Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Emily Ruhm, August 5, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Early life, education, and applying for Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: This is Evelyn Ganzglass, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia from 1966-1968. Today is August 5, 2020 and I am interviewing Emily Ruhm, who was a Peace Corp volunteer in Senegal in an agricultural program starting in September 2019 a--until she was evacuated in--because of Covid-19 in March 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Ruhm discusses why she joined the Peace Corps. She grew up with parents who worked in the U.S. foreign service; her family was primarily stationed in the Middle East, which heavily influenced her decision to go into international work. She did an internship at USAID in the Eastern European bureau. She went to the College of William & Mary in Virginia, obtaining an undergraduate degree in International Public Policy and a Master's of Public Policy-International Development Policy. She discusses her long and circuitous process of getting into Peace Corps. She discusses the problems with applying as the child of parents who were in U.S. intelligence work, including not being allowed to go to certain countries, as well as proving she was independent and not being influenced by them. She taught English in China before being accepted to Peace Corps.

Keywords: Foreign Service; Teaching English as a foreign language; Teaching English as a second language; U.S. Foreign Service; United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Subjects: Afghanistan.; Agricultural services; Agriculture.; Albania.; Bahrain.; Children of spies; China.; College of William & Mary; Community development.; Cultural awareness.; Cultural intelligence.; Diplomatic and consular service; Economic development.; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers.; Europe, Eastern; Europe.; Food security.; Food supply.; Gender and society; Intelligence service.; Iraq.; Islam.; Kuwait; Language learning and language teaching; Middle East.; Montessori method of education.; Paraguay; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Africa Region; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Senegal.; Secret service.; Senegal.; Spies.; Surgery.; United Arab Emirates; United States. Agency for International Development.; Women employees; Women in higher education.; Women in the civil service; Women teachers.; Women--Education (Higher)

GPS: Middle East
Map Coordinates: 29, 41
GPS: Williamsburg, Virginia
Map Coordinates: 37.270833, -76.706944
GPS: China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
GPS: Kuwait
Map Coordinates: 29.5, 47.75
GPS: Paraguay
Map Coordinates: -23, -58
GPS: Albania
Map Coordinates: 41, 20
GPS: Iraq
Map Coordinates: 33, 44
GPS: Afghanistan
Map Coordinates: 33, 65
GPS: United Arab Emirates
Map Coordinates: 24, 54
GPS: Bahrain
Map Coordinates: 26.0275, 50.55
GPS: Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.666667, -17.416667
00:15:10 - Training and social interactions in Senegal

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so you finally got assigned to Senegal and you then, um, were part of an agriculture program.

Segment Synopsis: Ruhm discusses her training, which included learning about field crops but focused mainly on gardening and animal husbandry. For pre-service training, half of the time they were living with a host family so they could have language learning and practice gardening. They had a communal garden at a local school where they practiced the skills they were learning. They also had cultural training, which included attending weddings, funerals, and baptisms and learning about dress, clothes, food, cultural activities and gestures. She discusses her relationships with her training and in-service host families. The training took place in Thiès, Senegal and her community was called Ranerou. She discusses her interactions with other volunteers, contrasting her work experience in food security policy with others who had previous farming experience, as well as contrasting her previous international experience with those who had none.

Keywords: Animal husbandry; Host families; Matam Region; Matam Region (Senegal); Pulaar (Language); Pular (Language); Ranerou; Ranerou (Senegal)

Subjects: Agriculture.; Animal culture.; Animism.; Aquaponics; Beds (Gardens); Cattle.; Christianity.; Corporal punishment.; Cows.; Dance.; Diet.; Discipline; Discipline of children.; Domestic animals.; Education.; Flagellation.; Food habits.; Food security.; Friendship.; Gardening.; Gardens.; Goat farming; Goats; Herb gardens; Host families of foreign students; International negotiation and development; Interpersonal relations; Islam.; Language learning and language teaching; Lifestyles.; Livestock.; Manners and customs; Matam (Senegal); Occupational training.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Africa Region; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Senegal.; Policy development and analysis; Raised bed gardening; Schools.; Senegal.; Sheep; Sheep farming; Social interaction.; Sustainable agriculture.; Teaching.; Thiès (Senegal); Training; Urban agriculture.; Urban gardening; Wolof language; Women agricultural laborers; Women employees; Women gardeners; Wrestling.

