Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Ella "Cheri" Bennett, October 3, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - Bennett's background

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Partial Transcript: Today is October 3, 2020. My name is Olivia Donaldson. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin from 2001 to 2003. And today, I am interviewing Ella Cheri Bennett who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic from August 1991 to October 1993. Cheri was an education Volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: Bennett is living in Lilesville, North Carolina. Bennett is teaching nutritional education through North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Union County, North Carolina. Bennett has 3 children and has a long-term interest in serving others.

Keywords: Altruism; Children; Jobs; Lilesville (N.C.)

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.)-- 1990-2000; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
GPS: Lilesville (N.C.)
Map Coordinates: 34.967222, -79.985556
GPS: Union County (N.C.)
Map Coordinates: 34.99, -80.53
00:01:14 - Bennett's education and goals

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Partial Transcript: So what were you doing prior to joining the Peace Corps and what motivated or led you to apply to the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: In the tenth grade, Bennett became aware of the Peace Corps through a television commercial and made plans to finish university, graduate school, and to travel the world. At age 29, Bennett entered the Peace Corps in the same month that she finished graduate school. In college, Bennett studied Urban Studies and Community Affairs. In graduate school, Bennett went into Public Administration.

Keywords: Awareness; College majors; Future plans; Graduate schools; Influences

Subjects: Education, Higher; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:04:47 - Reactions to Bennett's joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: What did your, what did your family and friends think when you told them you were going to join the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett's family was supportive. The goal of Bennett's parents was for Bennett to finish college and Bennett became the first in her family to do so. Many of Bennett's extended family and neighbors were unfamiliar with the Peace Corps and mistook it for the Job Corps.

Keywords: Excited; Family; Goals; Misconceptions; Support

Subjects: Emotions; Families; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:06:36 - Application process

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything that stands out to you about the application process, the steps you went through, or the moment when you found out, uh, when you'd be leaving and where you'd be going?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett's application took a year to process. Bennett drove to Washington, D.C. to meet her recruiter for an interview. Bennett had studied Spanish in school and eventually was placed in a program in the Dominican Republic.

Keywords: Applications; Applying; Driving; Peace Corps interviews; Peace Corps recruiters; Spanish (Language); Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Dominican Republic; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.9101, -77.0147
GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
00:09:33 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So what--what was the training that Peace Corps provided? Where did it happen? Was it in the Dominican Republic, um, and what kinds of things did you learn?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett had a 3-day staging in Miami. When Bennett's cohort arrived in the Dominican Republic, the Volunteers were picked up at the training center and went home with their host family. Bennett says she was from a small town but had a positive mindset. Bennett was favorably impressed by the training. But after her belongings were disturbed and a pair of her earrings went missing, Bennett was moved to a different host family.

Keywords: Acclimation; Belongings; Changes; Children; Cohorts; Cultural training; Dancing; Disabled persons; First impressions; Food; Health training; Host family; Illness; Inoculations; Language training; Miami (Fla.); Mindsets; Mosquito nets; Problems; Sickness; Spanish (Language); Staging; Training centers; Traveling; Vaccinations

Subjects: Dominican Republic; Emotions; International travel; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Miami (Fla.)
Map Coordinates: 25.775278, -80.208889
GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
00:20:42 - Bennett's assignment

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, your post. Where were you posted, uh, for your Volunteer position?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett was assigned to the town of San José de los Llanos. Bennett rented a house from another school teacher. The house had electricity and running water but no refrigeration. Bennett would go shopping for necessities every day. Bennett could use her neighbor's phone to make collect calls back home. Bennett became friends with all the teachers, students, and parents. The school served first grade through high school. Bennett describes some of the local customs.

Keywords: Amenities; Cultural differences; Customs; High schools; Holidays; Housing; Invitations; Living conditions; Running water; San José de los Llanos (Dominican Republic); Students; Telephone calls

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: San José de los Llanos, Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 18.62, -69.5
00:27:50 - Bennett's perception

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Partial Transcript: How did your own identity, culture, and background shape your view of your host community?

