BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Mary Lou Snowden, October 26, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Mary Lou Snowden, October 26, 2006
October 26, 2006
Interview with Mary Lou Snowden. Here, she discusses her time in Fiji and Slovakia with the Peace Corps.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Snowden, Mary Lou Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 10/26/2006 Series: SENC Volunteers Length 60 minutes

Zarbock: Good Morning, my name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the Randall Library, University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Today is the 26th of October in the year 2006. And we're doing this video interview at Jump and Run Drive, Wilmington. Today's interviewee is Mary Lou Snowden. Good morning Mary Lou, how are you?

Snowden: Good morning Paul.

Zarbock: Give me a little orientation, where did you come from, anything just to warm us up?

Snowden: Well I hail from Austin, Texas, or right outside of Austin. I was married young, at 19, after a year and a half of University and was married for 18 years and then suddenly found myself the mother of two daughters, nine and seven, on my own. And I realized that I needed to further my education, I had to support my girls. So I was the Executive of YMCA Camp, Florida at that time. And I went back to school at Barry University, and took my University courses in blocks. Whenever I could work out time to take them, it was an adult education program where you could do that. And I appreciated the opportunity very much to be able to take it that way and continue my camping work. And I enjoyed, very much, being a camping executive and so did my daughters as they went of to boy's camp every year for the whole summer. But I shattered a knee white water rafting in 1976, exactly 30 years ago this month. And realized that I needed to change direction that I couldn't-- I had surgery, three surgeries over a two year period and was not able to keep up with the camping anymore, or run after the campers as the case may be. So I moved back to Austin Texas and went to work for a gentleman there, an entrepreneur, and I was his business manager and the first woman he'd ever hired in a management position. And while I was with him, we set up 22 companies. I did all the corporate work, all the tax work, et cetera. He was very difficult to work for, but brilliant, and it was a wonderful experience. And I raised my girls, got them all through school, never remarried and in 1991, late summer or early fall of '91, I was in church one Sunday. And I don't remember what the sermon was, but the minister was talking about freedom being within us and how we could free ourselves to do what we wanted to do with our lives, that was the basic message. And I thought wow; I am free for the first time in my life, virtually free to do whatever I want to do, go where ever I want to go. And it was a-- like an awakening.

Zarbock: A real liberating [inaudible].

Snowden: It was. And there was a woman sitting next to me that I've never seen in church before. And we had a time when we introduce each other and shake hands with our neighbors. And she introduced herself, her name was Marie Santangelo [ph?], I'll never forget her. And she asked me if I would have coffee with her on the deck after church. And I said sure, I would really enjoy that. So we met out on the deck and I said, Marie, I've never seen you here before. And she said I'm a long term member but I just got back from two years with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. And she was in her 50s. And I thought, wow, and I said tell me about it. So she told me about her Peace Corps experience and I said, how can I find out more? At that time, they weren't online to the extent that they are now, nor was I for that matter. So she gave me the number of a recruiter in Dallas, because she did some recruiting for them at the University of Texas there in Austin. So I called the recruiter and he sent me all the materials. I read through everything and I began the process. It's a very-- at that time, it was a very lengthy paperwork process that just took forever. Now you can do most of it online, I'll say for anybody who might be interested in knowing that. But I did make my application and I told my daughters what I was doing and they just had one request. They said, mom, they talked it over, and they said mom, we would feel better if you didn't go to Africa. At that time, AIDS was a big recognition, plus there were a lot of countries in Africa that were in an uproar. And so I thought, well, you know, it would be enough that I was leaving them for two years.

Zarbock: Your daughters at this time were economically emancipated, and on their own?

Snowden: Yes, well the youngest one was still going to school, it was kind of a perpetual thing with her. But she was on her own.

Zarbock: Okay.

