Today at Berkeley Lab

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary: Lab Veterans Share Their Stories

Kathleen Brennan
Life Sciences Division

Country of Service: Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo) 1979-1981
Education for Local Farmers

I worked with an “Animal Traction ” program, where I helped farmers take better care of their animals and also held training sessions to teach them how to train their cattle to pull carts an plows. The goal was to enable farmers to farm more land and get more food to market to improve their income and livelihood.

This was an invaluable learning experience, which tested me in many ways. In the end I had increased self-confidence, self-assurance, empathy for others, and definitely a greater appreciation for being American and living where I do.

 


Tim Kneafsey (Mende name is “Hotagua,” meaning “Tall Stranger”)
Earth Sciences Division

Country of Service: Sierra Leone (West Africa), 1983-1985
Mathematics and Physical Education Teacher

When they call the Peace Corps the “toughest job you’ll ever love” they aren’t kidding. The tough parts were the malaria, diarrhea, and dysentery… particularly with medical assistance being days of hard travel away. Those days I wanted to quit, but the travel was too hard.

The part of the job I loved was the people and interacting with my neighbors, students, teachers, people traveling from one town to the next, civic and military leaders. People who had little to eat would happily and unselfishly share their meals with me as they did with other travelers. In exchange they wanted a little conversation, even when they knew I could only say the equivalent of “hello” (buaa), “how are you” (kahun yena), and “I am fine” (kayei ngwoma).

The market women were always delightful when I would buy my groundnut paste (peanut butter made by smashing peanuts under an empty beer bottle) or the dried bonga (fish) I detested. People taught me about respect and that it is given to those who treat others well. I can tell many stories of how well I was taken care of, but only a few of how I was insulted.

I learned that people can be happy without electricity, running water, computers, or TV. Life can be simpler, and it doesn’t have to be the way we Americans live it. I joined the Peace Corps with the goal of giving, but received so much more than I gave.

 


Joe Krupa
DOE Berkeley Site Office

Country of Service: Nepal, 1983-1984
Math, Science, English, and Geography Teacher

I was a volunteer in a rural village in the Himalayan foothills. Even though it was only about 35 miles southeast of Mt. Everest (“Sagarmatha”), it would have taken about two weeks to hike to the base-camp there because of the many ridges and valleys in between.

I went right after graduating from college, and it was literally the first time I left the U.S. Eastern time zone. It was challenging to learn the language in just a few months, and to get used to eating just one type of food for every meal (“daal-bhaat” – lentils and rice, usually with vegetables, and eaten with the right hand).

My most lasting “contribution” was as an unofficial, cultural ambassador…being perhaps the only American many Nepalese would ever meet. Overall, I certainly got more out of the experience than I was able to give back.

The Peace Corps is a very dynamic and adaptable enterprise, as well as a great American institution. I’d recommend it to anyone able to make the needed commitment.

 


Leah Rubin
Environmental Energy Technologies Division

Country of Service: Namibia, 2007-2009
Science Teacher

I lived in Okondjatu, a small village of about 2,000. In addition to teaching science, I was also involved in organizing HIV/AIDS prevention programs, as Namibia has one of the highest HIV infection rates globally.

Namibia has an extraordinarily low population density, and the skies are wide and open almost everywhere, unmarred by light pollution. However, developments such as electricity are coming rapidly even to small villages such as Okondjatu. I like this photo because it captures the contrast between the wide-open sky and the electrical wires.

The Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to really know what it was like to live in another part of the world, in a completely different culture from my own. It has given me a broader perspective on the world and the problems the world faces today, and it inspired me to come to graduate school at UC Berkeley to acquire knowledge and skills that can be used to address those problems.

My decisions now, both professionally and personally, are very much informed by my experiences living in Namibia, and I think of my life and my friends there almost daily. Serving in the Peace Corps is a life —changing experience; one that I would recommend to anyone considering it.

 


Roger Sathre
Environmental Energy Technologies Division

Country of Service: Malawi, 1987-1989
Building Infrastructure

I worked with refugees from the war in neighboring Mozambique, building infrastructure in refugee camps. The experience shaped my life in many ways. I joined the Peace Corps fresh out of college, having never lived outside the US before. I ended up spending most of the next 20 years overseas, living and working in various countries. I just moved back to the U.S. last year to take up my current position at Berkeley Lab.