After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife biology from Michigan State University in 1969, Rich Schneider volunteered for the Peace Corps, which had sounded like a life-altering opportunity – and he wasn’t ready for marriage and a career.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) assigned to the Philippines, Rich lived in the remote mountain village of Villar from June 1969 through June 1971, and worked with Pinatubo Aetas, an indigenous people, to increase their rice yield. The Aetas lived in permanent dwellings on a government reservation each assigned about 0.6 hectare (1.5 acres) of land suitable for planting rice. They had given up slash-and-burn agriculture, and on this land started traditional rice farming.
Rich’s assignment was to assist the Aetas increase their rice yield per hectare from 30 to 80 cavans (1 cavan = 50 kilograms) using the improved rice varieties and enhanced cultivation practices developed at the International Rice Research Institute.
Immersed in the Pinatubo Aetas’ culture for two years, Rich had expected to haul water from a spring, sleep in a Nipa hut, read by kerosene lantern, and hike long distances. He learned to eat beetle larvae, sleep under a mosquito net, stay away from insurgent activity, and to speak Tagalog. What he didn’t expect to find was a people who would share what little they had with a tall, well-intentioned Volunteer before taking care of themselves.
Rich has just published Living with the Pinatubo Aetas: A Peace Corps Philippines Journal with Peace Corps Writers. It has was compiled from notes, letters to his family, discussions with other PCV’s and tape recordings, and tells Rich’s story of his life during his two years in the Philippines. After reading this journal, the reader will better understand the daily life of a PCV, the customs of Filipinos, and, more specifically, the traditions of the Pinatubo Aetas.
During his time in Villar Rich submitted a wildlife conservation project proposal to the Peace Corps that was approved and expanded at the request of the Philippine Parks and Wildlife Office. In addition to the request for three Volunteers to work in conservation education, wildlife research, and range management, the proposal requested ten Volunteers to work on the development of an international-style park system.
Following his completion of service in 1971, Rich entered a master’s degree program in park planning at Michigan State University. In 1972, as a graduate student he was hired as a technical coordinator to train prospective PCVs for the new parks, wildlife conservation, and other programs in the Philippines. His responsibilities included the selection, training, and evaluation of prospective Volunteers. He taught sessions on his Peace Corps experience, language, cross-cultural studies, and technical sessions in tropical fisheries, Asian wildlife, and international park development.
Excited and energized by the possibilities of the program, he applied for the Peace Corps for a second tour of duty in the Philippines, was selected and served as a PCV from 1974 to 1977.
During this second tour of service Rich worked with seven other Peace Corps Volunteers, the Philippine Department of Natural Resources (Parks and Wildlife Office), and the Development Academy of the Philippines on the development of a new national park system for the country. This eighteen-month project included an inventory of all existing national park units, the establishment of criteria for national parks, historic areas, and recreation areas, and recommendations for additions to and deletions from the existing park system. The results of the study were contained in a ten-volume report. Prior to this study, local politicians had designated national park areas, not based on national or regional significance criteria, but to promote tourism and economic growth under their jurisdiction. The workgroup recommended that a number of areas for removal from the system, and the land use within designated areas, which were often destructive of natural and cultural resources, had to be addressed.
Rich’s academic and park-management experience led directly to a 34-year career as a manager for the U.S. National Park Service. He has published articles for the Peace Corps, National Park Service, and the Department of the Interior. He also coauthored a book titled Buildings . . . The Gift That Keeps on Taking.
Living with the Pinatubo Aetas:A Peace Corps Philippines Journal
by Richard C Schneider (Philippines 1969–71, 1974–77)
A Peace Corps Writers Book