Dr. Jim Diamond Shares Peace Corps Experiences

(Earl Ainsworth edited this summary)

The Peace Corps: I Did What I Had To Do

Jim Diamond, Dean Emeritus, Delaware Valley College and Former Peace Corps Volunteer

In 1960 when Charles De Gaulle was president of France, he liberated Chad which prior to that time was part of French Equatorial Africa. Francois Tombalbaye was the first president of Chad and in 1968 he came to the U.S. for a state visit and asked if we could send an agricultural expert and home economist to his country to help them modernize. The Peace Corps looked for candidates and it turned out that my wife and I had the credentials for this mission, so we were chosen. While we were in Chad, president Tombalbaye was our boss. We were based in Besada which is in Southern Chad.

Our approach was not to give the Chadians gifts, but rather to help people help themselves. No matter what stage of development people are at, they have their pride, dignity and integrity. When you help people help themselves, you build pride. After I arrived at Besada, I kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. The only time I opened my mouth was when I asked a question. I did this for 5 or 6 weeks. In this way I grew to learn their culture, how decisions are made and by whom and their customs and traditions. Also the kinds of skills they had, education and resources and I kept my eyes open for felt needs. The key was to introduce modern concepts using their indigenous skills and resources. There are four things we had to keep in mind: Modern concepts using indigenous knowledge, indigenous skills and indigenous resources.

There was one village five miles away where the well was no longer serviceable and the women had to walk five miles to get water in Besada. I had a 55 gallon drum that I would fill with water and when I went through that village I would roll it off the truck and leave it, then collect the empty drum on my way back through. My wife Betty, a home economist, taught the women how to cook with a gas stove. We had no electricity or running water for three years. The women would cook a meal using food available from the market that day and take it home to share with their families. Betty used 3 by 5 cards for the women to write the recipes on. She also taught the women how to sew.

One of my projects was to show them how to trim the hooves of their horses. The hooves of their horses were so overgrown that they looked like skis. The horses walked on their heels. I procured a wood rasp, a chisel and some other equipment. I trimmed the hooves back until I hit the blood capillaries and in two or three weeks, I trimmed some more so that eventually the hooves looked normal. It took five or six treatments to do this. Once done, the horses at first did not know how to walk normally.

President Tombalbaye wanted a cotton project and so I was suddenly the cotton expert. The Chadians tilled their land with crude wooden implements. We were able to secure seven French hand plows and teach the locals how to use the plows with teams of oxen. The result was that one person could till as much land in a day as a family could till in a week using the old method. The villagers made their holes for the cotton seed in a most haphazard manner using sticks. To remedy this, we taught them how to stretch rope between sticks on either side of the field and follow that line to make straight rows. Then we devised a wheel with a projection on it. When we ran the wheel along the line, every time the projection made contact with the ground it made a hole and these holes were 20 centimeters apart which is optimal spacing for cotton plants. At first the farmers did not like using the wheel because they thought it made too many holes and so it took longer to plant a field. However, by increasing the plant population, we increased the production of the fields without any increased outlay except for seed. The farmers traditionally weeded their cotton on their hands and knees with a short-handled hoe. We introduced them to long-handled hoes which was much easier on the back and became accepted for this reason. Later, I trained a horse to pull a cultivator and that is how we weeded the cotton from then on.

The Chadians make their houses out of mud bricks which they make by hand, using a wooden box to press the mud into. I managed to find a ram press with which we could press the mud into bricks very tightly. The bricks when dry were very hard. Once they were made, we taught them how to make a mud brick oven with them. Then Betty taught them how to make bread using millet flour which was available in the village. We did not have a bread pan so Betty used a piece of metal roofing. Once the fire was hot in the oven, we pulled the coals out and used the heat that was in the bricks to bake the bread. A local man made bread every other day and sold it in the village. It was the first time bread was available in the village.

