In 1992, The Peace Corps Experience Award was initiated. It is presented annually to a Peace Corps Volunteer or staff member, past or present for the best short description of life in the Peace Corps. It can be a personal essay, story, poem, letter, cartoon or song. The subject matter can be any aspect of the Peace Corps experience – daily life, assignment, travel, host country nationals, other Volunteers, readjustment.
In 1997, this award was renamed to honor Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67) whose Living Poor has been widely cited as an outstanding telling of the essence of the Peace Corps experience.
Sarge Shriver often said that the real benefit from the Peace Corps experience would be the children of RPCVs who would raise their children with a better understanding and compassion for world problems because of having had the Peace Corps experience.
Briefly in the early ’70s, the Peace Corps decided to send families overseas. The attempt proved to be too expensive, too chancy, and did not have the positive results the agency hoped for. It was discontinued after two years.
One of the families that joined up during that time were the Worricks. They had one son with them in Africa in 1971-73. Roberta Worrick would later publish a series of books under the name Maria Thomas before her death, and now we name the fiction award of Peace Corps Writers after Maria.
When the Worricks were in Ethiopia, Frances L. Stone and her family were serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Philippines. It is Frances’ book Through the Eyes of My Children: The Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer Family that we award this year’s Moritz Thomsen Award. Below is the review of her book, written by Barbara E. Joe (Honduras 2000-03).
Through the Eyes of My Children: The Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer Family
by Frances L. Stone (Philippines 1971-73)
Peace Corps Writers
Reviewed by Barbara E. Joe (Honduras 2000-03)
THE STONES WERE AMONG THE FIRST to sign up when the Peace Corps began sending whole families overseas, and the six of them went to the Philippines in 1971. Frances Stone’s book, Through the Eyes of My Children: The Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer Family, told mainly in the voices of her four children and aimed at young readers, helps document the history of this little-known, short-lived experiment.
I knew two families, each with two children, who served in Costa Rica at that same time. Both they and the Stones have touted the lasting benefits of the program for themselves and their kids, and the positive impact on the communities where they served. However, the brief tenure of the Peace Corps Families project suggests that the effort ran into complications and costs that any parent can well imagine. It was a bold and noble idea, but one probably difficult to manage and implement on the ground. Still, the effort made a lasting impression on the families and children involved, and is doubtless still remembered fondly by their Peace Corps communities.
This charming, slender volume, based on letters written home during service and with a foreword by P. David Searles, Philippines country director during the Stones’ tenure, is amply illustrated with photos of the family living everyday life in their new surroundings. It’s a very readable account that moves right along, though because of its target audience, it may not appeal to all adult readers. Each child and parent takes turns narrating successive short chapters, even the youngest who now retains only fuzzy memories of their sojourn. The children, ages three to eleven when the family joined the Peace Corps, recount the challenges of learning a new language, attending school, eating unfamiliar foods, grappling with illness and hygiene, taking care of unusual pets, and making new friends in a foreign country. I easily identified with their struggles, having moved to Colombia with my family as a teenager.
The father, Paul – a farmer, worked as an Agriculture Volunteer, and Frances, the mother, was a part-time nursery school teacher. Other Volunteers might envy the family’s ability to have a live-in maid, yet theirs was not a life of luxury. They had to take cold showers, use a bucket-flush toilet, and get around without a car. The children learned about local folkways, festivals, and games – the fun part of their experience, but were troubled by seeing age mates living in extreme poverty. Their grandparents visited them one Christmas, providing the family with a welcome touch of home. When unsatisfactory conditions in their first site led them to consider quitting early; but instead, they moved to another locale with a totally different terrain, climate, and even dialect. While they were living there, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, which continued through the end of their stay several months later. The Stones’ real-life story, aimed at middle-school readers, may inspire some to become future Peace Corps Volunteers.
The author elaborates on her painstaking and persistent efforts to shape the family’s story into a book, and by her example hopes to encourage other fledgling authors to move forward with their own unique narratives. Taken together, the variety and breadth of Peace Corps memoirs spanning half a century and so many countries around the world form a fascinating historical and geographic mosaic. The Stone family’s account adds still one more intriguing facet to the larger Peace Corps story, and to the Peace Corps Writers imprint.
I found my curiosity whetted, wondering how many families actually participated in this Peace Corps project, and in which countries? What were the special problems and benefits of the program, and what finally caused it to be shut down? These questions, not addressed elsewhere, might usefully have been answered in this book.
Peace Corps has recently initiated several new service options, such as offering short-term Response opportunities to professionally qualified non-Volunteers; partnering with another organization to send one-year medical missions to Africa; and considering allowing same-sex couples to serve together in receptive countries. Volunteers with disabilities have often been recruited for specialized tasks, and those of all ages have been welcomed, even into their 80s. If families are ever invited back into the mix, the experience of the Stones and other Peace Corps families will offer a guide on how best to accommodate them. Certainly for the Stones themselves, their Peace Corps adventure has marked their lives forever after.