Snowden: She had gone to Japan for a time and modeled in Japan and was very fluent in the Japanese language. So when she came back, she changed to Eastern Asian studies. And she was going to continue her education at Columbia University of New York. So she was leaving anyway. And my oldest daughter was living in New York State, where she had met her husband when she was a swimming director at the YMCA camp, where else? So they were pretty much leaving me in Texas anyway, so I thought, why not? So I went through the process, and as I said, it was a lengthy process. But on Halloween, October 31, 1991, which is exactly, I believe, 15 years from this coming five days. I received a call from Peace Corps and- inviting me to take a post as a small business advisor, because of my business experience there in Austin, with Peace Corps in Fiji. And I thought, Fiji, Fiji what do I know about Fiji, not much. So I said, can you give me 24 hours and I'll get back to you. So I took myself to the library, where I spent a lot of time anyway, and looked up everything I could on Fiji, read all about Fiji, read about the colonization, about the Brits bringing them in all the Indians and how it had changed. The indigenous population was now only about 50 percent. And Indians were 40 to 45 percent and the rest was primarily Chinese and other islanders. And I thought, this sounds fascinating. So I got-- called them back and I accepted. They told me that there would not be a training until the next June. So I had plenty of time to get ready and close out my affairs and do what ever I needed to do to live as volunteer for two years. First thing I did was put my house on the market. And it sold and closed on New Years Eve. The 31st was very instrumental for me in that year. Then I stayed with a friend for the next four months and continued to work. And then I resigned my position. And I met my-- my youngest daughter and I in May, drove across to Myrtle Beach, North Carolina [sic]. My older daughter and her husband and their one little baby boy drove down and met us there. And we had a holiday in Myrtle Beach together for two weeks. And it was a farewell to the family and then we went up to New York, drove onto New York, Melissa and I did, and tromped all over the city finding her the right place to live and dah, dah, dah and getting her all set up for her starting Columbia in September. By this time, it was time for me to leave. They no longer did Peace Corps training in the States. It was all done in country. So I flew from New York to San Francisco, where we got every shot you could think of and had a very brief orientation, just to Peace Corps.

Zarbock: For historical purposes, when you flew from New York to San Francisco, who picked up the bill?

Snowden: Peace Corps, they picked up the bill for all my physical that I needed, you know, for- to get in. They provided me with the ticket. They provided me with my passport. All of that was sent to me in care of my daughter's house in New York. And I picked up all my paperwork from the- her, and headed out for San Francisco.

Zarbock: And again for historical purposes, what was your salary?

Snowden: I will go into that as soon as I get in country because, it's- it's the same around the world. But we met in San Francisco and there was my group. And I was really surprised because we were all small business advisors or management planners. And the average age of my group was 54 when we averaged it out. Some where in their 70s, some- a few in their 30s, but mostly around my age, at that time in the mid 50s. So the roommate I was assigned and I- it was a woman from Vermont that, to this day, is my best friend. We- Ruthie [ph?] and I hit it off. And it was a wonderful experience. Then we flew to Fiji on an overnight flight that seemed to go on forever. And we arrived in Fiji. Peace Corps met us at the airport en masse with many welcoming ceremonies. Some of the Peace Corps staff, the host country staff, in native dress and we were put on the bus and taken to Suva, the capitol city. And we were in Suva for about 5 days. And had an introduction to Peace Corps, Fiji and learned a lot about the cross-cultural expectations of the volunteers. It's very important, when you're a volunteer that you fit in. And you don't ever go against their morays, so to speak. And Fiji had been well missionaried, first by the Methodists, and they had the primary influence on it. And at the time, it was still the cannibal islands and they were still running around in next to nothing. But the missionaries clothed them from head to foot. So here we went, we all had to get long skirts that when under our over dresses. And we were covered from head to foot. You'd think we were in a Muslim country, but we were in and island country and this is what Peace Corps deemed professional. So off we-- we stayed in Suva and had a lot of cross-cultural orientation, had all of our medical work-- was introduced to the doctors who'd be taking care of us, et cetera. And then we were taken by bus to- up into the mountains on the main island to a rather remote camp called Navuso. And we lived in little cabins, two to a cabin. And we stayed there for eight weeks, in this little outpost camp. And we were provided all of our meals, a very nominal amount of spending money because we didn't have anywhere to spend it, and were immersed in the Fijian language, and taught our technical work that we would be doing. Initially, I thought I was going to be with the Fiji Development Bank helping them to establish small businesses. By small though, I mean like stores and shops and repair work and reasonably, what we would call a reasonably large business, but it was a small business there, small business enterprises. And this continued, as I said, for eight weeks. And then we had our swearing in ceremony. We were not made Peace Corps volunteers until after training because; many people drop out during their training. They find out that that life just isn't for them. They can't sit on the floor and do everything on the floor. They can't-- they're not happy with the various conduct of the host country nationals or something just rubs them the wrong way. So it always weeds out a few. And that was the case. And then we had our big swearing in ceremony. And the night before that, we were given our assignments. And just about everybody knew what they were going to be doing. But it turned out, the night before, they came to me and said, would you-- we would like to put a proposition to you. Rather than going to the Fiji Development Bank, where we've had a lot of volunteers, some successful, some unsuccessful, we would like you to pioneer a new slot with the Ministry for Women. Well, I was most excited about that. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity in getting women involved in business.

