Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Lois Harris, August 7, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps / Application process

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Partial Transcript: Hello. This is Tobie. I was talking with Lu--

Segment Synopsis: Harris was living in Glendive, Montana and had completed a couple years of junior college when she was offered a post at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Harris declined as she wanted to go overseas. Eventually, Harris was offered a Peace Corps assignment in Liberia. Harris accepted, although she had hoped to go to South America or Southeast Asia. Next, Harris needed to take a test, which was administered by the postmaster as he was the only federal government official in town.

Keywords: Examinations; Exams; Glendive (Mont.); Telephone calls; Traveling

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--1960-1970; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Liberia; South America; Southeast Asia; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.); West Africa

GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Glendive (Mont.)
Map Coordinates: 47.108611, -104.710556
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: South America
Map Coordinates: -15.6192144, -100.9204189
GPS: Southeast Asia
Map Coordinates: 8.2776428, 98.1507227
GPS: West Africa
Map Coordinates: 12, 3
00:01:56 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So, we went through the test. That was sent in. And then, I received the, the call to go to training in Pennsylvania.

Segment Synopsis: Harris left for two months of pre-service training in Philadelphia in 1963. This was followed by another six weeks in Puerto Rico. At the conclusion of pre-service training, the Volunteers had two weeks of leave before flying to Liberia.

Keywords: Examinations; Exams; History; New York City (N.Y.); Pennsylvania; Philadelphia (Pa.); Puerto Rico; Telephone calls; Traveling

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

GPS: Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 40.8781, -77.7996
GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
GPS: Puerto Rico
Map Coordinates: 18.2223, -66.4303
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
00:03:56 - Arrival in Liberia

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Partial Transcript: Monrovia, um, had just had a serious fire.

Segment Synopsis: Shortly before the arrival of the Volunteers, there had been a major fire in Monrovia, so there was still danger from downed power lines. Once in Monrovia, Harris needed to learn Pidgin English.

Keywords: Dangerous; Dangers; Family; Learning; Minneapolis (Minn.); Monrovia (Liberia); Philadelphia (Pa.); Pidgin English (Language)

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

GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
GPS: Minneapolis (Minn.)
Map Coordinates: 44.981944, -93.269167
00:05:21 - Work sites

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Partial Transcript: So, where did you do your, uh, Peace Corps work? In Monrovia?

Segment Synopsis: Initially, Harris taught 35 fourth graders for six weeks at a Catholic girls' school in Monrovia. Harris describes her cramped, noisy classroom. Harris was then moved to a northern iron mining town for six weeks to give evening English classes to the miners. Harris was moved a final time to a school built with USAID funds. Two Volunteers were also assigned to teach at the school with Harris and two other Volunteers were teaching at a Lutheran mission school in the same town. The role of the Volunteers was to enable local teachers to go to Monrovia to upgrade their education. Harris briefly describes her school, the faculty, and the students.

Keywords: Adaptability; Age ranges; Books; Class sizes; Dialects; Monrovia (Liberia); National languages; Site mates; Teaching English as a second language; Traveling; William Tubman

Subjects: Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Sierra Leone; Teachers; United States. Agency for International Development; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Sierra Leone
Map Coordinates: 8.5, -12.1
00:14:45 - Living situation

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Partial Transcript: Where did you live?

Segment Synopsis: Harris and her roommate lived in a house rented by the Peace Corps. The house had electricity and an outhouse. Because the house had power, students would come and study there after dark until Harris went to bed.

Keywords: Amenities; Living arrangements; Outhouses; Roommates

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

00:15:38 - Teaching responsibilities

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Partial Transcript: When I started out, my roommate and I opened the school with 250 children. And we were the only teachers. And, uh, so, we did three sessions a day.

Segment Synopsis: Initially, Harris and her roommate were the only teachers for 250 pupils. So, they divided the students into three groups according to ability. After about six weeks, additional teachers arrived. The school offered free lunch for the students.

