Review: RPCV Barbara Joe's Triumph & Hope

Triumph & Hope is reviewed by Bob Arias. Bob has had a long history with the Peace Corps, first as a PCV 1964-66, then at the Puerto Rico Training Center 1966-68; as an APCD in Colombia 1966-68; then Special Assistant to the Director, ACTION 1976-77, CD in Argentina-Uruguay, 1993-95, and finally as a consultant to the Peace Corps Safety and Security Office 2002-03.

triumph-hope1Triumph & Hope: Golden Years With The Peace Corps in Honduras
by Barbara Joe (Honduras 2000–03)
December 2008
316 pages
Best new non-fiction finalist, National Indie Excellence Awards

Reviewed by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964–66)

There’s more than triumph and hope going on here, this is a complete “journal” of life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central American country of Honduras!  Barbara believes she is telling you the story of her success and failures as a senior citizen in this lush banana country, when in reality she is describing what most Volunteers go through as they begin their first months “in-country,” and try to make it through the first year. Barbara stays three years. Surprisingly, as a child in 1941 she had gone  to Honduras with her family and the memories stayed with her!

Barbara Joe is an extremely gifted writer who paints the environment and people around her with colorful rainbow shades  — you feel as if you are in the room with her, or working with the children that come to see the lady from el Cuerpo de Paz.  I found it very difficult to put down Triumph & Hope, it drew me to the communities, her “vida social” and the changes that were going on in her new life in Honduras.  I began to see something very special and unique in the book . . . something about Barbara and how important everyday life is . . .  and how the loss of her son and adopted son play in her new home in a different part of the world — we become very proud of her.

Barbara Joe may be over sixty, but she has the spirit and curiosity of any new Peace Corps Volunteer regardless of her age . . . with that fire in her belly to make a difference in the lives of those around her in beautiful Honduras, nothing stops her from trying.  Some Volunteers spend their tour counting the days until they get to go home, while others really get involved in their communities, and like Barbara these are the Volunteers who adopt or are adopted by their new country, to become their “patria chica” or adopted homeland.  Volunteers will often refer to their country of service as their new adopted homeland, and find something in themselves that they did not know existed…the special feeling that causes them to love and respect their new community.  As Barbara says, “I now feel part Honduran!”

The delightful use of black and white photos to walk you through the communities of El Triunfo y La Esperanza are excellent, I found them useful as a reference and personal collection of her new family.  If you have ever attempted to keep a log during your travels, you know how difficult this becomes. Barbara seems to have found a way to use the photos as a means to keep events organized!  And keeping them in black and white makes them more personal as we read her journal.  I worry that some younger Volunteers may have never seen a black and white!

So where do I sign up?  I feel that Triumph & Hope by Barbara Joe is the best that I have read about our Peace Corps experience, but with a different twist, this is a “how-to” book for anyone thinking about becoming a Volunteer or Peace Corps staff member.  So much is put into Peace Corps Trainee and Staff training, but so little is given to the new recruits to read of what someone else has experienced.  Though Barbara Joe’s experience took place in Central America, a Volunteer in Africa or Asia will see the same events played out.  The cultures and languages may be different, but the message is the same, or as Barbara said, “I now feel part Honduran!”

This book should be made mandatory reading for  all new Peace Corps Volunteers and especially new Staff including any future Director.  Former Volunteers and Staff will find the photos and stories a clear picture of events as we tell our war stores with family and friends. Barbara brings it home for all of us!  At the beginning of Peace Corps, Volunteers were given “book-lockers” that had an excellent collection of books and reading material to see them through the two years as a Volunteer — I would have added Barbara Joe’s book to the reading material if they were still being provided.  Thanks, Barbara!

(available on

Barbara’s book is a great read…Buy and read this book, no matter your age. –Ed O’Keefe, Federal Eye, Washington Post

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