Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Hedy Pajonk, May 22, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: All right. Today is May 22, 2021. And I'm Cal Mann and I served in Peace Corps North Macedonia. Today, I'm pleased to interview, uh, Hedy Pajonk and she is a Volunteer--or was a Volunteer in Peace Corps Ghana from September 2017 to March 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Growing up, Pajonk recalls advertisements for the Peace Corps but didn't meet anyone who had been a Volunteer. Hedy had become an accountant and had her own business and acted as a consultant. Hedy had become bored with her work and wanted to do something else related to her personal interest in horticulture. Hedy was inspired to apply after seeing a Peace Corps agriculture listing on the internet. As an undergraduate, Hedy had studied humanities.

Keywords: Applications; Applying; Career paths; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Interests; Jobs; Mid-career; Naperville (Ill.); North Central College; Older volunteers; Shimer College; Shimer Great Books School; Undergraduate education

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Evacuation; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Universities and colleges; Volunteer workers in horticulture

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.86667, -1.05
GPS: Shimer College
Map Coordinates: 41.831944, -87.625833
GPS: North Central College
Map Coordinates: 41.77555556, -88.142778
GPS: Naperville (Ill.)
Map Coordinates: 41.763889, -88.171111
00:06:47 - Peace Corps application process

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Partial Transcript: The application process is notoriously, uh, a, a, uh, a labyrinth, or a maze, or, or a corn maze depending on what part of the country you're from.

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk found the application process complex and a source of uncertainty.

Keywords: Applications; Applying; Difficult; Uncertainty

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

00:08:05 - Reaction to Peace Corps invitation

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Partial Transcript: W-when you found out you were invited to serve, um, and accepted, do you remember--when that happened, do you remember how you felt?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk was pleased but surprised by her invitation to join Peace Corps.

Keywords: Emails; Invitations; Medical clearance; Older volunteers; Paperwork; Peace Corps interviews; Questions; Uncertainty

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

00:10:18 - Preparation for service

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Partial Transcript: Um, how did you prepare for service?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk needed to get her house rented. Pajonk repeatedly sorted the items she wanted to take with her.

Keywords: Arrangements; Belongings; Choices; Decisions

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

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
00:13:38 - Departure for Ghana

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Partial Transcript: How, how did you, uh, let people know about it and how did you say goodbye to family and friends and colleagues?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk's family members didn't understand her rationale for applying to the Peace Corps. In contrast, Pajonk's friends were supportive and assisted with her preparations to leave.

Keywords: Family; Friends; Leaving; Preparation; Support

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

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
00:15:24 - Staging

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Partial Transcript: So, you've got everything packed. And you've said your goodbyes. And now you're on the East Coast. So, you--did you have a short travel to your staging location?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk is currently in Washington, D.C. because of the pandemic evacuation, but before joining Peace Corps, Pajonk was living in Chicago. Pajonk's staging was in Washington, D.C. Pajonk's cohort started with 27 members, most of whom were younger than her.

Keywords: Ages; Chicago (Ill.); Cohorts

Subjects: Evacuation; Ghana; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Travel; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Chicago (Ill.)
Map Coordinates: 41.881944, -87.627778
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.9101, -77.0147
00:18:35 - Arrival in Ghana

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Partial Transcript: Not to jump ahead, but the moment that it was the most real was getting off the plane in Ghana and the heat coming up like I had not experienced in a very long time.

Segment Synopsis: From the time Pajonk applied until her arrival in Ghana took 9 months. For the first week in Ghana, the members of Pajonk's cohort stayed at a school near to the capital.

Keywords: Airports; Changes; Cohorts; Cooperation; Cultural training; Expectations; First impressions; Housing; Problems; Running water; Technical training

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

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
00:28:35 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So, you had, um, you had a week of, of, um, of that, um, preparation and then they, um, told you what groups you were in and where you were going to your pre-service training.

Segment Synopsis: Once at her pre-service training village, Pajonk lived with a host family who had hosted numerous other trainees. During pre-service training, the trainees studied different local languages. Pajonk found training intense and challenging.

Keywords: Challenging; Comfort zones; Cultural training; Host family; Language training; Local languages; Minnesota; Socializing; Technical training; Traveling; Twi (Language); Villages

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

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
GPS: Minnesota
Map Coordinates: 46.2807, -94.3053
00:39:06 - Assignment

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Partial Transcript: I'm, uh, wondering--so, at some point during this pre-service training, um, you received your assignment for where you were going to work.