Segment Synopsis: Because Bennett is black, at first the local people had to be convinced that she was an American. Bennett's counterpart commented that black people in America sell drugs and are bad people. Bennett replied that the same thing was said in America about Dominicans. In the Dominican Republic, people with light skin color are afforded higher social status. Through socializing, Bennett was able to overcome this racial prejudice and make friends in the community.

Keywords: African Americans; Americans; Appearance; Black Americans; Challenges; Colorism; Counterparts; Culture; Difficult; First impressions; Language barriers; Local people; Locals; Prejudice; Racial discrimination; Site visits; Skin color; Social media; Socializing; Spanish (Language); Stereotypes

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Dominican Republic; Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
00:32:43 - Bennett's community friends

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me more about those relationships in, in the host community? Were there particular people that you were close with?

Segment Synopsis: One of Bennett's projects was to start a Parent-Teacher Association. The secretary of this new organization became one of Bennett's numerous neighborhood friends. Bennett also became friends with 2 women who were aunts of the man whom Bennett would later marry.

Keywords: Family; LGBTQ+ community; Sexual orientation

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Marriage; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:36:51 - Bennett's work

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Partial Transcript: Could you talk more about your position, your job responsibilities, uh, like you were at a school?

Segment Synopsis: Although Bennett's school building was less than 20 years old, it was in terrible condition. Bennett, her counterpart, and a member of the Peace Corps staff met with the Secretary of Education. Subsequently, the government helped with some renovation of the school. One function of the Parent-Teacher Association was fundraising. Bennett taught English in the community to adults and to children. Bennett started a garden by the school.

Keywords: Advice; Changes; Community service; Counterparts; Funding; Peace Corps staff; Teaching English as a foreign language

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Student activities; Teachers; Teaching; Tutors and tutoring; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:42:30 - Bennett's daily routine

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Partial Transcript: What was a typical day like for you? Did you have a standard routine? Or did it vary?

Segment Synopsis: After getting up and having breakfast, Bennett would walk around the village and visit the school and, if needed, the store. Someone would often invite her for lunch at their home. Bennett would take a cold shower in the evening. Bennett would wash her clothes by hand. Bennett came down with a case of amoebic dysentery and traveled 90 minutes to the capital for treatment. Because she had lost 30 pounds from her illness, some people in Bennett's village thought that Bennett had AIDS. Bennett says one had to try and ignore being the subject of gossip.

Keywords: AIDS (Disease); Acceptance; Asian Americans; Assumptions; Difficult; Foreigners; Holidays; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Illness; Invitations; Medication; Mindsets; Misconceptions; Sickness; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Acculturation; Dominican Republic; Food habits; Health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
00:50:13 - Interactions with other Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: What were your--how close were you with the other Peace Corps Volunteers? Did you have regular contact with your cohort or other Volunteers in-country?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett would see the other Volunteers once a month when they traveled to the bank in the capital to pick up their living allowance. Occasionally, the Volunteers would come into the capital for additional training.

Keywords: Arrangements; Cohorts; Mid-service training; Plans; Socializing; Support systems; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Finance; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:51:47 - Bennett's accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: Looking back, what were your proudest moments or achievements during your period of service?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett is proudest of her projects at the school and sharing her culture and forming friendships with members of the community. Bennett helped one girl get a scholarship and the girl went on to become a nurse.

Keywords: Career paths; Empowerment; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Second Goal

Subjects: Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:53:51 - Impact of Peace Corps on Bennett

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Partial Transcript: How--in what ways has the Peace Corps had a lasting impact on your, on your life?

Segment Synopsis: Bennett says the Peace Corps has made her more resourceful and adaptable. Bennett feels she is now less affected by criticism. Bennett's daughter also joined the Peace Corps and served in the Dominican Republic until she was evacuated because of COVID-19. Bennett's daughter is now a Peace Corps recruiter. Regarding her Peace Corps service, Bennett says she has no regrets.

Keywords: Adaptability; Career paths; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Criticism; Family; Jobs; Peace Corps recruiters; Personal growth; Regrets; Traveling

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Culture; Dominican Republic; Evacuation; Influences; International travel; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667