Ex-Bellarmine student James R. Skelton is presently in training for work in the Peace Corps at Camp Río Abajo in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. After his period of training ends, he will be sent to work in South America. The following is an actual account from Mr. Skelton to The Concord:
Life at Camp Rio Abajo is busy, but not overly hurried, rugged or painful (with a few exceptions). The day begins at 6:15 a.m. when a loud bellow from several of the staff members calls the trainees to calisthenics or running (about two miles). After approximately 20 minutes of good, wholesome exercise, the weary victims stagger back to their tents to prepare for breakfast, served in the dining hall from seven o’clock to 7:30. At 8, all groups (there are five) report to Spanish class for 50 minutes. At nine o’clock the groups go to their respective physical training programs, which may be survival swimming (learning to stay in water for long period with hands and feet tied), rock climbing, hiking first aid class, work on the swimming pool now under construction, running the obstacle course, or searching the local streams for snails bearing certain organisms which cause disease.
Lunch is served from 12:30 to 1:00. All the meals are very well-prepared.
At 1:15, most of the groups meet to discuss current topics of interest or to learn about group dynamics.
At 2:00, the afternoon physical programs begin: These activities are done six days per week, and sometimes on Sunday afternoon.
After dinner at 6:00, the trainees again meet for their 7:00-7:50 Spanish class, followed by the evening program at 8:00. These evening programs consist of a series of lectures, discussions and films on topics pertaining to Latin America (or to whatever area the present cycle of volunteers are preparing for). Very often, well-known speakers are brought to the camp for this purpose.
Lights are out in the tents at 10 p.m., but those who wish to may stay in the dining hall until eleven.
This has been an objective view of the camp and the activities there; subjectively, the camp is much more. Here the Peace Corps trainees are learning every day to adapt to new situations, to meet and cooperate with new people. They are also learning to find within themselves new strength, new capacities, and perhaps new limitations that they had been almost totally unaware of before. The lack of hot water at the camp, for example, is not just an inconvenience; it is also a test of one’s ability to adjust to an almost completely new environment.
This is just the beginning. Each of us here faces three months of intensive training in languages, North and Latin American history, and other related subjects. A few of the groups will drop out of the program, but right now, I think all of us intend to stay and give our best. We know that we are just beginning a marvelous undertaking, something which makes any hardship, any effort, seem insignificant.
“Dedication” has become a trite word among us, but it is part of everyone here. You can feel it in the air – you can taste it. At times there is a strong ripple of quiet energy, of determination, displayed or sensed. Most of the time, however, one sees about him a strong belief in the essential rightness, the dignity of what we are undertaking. We are dedicated, and we will succeed.
By James R. Skelton
This article originally appeared in the May 18, 1962, edition of The Concord. The Peace Corps was established the previous fall.