Segment Synopsis: During pre-service training, the country director and the assistant Peace Corps director interviewed each trainee to try to determine the best assignment. Pajonk lived in the village of Tewbabi and was also responsible for serving the neighboring village. Pajonk was relatively isolated from other Volunteers.

Keywords: Amenities; Cohorts; Distance; Isolation; Living conditions; Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps interviews; Pre-service training; Questions; Running water; Rural areas; Tewbabi (Ghana); Uncertainty; Villages

Subjects: Cote d'Ivoire; Ghana; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Cote d'Ivoire (also known as Ivory Coast)
Map Coordinates: 8, -5
GPS: Tewbabi (Ghana)
Map Coordinates: 7.4833, -2.6021887
00:46:13 - Description of the work site

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Partial Transcript: Um, at some point you made the, the transition to your site.

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk first met with members of the community and did an assessment of the local physical resources. Pajonk says that the person who had requested a Volunteer had really wanted a computer center/education Volunteer but had been unwilling to admit any weakness with the local education system. Accordingly, Pajonk found little interest in the community for working with an agriculture Volunteer. Pajonk's counterpart was unsupportive and Pajonk experienced several forms of prejudice in the community.

Keywords: Activities; Applications; Challenges; Counterparts; Daily routines; Difficult; Excited; Gender discrimination; Interests; Local people; Locals; Norms; Peace Corps directors; Prejudice; Resources; Role of women; Schedules; Sex discrimination; Site visits; Unsupportive

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

00:55:11 - Living conditions in Ghana

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Partial Transcript: What was your housing, uh, situation?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk was provided with one of six housing units intended for teachers. It had its own kitchen, bath house, and bedroom.

Keywords: Amenities; Housing; Living alone; Living conditions; Living situations

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

00:56:08 - Socializing in Ghana

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Partial Transcript: Did you start to develop, uh, new friends th--new friends there?

Segment Synopsis: When she was feeling down, Pajonk found it good therapy to walk around the village and interact with the people. Accordingly, Pajonk started to make friends and to improve her native language fluency.

Keywords: Community involvement; Fluency; Language skills; Lonely; Scared; Social interactions; Socializing

Subjects: Emotions; Friendship; Ghana; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:57:24 - Projects

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Partial Transcript: So you, um, uh, some point started to get your--out of all this PACA activity and, um, walking around the community...

Segment Synopsis: Following community meetings, the people in both villages expressed a desire for the construction of market stalls so the farmers would not need to transport their produce to the market towns for sale. Pajonk told the people that she could probably get a grant to pay for the making of the stalls. In order to make the stalls sustainable, the people recognized the need for a farmers' organization. But after a first organizational meeting, people's interest in the project evaporated. Another objective identified in the community meetings was the desire for a computer center. Again, sustainability was an issue. In order to raise funds for the computer center, Pajonk got a grant to buy cashew seedlings whose future nuts could be marketed. However, nobody maintained the seedlings after they were planted so the seedlings died. Pajonk discovered that the 2 villages to which she had been assigned were unfriendly towards each other which made cooperation difficult. Pajonk tried to start an irrigation project but it was poorly received. With help from the children, Pajonk was able to start a school garden. Subsequently, Pajonk focused her efforts on teaching the school children about agriculture rather than trying to work with the adults. Success in this endeavor led Pajonk to extend for a third year.

Keywords: Adjustment; Changes; Cooperation; Disappointment; Extensions; Flexibility; Food; Funding; Grants; Howard G. Buffett; Improvements; Kumasi Institute for Tropical Agriculture; Learning; Local people; Locals; Problems; Resilience; Resources; Sustainability; Technical training; Towns; Villages

Subjects: Emotions; Finance; Ghana; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Student activities; Travel; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
GPS: Kumasi (Ghana)
Map Coordinates: 6.666667, -1.616667
01:10:46 - Collaboration with other Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: Did you have any other Peace Corps Volunteers come and help you? Or did you go and help other Peace Corps Volunteers in any projects?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk collaborated with several other Volunteers to do multi-day presentations on malaria to junior high school students. The Volunteers also organized a week-long camp out for junior high school students. Pajonk participated in an "America Day" which was organized by another local Volunteer.

Keywords: Education programs; Malaria; Middle schools; Second Goal; Secondary projects; Site visits; Traveling

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

01:12:27 - Reflections on service as an older Volunteer

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Partial Transcript: Um, I, I'm interested to know, uh, kind of, overall, um, how you would summarize the benefits and the challenges of volunteering as an older Volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: For Pajonk, the benefit to being an older Volunteer was being challenged and developing new capacities. The living environment was physically challenging to Pajonk.