Zarbock: Again, let me interrupt and ask for historical purposes, Fiji is an independent nation?

Snowden: Fiji is an independent nation. It's made up of 200 islands. It has a population, well, it's made up of over 300 islands but, just over 200 are populated. And it has a population of just over 800,000. It's run-- it's parliamentary rule. It's based on the British model except there's no King and Queen. And it- no monarchy, so to speak, but there is still the chiefly system and that runs side-by-side with the parliamentary system. The chiefly system is still in effect. And Fiji was colonized because a very astute chief, Ratu Blackenbaugh [ph?] realized that the people were killing each other off. And they really did not generate any income so that they could get into the mainstream. And they weren't pop- excuse me, they weren't colonized until it was in the late 1800s. And then, when-- no, it was in the 1900s, I take that back. It was in the 1900s before-- and they were still, you know, ambushing ships and killing everybody and eating them and things like that. So he realized that if something wasn't done, they were going to loose their country. So they went to the U.S. first, and we said we weren't interested. Australia wasn't interested although they'd always had a vested interest in Fiji, so. But they were part of the British Empire so they suggested that they go, you know, straight to England. And so, they were colonized and the Brits brought in the Indians from south India to farm sugar cane. And they introduced sugar cane to Fiji. And that was, it's still, one of their biggest exports along, the sugar, along with the rum that's made from the sugar and, you know, the various byproducts of sugar. But anyway, that's how they came to be colonized. And then the Brits pulled out in the 70s, 1970s, and it was thought that the Fijians were ready to form their own government. And so they had a parliamentary system and they had a judicial system also based-- the Brits really did a good job of setting up all the systems in place that needed to be in place. The only thing they didn't do a good job of was protecting the Indians that they'd brought over. The land was all owned in a Fijian land trust by the people. You couldn't actually own land in Fiji. And it was administered by the ministry of Fijian affairs. And they leased land to the Indians but they could never own any land. And sometimes they'd build a big, beautiful home and boom, Fijians would decide to take it back. And there's been a lot of dissent over the years as everybody knows. But anyway, this is a little history of Fiji. But I was assigned to the Ministry of Women in Suva, the capitol.

Zarbock: This was a relatively new...

Snowden: It was a brand new post; they'd never had a volunteer. So off went all my friends to various points in various islands, you know, and we bid our goodbyes and had a big party on the last night. And then we were on our own. And from that time on, we were-- you asked about the cost of living and that kind of thing. We, and this is true in every country, we were given a living allowance based on what the average local person would live on. And it varies by country. I can't say the living allowance is, because you can't-- we don't know. But that was deposited for us, every month, in the bank. And we were given housing. And our host country was supposed to provide our housing and in some cases that was true. Some countries can't afford to provide the housing and Peace Corps pays the rent on the facility. I lived in a government house, it was called, it had been built by the Brits to house government officials. And-- very nice house compared to a lot of volunteers were living in huts, grass huts out in the boonies. So, I had a bathroom. And I had a kitchen, so to speak, and I had two wash tubs to do my laundry and that was a big, big plus. Everybody always wanted to stay with me when they came to town.

Zarbock: You seem to be describing a luxury.

Snowden: It was a luxury thought.

Zarbock: Compared to, yes.

