Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Oliver Hack, February 21, 2021

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

 

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00:00:00 - Motivation

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Partial Transcript: This is Sunday, February 21, 2021. And I am, uh, Madeline Kellner and I served in Guatemala from 2016 to 2018 in the healthy schools program. And I also served in 2020 as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Iquitos, Peru working with a nonprofit there. I am delighted today to interview Oliver Hack who, um, served as a rural maternal health, uh, maternal child health Volunteer, um, really an AIDS, uh, AIDS program Volunteer 1997 to 1999 in Togo.

Segment Synopsis: As a child, Hack recalls seeing Peace Corps advertisements on television. After college graduation, Hack traveled to Asia and southern Africa. Eventually, Hack returned home to Brooklyn and taught English as a foreign language. Hack still desired to travel more but not as a tourist.

Keywords: Brooklyn (N.Y.); Influences; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL); Traveling

Subjects: AIDS (Disease); Africa; Asia; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.)-- 1990-2000; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Volunteer workers in community health services

GPS: Togo
Map Coordinates: 6.133333, 1.216667
GPS: Asia
Map Coordinates: 29, 100
GPS: Africa
Map Coordinates: 1.7313126, -16.5876672
GPS: Brooklyn (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.692778, -73.990278
00:02:20 - Peace Corps application

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Partial Transcript: At that time, the Peace Corps office in New York City was in the World Trade Center.

Segment Synopsis: Hack attended an informational meeting at the local Peace Corps office. Hack submitted an application and requested a French speaking, West African placement. Hack had studied French in high school and had traveled to France. Hack became interested in public health and got trained to work on an HIV/AIDS hotline. Subsequently, Hack was offered a post in Togo, which he accepted.

Keywords: Applying; French (Language); High schools; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Interests; New York City (N.Y.); Peace Corps recruiters; Peace Corps offices; Telephone calls; Traveling

Subjects: Africa; France; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Public health; Togo; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.71274, -74.005974
GPS: Africa
Map Coordinates: 1.7313126, -16.5876672
GPS: France
Map Coordinates: 47, 2
GPS: Togo
Map Coordinates: 6.133333, 1.216667
00:04:43 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So, when you got there, uh, what was the training like?

Segment Synopsis: Hack had 3 months of pre-service training in-country. Technical training included learning about the local healthcare system. The second and third months of pre-service training included home stays. Although he had traveled internationally before, Hack was surprised to find himself unprepared for life in Togo.

Keywords: Expectations; Healthcare infrastructure; Host families; Language training; Technical training; Unprepared; Villages

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture shock; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Togo; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Togo
Map Coordinates: 6.133333, 1.216667
00:07:41 - Assignment

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me a little bit about, you know, how you--about the, the job and then maybe the community, too.

Segment Synopsis: Hack was in a maternal and child health program. Hack was assigned to a health clinic in a town of 15,000 people. Hack was asked to assist the community health outreach officer. However, the emphasis of the Peace Corps program started to shift with encouragement from the Togo health ministry to respond to the national HIV problem. At the time, the health ministry was receiving a lot of assistance from the German non-governmental organization, GTZ. The ministry was pushing the organization of health outreach teams made up of local volunteers who had received some medical training. The Volunteers helped with the development of these teams.

Keywords: Adjustment; Changes; Communication; Counterparts; Health training; Healthcare; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Inoculations; Local people; Locals; Medical kits; Vaccinations

Subjects: Non-governmental organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Reproductive health; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

00:13:41 - Living situation

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Partial Transcript: Where did you live?

Segment Synopsis: Hack was one of the few Volunteers in Togo who did not live with a host family. Instead, Hack lived in part of an abandoned facility which had been used for a German agricultural teaching center. Hack describes his housing, which was without running water or electricity. Hack got around by bicycle as he lived a couple kilometers out of town.

Keywords: Housing; Living alone; Running water; Transportation

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

00:17:03 - Friends

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Partial Transcript: Did you, did you make local friends? How did you--did you have kind of a, a social connection with people even though you were outside of the town? How did you make friends?

Segment Synopsis: Hack's pre-service training had included spending a week at his work site. During that week, another Volunteer who worked 10 miles away introduced Hack to one of her contacts at Hack's work site. This contact became a guide and friend to Hack. Hack's counterpart became his closest friend there. Hack often had lunch at his counterpart's house. It took Hack about a year to feel comfortable at his work site. Hack would often go into schools and give talks which led to friendships with many young people.