Keywords: Acclimation; Ages; Living conditions; Norms; Older people; Problems; Weather

Subjects: Acculturation; Ghana; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:17:25 - Insightful moments

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Partial Transcript: You've described a couple of moments, um, that are easy to relate to as a, as a fellow Peace Corps volunteer...

Segment Synopsis: From talking to the principal of the junior high school, Pajonk got the idea to re-introduce beekeeping to the community. Pajonk was rewarded to see several of the youths take on the challenges of the program.

Keywords: Beekeeping; Clothing; Counterparts; Fears; Middle schools; Support; Technical training

Subjects: Emotions; Ghana; Non-governmental organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Small business; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:23:43 - Leisure activities

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Partial Transcript: At least you had the option for, for a decent amount of free time. I'm just wondering, you know, how did you spend that free time?

Segment Synopsis: Other than periodic trips to the local market town, Pajonk mostly stayed at her work site. Pajonk found her daily household routines time consuming. Pajonk spent some time reading and communicating with others in her cohort and in the U.S. Pajonk visited some tourist sites in-country with friends. Pajonk twice took leave and returned to the U.S.

Keywords: Accra (Ghana); Applications; Borders; Cape Coast (Ghana); Castles; Cohorts; Coming home; Communication; Daily routines; Extensions; Friends; Kintampo waterfalls (Ghana); Older people; Older volunteers; Pre-service training; Returning; Social media; Towns; Traveling

Subjects: Cote d'Ivoire; Evacuation; Ghana; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Accra (Ghana)
Map Coordinates: 5.55, -0.2
GPS: Cote d'Ivoire (also known as Ivory Coast)
Map Coordinates: 8, -5
GPS: Kintampo waterfalls (Ghana)
Map Coordinates: 8.089653, -1.697389
GPS: Cape Coast (Ghana)
Map Coordinates: 5.103333, -1.2425
01:30:29 - Evacuation due to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember, kind of, how COVID came on to your radar and when you realized that it might affect you?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk first heard news of the coronavirus near the end of February 2020. The news was disjointed and the disease seemed far away. Peace Corps sent all the Volunteers an email giving them permission to return home if they felt compelled to do so because of the coronavirus, but Pajonk was not concerned. A week later, Pajonk received a second email from Peace Corps which instructed her to evacuate. Pajonk was told that a car would be coming in 2 days to pick her up. Pajonk spent most of that time doing what she could to further the completion of the computer center which was then under construction.

Keywords: Arrangements; Belongings; Cohorts; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Decisions; Disease transmission; Emails; Kids; Leaving; News; Older volunteers; Supplies; Transportation

Subjects: Africa; COVID-19 (Disease); China; Ghana; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: People's Republic of China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
GPS: Africa
Map Coordinates: 1.7331937, -16.5138449
01:36:03 - Re-entry to the United States

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Partial Transcript: Obviously, you came back to a different country than the one that you had left.

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk could not return to her house in Illinois because it was rented out. It was inconvenient for Pajonk to stay with any of her relatives. Finally, a friend found a trailer in Washington, D.C. where Pajonk ended up staying. Pajonk experienced culture shock and needed to find a job.

Keywords: Close of Service; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Family; Fears; Friends; Housing; Illinois; Impact; Jobs; Siblings

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Culture shock; Emotions; Ghana; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Illinois
Map Coordinates: 40.00032, -89.25037
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.9101, -77.0147
GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
01:39:10 - Reflections on Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: You've now had a year back. And, um, like to just have you reflect a little bit now that you've had time to, kind of, digest a lot of what happened.

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk feels that she was naïve when she entered the Peace Corps. She was unprepared for the difficulties caused by cultural differences. Pajonk believes that she is now more worldly.

Keywords: Adjustment; Cultural differences; Difficult; Expectations; Personal growth

Subjects: Culture; Ghana; Intercultural communication; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ghana; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:44:54 - Advice for new Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: Um, if a vol--if someone who's watching this is thinking about volunteering, um, for Peace Corps, uh, is there one piece of advice that you would want them to know?

Segment Synopsis: Pajonk recommends that new Volunteers keep an open mind but not to the extent of putting themselves in danger. Pajonk states that like any other valuable experience, being in the Peace Corps comes with its ups and downs.

Keywords: Doctors; Older people; Older volunteers; Perspectives; Safety

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