Snowden: And we got our hund- I got my $180 a month to live on. That had to cover all my clothes, all of my meals, all of my spending money, all of my everything, everything. And the Fiji dollar was equivalent to about $1.50, U.S. at that point. So, I was living on a little over $300 a month for everything except housing. And it was adequate. I didn't have any ferbalos [ph?] but it was very comfortable. And they also provided the furnishings for our houses, to a degree. I had to buy my own curtains and of course towels and linens and everything like that. And it was, sometimes, a stretch. It was sometimes a stretch. But the people look at you differently when you aren't throwing money around like an American tourist, especially in a country like Fiji where they get a lot of American tourists. So I went to work for the Ministry for Women and-- not knowing, even, what my job would be. And I sat down with the director and I will never forget her, her name is Sirama Moloma Loma [ph?]. And she had studied at the London School of Economics. She was a brilliant, brilliant woman. Very, very big, taller than me, broad and most of the Fijians are like that. They're very tall, very proud people. They're Melanesians rather than Polynesians. They have the African ethnic background. And they-- beautiful, beautiful people, in my opinion, but Sirama [ph?] was also a lay minister in the Anglican Church and quite, quite the wonderful person to work with. So Sirama and I sit down and we had both seen a video by Muhammad Yunus who won the Nobel Peace Prize just last week, on the start of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which he started. And it was about micro-enterprise for women. And he had talked about and shown them visiting the women's groups in Bangladesh and what had been achieved by these women and everything. So we thought, yes, we're going to try this in Fiji. So I got all the information that I could get from Grameen Bank in Dhaka, in Bangladesh and proceeded to, first train myself, and then train our Women's Interest Officers. We were divided up into 24 little, they would be like counties here, provinces and we had a Women's Interest Officer in each province. And their primary goal was to work with the women to see that their life was always, you know, improving and that the women had some stature in the community.

Zarbock: For the record, women could vote, is that correct?

Snowden: Oh women, yes. A lot of women were Chiefs. The chiefly system included both women and men, Andis [ph?] and Ratus [ph?] , the chiefs were one of my best friends, Andi Vani [ph?] was a very chiefly woman who was so looked up to and respected.

Zarbock: What was the role of a chief?

Snowden: In the chiefly system, they settled all the debates within the province. The people came to them with their needs. They would advise them, or they had their advisors work with the. Through the Ministry of Fijian affairs, they found them proper housing when they didn't have any. They could help them negotiate loans with the banks. They were the go to person in the province.

Zarbock: Did they have a judicial role as well?

Snowden: No.

Zarbock: It was information?

Snowden: Not officially, but they did. Officially, there was a British judicial system, you know, and that, but...

Zarbock: So they did have...

Snowden: You didn't want to get in the Chief's disfavor, ever.

Zarbock: So they did have influence?

Snowden: Oh, great influence. They had greater influence than anything in the parliamentary government. And the president of Fiji, there was a Prime Minister, who actually did the running of the country. But there was always a President and he was not elected. He was the highest Chief in the land. And that would have been like the Queen in England, you know, above the Prime Minister, well, they had the President.

Zarbock: So the Chief reigned, he didn't rule.

Snowden: He reigned supreme, but he didn't rule. He did not rule.

Zarbock: Again, the British model, you reign, you don't rule.

Snowden: Right, right, and that's exactly how it was. So we developed this program, and I developed a workbook that took the women through all the stages that they needed to set up a business. Then I proceeded to train the Women's Interest Officers in how to conduct these programs because I couldn't be in all those places. But we decided to start out small with a pilot program of three groups of women in three different provinces. And ala the Grameen model, there were ten women in each group. And they initially got together and brainstormed. [inaudible] Brainstorm for ideas of businesses in their province that would work that women could manage. These are micro-enterprises, not businesses, but micro-enterprises, very small. And from that point, then, they would set goals of what they wanted to achieve.

Zarbock: Illustrate what a micro would be.

Snowden: Okay, a woman who went around to the farmers and took vegetables to market and had a stall and sold the vegetables and marketed them for the farmers. That would be in a rural area. In a seaside area, it might be nets and fishing equipment for a woman to be a fisherman.

Zarbock: To manufacture?

