Peace Corps At Day One, # 8

Early training for the Peace Corps–this was in 1961–was on college campuses like the University of Michigan, but for some Trainees it also meant “field training” in Puerto Rico, the Rocky Mountains, and other locations.

The first Puerto Rico site ws located in the mountains south of Arecibo. This training came about, or so it seems, because Shriver in February and March of ’61 reviewed the British Volunteer Service Overseas (VOS) program. These schools exposed their student to unexpected challenges and the students were judged by how well they reacted to new situations. This method, I understand, was developed during World War II and was later adopted by the British industry as a technique for training potential leaders.

Shriver got in touch with the Outward Bound Trust, governing body of the schools, and got the help of two of their members, Sir Spencer Summers, chairman of the Trust, and Captain Frederick Fuller, Headmaster of the oldest Outward Bound School at Aberdovey, Wales. 

The site for the Peace Corps was made available to the Peace Corps by Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Munoz Marin. Aerial searchers were undertaken until a site for the camp was found. Most of  this development was handled by Sancho-Bonet who coordinated the early Peace Corps work in Puerto Rico. Captain Fuller remained ‘on site’ for six months to set up the camp.

It was here, in the mountains of Puerto Rico where some of the early Trainees got their first exposure to another culture, the tropical life of the Caribbean, and a new language. The Trainees also were exposed to physical fitness program that included mountain climbing, swimming, four-day survival treks and mastering an obstacle course.

All of this, of course, proved to be utterly useless to 99% of all PCVs when they reached the Third World.

Shriver (and others), however, saw this training as a means of strengthening self confidence through challenge, and revealing to the Trainees of their own unexpected capacities. Also the shrinks (remember them?) had an excellent opportunity for a “total evaluation and selection of the individual Volunteer.”

Two camps were built in Puerto Rico. Other training took place at the Experiment in International Living in Putney, Vt. for PCVs to East Pakistan, Venezuela and Chile, as well as in the Rocky Mountains  for PCVs headed for the high Himalayas of Nepal.  The Tennessee Valley Authority also trained Volunteers for a project comparable to TVA in the So Francisco Valley of Brazil.

By the mid to late ’60s, the Peace Corps realized that such training was a waste of time and effort, and it was much cheaper and more effective to do Peace Corps training overseas, and this was the end of universities making a tidy sums of federal money off the Peace Corps, and the end of rappelling off mountains in Arecibo.

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  • The University of New Mexico Latin America Training Center at the campus in Albuquerque also operated the “outward bound like” center in Taos, New Mexico at the D.H. Lawrence Ranch. The ranch was ceded to the Unversity by Lawrence widow , Freida . The ranch was given to Lawrence by his Taos benefactor Mabel Dodge Lujan.

    Former volunteers from Colombia I and II , plus Dr. Richard Poston, the Community Develpment guru from Southern Illinois operated the training center. The center consisted of “outdoor skills” horsemanship, mountain climbing and survival hikes and training . In addition trainess spent w two weeks working in Northern New Mexico communities to shapen Spanish and community development skills.

    The University used the opportunity to build a conference center at the ranch, which has fallen into disrepair during my visit in July 2008.

    Dennis Grubb
    Colombia (1961-63)
    Trainer -UNM Peace Corps Center

  • The SouthWest Research Institute at the University of New Mexico has archives from the training center. The materials include training documents as well as internal memos, correspondence between the field and the training center and much information from Volunteers during their service. The correspondence reveals all the tensions between the training center, DC and the incountry staff/Volunteers.I believe that the index is available online.

    As I was told, back in 1995, someone found all of these papers outside in the alley behind the old training center, ready for the dumpster. That person rescued them and the collection is invaluable.

  • Well, here I am John, with a different perspective on the camps. When I used to do evaluations in Latin America in the mid 60’s and asked the Volunteers to comment on the training they had received, they unanimously would tell me that the outward bound training at the camps was the most valuable–even though they has been scared to death to be drownproofed, etc. They claimed the value of what you discounted re confidence building, prep for fear, learning their capacities etc. Also in the late 60’s I did a study on what predicted success as a Volunteer–we had data from applications, full field investigations, training performance and, at the time, ratings as a Volunteer by country staff. One of the few items that correlated with success as a Volunteer was performance (actually, effort not achievement) in Physical Education courses at all training sites(not just the camps.) We found that out right after Peace Corps had done away with PE! I often wish I had gone to the camps–we were too early in training, i.e. July, and the camp opened in September, I think., although we had a heavy dose of PE and a survuval weekend near pPnn State. I hesitate think what I might have accomplished in life had I had the Outward Bound training!

  • Maureen, How was “effort” evalated for physical training? I remember one of our group fell off the rope jungle and broke her leg. She was told her “attitude” had to improve or she would be deselected. A few weeks later, she went on our survival hike in the Pecos Wilderness in a walking cast. She went on to Colombia and did very well.

    It wasn’t until I saw a program on the Discovery Channel featuring Outward Bound training, that I realized that helmuts and safety ropes were standard equipment for the rope jungle.

    One of our great training stories had to do with the excellent ratings everyone in my survival group received. This had to do with one of the more attractive women in the group agreeing to go out on a “date” with our ex-Marine leader. He brought her copies of our ratings, each of us did well, then she had to confess that in the interium she had become engaged and would not be able to go out on a “date” with him.

    Finally, I thought that the language ability was the factor most predictive of success as a Volunteer.

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