Keywords: Acclimation; Community involvement; Counterparts; Improvements; Inclusion; Pre-service training; Site visits; Socializing; Young people

Subjects: Acculturation; Friendship; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Schools; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:23:26 - Trips

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Partial Transcript: So, did you have any chance to travel in other parts of Togo or other parts of, of Africa while you were there?

Segment Synopsis: Hack visited other Volunteers throughout Togo including a Volunteer who extended for a third year whom he eventually married. Hack also traveled back to the U.S. for 2 weeks to attend his brother's wedding. In addition, Hack visited Ghana and attended a film festival in Burkina Faso.

Keywords: Extensions; Family; Marriage; Returning; Site visits; Special occasions; Traveling

Subjects: Burkina Faso; Ghana; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Togo; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Togo
Map Coordinates: 6.133333, 1.216667
GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
GPS: Burkina Faso
Map Coordinates: 12.333333, -1.833333
00:25:04 - Reflections on his work assignment

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Partial Transcript: How--do you have any reflections now on the work that you did and do you feel like it was having an impact? The work that you were doing?

Segment Synopsis: Hack says it's difficult to assess the impact of his work. Hack feels that his presence in the community was significant in familiarizing others about Americans and that he got more from the experience than he received.

Keywords: Behavior; Changes; Communication; Community involvement; Impact; Personal development; Second Goal; Technology; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; Health; International travel; Nigeria; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Politics; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 8, 10
00:32:35 - Peace Corps' third goal

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Partial Transcript: And then, what about since you've been back? Have you had a chance to share your experiences in the country here?

Segment Synopsis: Hack has not formally shared his Volunteer experience much. However, his service has had a tremendous influence on his subsequent life, in part, because he met his future wife while they were both Volunteers in Togo.

Keywords: Family; Marriage; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

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

GPS: Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 8, 10
GPS: Togo
Map Coordinates: 6.133333, 1.216667
00:35:00 - Returning

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Partial Transcript: How has your service informed your work? I mean, what happened when you got back?

Segment Synopsis: Near the end of his service, Hack helped to organize a day-long education program regarding AIDS and HIV which incorporated the participation of about 10 local folk dance troupes representing different ethnic minority groups. This rekindled an interest in the performing arts when Hack returned to the U.S. Hack moved to San Francisco and got a master's degree in nonprofit administration with a focus on arts organizations. Hack had difficulty finding a job. Hack ended up running after-school programs for a community based organization in San Francisco. Many years later, this led to Hack's current job with the Social Good Fund which helps other groups get started as a nonprofit organization. Hack sees his current position as an outgrowth of his Peace Corps service.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Brooklyn (N.Y.); College majors; Education programs; Friends; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Impact; Interests; Jobs; Learning; Master's degrees; Personal growth; San Francisco (Calif.); Traveling

Subjects: Charities; Childhood; Emotions; Health; International travel; Minorities; Nonprofit organizations; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: San Francisco (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.7775, -122.416389
GPS: Brooklyn (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.692778, -73.990278
00:42:19 - Reflections on Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Do you think the way Peace Corps is organized and the way it approaches things, are there things that you would change?

Segment Synopsis: Hack notes the long-term debate within Peace Corps of the value of specialists versus generalists. Hack sees Peace Corps Response as an opportunity to address the specialist needs of host countries. Hack notes that now applicants can specify which country they want to serve in. Hack feels that Peace Corps should do its best to meet the needs of the host countries. Hack and his wife have influenced others to join the Peace Corps. Hack comments on how being a Volunteer is challenging and different from being a tourist. Hack says that after about a year in Togo, he made the decision to complete his service and subsequently felt more at ease and became more productive.

Keywords: Application process; Applications; Applying; Attitudes; Challenges; Changes; Choices; Commitments; Criticism; Differences; Improvements; Influences; Learning; Mentality; Mindsets; Quitting; Recruiting; Struggles; Traveling; Uncertainty

Subjects: Culture shock; Emotions; India; International travel; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Togo; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Togo
Map Coordinates: 6.133333, 1.216667
GPS: India
Map Coordinates: 21, 78
00:52:33 - Interpersonal relations

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Partial Transcript: --(clears throat)--I've mentioned that I met my wife there.

Segment Synopsis: After Hack's future wife returned from Togo to San Francisco, they maintained contact by telephone. When Hack asked her what she missed most about Togo, she replied that she missed the people. At that time, Hack didn't understand her answer. It was only after Hack left Togo did he then concede her point. Hack notes that Peace Corps service can be a vehicle for meaningful, personal communication.

Keywords: Close of Service; Extensions; Leaving; San Francisco (Calif.); Telephone calls; Traveling; Understanding

Subjects: Communication and culture; International travel; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Togo; Togo; Voluntarism; Volunteers