Snowden: No, no, no, to go out and fish. They didn't even have things to fish with. Not the women, some of the men did, some of them. But the women didn't really have anything to speak of, so that was the reason we started all this. Some of them in small villages, they did open shops. They opened little village stores. And it was really fun. It was-- the brainstorming was wonderful. The things they came up with and the others shooting it down and the laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, they're the happiest people I ever met in my life. Laugh, laugh, laugh, and then all of a sudden, they'd burst into song and there we'd be in the middle of a workshop and everybody was singing. It was different, different. But we would go through this whole process and then they would develop a business plan. And they had to follow this business plan straight through and they would then learn how to keep a cash book. Simplest bookkeeping you could think of, but it had to be done. And they had to learn about how you have to put money back in the business, you can't just spend everything you have, we went through all that. And the group of ten meets every week. And they keep everybody on track. So then we had to find money to fund the programs for these first little groups. And loans in-- we decided that the loan in Fiji, per woman, would be $200. That was what it took to start a business. We did a lot of analyzing of startup costs to come up with this. They could start a micro-enterprise for $200. So I went to USAID, which was there at the time, and they turned me down. And I went- I went everywhere. But I finally got the money through the South Pacific Foundation. It was an organization of all the countries in the South Pacific. And they funded it. It, you know, it wasn't that much. It was $2000 times three groups it was $6000. Plus some money in there that the Ministry needed to provide for the travel and everything it took to train these women, mainly for me. And I would go out to these outlying areas and work with the women's [inaudible].

Zarbock: When you say outlying areas, do you mean different islands?

Snowden: Yes. And...

Zarbock: How would you get there?

Snowden: That was always an interesting experience. Sometimes, I flew. They have little planes that fle- local airlines, Fiji Air, that flew to a few of the larger outlying islands. And of course in this first three, we made sure that we had access, to the first- to the pilot groups. Sometimes, later when I really got into this, I'd be in a fishing boat for six or eight hours at a time. I have gotten so seasick out in the middle of the Pacific in a fishing boat, you know, with two or three Fijian men who are-- it was interesting. So anyway, we set up the pilot program and ran it for six months. It was working beautifully, working beautifully. Every one of these women, except we had one drop out, was all we had, out of thirty. Had set up their little micro-businesses and had them running and were paying back their loans on a weekly basis, because that was part of it to, from the profits in their little enterprises. And so then we-- I trained all the Women's Interest Officers. Brought all 24 of them in for a massive training and we set up ten more programs. And we were getting it to the whole, you know, 24 provinces eventually. But it continued that way and at the same time I was training one of the Associate Directors in the Ministry, a Fijian woman, Cara [ph?], who was my counterpart, they call it. You always have to have a counter part when you're a Peace Corps volunteer. You never work on your own. Because if you did, when you left, then things would just go boom. So Cara was my counterpart and we worked together, and worked and worked on this training and got it really up and going. And it was two years and I got the funding for, when we went into the big groups, of course again, we had to have an influx of cash. The Ministry didn't have any money. They barely had enough to function. It's a poor country. So I went to, again making the rounds trying to get it funded, and this time I got the money from the New Zeeland Embassy. And the Governor or New Zeeland, I mean the Ambassador from New Zeeland became very interested and involved in our program. Well, New Zeeland had a Ministry of Women's Affairs, they called it. And my director used to say, we will never call ours that, Fijian women don't have affairs. But they were very active in women's moving forward in their lives. And they were the first country to give women the vote. And they were very progressive in women's rights.

Zarbock: New Zeeland?

Snowden: Yes, they were first country in the world. And they have always been that way. So they were very supportive of this program. And I really can never say enough about how they got everything going for us in more ways than one. Their Ambassador would show up to present awards at the end of our training sessions when I trained the Women's Interest Officers. And, you know, it was really outstanding. So we had a wonderful experience and all of this was over a two year span, which is the life of a volunteer. But they asked me if I would stay on for a third year, extend and I met with Peace Corps and they wanted me to extend the program as a South Pacific initiative to Tonga, Samoa, Salomon Islands, Vanuatu, P and G, all of which we had programs, Peace Corps was in all of those countries. So, I thought, wow, I can't pass this up. So I extended for a third year. I did get to go home, though, in between for a month. And my daughters said well, thank God. You know, they thought they were never going to see me again. Because we did get 20 days of leave every year, but when I had my leave, I went to New Zeeland. I traveled all over the country. There were so many things to see in that part of the world that I hadn't seen. So I came home for a month and then I went back and Cara and I then, that was in the early fall of '94 yes, because I would have finished my program in August of '94, and I went home for a month in August of '94 and then in went back. Well, I applied to USAID, who had left Fiji by this time.

Zarbock: Excuse me, what is USAID?

