In my email a week or so ago, I received this note:
Sorry to bother you. My name is Ray Blakney and I am a RPCV from Mexico. I am working on a 3rd Goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create a directory to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost. I have created a sub-section on my website with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by Peace Corps staff and PCV’s). I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.
The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the word out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV’s or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use. I was hoping that you could help get the word out so that people know it is there. There should be something there for almost anybody, no matter where they are being sent. It is all 100% free to use and share. Here is the page:
Thanks for any help you can provide in making this project a success. If there is anything else you need from my end, please let me know. Thanks and have a great day.
I emailed back and talked to Ray about himself, his Peace Corps years, and what he was doing.]-
Ray, tell us about yourself.
This is always a loaded question.
Here is the long answer.
I was born in Cebu City, Philippines My father was PCV in the Philippines (1977-80) and my mother was a host country national on the Peace Corps staff. My father was in his 3rd year extension when I was born, so technically I was born into the Peace Corps and Mexico was actually my second time as a PCV.
When I was 11 months old we moved to Istanbul, Turkey where I spent the next 14 years. At 15 years of age I started boarding school in Massachusetts (the international school in Istanbul only went to 10th grade). I then spend the next 11 years in the U.S. both for university and work as a software engineer before joining the Peace Corps and coming to Mexico. I have been in Mexico ever since (so about 8 years). So if you do that math, I lived in the U.S. for about 11 years, and have lived in other countries for 23 years.
On an unrelated note, I also married one of the Peace Corps Mexico host country staff (just like my father did). So history repeated itself.
Here is the short answer.
I am American and have been American since I was born, but I can’t be the president.
What college did you attend?
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I have a B.S. in Computer Engineering.
What did you do as a PCV in Mexico?
My official title was Technology Transfer Specialists. I worked at a center of CONACYT (the equivalent of the U.S. National Science Foundation) improving their existing IT systems and developing new systems for them from scratch.
Were you with the first group?
No. I was part of Peace Corps Mexico group 3 (but overlapped with group 1). I was however in the first group that got sent to southern Mexico. Until then all other PCVs had been stationed in central Mexico. It was actually a whole political thing, with me and the 3 other Volunteers at my center being accused in a national newspaper of being CIA spy’s. Here is a translated copy of the article:
You will see the high quality of the reporting done by the reporter when he states that the Peace Corp website is www.usfreedomcorps.com (which has nothing to do with us). He even quotes parts from this wrong website to support his argument. But don’t get me wrong, I loved my time there. As a half-Filipino, I looked Latino, so everybody thought I was local.
Where in Mexico were you?
I was station in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. It is a Pueblo Magico, with a very rich indigenous culture. But it is also a very popular tourist destination so it had a lot to offer not only in nature but also in culture and cuisine.
Why this project?
I did this project for both personal and professional reasons. On a personal level, as you read in my background, I have been tied to the Peace Corps since I was born, so I wanted to contribute to it in any way I could. On a professional level, after COS’ing and marrying my wife (who is a Spanish language teacher) we started a number of language schools in Mexico. In addition to the brick and mortar schools we launched an online Spanish school. After a few years our online Spanish school grew to overshadow our brick and mortar schools, so we sold the schools and focused on the online school. As the school grew, we added more languages and eventually changed its name to www.livelingua.com. Once we had the site, I wanted to make sure that the site had a strong social message. On one end, we offer the opportunity for some teachers - usually women - in some third world and developing countries to earn an excellent salary for themselves and their families by obtaining students in the U.S. and Europe. And secondly, I want to use the resources to create the archive for all the public domain language material in the world. I started by adding the FSI language courses, then the DLI language courses since they were more easy to find online. Then I noticed to my surprise that the Peace Corps did not have anything. That is how the Peace Corps language archive was born. I have been working on it and growing it since the end of 2012.
What is, in your words, the real value?
The Peace Corps is an organization ideally positioned for creating language teaching material. And most of all, practical language learning material. The goal of all Peace Corps language courses is to teach PCV’s the basic language skills they need not only survive, but also to function in their host countries. All this needs to be done in the 10-12 week pre-service training period. Not much time is wasted on academic exercises like there would be in more traditional courses (conjugating verbs, memorizing tenses, prepositions, etc). This makes them ideal for most language learners, who’s concern is to be able to communicate.
The second reason is to help conserve some languages that are not very common. The Peace Corps is one of the few - if not only - organizations that spend the time and resources to make high quality learning material for some not very well known languages such as Kwi, Moore, Tok Pisin or Kaquchiquel. but up until this date there was no place for the general public to get access to these valuable courses.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, these materials were and are being lost. I spent months contacting Peace Corps country offices, Peace Corps alumni groups and scouring the web to collect the information I have on the site. But, the Peace Corps has been around for over 50 years, and I would bet good money that the material I found is only a small fraction of what the Peace Corps has created over the years. Most of what was created was never saved, and is now lost forever. I want to help make sure that that does not happen going forward. By creating this free archive, and with the participation of the Peace Corps and RPCV community I hope to get copies of any language material made by staff or PCV’s from now on and share them with the world. This way we can make sure that 50 years from now, none of the material that was created was lost.
What do RPCVs and PCVs have to do to be part of it?
To use the site, they don’t have to do anything. All they need to do is go to www.livelingua.com/peace-corps-language-courses.php go to the language of their choice and use the ebooks, audios or videos of their choice. That’s it. No login, no commercials, no costs. If they would like to contribute by sending material to add to the archive - which is critical for the language archives success - all they need to do is go to www.livelingua.comand use the contact form there to send me an email. I will then contact them and work out how they can get me the information and I can add it to the archive.
Thanks, Ray, and the best of luck to you on this wonderful project.
Well, I thank you and Marian for getting the word out about what we are trying to do.