Dr. David Fleischer, Professor Emeritus University of Brasilia
Brazil I Fiftieth Anniversary Reunion, Washington, DC
Brazil I Fiftieth Anniversary Reunion, Washington, DC
The following article was originally posted in waisworld.org, permission was granted by our fellow RPCV David Fleischer to have it posted here.
David Fleischer writes:
Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil
As a comparison to Richard Hancock’s memories of Peace Corps in El Salvador (6 July), I would like to describe my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil at about the same time (1962-1964).
Our Brazil I group began training at the National 4-H Club Center in Washington in early January 1962. Most of our group had been 4-H Club members or local 4-H county agents in several states before joining the Peace Corps. Some were college graduates, some had only a high school education, and the rest (like me) had dropped out of college to join this project. A few were 18 years old and some were older. I turned 21 shortly after we arrived in Brazil.
Some had been "IFYEs"–had participated in the International Farm Youth Exchange program and spent six months living on a farm in a foreign country. I had been a 4-H club member in Columbia County in upstate New York and worked on several projects–dairy calf, chickens, sheep, gardening, and reforestation. I was recruited by my county 4-H club agent in mid-1961 and dropped out of Antioch College in December 1961 to join the training group.
Our training in Washington permitted the participation of many area and technical experts regarding Brazil, Latin America, foreign relations and economic development. My only "foreign travel" before then was a family summer camping vacation trip to Canada in 1956.
The National 4-H Club Foundation had been contracted to administer our group in Brazil. The Foundation had a very good relationship with the Brazilian national rural extension service (ABCAR) and that was the "foot in the [Brazilian] door" to get Peace Corps into Brazil. This happened in some other countries. For example, in Senegal, the UAW (United Auto Workers) had a very good relationship with labor unions there and so was hired as the contractor for the first Peace Corps project in that country–to train local auto mechanics.
After six weeks of training in Washington we had four weeks of "Outward Bound" training at the same Camp Cozier in the mountains near Arecibo, PR. Our group had six volunteers from Puerto Rico. We were grouped into several "boy-girl" teams and did one week of "internship" with the Puerto Rican extension service teams to observe their 4-H club activities. Then in late March 1962 we landed at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro. The Portuguese language teachers at the US Embassy were horrified to find that our level in that language had regressed since we left Washington, because of our four weeks interaction in Spanish in Puerto Rico. So it was decided that we would have eight weeks of intensive (eight hours a day) language training at the rural agricultural university outside of Rio, living in the dorms with Brazilian students. Several times, the latter invited some of us to go into Rio with them to participate in student demonstrations and protests–a good learning experience.
When we arrived in Brazil, Tancredo Neves was still Brazil’s Prime Minister during the short-lived parliamentary government period. The US Ambassador who received us was Lincoln Gordon, a Harvard professor who JFK had recruited into the foreign service.
Then, we came back into the city of Rio for three weeks of training regarding Brazilian rural extension activities by ABCAR specialists and more language training–plus family home stays. I was placed with a family in the city of Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro–so I got to ride the ferry boat every day. Our group of 54 volunteers was then distributed to several Brazilian states–from Rio Grande do Sul (in the South) to the Northeastern state of Ceará. I was sent to the central state of Minas Gerais. There, we received an additional two weeks of training in how rural extension was done in that state–where these activities first began in 1949. So by the time we finally got out to our work sites in mid-June 1962–we had had 5.5 months of training–probably the longest training program ever in Peace Corps history.
Our country Peace Corps Representative George Coleman had previously worked with the OAS and his wife Peggy (and four children) were part of our Brazil I family. Francis Pressly had been recruited as a volunteer but because he had been a county 4-H club agent in North Carolina, he was hired by the National 4-H Club Foundation to be its contractor’s representative. He and his wife Sybil and two children also became part of our family.
Because our group arrived in Brazil with 11 more men than women, the Brazil II project that worked with community development in the San Francisco River basin in central Brazil as of November 1962 also trained 11 women to compliment our project–they were nicknamed the MOBs (mail order brides).
We were in Brazil during two difficult periods for the US–first, the Cuban missile crisis, and then the assassination of JFK. Most of our group returned to the US in December 1963, but I extended for seven months through July 1964 to finish some of my 4-H (called 4-S in Brazil) projects. Thus, I was in Brazil during the 31 March 1964 military coup that toppled the João Goulart government. My wife, Edyr, and I were married in Lavras, MG in August 1964, just before our return to the US.
Our Brazil I group has had several reunions, beginning with our 20-year encounter at the same National 4-H Club Center in August 1981. My wife and our then 7-year old daughter also participated. Our last reunion was during the 50th anniversary celebration of Peace Corps in September 2011–also at the National 4-H Club Center.
My Peace Corps service "changed my life." When I returned to Antioch College in Fall 1964, I switched majors from chemistry to political science and eventually ended up at the University of Brasília in January 1972.
JE comments: Outstanding reminisces from David Fleischer. I had often wondered what circumstances led David to choose a career in Brazil. David, together with Richard Hancock, were Peace Corps pioneers–truly one of the brightest spots in International Relations during the tension-filled 1960s.
Perhaps David Fleischer or Richard Hancock could answer this question: how long and how intense is the training for new volunteers presently?
Who else in WAISdom served in the Peace (Pax…et Lux) Corps? We’d love to hear your story.
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Topic: El Salvador (John Eipper, USA)
Memories of Peace Corps in El Salvador (Richard Hancock, USA)
Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil (David Fleischer, Brazil)
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