By Heather Arney
If you want to learn about the Peace Corps, Danielle Matta is the person to see at Ohio University. She has a small office on the third floor in the RTEC building. The walls of her small office on the third floor of the RTEC Building are covered with photographs of people and landscapes from all around the world. A large map of the world hangs on the wall in front of her desk. Eager Peace Corps candidates who come to see Matta will likely hear the question, "So, where would you like to go?"
Matta is the Peace Corps recruiter on campus and a second-year graduate student in international development studies at the University. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia from 1999-2001 and now puts the experience she gained in Bolivia to work recruiting other Peace Corps volunteers. "Being a volunteer has helped me in my recruiting because I experienced being a volunteer first-hand," Matta says. "I can respond to most questions I receive with first-hand knowledge."
In Bolivia, Matta was placed in the village of Rosario del Ingre where she worked with a group of community stores run by indigenous Guarani farmers. Until 1994, they had lived for many centuries under a feudal system in which they worked in exchange for shelter and food. Matta worked to help them adjust to a more independent system and offered them her knowledge and experience with management, finance, credits, inventory and savings.
The community stores Matta worked with were funded by a non-government organization to help local farmers make profits from corn production, which has been a challenge for many subsistence farmers. Matta worked with community leaders and storekeepers in four communities and four stores. But her involvement with the community stores was just one aspect of her experience. She learned the Guarani language and culture, and lived in the home of a local Guarani family. She says her village was very welcoming and she established close relationships to people that she came to think of as her family. "I was treated like a daughter," Matta recalled. She says that her village had a history of volunteers with good experiences.
Living situations are different for each Peace Corps volunteer. Some live with families or in a separate house. Matta lived in the home of a family that spent most of the week away from the village. Her home for two years was an adobe hut with cement poured over dried mud to keep the house cool during the hot times of the year. According to Matta, the physical setting was very lush with a great deal of vegetation and rain. The Guarani diet consists mostly of corn and peanuts. "I learned how to make so many varieties of dishes from peanuts and corns, like soups," says Matta.
She says it was a challenge to adapt to the local culture and norms. "The lifestyle was slow, hard to organize, and it was hard to get used to working in that framework with unreliable transportation."
By adapting to the Guarani culture and lifestyle, Matta was able to make connections with the local people and understand better their needs. In her second year, she secured a $5,000 grant through Peace Corps' Partnership Program that allowed her to establish a community library. She noted that most of the population was literate but had no books or resources. The library is now used for youth and adult education and offers informational materials for farmers and games and puzzles for the children in addition to books.
Matta's experience in the Peace Corps has helped her to become more flexible, adaptable, and to have different perspectives on what is necessary in life. She is glad to share advice she picked up from the Guarani people. "Take your time, stop and enjoy things, don't get caught up in this rat race, enjoy people and where you are," she says.
Last year, Matta nominated 25 people from Ohio University to become Peace Corps volunteers. For more information on the Peace Corps contact Danielle Matta at firstname.lastname@example.org or (740) 593-0290 or visit the Ohio University Peace Corps Web site at www.ohio.edu/internationalstudies/peacecorps.htm.
Heather Arney, a graduate student in international development studies, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania in 200-2002.