Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Hawai'i

                 Connecting RPCVs living in Hawai'i

Peace Corps Memorial Monument

There is a little known Peace Corps memorial located at the old Hilo County Memorial Hospital site, near Rainbow Falls, to remind us of the origin of the organization.  Proposed by John F. Kennedy before he was elected president of the United States, "Kennedy's Kiddie Korps", in a matter of weeks, had garnered 30,000 applicants.  By 2011, the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps, over 200,000 volunteers had served in 139 countries around the world.

Upon learning of President Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, members of the training unit in Hilo donated a dollar apiece from their $10.50 weekly salary to pay for a bronze plaque bearing the words, "And So, My Fellow Americans, Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Your Country," from his inaugural address.

This memorial was completed with the help of the Hilo Training Center staff who donated funds to defray the cost of the memorial's base.  On Christmas Day, 1963, the memorial was dedicated to the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, founder of the Peace Corps.

Original monument at the Hilo Memorial Hospital, Hilo, Hawaii



In 2011, during the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps, the JFK Monument was renovated and relocated in front of the Mookini Library at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, and rededicated on November 19, 2011.

Monument at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, Nov 19, 2011

Since Novermber 2011, former workers at the old hospital have told Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), now residents in Hilo, that numerous people have stopped by and asked what happened to the old monument.  With that in mind, a group of RPCVs had another plaque made, and on November 17, 2018, volunteers got together and installed a new plaque in front of the old hospital.

New Plaque - November 17, 2018

About the Peace Corps Training Center

Hilo, Hawaii - June 15, 1962 to Sept. 31, 1971

The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.  The Peace Corps training library and documentation has been archived in the UH Hilo library. In 1996, the collection was transferred to UH Mānoa Hamilton Library: Hawaiian Collection.  From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.  Peace Corps was officially established on March 1, 1961.  Since that time, more than 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.

In the Fall of 1962, the Big Island of Hawaii was selected as a Peace Corps training center.  The program partnered with Hilo College, Center for Cross-Cultural Training and Research (CCCTR) for 10 years.  Approximately, 1300 volunteers were annually trained in Hawaii, totaling more than 12,000 during the 9 year history.  There were several training sites.  Near the northernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii, there is a special place called Waipio Valley.  Once the home of 50,000 Hawaiians and later the site of President John F. Kennedy’s first Peace Corps training camp, today it is a remote and little-visited place which time has forgotten – and nature has reclaimed.  Pepeekeo (10 miles North of Hilo), Honomu, Ninole, and Waiakea-Uka and Hoolehua, Molokai were also training sites.  Dr. Paul Miwa was first Chancellor of Hilo College.  By 1970 UH Hilo was created (UHHC).

The first Peace Corps Training Camp Director was John “Jake” Stalker, who served as Training Director from 1964-1967.  The second Director was Phillip Olsen who served as Director from 1967-1972.  By 1972, the Peace Corps had initiated a transition to in-country training.  The Big Island was a major Peace Corps training site from June 15, 1962 to January 14, 1972.

The Peace Corps training library and documentation was archived in the University of Hawaii, Hilo library.  In 1996, the collection was transferred to the Hamilton Library, Hawaiian Collection at the University of Hawaii, Mānoa.

A History of the Hawaii Training Site (An excerpt from Maretzki, 1965)

Our training takes place on the island of Hawaii at two training sites, the town of Hilo and Waipio Valley fifty-five miles away. Hilo is a county seat, the largest town on the island, with a population of 25,000. After the county opened a new hospital in 1961, the old buildings had been left vacant. The Hawaii County Government agreed to allow use of these facilities for Peace Corps training and has provided excellent support for our operation. The buildings have none of the luxury and comfort of modern university dormitories and classrooms. The largest classroom is in the former men's ward, trainees are housed in the old nurses cottage, and meals are taken in the basement which once served as a morgue. The tropical surroundings of Hilo, the houses nestled against the hills overlooking the wide Hilo Bay are reminiscent of towns in Southeast Asia such as Jesselton. In Hilo, too, the pace of life is different from that in Honolulu or in many mainland towns. It takes its quiet character from the surrounding sugar plantation areas for which Hilo is the primary link to outside suppliers and markets, and from the relaxed port town and government functions for all of the "Big Island." For most trainees arriving from the mainland, this setting presents enough of a contrast to their home towns to provide a general learning environment which takes on some significance in preparation for the even greater contrasts confronting the volunteer upon arrival abroad.

