Chia Alphonse Tasah is a team-building and cultural-diversity consultant at All World Languages and Cultures, Inc., in Kansas City, Missouri, where he makes presentations at conferences, seminars, churches, and schools.
Chia was born and received his early education in Cameroon. During his secondary school years there, he was supported by Peace Corps Volunteers. Later he earned his master of education (MEd) in human resource development at the University of Minnesota.
He recently publish a memoir The Life of An African Peace Corps Child: The Life and Experiences of a Peace Corps Child of Kom, Cameroon that is obtainable at www.chiatasah.com or iuniverse.com, (but not Amazon).
I asked Chia if he would write a short essay about how three PCVs impacted his education and helped him in his career. He was nice enough to send me this account. — JC
The Impact of Peace Corps Volunteers in My Life
by Chia Alphonse Tasah
The Peace Corps program brought three Volunteers to my village who cared for the plight of common people like me. I was a huge beneficiary of the Peace Corps effort in Cameroon. When I reflect on my childhood transition into adulthood, I think of three PCVs: Alan Lakomski, Bill Strassberger, and Christine Swanson. They changed my life when they came to my small village of Kom in Cameroon.
PCV Alan Lakomski’s job in the Peace Corps was to reorganize the credit union in my village and Cameroon at large. And by my good fortune, one of the credit union offices was in Tiniforinbi, directly across from where I lived.
I was fourteen in 1980 when Mr. Alan came to my village. I had just finished primary school and I wanted to continue my education, but my father was too poor. He needed me to work for the family. A neighbor of ours owned the biggest bar in our village and told my father that I could become a bartender.
The bar was in the center of the village and was the only recreation spot that welcomed guests from all walks of life. Mr. Alan visited the bar from time to time, mostly to get lunch from one grandma who prepared a meal called corn chaff. When he ordered his plate, we played a traditional and conversational game called Fiinjang.
During the game, he asked why I didn’t attend secondary school, and I told him how my family was too poor. He said I was courteous and well behaved, and commended on my customer service skills that he felt were inherent in smart kids. He believed I could excel in school, and had a future that would be better than being a bartender. So, out of his Peace Corps allowance, Mr. Alan sponsored my secondary school education.
When Mr. Alan left and I was without financial help, I was in a desperate condition. I didn’t know what I was going to do, as I was in love with school and now I had no support. My distressful situation was short-lived because another compassionate PCV arrived in my village.
Mr. Bill, within two months of his arrival in Cameroon, came to reorganize the Kom Area Cooperative Union and help farmers market their coffee in collaboration with the Northwest Marketing Board.
With tribulations and fear, I explained to him my situation and he listened empathically. He supported me while we waited for Mr. Alan to send tuition money to me. He also supported my education so that within five years I had finished my secondary schooling.
More importantly, he developed in me self-reliant skills by encouraging me to work holiday jobs to earn extra money. It was through these self-reliant skills that I bulldozed my way to the University of Buea where I met another solicitous and hospitable PCV, Christine Swanson.
Dr. Christine Swanson
Dr. Christine was my instructor and end-of-course project supervisor at the University of Buea, Cameroon in 2000. Five students were placed under Christine’s supervision, and I was one of her team cohorts. At the University of Buea, I earned a degree that made me qualified to apply to the Department of Human Resource Development at the University of Minnesota.
When she left, I took her email and wrote to her after a year. She worked at the College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota. I asked Dr. Christine to help me with my application process to the University of Minnesota and she did. When I was admitted, she supported my visa process until I received it. And when I arrived to the US, with only $85.00 in my pocket, she provided lodging in her neighbor’s house who was vacating.
Without any help from family and friends back in Cameroon, Dr. Christine understood that I was in need and under great stress. She questioned what happened to the money my sponsor declared at the US Consulate and I stayed mum to myself for private reasons.
When I was agonizingly distraught, with looming fears of uncertainty, I fled from Dr. Christine’s arranged condo and took refuge in a friend’s room. I envisaged homelessness and deportation, now with only $40.00.
She sent an email requesting that I report back to her neighbor’s condo. While back under her supervision, I asked how to reconnect with returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Cameroon. She gave me a catalogue of updated emails and phone numbers of all returned Peace Corps Volunteers, and fortuitously I reconnected with Mr. Alan and Mr. Bill, now over twenty years from when I lost contact with them. Mr. Alan took over responsibility for my rent of $500.00 every month until I graduated in 2005. Mr. Bill advised me on US culture, and what it takes to make a career in America.
Mr. Alan had set a precedence on benevolent gestures, and allowed destiny to take its course. Without, Mr. Alan Lakomski, Mr. Bill Strassberger and Dr. Christine Swanson I would be suffocating under the distressing blows of adversity and hardship in Cameroon. I wouldn’t have started school. I would be, perhaps still back in Kom, bartending to people from all walks of life.
Long live the Peace Corps!