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RPCV Congo - Meet Geoff Brown

Where and when were you posted in Zaire? I attended Fisheries Stateside Training in Norman Oklahoma under the direction of Doc Clemons during the Fall of 1981. After the renowned rigorous technical training, that I and about two dozen other trainees completed, we left the US in late October and continued our Language and Cross-cultural training in Bukavu. After about 13 weeks, about half of us flew into Kananga where we would complete our service. After about a week, we each loaded up our provisions and headed to our sites. The first night, after participating in a hero’s welcome (literally) at Casey Bean’s site in Kazumba Zone, I was accompanied to my site in Tshibala (Marie) in Kasai Occidental with the regional PPF Coordinator Citoyen Tshungu.

It seemed like a long drive in the middle of nowhere, or at least to the edge of the earth! My site was about 10 km north in the village of Tshisenge. Although the agreement was for the Chief of Kimonji to provide a house for me, as had been done for Casey and most other Fisheries volunteers, no accommodations were prepared upon my arrival. The regional chief, who had accompanied us, was not pleased. After a lot of discussion, he instructed the village Chief to move out of HIS house to make room for me to move in. Understandably, my Tshiluba language skills were still relatively undeveloped, and I was still a little clueless about why it looked like the Village chief would be moving his family’s belongings out of his house. I moved in, but with time, (and some uncomfortable conversations), I fully understood how humiliated my village Chief probably was, so after about 3 months, I was given access to an abandoned, rundown little Belgian house to move into. I fixed it up with funds from PPF and one weekend, I paid 15 kids in shiny Newsweek pages to help me carry my furnishings out of the Chief’s house, 3 km down the road into my new, more comfortable bungalow. I let out a deep sigh of relief on the night I moved in, realizing that I would be able to commit to the next two years.

What was your job? I was doing fisheries extension. As the first Fisheries volunteer at my site, I spent two years evangelizing the good word of fish in my community, and eventually began building fishponds with a good crew of hardworking men. I loved it. I loved learning the language, visiting my farmers, teaching them about aquaculture, building ponds alongside them, living in the village, friendships with the Belgian Priests at the mission, and becoming GREAT friends with the other Volunteers in the region. I fell deeply in love with another volunteer, which enhanced my whole PC experience, of course.

Doc Clemons told head fisheries APCD Brian Steinwand that I was a pretty good illustrator, from a few things I had done as a trainee, so Brian encouraged me to start work on illustrations for an extensive flip chart. His idea was to print multiple copies, bind them to a wooden frame, and distribute them to fisheries extension agents to use as a tool for teaching villagers about fish pond construction and management. I was game and it helped me focus on my work with more intention. In 1985 I committed to stay in Zaire for another year as a PCVL in Bas-Zaire and to continue work on the Aquaculture “Boite-a-Images”.

I completed a year as the Fisheries PCVL leader in Mbanza Ngungu, but again, it was challenging to work on the Flip chart, so Brian worked with PPF/USAID Liaison Gordy Mengel to negotiate a contract to hire me to complete the project. That took another year to finish illustrations, field testing, and developing an accompanying handbook to go along with it. I finished the project at the end of 1985 and after visiting PCVL Fisheries Amy Purvis in December of that year, traveled through Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya, parts of Europe before heading home in the Spring of 1986.

How did or did your experience inform your subsequent career path? First, I don’t think most of us can minimize the impact our PC experience had on learning to become a professional in another culture. I became passionate about my role as a Fisheries Extension Agent. I enjoyed teaching and training my farmers. That experience of watching a lightbulb light up for a farmer, from something I taught them. It inspired me to pursue work in training and training design in some fashion throughout most of my career in some way or another. I completed three training cycles under Fran Lowell, Director of PC Fisheries Preservice training when the University of South Carolina assumed the contract at the Wedge in Georgetown, SC. I was also a technical trainer and training director for pre-service training in the Republic of Armenia during a two-year- period. I met my wife there, Rhonda Cooper (Zaire PESOP (sp.) (1985)) and we eventually settled in Tallahassee Florida where I did public outreach as an Environmental Resource Agent for the University of Florida Extension.

Secondly, I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into that Flip chart. It was a nice souvenir of my experience. I was drawn (no pun intended) to using illustration as a teaching tool and was fascinated by the challenge that culture played in developing effective teaching materials. I ended up using the flip chart as a portfolio to eventually get into Art School. I only completed three semesters.

Lastly, during the 5 years I worked in Zaire, I noticed that most folks working in development had degrees in Agricultural Economics. Although I loved art school: when the funds got low I switched to get an MS in Agricultural Economics at The Ohio State University which helped me get the job training PCTs in Armenia. I worked on a Dried Apricot Marketing project for UMCOR in Armenia but eventually chose to work primarily in the area of environmental project management for several state government agencies in Florida.

What are you doing now? After years of working in fulfilling positions with the State of Florida, I was coaxed into taking a friend’s job at the Florida State University in the Department of Biological Science. I took the job of Biology Lab Course Coordinator for two very large lab courses required for those in the major. Originally my intent was to take advantage of finishing my art degree, but after a few years, the position rekindled my passion for training and the importance of teaching science. I’ve just completed my 13th year, so I guess I’ll be here until the next big adventure draws me in!


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