Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Caitlin K. Villarreal, January 22, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Reasons for joining Peace Corps and responses of family and friends

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Partial Transcript: This is Evelyn Ganzglass.

Segment Synopsis: Villarreal was intrigued by the prospect of the Peace Corps when she was 12 -- the romance of living in another country and helping others. As a senior in high school when the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks happened, her world view and image of her place in the world changed. She talks about the idea that Americans were unprepared for 9/11, that they were "soft," and she began to realize that she lived a life of privilege and that she had a responsibility to help the world. She majored in international relations in college, and exploring the world became important to her. She applied for Peace Corps during her senior year at Boston University and left soon after graduation. She grew up in Connecticut as a minority in the community. She attended a Catholic high school where service was important; she was Jewish in a Catholic school so she experienced being "the other." Before graduating from high school, Villarreal traveled to Israel and to Spain. Her parents supported her decision to join; her mom liked the idea of travel and her dad liked the idea of serving. Her friends weren't surprised at her decision to join. For Villarreal, the application process wasn't as hard as she thought it might have been. Originally, she was nominated to go to Central Asia; she marked that she had mild asthma which prohibited her from Asia, so Kenya was her next option. She'd taken a course in African culture and Kenya was a country highlighted during it. But, actually, she didn't know much at all about it.

Keywords: "The other"; Asthma; Being "the other" in high school; Changed world view; Concept of service to others; Influence of 9/11/2001; Living in another country; Privilege; Responsibility; Romantic image of Peace Corps; September 11, 2001; Service to others; Supportive parents and friends

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Boston (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.358056, -71.063611
GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
00:09:04 - Meeting her group for the first time

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Partial Transcript: Okay. So, uh, where was your staging?

Segment Synopsis: Staging for Villarreal was held in Philadelphia and, because it was close to her home, her dad drove her to the hotel. Most other volunteers were there alone; a part of her wanted her dad to simply leave, and a part of her wanted him to stay with her. Her group had 41 people in it, a mix of men and women with some diversity within it. One member had served in the Marines before joining and he was a son of immigrants; one woman was Muslim and also a child of immigrants.

Keywords: Cohorts; Dad drove to staging; Fathers; Philadelphia (Pa.); Staging

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

GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
00:12:21 - Description of pre-service training as a public health volunteer

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Partial Transcript: Yeah and then you hopped on a plane and flew off to Nairobi?

Segment Synopsis: Landing in Nairobi and staying in a hotel there was very different from the Holiday Inn in Philadelphia. After spending three days in Nairobi, the group went to Kitui in southeastern Kenya where she stayed with a family. There were grandparents and a son with two kids. They all interacted in one house but slept apart in other adjacent buildings. This family was considered to be wealthy. They had solar power and the houses were concrete with tin roofs. They were taught Swahili but, actually, learning a tribal language would have been more helpful in the long run. At her site, people spoke Kikamba. She learned about projects such as hand-washing projects that could be used in many sites, as well as HIV-AIDS projects. Her group was totally comprised of public health volunteers. Training was a combination of hands-on and classroom learning. It was an eye-opening experience for Villarreal.

Keywords: Concrete houses with tin roofs; Host family; Kikamba (Language); Language training; Living conditions in training; Nairobi (Kenya); Projects; Public health volunteers; Swahili (Language)

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

GPS: Nairobi, Kenya
Map Coordinates: -1.286389, 36.817222
00:19:08 - Living and working arrangements

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Partial Transcript: So tell me about the town where you were assigned.

