Allen F. Roberts

Allen F. Roberts

UCLA Affiliation: N/A
Country of Service: Chad
Years of Service: 1968-1970

During the summer of 1965, I participated in a Crossroads Africa project in Togo. At the end of the summer, we were told that the Peace Corps had promised a new mission in Chad for 1965-66, but would not be able to provide one until the following year; if any Crossroaders would like to spend a year under Peace-Corps-like contract to the Chadian Ministry of Education, USAID would create the infrastructure. I was one of three who answered the call, but had to resign from Amherst to do so, much to my mother’s consternation. Happily, my reapplication from Chad was successful and I completed my BA in 1968. I had had such a wonderful experience in Chad that back I went to Chad as a PCV. The combined experiences were life-changing.

During two years of TEFL-teaching in a Chadian middle school, I also taught history, geography, chemistry, physics, and art; I organized school gardens, so that kids who came from distant villages could grow and sell vegetables to buy clothing and school supplies; and I obtained funding from USAID to build pit latrines within the school yard. I was decorated as a Knight of the Civic Order by the President of Chad for these initiatives.

From Chad I applied to graduate Anthropology programs, and attended the University of Chicago. My four years of doctoral research in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) depended upon Peace Corps experience to extend my stay through gardening and animal husbandry. I also ran a small paramedical clinic, using my research funding. With a PhD awarded in 1980, Peace-Corps-bred adaptability again proved essential. Teaching positions were not readily available, and although I have taught at the university level for 30+ years now at Albion College, U-Michigan, U-Iowa, and UCLA, in the early years I engaged in applied anthropological consultancies to make ends meet. I also held a series of unsolicited grants from NASA to study social aspects of solar-energy applications in Africa and elsewhere, including R&D for photovoltaic refrigerators crucial to the WHO coldchain vaccine initiative to eradicate measles.

I remain an Africanist, and have directed African Studies programs at Iowa and UCLA. My research, writing, museum exhibitions, and teaching are multi-disciplinary, and I attribute my breadth as a scholar and my excitement for learning in no small measure to my days as a PCV in Chad.

Among brilliant ideas that have informed Peace Corps service has been the book lockers we were all provided. I read every one of the 200-or-so volumes, remember many, and still teach a few. PCV years provided a great many opportunities to prove myself, especially with regard to how I might be worthy of the trust and generous friendship of Chadians whose students I sought to teach. Several Chadian friends were among the most deeply significant I have ever had: I learned so much from their wisdom, tolerance, and good humor. My undergraduate and graduate teaching and mentoring have grown directly from brilliant guides like the late al-Haji Yaya of Baibokoum. Over the close to 50 years that I have lived in or visited many African countries, other wonderful friends have helped my every step; PCV days taught me to seek out and listen to such deep souls.

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