Snowden: United States Agency for International Development, they had moved out of Fiji in a consolidation of operations into another island country, I don't remember where their headquarters were then, but they'd moved out of Fiji. But they were still active in grants to Peace Corps volunteers. They were called Special Program Assistance, SPA grants. And we would have to get match- raise matching funds in country and then they would give us funds. And I applied for a grant for Cara and I to go to Bangladesh, to Dhaka, and study with Grameen for a month. And the-- it was granted and we went in early September, I mean, early November, the first week in November. Off we went to Bangladesh. Cara had never been out of Fiji in her life. We got her a passport and she continued to wear native dress, she had nothing else. And off we went to Bangladesh. And of course it's a very strict Muslim country. And that was a real experience for both of us, I might say, because we were so followed on the streets and hollered at, some of it good, some of it bad, most of it bad. We were resented in a lot of ways at that point in time.

Zarbock: The resentment was based on what?

Snowden: The color of our skin and the fact that we did not have our faces covered, we were not wearing burkas. But it was a wonderful experience. We- the first week, we spent in Dhaka, with the executives, the heads of Grameen foundation. The heads of their training programs and Mohammad Yunus himself did a lot of it. And then we moved in to the field with and interpreter. One person, one interpreter, off to a branch bank in the middle of the country in Bangladesh. And they sent Cara way up north, and me to the east. And she cried and she cried because she was leaving me and she was so frightened. But she was a wonderful woman and off she went. And we spent two weeks at a branch bank in Bangladesh and went out every day, with an officer of the bank to a different village and met with these groups. And my interpreter, of course, had to go everywhere that I went. You know, and we had to either walk or take a rickshaw. There was no other transportation at all. We went along little dikes on the rice patties, heading for the villages. And by the time we get to the village, we might have 200 or 300 people following us. It was like they were ju- not many, not many Americans had been around and I'm so blonde. That was the-- well, then I was blonde, now I'm very grey haired, but it's always been sort of this color. But I definitely-- but I did keep covered, from head to toe the whole time I was there. I just didn't cover my head. I wore long sleeves. I wore long dresses with pants under [inaudible]. And kept my body well covered the whole time out of respect and because I would have really felt out of place if I hadn't. And I stayed upstairs at the branch bank in a little room cubby-hole. And some man cooked for me. It was an unbelievable experience. I lost almost 20 pounds while I was there. I came back a shell. But we stayed out for two weeks and really went to programs everyday and saw exactly how it worked and how it was run and...

Zarbock: What did you learn?

Snowden: We learned the, mainly how the women relate to each other. How they make sure that the business is going according to the plan. How the loans are repaid, the democracy of appoint a woman to be the spokes woman for the unit and how this rotated amongst all the members, every member was equal, the equality of it. The person who was responsible for the money who came into the bank once a week and made the deposit for all the women and picked up the money for new loans.

Zarbock: I've never considered Bangladesh to have that level of sophistication and know how.