Keywords: Changes; Food; Roommates

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); School management and organization; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:17:57 - Description of the town

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Partial Transcript: So you were in the town.

Segment Synopsis: Harris describes her town. Harris says they rarely saw the two Volunteers at the school down the road because the school day ended after dark and then there was an increased danger from poisonous snakes.

Keywords: Dangerous; Dangers; Site mates

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

00:19:49 - Living and teaching conditions

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Partial Transcript: The children, uh, went into a school that was completely bare.

Segment Synopsis: The school contained no furniture. The students had to find jobs to pay for their school supplies and housing. A large number of students rented housing together. Harris was told she needed to hire people to do her housework in order to provide employment to others.

Keywords: Childhood; Clothes; Criticism; Housing; Jobs; Supplies; Traveling

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

00:22:48 - Volunteers moving in and out of town

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Partial Transcript: And so you had two other Volunteers living with you?

Segment Synopsis: After a year, Harris' roommate left for another post and two new Volunteers moved in down the road. Each week, a Volunteer from Monrovia would drive up with needed supplies and transport items back to the capital.

Keywords: Assignments; Changes; Communication; Distance; Leaving; Living alone; Monrovia (Liberia); Roommates; Site mates; Site visits; Supplies; Training; Traveling

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

GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
00:24:45 - Unfortunate incidents

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I had a student who was helping in our garden.

Segment Synopsis: Harris recounts two incidents that demonstrate the limitations of the local healthcare and transportation systems. In one, a student of Harris' who lived in a neighboring village came down with malaria and, by mistake, may have been buried alive while in a coma. In another, a teenager suffered a broken collar bone and had to be taken to the nearest hospital in a passing logging truck.

Keywords: Deaths; Distance; Fathers; Food; Healthcare facilities; Illness; Malaria; Plans; Questions; Regrets; Sickness; Transportation; Traveling; Villages

Subjects: Emotions; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:30:57 - Student attendance problems

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Partial Transcript: Most of the children were just a joy.

Segment Synopsis: Many female students got married and stopped coming to school. Many students got sick, especially during the rainy season. Other times, students were absent because they needed to work or were injured.

Keywords: Cultural differences; Disease transmission; Distance; Illness; Jobs; Marriage; Sickness; Social norms; Weather

Subjects: Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:32:43 - Healthcare

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Partial Transcript: And malaria is pretty common too.

Segment Synopsis: Harris discusses the high incidence of malaria and infant mortality.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19); Deaths; Disease transmission; Distance; Hospitals; Illness; Malaria; Medication; Native Americans; Norms; Sickness; Villages

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Finance; Health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:37:59 - Student characteristics

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about your students.

Segment Synopsis: Harris says that most of her students came from the Kpelle tribe. The students typically came from farm families and lived in a rural area. The students were supposed to wear a uniform but that rule was ignored as uniforms were too expensive for them.

Keywords: Clothing; Jobs; Local people; Locals; Pronunciation; Rural areas; Special occasions

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

00:40:38 - Access to drinking water

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Partial Transcript: Was water accessible?

Segment Synopsis: Harris says that wells were necessary to obtain drinking water.

Keywords: Living conditions; Problems

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

00:42:21 - Medications

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Partial Transcript: So, what did Peace Corps do for you to insure that you stayed healthy and--

Segment Synopsis: Harris says the Peace Corps provided anti-malarial medicine.

Keywords: Malaria; Problems

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

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:45:16 - Greatest accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: In your experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer, what do you think you were most successful?

Segment Synopsis: Harris feels that her greatest achievement was providing education to students who had never been to school before. After her service, Harris returned to Liberia and met some of the locally trained teachers for whom her Peace Corps program had helped to pave the way. While a Volunteer, Harris was able to have some lumber brought from Monrovia which was used to build desks and benches for the school and Harris was also able to have some school books sent from the U.S.