Segment Synopsis: Villarreal was assigned to be in Duboisi, in the eastern province, about 3 hours from Nairobi. She lived close to the center of town where there was a post office and a general store, along with the outdoor market. She worked for Voluntary Counseling and Testing organization that was funded by a non-profit in the U.S. with offices in Africa. Her main project was working with kids with no parents, some due to AIDS. She trained in psycho-social skills, health education, and giving a goat to everyone in the group. Her job was assigned to her, although about half of her work she found on her own, a mix that worked well for her. Having some direction was helpful for her. Her counterpart was assigned to her, but another person also worked with her. Villarreal was the only volunteer in her town; a friend was 30 minutes away so they worked together from time to time. Villarreal lived in a house owned by her counterpart, a concrete structure and tin roof, a spigot for water, and a pit latrine. There was outdoor plumbing and no electricity. She purified her water. She felt comfortable there; she read a lot using a head lamp. Her landlady cooked for her, and she cooked on a one-burner stove, shopping at the market where she often bought tomatoes and potatoes, mangoes in season, kale, beans, and rice; a decent variety. She cooked a lot of eggs. Her dad packed 5 rolls of toilet paper for her, but that was not an issue in Kenya. In her spare time she read and she visited other volunteers, coworkers, and her friends, going to Nairobi about once a month. She sometimes felt that there were long stretches of time; laundry took a lot of time to do by hand. She didn't get lonely, especially with her landlord right there, as well as the other volunteers close by. Her days were structured by having an office to go to, which helped.

Keywords: AIDS (Disease); Children without parents; Counterparts; Diet; Eastern Kenya; Health education; Houses; Kids without parents; Latrines; Loneliness; Orphans; Psycho-social skills; Volunteer Counseling and Testing; Water purification

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Food habits; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
00:29:41 - Working at Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT)

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Partial Transcript: And, and your work?

Segment Synopsis: Villarreal helped with anything that was happening in the Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) organization on a particular day. That included talking with kids in a school or church about HIV prevention or sex education. Orphanages were not prevalent there, as kids without parents lived with their extended families. Engaging community groups with VCT, finding places to hold training, and presenting during the training sessions were all a part of her work. She trained the trainers, too, on psycho-social issues, the importance of play for kids, addressing grief and trauma, and basic counseling skills. They distributed food boxes for kids, and organized an overnight summer camp for kids that combined soccer games with classes related to public health. It was in English, mostly.

Keywords: AIDS (Disease); Activities when working in a non-profit organization; Grief and trauma; HIV prevention; Psycho-social issues; School and church group presentations; Sex education; Summer camp programs; Trainers; Training

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
00:33:15 - A trip to Lamu

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Partial Transcript: Okay, um, what did you do during vacations?

Segment Synopsis: With other Peace Corps Volunteers, Villarreal went to Lamu, along the coast. The trip getting there was an adventure in itself. It is an ancient city with an amazing beach, a mix of modern and old. She cut her foot, which got infected.

Keywords: Lamu (Kenya); Traveling; Vacations

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

GPS: Lamu, Kenya
Map Coordinates: -2.269444, 40.902222
00:35:38 - Contributions and reflections on service

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Partial Transcript: So as you think about your experience, um, what, what do you think you contributed to, to the town you were in? To Kenya?

Segment Synopsis: Villarreal liked the fact that she was the only American in her town, and that she was a part of the workforce. She hopes that she played a role in the ongoing work of the organization by adding her own thought and opinions. "Saving the day" is not what she accomplished. Helping by not being overbearing is key. Other volunteers had been in the organization before Villarreal. There was anti-American sentiment there and she apologized for the politics of George Bush, but, actually, Bush was respected there for his work on PEPFAR, the HIV-AIDS work that he implemented. Peace Corps has influenced "everything" in her life. Her group was evacuated months earlier than planned due to political issues in Kenya. They were told the day before they left that they were leaving. The January 2021 riot in Washington, D.C. reminded her of Kenya. Her friends and her connection to the country are a result of her service. She remains friends with her counterpart; she is friends with other volunteers. She's grateful for the opportunity to serve. To her, Americans have many privileges, and with them comes responsibility.

Keywords: Anti-American sentiment; Evacuations; Influence of Peace Corps; President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); Privileges as Americans; Responsibility; Second Goal; Third Goal; Workforce

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38