This contrastive setting is even more striking in Waipio valley. The valley which had a sizable settlement of Hawaiians before Westerners arrived, is flanked by steep cliffs on three sides and opens onto the Pacific Ocean. From the rimside starting point of a steep trail, passable only on foot, horseback, or by jeep, the valley offers a strikingly beautiful view of former rice paddies, now planted in taro, and the deep green, rich vegetation of bushes and trees lining the river and the lower valley sides. Almost entirely uninhabited since a tidal wave in 1946 inundated the small village that existed in historical times, and the rice paddies of its former residents, the valley is now used by taro farmers who descend daily for work on their land from a community above the valley. Although some farmers still maintain occasional residence in some of the houses which survived, the major settlement of Waipio is now the Peace Corps training site. This is a "village" of two Philippine-style houses, two houses patterned after Rural Resettlement homes in Thailand, and a longhouse using a Borneo design. There is also a small building serving as a store and storage building, and a cook house. The village is surrounded by dense vegetation, broken here and there by fields and clearings where pig sties, chicken coops, and the latrines are located. There is no electricity in the valley and while running water, diverted from a small river, is used for cooking, trainees bathe in the nearby larger river, following the style of bathers in all parts of Southeast Asia. This training site which was described in more detail elsewhere [7] is used to expose the Peace Corps volunteer to sensory and visceral experiences to which he will be subject in the rural and small urban communities of Southeast Asia.

Together these two training sites offer unusually suitable environments for learning to live and work in Southeast Asia. Waipio, in particular, has some features that can be of immediate practical importance in providing crops and animals for the training of agricultural workers, or science teachers learning to use indigenous materials for demonstrations, to mention two examples. Its more general training function is less specific. Sleeping on the elevated wooden floors of the five houses, using their limited space as a family in Thailand or Sarawak might, caring for pigs and chickens, killing and butchering them for meals, fishing in the streams with nets, and a   large  variety  of  experiences   similar  to   those   which volunteers will observe and participate in abroad undefined these are the essence of the Waipio Valley program for which the term "transition training" was suggested by those who planned it. [8] What, exactly, this transition training in the Valley accomplishes is still a subject for constant review and this explains the speculative nature of this paper. It is not simply a simulation of a Southeast Asian environment. Hawaii is not Southeast Asia, even though there are similarities in climate, crops, and animals. One of the most essential factors for true simulation is missing. We cannot provide the social nature of a local Southeast Asian population and the resulting cultural environment. Replication is neither possible nor necessary as this paper will argue. Instead, transition training should facilitate transfer learning.

One point of view, that firsthand experience with a style of life, not unlike that of rural populations in Southeast Asia, might help to develop a stimulus for creativity in the volunteer was suggested by John Stalker in the following passage: [9]

We were also concerned with the problem of how to combat the lassitude, boredom and constant frustration which faces a Western man working in a rural environment in Southeast Asia. It was our contention that the biggest problem facing the Volunteer was not only the lack of structure in the situation to which he was going, but the lack of well-defined jobs with which to occupy his time. Therefore, it was important in training to equip him with tools and techniques which would enable him to make his cultural environment more livable, and also enable him to make effective and creative use of the immense amount of spare time he would have. To put it another way, it was our contention that one of the biggest problems the Volunteer had was to stop sitting on the stoop and shuffling his feet. What he needed was confidence that he could alter a portion, at least, of his environment, and live comfortably in a primitive environment. The classic illustration came about during World War II with thousands of troops in the Pacific and Asian islands. They were able to maintain morale by a constant alteration of the environment in which they found themselves. In turn, the Peace Corps Volunteer can and should be able to combat the general effects of culture-shock by busying himself with the daily routine of primitive living. The Volunteer, then, also acts as a change agent, or catalyst for change, in the village to which he is assigned. The Transition Training program in Waipio provides the Volunteer with the tools to accomplish this goal.

Peace Corps volunteers and local businesses share Aloha at UH Hilo Library

The Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Monument

Maretzki, Thomas. 1965. Transition Training: A Theoretical Approach. Human Organization. Vol 24.(2): 128-134.

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Hawai`i Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, PO Box 29462, Honolulu, HI 96820-1862.
The Hawai`i Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Inc is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit and registered domestic non-profit organization in the State of Hawai'i.
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