Snowden: No, this what Mohammed Yunus did. He studied-- he was a Professor of Economics at Chittagong University. I was very close to Chittagong where I was ousted, which is in Eastern Bangladesh. And he started this program by sending his students out with little loans of, it amounted to $30 dollars. That's how much they got, those women there. But their businesses, a lot of them, would use their money to buy a calf. And then they would fatten the calf up, fatten the calf up and sell it for Eid, which was just this past Sunday, the end of Ramadan when they have their big feast after fasting for so long. And that was-- but then they had to buy another calf, of course, but they had made enough money on selling the nice big steer, you know for beef, to buy a calf and start the process over. But some of the women then decided, no they were going to buy heifers. And they raised them for milk cows. And then they raised calves from their cows. They bred their cows and raised calves and fattened them up for Eid but still had a cow and still had milk and, you know, it was-- it's very simple. It sounds simple to us. But to them, this was really a big thing. Because when you went into the villages, these women, they had little slits in the-- they were made out of just a reed. It was actually-- everything comes from the rice, everything comes from the rice. And it was jus the matting, their houses were made out of mat. And they had little slits in them to let in a little bit of light and air. But they couldn't open a window because there were no windows because they couldn't have anybody see them. They couldn't have any man, outside of their family, ever see their faces. And I used to get so tickled because, first when I saw the women come into the bank and, from the villages, you know, when they were in their burkas and they're all covered from head to foot and they'd come up in there rickshaw and they'd walk into the bank and boom, off would come that veil and out would come the big smiles and they would greet all the men there and it- it was a whole different world for them. It opened up a whole different world. And yet, they weren't a threat to the men because the men like the money the women were making. And it was a- many, many, many of the women though, many of the women, did not have a husband. They might have a brother or an uncle. They had children, but their husbands had gone off to work in the Maldives and places-- the U.N. Forces took a lot of them and they just left the women and they never came back. And the women had no way to support themselves. And that's why this program was so very, very important to them. But when we would go out to the villages, we would go into-- each village has a little meeting house. Of course, it's all closed in too, but the minute we got in the meeting house, the women would strip off the burkas and they'd have on the most gorgeous saris. They would have on a lovely sari. That was one of the first things they would buy is the fabric for their sari. Because they'd never had the money to, you know, and between themselves they were like little peacocks. I loved it. It was beautiful. So anyway, we stayed two weeks out at the banks and then another week in Dhaka to close out, compare notes, make a whole plan of what we were going to do when we got back and we had to report back to Mohammed Yunus on a regular basis when we got back, of what we had accomplished. And it was absolutely fantastic. So Cara and I headed back and we had to stop in Singapore at Changi Airport, voted the most beautiful airport in the world over and over, for a layover. And so I extended the layover instead of just-- we had about twelve hours. So I knew that we couldn't do much in that, so I extended it to three days and got us rooms at the YWCA. And we-- she shopped and we went places that, of course, she'd never seen in her life. Singapore is a very progressive modern, modern city and it was just, just fantastic experience for her to see that kind of thing. Then we went back through Jakarta, Sidney and finally back to Fiji. And when we got back to Fiji, we of course immediately checked in on all the groups that we had going in Fiji and then we proceeded to set up some workshops including all these other island countries. And they involved a Peace Corps volunteer and two counterparts, so that we could train two people. And so that was three from each country and we did Vanuatu, the Salomons, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga. And my, not my, the Fijian women, I was rather possessive of my- all the staff there, did most of the training. And I was so proud of them, I was so proud of them. So anyway, this- the program is a success and I say is because they still send me annual reports at the end of the year of what's happening in micro-enterprise in Fiji. And my time was drawing to a close, my third year and I knew that I wanted to move on and my Country Director encouraged me to- encouraged me to apply for Peace Corps staff. And I did. But in the mean time, the U.N. had asked me to go to Samoa, the United Nations Development Program, asked if I would do a one month contract in Samoa training them in this program. And I did. I went to- on my way home. So I didn't come straight home, I went to Western Samoa.

Zarbock: But the whole concept expanded and continues to this day.