Keywords: Activities; Books; Changes; Improvements; Leaving; Marriage; Monrovia (Liberia); Returning; Support; University of Liberia; University of Montana

Subjects: Lebanon; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Schools; Teachers; Teaching; Training; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: University of Montana
Map Coordinates: 46.86, -113.985278
GPS: University of Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.299167, -10.794722
GPS: Lebanon
Map Coordinates: 33.833333, 35.833333
GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:51:49 - Liberian civil war

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Partial Transcript: Peace Corps was there. But was out at the time the civil war started.

Segment Synopsis: Harris comments on the Liberian civil war during which Peace Corps programs stopped there.

Keywords: Charles Taylor; Children; Civil wars; Deaths; Family; History; New York City (N.Y.)

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

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
00:57:09 - Career path

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Partial Transcript: When you left, um, how did you feel leaving?

Segment Synopsis: At the end of her service, Harris felt horrible about leaving. But, Harris felt she needed to complete her college education in the U.S. At the time she left, Harris was feeling sick and had lost a lot of weight. Back in the U.S., Harris eventually got married and earned a master's degree in education.

Keywords: Changes; College majors; Extensions; Illness; Leaving; Marriage; Master's degrees; Plans; Sickness

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

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:58:43 - Liberian politics

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Partial Transcript: H-h--what, what do you think about the, the woman who was the president?

Segment Synopsis: Harris has a positive opinion of Liberia's first woman president, Ellen Sirleaf. Harris comments that with the presence of a female president, focus shifted from power and control to family and community.

Keywords: Changes; Difficult; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Politics and government; Role of women

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

01:01:14 - Re-entry to the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: So, did you have difficulty adjusting back to the United States?

Segment Synopsis: After returning to the U.S., Harris found that people couldn't believe the impoverished living conditions where she had served. Harris viewed the news with a broader, global perspective. Harris comments on the need for travel to widen one's perspective.

Keywords: Difficult; Friends; International politics and government; Kansas City (Kan.); Kids; Montana; News; Personal growth; Perspectives; Poverty; Questions

Subjects: Finance; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Voluntarism; Volunteers; World politics

GPS: Montana
Map Coordinates: 47.0527, -109.6333
GPS: Kansas City (Kan.)
Map Coordinates: 39.106667, -94.676389
01:03:51 - Supporting Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Congressman John Lewis' wife was in Nigeria as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: Harris repeatedly encourages her national senators to support the Peace Corps. Harris argues that there is still a need for the Peace Corps. Harris sees the Peace Corps as a way to build allies.

Keywords: Budgets; Characteristics; Friends; Helena (Mont.); John Lewis; Jon Tester; Max Baucus; Relationships

Subjects: Cameroon; Finance; Nigeria; Volunteers; World politics

GPS: Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 8, 10
GPS: Helena (Mont.)
Map Coordinates: 46.591111, -112.020278
GPS: Cameroon
Map Coordinates: 6, 12
01:10:22 - Advice about joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: I'm just saying that if you are young and unattached, you should use this as a place to get experience.

Segment Synopsis: Harris feels that Peace Corps service can be a life-changing experience. Harris also recommends finding ways locally to meet people from different places.

Keywords: Cultural differences; Missoula (Mont.); Older volunteers; Relationships; Young people

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

GPS: Missoula (Mont.)
Map Coordinates: 46.8625, -114.011667
01:13:12 - Personal impact of Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: And what I learned, uh, in the Peace Corps is just invaluable to me. I learned that people are people everywhere.

Segment Synopsis: In the Peace Corps, Harris learned that people everywhere have the same needs and desires. Harris states that people need to learn to cooperate more. Harris relates an incident of racial prejudice which happened to her son to demonstrate the challenges we are facing today.

Keywords: African Americans; Albuquerque (N.M.); Attitudes; Black Americans; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19); Friends; Goals; Missoula (Mont.); Native Americans; Prejudice; Racial slurs; Telephone calls

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Finance; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Racially mixed families; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Missoula (Mont.)
Map Coordinates: 46.8625, -114.011667
GPS: Albuquerque (N.M.)
Map Coordinates: 35.110833, -106.61