Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with LaTarche "Tarche" Collins, October 5, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - The journey towards applying to Peace Corps and departure for Honduras

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Partial Transcript: Good evening. My name is Madeline Kellner and this is October 5, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Collins always wanted to join Peace Corps. She was fairly young when she first heard a commercial or film about service. All of her life, she's volunteered in one way or another. Collins describes herself as "a girl interrupted," in that she started college studying law. She interned in the music industry, which led to a full-time job, so she left college to work and lead a "fantasy life." Still, she felt that something was missing, so she decided to leave her job and return to college. It seemed a perfect time to apply to Peace Corps after graduation, so she tailored her studies with that in mind. Urban planning became her major; she began studying Spanish and lived in Madrid, Spain during a study abroad program while in school in order to increase her likelihood of acceptance to Peace Corps. After several years of working in various jobs, including interning with Bill DeBlasio, mayor of NYC, she applied and was accepted quickly. Her first posting was in Honduras. During staging, she felt out of place within the group as she was older than most of the others and African American.

Keywords: "A girl interrupted"; "Fantasy life"; Emptiness in life; Internships; Mayors; Music industry; New York City (N.Y.); Older Americans; Peace Corps as a thread throughout her life; Spanish (Language); Staging; Study abroad; Washington (D.C.)

Subjects: Minorities; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Honduras; Race relations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Honduras
Map Coordinates: 15, -86.5
00:11:27 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So how did, how did it go when you, when you got there and you started your training, and then started to get into the work?

Segment Synopsis: For Collins, being different was not new to her, and she adapts easily to new environments. Her host mother during training was very welcoming; everyone in the family helped her integrate, except for the family dog. The woman cooked for the Peace Corps trainers, so Collins ate "really good food" for lunch, when volunteers had to bring their lunches from home. The family supported her in the community, insulating her from others' staring.

Keywords: Being different; Family support; Role of host mother

Subjects: Acculturation; Food habits; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Honduras; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:14:05 - Discrimination and prejudice during Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: So now how did it go when you got to your site?

Segment Synopsis: For Collins, in Honduras, the Peace Corps staff was still working out how to integrate black volunteers into their communities. As a black volunteer, she was not considered to be an American by Hondurans. She and other minority volunteers, along with senior volunteers, were deliberately placed in sites in the northern region of Honduras, where there was more diversity in the population than in other regions, and the area was Americanized due to tourism and proximity to the Caribbean. The racism and discrimination that Collins experienced came from her fellow volunteers, as opposed to Honduran nationals. They didn't support her situation. The discrimination was worst in the Philippines where she had to be careful that the hygiene products that she bought didn't have skin-lightening chemicals in them. She and her fellow volunteers gave a presentation at a school after which attendees approached and congratulated the 2 white volunteers and no one approached Collins because she was black. Collins had to "get out of herself" in order to cope and she found people in her community that welcomed her expertise and knowledge while ignoring those who thought she didn't have the expertise needed for the project. This was especially evident while she was in Peru as a Response Volunteer. In all of her placements as a regular volunteer and Response volunteer, she extended her service; she made the settings work for her. In her estimation, Peace Corps needs to be "more inviting" to minority volunteers, offering support for them by asking and answering "the hard questions," to engage in a dialogue. White volunteers in Honduras accused Collins of "pulling the race card." Because of the missing support, Collins had to learn to "comfort herself." She was there to help other people so she had to "push on." According to her, it takes a special person to volunteer to live and work in a hostile situation, particularly when she was volunteering, missing out on building a career as an employee and wage-earner. Collins found a counterpart who listened to her, which was what she needed to process her experiences. For the most part, Collins lived with families while serving so that she learned about the cultures of the country. Peace Corps needs to explore volunteers' understanding and experiences with race relations in the U.S. during staging and training.

Keywords: Peace Corps support; Perceptions of nationals about volunteers; Placement of minority volunteers; Problem-solving; Resilience; Resourcefulness; Support for minority volunteers; Uncovering understanding of race relations in the U.S. before departure

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Culture shock; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Minorities; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Honduras; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Honduras
Map Coordinates: 15, -86.5
GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
GPS: Philippines
Map Coordinates: 13, 122
00:45:36 - Current work and reflections on sustainability

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Partial Transcript: So Tarche, you have real empathy.

Segment Synopsis: Now, Collins works with economically distressed communities; she is "not a savior" for them, which she learned through her Peace Corps experiences. She works hard to be sure that people's voices are heard. People need to learn how to get what they want and need themselves. Her experience "puts things on a different level" because she's lived in developing countries. Teaching people sustainability is critical to her so that they are not dependent upon others. Peace Corps needs to work to put itself out of business, teaching sustainability and building capacity around the world. Collins saw sustainability as a goal in the Philippines where people were given the tools to do a job and then supported as they worked. Workers then trained the next group of workers.

Keywords: Capacity-building; Empowering others; Sustainability

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Honduras; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:53:22 - Critical attributes for successful volunteers

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Partial Transcript: So Tarche, have you--what you're doing now is with the federal government, is that right?

Segment Synopsis: Collins loves working abroad and plans to return to it. In fact, she may rejoin Peace Corps for the 4th time. People have degrees but are they able to apply what they learned in stressful situations? That is a key to success when recruiting volunteers. Having a strategic orientation helps volunteers survive, according to Collins. It relates to sustainability. Some volunteers cannot "get a hold at a site" because they cannot apply what they've learned.

Keywords: Ability to apply what's learned; Applying what a person has learned as critical to success as a volunteer; Rejoin Peace Corps

Subjects: Acculturation; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:58:14 - Advice for prospective volunteers and keys to success

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Partial Transcript: So if you had to give somebody some advice, let's say maybe they're, maybe they're somebody like you...

Segment Synopsis: Collins suggests that prospective volunteers understand their own reasons for joining. According to her, that's the key to success. She arrived with a lot of enthusiasm and expectation of contributing to her community. She had to help people in her communities learn to look to the future instead of simply surviving by creating a critical mass of early-adopters.

Keywords: Own reasons for joining; Role of early-adopters; The necessity of early-adopters in building sustainability

Subjects: Acculturation; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:01:38 - Final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Well Tarche, is there anything else?

Segment Synopsis: Collins thinks that Peace Corps is a great opportunity for anyone with a curious mind, willing to really engage people, a person who is willing to sacrifice who they are as a person, to be humble. Collins says she is who she is today as a result of her Peace Corps work. "There is nothing going on outside of America that isn't going on here," so what volunteers learn in-country is applicable back home. The character of an applicant is important in selecting volunteers.

Keywords: Applying learning from Peace Corps to work; Curious mind

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