Snowden: And continues and the program continues to expand all over the world. There is a program in South Chicago. There are programs all over Africa. And when I was in Dhaka, at the training, we had countries, it was Pakistan, Senegal, Benin, Nigeria, Indonesia, Lebanon, the Philippines it was wonder- it was fascinating. It looked like a little old- our own little United Nations of poor countries, let's put it that way. It was a wonderful experience. So I went to work then, when I got back, for Peace Corps. And my first assignment was as an Administrative Officer in Slovakia. And the Administrative Officer is an Associate Peace Corps Director. And I served there as the Associate Peace Corps Director and learned a lot about how a post was run. This was a rather sophisticated country to say the least after Fiji. Slovakia was not as sophisticated as Czech Republic or Hungary, which they were surrounded by. And both of those programs had just graduated as Peace Corps called it. But Slovakia was still going because it took longer because they were a poor country and they had had more Russian influence, as had Kiev, Ukraine. And they also were still in operation and so was Poland when I was there. So we-- but it was a fascinating program and we had approximately, I don't know I'd say 80 or 90 volunteers, in Slovakia. They lived in they were called pontalocks [ph?] it was the apartment houses that the Soviets had built, the big concrete blocks, just straight up. And they all had their own, but their own apartment within these pontalocks. They were small but they were furnished and they were adequate. And the programs that they did were more advanced. A lot of it, they didn't do micro-enterprise in- but they did do some business development. But they did a lot of work with non-governmental organizations, with setting them up and teaching them how to run. Because that's part of the democratization process. And our whole aim there was toward the democratic process. We had a lot of teachers, but they were teacher trainers who were working at the University, some at the high school level, mostly at the university level. We had a lot of older volunteers. We had a lot of married volunteers. It was that kind of country. It was completely different from the program I was used to but I learned so much and I-- shortly after I was there the Country Director that was there when I came, left. He had finished his tour and was leaving Peace Corps. He had finished his tour with Peace Corps. And I got a new Country Director who had some serious, serious problems and he was called back to the States for over a month. And then he came back and it still didn't work and anyway, we went through about almost eight months of either having a director who was not functioning well or-- he had come from the Baltic states and Peace Corps was not aware of some of the problems until after he had come to Slovakia. So I was acting Peace Corps Director for an awful lot of the time. Usually the only Americans at post are the Country Director and the Administrative Officer, the Administrative Officer because they handle all the money, and the Country Director because they need the American relations at the post. You sit on the Ambassador's country team and you work closely with all the other agencies in country. And so I learned how to be a Peace Corps Country Director in Slovakia. Then I had a wonderful Country Director come in who had been in Albania, Nelson Chase [ph?]. And he taught me a lot. From him I learned what community based training was. We hadn't done that and we started doing that where the volunteers go out and live in the village. And learn the language from the ground up. And their Technical Officers go to them instead of them coming to the Technical Officers. And so I was asked to go to Nepal as a trouble shooter in the Admin there. They had a- still it was a very old post, it'd been going since '62, and they still had a host country Administrative Officer who had some problems with honesty and had just about run the post into the ground. So I worked closely with the Chief Admin Officer in Washington and got-- they hadn't even computerized. Just about every post in Peace Corps at that point was computerized. So I got them computerized, I trained staff, dah, dah, dah. And then I went back to Slovakia and then Peace Corps, Washington called me and asked me if I would go permanently to Nepal when my tour was over in Slovakia. A tour was two and a half years. And normally you stay two tours, five years. And then you're out because Peace Corps doesn't want people who have been there since day one. They want the constant change because that's what Peace Corps is about. We always have new volunteers coming and we always need to have new staff coming in. So I went to Nepal, initially as the Administrative Officer there. And did a lot of training with the staff, it was wonderful, it was wonderful. But the Country Director was soon to leave. And the Regional Director in Washington asked me if I would apply, along with several other applicants. And I did and it was a lengthy process but I became the Country Director in Nepal and initiated community based training for the first time, initiated an all volunteer conference where we all got together and learned a lot. The whole experience of Peace Corps was a learning experience for me. I never felt like, goodness knows, I never felt like I knew it all because there was so much to learn about the host country and the host country nationals as well. So from there, I ended up in Washington and I was the Chief Administrative Officer for the 24 countries in the Europe, Mediterranean and Asian region, responsible for all those 24 Admin Officers out there and all their input and the money and how it changes hands in and the et cetera. And then, because of the change in Washington in the government, at that time, President Bush came in and the whole top floor of Peace Corps went out because they're political appointees, including the Regional Directors. So I was made the acting Regional Director for the 24 countries where I was Administrative Officer. And it was, well, when I left the next March, we still didn't have a Regional Director, I'll put it that way. But I was doing two jobs and having to travel all over the world to conferences and it was a little bit, it was almost too much for me. So I decided that I was going to retire in 2002. I would be 66 years-old, and it was time. So I started driving up and down the coast and I fell in love with Wilmington and the beaches here. And the town itself, the historical environment and the fact that it wasn't too big and it wasn't commercial like Myrtle Beach. So I would, on weekends, come down and look at property. And in the fall of 2001 I bought a house down here. And then I retired the next year. I bought the house before I retired but it was a nice weekend retreat. And that's how I ended up back in Wilmington after my 10 years that started out as two. My daughters at one point said mom, are you ever, ever coming home? You now have five grandchildren. They meant home to stay. Of course I came for visits but I did miss out on a lot of [inaudible]. But they were very glad I had the experience also and they have learned from what I learned.

Zarbock: What a wonderful, exciting life you've had. Would you do it again?

Snowden: Oh, I would go be a volunteer again in a New York minute. I wouldn't work for Peace Corps again at this point because, oh gosh, it just wore me out. It is quite a job. It is quite a job. Being a volunteer is quite a job. But all of them were very, very fulfilling.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign