
in the developing world.
Louise Snyder Krumm ’66 was director of the Center for
Language Education and Development at Georgetown University
before her work with the Peace Corps. She plans to continue
working in international development.
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