Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Brian Dugas, May 20, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Thinking of joining Peace Corps for 40 years / Life before Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Okay. Uh, hello. Today is May 20, 2021.

Segment Synopsis: Dugas had considered Peace Corps for 40 years. When he graduated from college he seriously thought of joining. Meanwhile, he went into law enforcement and education. He retired early and considered Peace Corps again. His wife agreed, knowing how long he had it in his mind. He has been a volunteer in many areas and felt Peace Corps is the most effective organization for volunteering. As a former history teacher he says he knows there is a disconnect among people and a lack of knowing about those in other countries. He says getting to know each other makes us better off. He had gone to the University of Maine, majoring in sociology. He was in the military. He had always had involvement with health care. He studied as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and worked with the fire department, thinking of it as a valuable skill for the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Activities; College majors; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Family; First Goal; Health training; Healthcare; Older people; Older volunteers; Second Goal; Tanzania (Tanganyika); Third Goal; Undergraduate education; Volunteering

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Careers; Education; Evacuation; Families; Health; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations and culture; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Public health; Retirement; Tanzania; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
GPS: University of Maine
Map Coordinates: 44.8994, -68.6681
00:04:24 - Peace Corps application / Arrival in Tanzania

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Partial Transcript: I'm glad you jumped forward to the, to the application process 'cause I want to, uh, wanna delve into a little bit about once you got through the application process and you, you got through the interview and everything, do you remember, uh, when you found out that you'd been invited to serve and how did you feel?

Segment Synopsis: Dugas' medical application process was long because of health issues. He had had to develop resistance to fire ants. When he went to Philadelphia for staging, it felt real. His first impressions of Tanzania were of heat since he left when it was winter at home. Acclimating to the heat and meeting other volunteers took time. He was one of five older volunteers among college-age volunteers. He was busy with language training and other preparation, which prevented homesickness. He had been to Uganda and Kenya so he knew what to expect in-country.

Keywords: Adaptation; Adjustments; Ages; Challenges; Challenging; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Expectations; Illness; Kenya; Language training; Leaving; Medical clearance; Older people; Older volunteers; On-site training; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sickness; Staging; Tanzania; Tanzania (Tanganyika); Training; Travel; Traveling; Uganda; Weather

Subjects: Acculturation; Health; Kenya; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Tanzania; Travel; Uganda; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Uganda
Map Coordinates: 1, 32
GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
GPS: Philadelphis (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
00:08:49 - Being an older volunteer

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned, uh, that you were in the minority. I mean older volunteers are a minority in Peace Corps.

Segment Synopsis: Dugas says that being older caused fatigue, difficulties with technology like WhatsApp and the internet, and poor communication with college-age volunteers. In the village, his age was an advantage to some extent. Food was a factor after leaving Dar es Salaam to go to Morogoro with a host family (a woman, her husband, and a young child). There were problems of clean water and food, causing stomach problems and a loss of 20 pounds. He had to show the woman how to sanitize properly. Language was difficult, as was the heat.

Keywords: Adaptation; Adjustment; Advantages; Ages; Challenges; Challenging; Dar es Salaam (Tanzania); Diversity in the Peace Corps; Family; Food; Food culture; Host families; Host family; Host mothers; Illness; Language skills; Language training; Languages; Morogoro (Tanzania); Older people; Older volunteers; Sickness; Training; Villages

Subjects: Acculturation; Families; Food habits; Health; Hygiene; Interpersonal relations; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6.8, 39.283333
GPS: Morogoro, Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6.824167, 37.663333
00:14:16 - Creating a public health program for local women in Tanzania

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Partial Transcript: What, what, uh, what successes did you have, kind of little and, little and big while you were there?

Segment Synopsis: Dugas felt successful in the beginning for learning some language and culture and making friends. During training, as a former educator he wished he could have been more helpful. His village was in the west, in Shinyanga Region, about 18 hours by bus from Dar es Salaam. It is a very dry area with many water issues. He began with a site survey of isolated areas with the local leaders. Many people were sick. They often had no money for the clinic or were distrustful of modern medicine. He found 20 women that he trained in first responder techniques. He coordinated to have doctors come teach the women about medical care and to communicate to be accepted. Often they took pictures of diseases to show the doctors, making this a kind of telehealth care. They organized a day to transport older women to the clinic. Many had high blood pressure. The women Dugas trained were still working at the time of the interview. They trained others to treat water, have better sanitary conditions, and recognize problems. They were effective because they were trusted. This was informal public health at a grass roots level.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Ages; Buses; Challenges; Dar es Salaam (Tanzania); Distance; Districts; Doctors; First Goal; Friends; Health training; Healthcare; Healthcare facilities; Healthcare infrastructure; Illness; Language training; Local people; Locals; Malaria; Older people; Relationships; Role of women; Shinyanga Region (Tanzania); Sickness; Sites; Training; Transportation; Travel; Villages; Volunteering; Women

Subjects: Health; Hygiene; Interpersonal relations; Language and culture; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Public health; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

GPS: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6.8, 39.283333
GPS: Shinyanga Region, Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -3.75, 33
00:21:45 - Adapting the public health project / Secondary nutrition project

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Partial Transcript: Um, one, one question occurred to me while you were describing all this, um, was--the question is, how did the experience, like what you just described...

Segment Synopsis: Many volunteers seemed surprised by conditions they found. Dugas had traveled in the area so this matched what he expected. He got EMT training for it. The challenge was finding the women who could serve as trainers for his health project. The health concerns (malaria, typhoid, HIV) are different from concerns of the U.S. He worked with witch doctors, who were powerful in the villages. He began a secondary project in nutrition. There was subsistence farming, impacted by climate change. People were often hungry. He planted moringa trees which are very nutritious and do well in an arid environment. They still needed more water than he provided prior to the rainy season. He found some young ladies to help. Dugas says the women have limited opportunities and are oppressed. They took care of the trees then expanded into cooking and feeding the soccer team. This project blossomed but was cut short by his evacuation.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Challenges; Contributions; Expectations; Food; Food culture; Gender discrimination; Gender roles; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Local people; Locals; Malaria; Role of women; Secondary projects; Travel; Villages; Volunteering

Subjects: AIDS (Disease); Acculturation; Careers; Evacuation; Food habits; Health; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Volunteers in community health services

00:30:21 - Skills / Hyenas and a snake

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Partial Transcript: I, I'm interested to know, uh, uh, from your, from your professional experience as a teacher, and administrative, uh, roles, and even as EMT...

Segment Synopsis: Dugas' skills in leadership, education, and medical skills helped in dealing with people of a different culture. Because he was in the savanna, there were hyenas all around. He could hear them. They hunted village dogs. He learned their call. In the rainy season, because of the wind, water flooded his hut. Insects (including scorpions) would come in. He stepped on a snake, which bit him. It was a venomous snake and only one vial of anti-venom was available. He was evacuated to Dar es Salaam and took a month to heal.

Keywords: Challenges; Challenging; Distance; Healthcare; Hospitals; Illness; Living conditions; Living situation; Local people; Rural areas; Sickness; Sites; Transportation; Villages; Weather

Subjects: Acculturation; Health; Hospitals; Lifestyles; Medical care; Peace Corps (U.S.); Rural health; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6.8, 39.283333
00:36:58 - Description of community / Sexually transmitted diseases

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Partial Transcript: You're, uh--tell me a little bit about the, the community that you were living in.

Segment Synopsis: The community Dugas lived in was about 20 kilometers from a real town. The village had a few buildings and most people lived spread out along small paths in mud huts. The population was around 2000-2800. The clinic treated over 700 HIV cases from many villages. HIV prevention and recognition were important in the health care work. They were the center of the Sukuma tribe (the largest in Tanzania) and about 10,000 would gather for celebrations, after which STDs and HIV cases spiked.

Keywords: AIDS (Disease); Activities; Healthcare; Holidays; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Local people; Locals; Rural areas; Special occasions

Subjects: AIDS (Disease); Health; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Public health; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

00:40:59 - Living conditions

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Partial Transcript: Great. Um, you described all around your living quarters, but I, uh--other than the door where the snake slithered in and bit you, uh, can, can you give us a sense--were you living with a family?

Segment Synopsis: Tanzania was socialist in the 1970s when agricultural compounds were built. They no longer use it as a compound and a few buildings were still usable, including Dugas's house, next to his counterpart's. They were spread out and isolated. There were some unwanted animals and pests. For him it was fine, except for bats and mice. The house was concrete with two rooms, whereas villagers had sun-dried mud huts where the cold, wet, and animals would have been a problem. He spent extra for a metal bed so that termites and lizards would not cause it to deteriorate. He had the same mosquito net for two years. The toilet was outside, which he says took some getting used to. He was somewhat better off than many Tanzanians. His counterpart was a geographical bachelor whose wife lived elsewhere. He lost more weight due to worms from food as a guest of villagers and that was worrisome. He was treated for it twice.

Keywords: Adjustment; Challenges; Counterparts; Food; Food culture; Houses; Housing; Illness; Isolation; Living alone; Living conditions; Living situation; Local people; Locals; Mosquito nets; Outhouses; Rural areas; Sickness; Villages

Subjects: Food habits; Health; Housing; Hygiene; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:48:21 - Challenges and benefits of being an older volunteer / Peace Corps experience benefits to U.S. and country of service

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned at the beginning about being an older volunteer and some of the adjustments you had to make.