GPS: Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.666667, -17.416667
GPS: Thiès, Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.783333, -16.916667
GPS: Ranerou, Senegal
Map Coordinates: 15.05069, -14.13322
GPS: Matam Region
Map Coordinates: 15.16667 -13.66667
00:34:29 - Agriculture job in Senegal / Gender relations as a woman

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so you got to the, the small city where you were stationed, and, and what, what was your actual job?

Segment Synopsis: Ruhm's job title was urban agriculture extension agent. Her assigned partner was a woman who was the president of one of the women's gardens in the community. They had planned a large scale agriculture training that was to take place after she was evacuated. She developed a good relationship with the head of the national forest service. She attended a week long environmental camp for high school students. She ended up leading the school's English club. They planned a school garden club and to apply for a grant for girls who are high performing but low income. She discusses her interactions as a woman, where the focus was on marriage status and children. She discusses the higher responsibilities placed on women at a younger age as compared to men.

Keywords: Conservation; Tree gardens

Subjects: Camps.; Community gardens; Conservation of natural resources--Study and teaching; Conservation of natural resources.; Cross cultural communication; Environmentalism.; Friendship.; Gardens.; Gender and culture; Gender and society; Gender politics, global issues; Gender, society & development; Gender.; Intercultural communication.; Intergroup relations.; International Women's Day; Interpersonal relations; Language learning and language teaching; Lifestyles.; Man-woman relationships.; Manners and customs; Misogyny.; Oppression; Patriarchy.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Senegal.; Peace Corps (U.S.). Africa Region; Scholarships.; Schools; Senegal.; Sexism.; Social interaction.; Social norms.; Teachers.; Trees.; Urban agriculture.; Urban gardens; Women agricultural laborers; Women employees; Women gardeners; Women's rights.; Women--Employment.

GPS: Ranérou, Senegal
Map Coordinates: 15.05069, -14.13322
00:51:12 - Goals of Peace Corps / Evacuation due to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: So, we'll get to evacuation and all of that in a minute, in a minute, but you're really talking about two different goals of Peace Corps.

Segment Synopsis: Ruhm discusses the two main goals of Peace Corps as it related to her experience. She stated that the cultural exchange was a larger part of her experience than providing technical training. This experience influenced the way in which she wants to do international work. She was concerned about COVID-19 early on because her partner was posted in China. She discusses how sub-Saharan Africa and Senegal handled the virus, including travel bans, lockdowns, and closures of schools and marketplaces. She also discusses the evacuation process in detail.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Technical training

Subjects: Agriculture.; COVID-19 (Disease); Carrier state (Communicable diseases); Cognition and culture.; Communication and culture.; Community development.; Cross-cultural studies.; Cultural awareness.; Cultural pluralism.; Cultural relativism.; Epidemiology.; Evacuation of civilians; Health.; Hygiene.; Intercultural communication.; International negotiation and development; Language and culture.; Medicine, Preventive.; Mental health.; Occupational training.; Public health surveillance.; Public health.; Safety measures; Sick; Stress (Psychology); Thiès (Senegal); Touba (Senegal); Training; Transmission; Women employees

GPS: Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.5001717, -14.4392276
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Thiès, Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.783333, -16.916667
GPS: Touba, Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.866667, -15.883333
01:10:41 - Job searching / Support from Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Essentially, immediately between crying and culture shock and trying to figure out, 'okay, what the heck am I going to do now,' started job searching.

Segment Synopsis: Ruhm started job searching upon being evacuated. Her former supervisor from the U.N. helped her find a job in Washington, D.C. with the U.N. World Food program. She is about to start a job with the U.S. government working with the Millennium Challenge Corporation working on development programming for sub-Saharan Africa. She has stayed in touch with some people from her time in Peace Corps. She discusses Senegal's handling of COVID-19, stating they are better than other countries at doing testing and contract tracing. She discusses the support from the Peace Corps community for evacuation, including getting Noncompetitive Eligibility for hiring with the government.

Keywords: Contact tracing; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Noncompetitive Eligibility

Subjects: Africa, Sub-Saharan; COVID-19 (Disease); Careers.; Carrier state (Communicable diseases); Community development.; Epidemiology.; Evacuation of civilians; Health.; Housing.; Job hunting.; Medical screening.; Medicine, Preventive.; Mental health.; Millennium Challenge Corporation (U.S.); Public health surveillance.; Public health.; Senegal.; Sick; Stress (Psychology); Transmission; Unemployed.; Unemployment.; United Nations.; Women employees; World Food Programme

GPS: Washington, D.C., United States
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Senegal
Map Coordinates: 14.666667, -17.416667