The natives relied on chickens for food and they used no management practices whatsoever in raising them. For some reason, most of the chickens would die every April. I could never determine why this was but I had a hunch that if we got the chickens elevated off the ground where parasites and germs tend to live, they would do better. So we decided to build a modern chicken house using indigenous materials. Bamboo was easily accessible there so we used that. There were no nails there so we took advantage of the natives’ ability to use strips of tree bark to secure the bamboo. We used mahogany for the corners of the structure because the locals said termites will not eat mahogany or bamboo. The floor was comprised of slats so the droppings would drop down through them. This way we didn’t have to clean the manure from the house. We made the nests so that the front was higher than the back so that the eggs once laid would roll out of the nest into a bamboo trough for easy gathering. The Chadians were so impressed with that that they would walk from miles around to sit and watch the chickens lay the eggs and then roll into the trough. We made the roof out of thatch just like the thatch on the houses in the village.

We secured our chicks from a hatchery 140 kilometers from the village. There was a Swiss gentleman there who had a letter written in English that he asked me to translate. To my surprise, it was from Moyers Chicks in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. It turned out that Moyers had donated fertile eggs to the United Nations and they ended up in Chad. We used dried gourds for feeders. We had a problem of cannibalism among the chickens. To remedy this, I borrowed a paring knife from a missionary which we heated red hot in charcoal and then used it to remove a portion of the top beaks of the chickens. The chickens could still eat and drink but could no longer prey on each other with their beaks. When I returned the knife and told the missionary what I had used it for, she was not happy so I bought her a new one.

Behind our house was a school. Betty and I decided the kids needed swings and a seesaw so we wrote to the United Methodist Church in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and they raised the money for this. We procured the pipe and concrete for this and build the playground equipment. The kids had never seen a swing or seesaw before but were very enthusiastic once we taught them how to use them. For some reason, the kids always used the seesaw facing away from each other. We never discovered why this was so.

The locals used oxen for draft animals. All their oxen were bulls for some reason and they could be dangerous to be around. I decided we had to find a way to castrate them but I had to find a bloodless way of doing it due to the heat and flies. I was able to secure a Burdizzo implement that crushes the scrotal cords through the walls of the scrotal sac.

During the dry season, the cattle had to forage for whatever feed they could get and that was not much. Consequently, they became extremely thin and unhealthy. Yet in the rainy season grass was plentiful. I asked them why they didn’t make grass silage in the rainy season so their cattle would have something to eat in the dry season. They had never heard of it. I realized this was an opportunity to address a felt need among the farmers. One day I thought of a plan. All we needed was a cylinder to put the chopped grass in and the Chadians were genuine experts at digging holes in the ground. So we dug a cylindrical hole in the ground. I went around to the chiefs in the village as it was always wise to get them involved in projects. I explained to them what silage was and how to make it and we should do a demonstration. They said they would like to help. So we began by digging a hole three meters in diameter and two meters deep. We could put seven or eight tons of silage in it, enough for two oxen to consume during the dry season. It took three days to dig the hole. Then we went out and cut the grass by hand using knives and machetes. We hauled the grass to the hole by oxcart. Then we used a log and machetes to chop the grass and put it in the hole. The kids got in the hole and packed the silage down with their feet. Once full, we covered the top with unchopped grass to form the seal. Then we covered it with 60 centimeters of soil. This effort is a prime example of using indigenous skills and resources to address a felt need with no cash outlay. This was in September.

In January, we put the word out to the chiefs and the people gathered to witness the uncovering of the silo. About 300 people showed up. I dug off the un-chopped grass which was rotten and underneath was the greenest best-smelling silage you can find anywhere. I handed the people handfuls of it and they were very leery that oxen would eat it. I sent for a couple of oxen, put some silage in front of them and they wolfed it down like they had never eaten before. I wrote a paper on making pit silage and it was widely published. As a result, pit silage was adopted throughout Chad and has become an international program that is widely adopted across Africa. Long live the Peace Corps.