Segment Synopsis: As an older volunteer, Dugas says the challenges were in health and learning the language. An advantage of that was finding a tutor who was a respected and helped him as a good friend. The wisdom and respect of age were important. He knew how to organize projects. He had access to the internet and got books from his home library. His thoughts about Peace Corps are that it helped people in Tanzania learn some skills. He had a sustainable project. He has shared his experiences at his church and other places. He says there was much magnificence in the beauty of the country and the strength of the people.

Keywords: Adjustment; Advantages; Ages; Books; Challenges; First Goal; Friends; Friendships; Goals; Isolation; Language barriers; Language skills; Languages; Local people; Locals; Older people; Older volunteers; Second Goal; Third Goal

Subjects: Health; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Retirement; Tanzania; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:54:27 - Free time / First white person in some areas / Tribal royalty

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Partial Transcript: Um, I'm interested to know, uh, in your free time, outside of the secondary projects and your primary job there, what kinds of events and activities, um, were you able to do in your free time?

Segment Synopsis: Dugas farmed corn (with help from others) which he gave away, shocking the people. He was an avid reader, thanks to the internet and downloading books. He visited villagers, especially an older man. Life expectancy was about 50. He befriended young ladies with whom he took walks, meeting people along the way and to get to places he would never have seen. Older ladies screamed and ran because they had not seen white people. There were some celebrations, but little for Christmas or Muslim holidays. He met the chief of the local tribe who has family in Ghana and Canada.

Keywords: Ages; Books; Canada; Conversations; Foreigners; Friends; Ghana; Holidays; Local people; Locals; Relationships; Special occasions; Villages

Subjects: Canada; Families; Ghana; Interpersonal relations; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
GPS: Canada
Map Coordinates: 60, -110
GPS: Maine
Map Coordinates: 45, -69
01:00:23 - Travel / Collaboration with other volunteers / Counterparts

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Partial Transcript: Did you, did you travel within the country?

Segment Synopsis: Dugas' only travel was to Peace Corps activities. He had traveled before and did not plan to be a tourist this time. He did events near his site. He wanted to see Zanzibar but was evacuated, so now he has a reason to go back someday. He collaborated with other Peace Corps volunteers in his region. There were twelve of them and they shared information about anything special. His relationships with his multiple counterparts were project related. One person was in all his trainings, and they were socially connected. One man was quite important to Dugas, organizing a major chicken project. He became suddenly sick and died. Others continued the project, without Dugas' immediate knowledge. The doctor at the clinic was a friend and a critical component in health care work. Many were instrumental to his service.

Keywords: Activities; Counterparts; Deaths; Distance; Districts; Doctors; Friends; Friendships; Healthcare facilities; Hospitals; Local people; Locals; Relationships; Secondary projects; Sickness; Special occasions; Training; Travel; Villages

Subjects: Counterparts; Evacuation; Health; Hospitals; Hygiene; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:09:32 - End of service / COVID evacuation

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Partial Transcript: So if I remember, uh, right, your were--you were on your--kind of the glide path to, uh, the end of your service.

Segment Synopsis: Dugas had planned what he would do in his last few months. Many parts were running smoothly. He wanted a big meal to say good-bye. He knew of the spread of COVID, but had spoken of extending his service since he thought this would work itself out. Then the Peace Corps office called to ask him to leave the next day. He could go in a vehicle instead of public bus. The flurry of contacting people, giving away his belongings, and the rush made the departure difficult, but necessary. Hindsight shows it was for the best. It was surprising that airports were empty, making travel surreal. His wife, who is in the health care field, was concerned, so he quarantined. He was trying to put on weight in his recovery from intestinal damage. He has begun an AmeriCorps position in telehealth.

Keywords: Airports; Buses; Close of Service; Coming home; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Delaware; Extensions; Global call for evacuation; Illness; Newark (N.J.); Sickness; Transportation; Travel; Traveling

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

GPS: Newark (N.J.)
Map Coordinates: 40.72422, -74.172574
GPS: Delaware
Map Coordinates: 38.9896, -75.505
01:19:27 - Transformation in the Peace Corps / Volunteerism / Advice about joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: A lot, a lot, a lot of people describe, uh, Peace Corps as being a transformational experience. Uh, was it transformational for you and if so, how?

Segment Synopsis: Dugas had spent a lot of time overseas. The transformation he experienced during his Peace Corps service was personal. There was doubt about lasting the two years because of the problems he encountered. There was transformation in the relationships he made. The friendships are still important. He wants to go back to see the people. He had many volunteer experiences in his life. The challenges and rewards of volunteerism have always been important. He says that nothing beats the Peace Corps for learning about yourself and the world. He feels he could have done more had he been younger and more energetic. He advises people not to wait until retirement. Going with the right attitude matters. It is good to learn as much as possible about the country and its language. Technology is important for communication back home. Patience is always necessary.

Keywords: Ages; Contributions; Deaths; Friends; Friendships; Language skills; Living conditions; Older volunteers; Personal growth; Relationships; Social media; Travel; Traveling; Volunteering

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