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August Member Spotlight: Betty Crowder

August Member Spotlight: Betty Crowder




Please meet our monthly spotlight for August, Betty Crowder!

Betty has had two Peace Corps experiences:  the first time as a Volunteer in Micronesia from 1970-1972 and the second time as the Peace Corps Country Director for the Kingdom of Tonga from 2003-2006. When she was a Volunteer in Micronesia, she taught school.  On Majuro in the Marshall Islands, she taught 4th grade and on Saipan, I taught English and math in middle school. Betty thinks she was in Micro Group  9 when she was a Volunteer in Micronesia. Everyone who was going to be Volunteers in Micronesia trained in Saipan for about 3 months.  Then they dispersed to our various islands and assignments across the whole of Micronesia. 

When Betty was the Country Director for Tonga, she worked with the staff and the Volunteers to provide training and support for our various programs---they had teachers in a number of different areas---teacher training, computer training, industrial arts training, English language learning, primary school teaching.  They also had other programs, like Future Farmers and Youth Parliament. As Peace Corps Country Director, Betty was also the liaison with the US Embassy in Fiji and served as a focal point for them in Tonga.  

Betty says, “these two experiences in the Pacific-Micronesia and Tonga-really made me fall in love with the Pacific”.

She decided to volunteer with the Peace Corps because her older brother had become a Volunteer in Turkey and told her all about his experiences. She also wanted to see---and live in---other areas of the world.  Her younger sister also served in Ghana and her niece in Thailand.  Betty says they are somewhat of a Peace Corps family and that the experience in the Peace Corps made me self-reliant and resourceful.  

Betty is now retired, but she spent almost 20 years working for Hewlett-Packard primarily in California with one work assignment in Geneva for HP for two years. She worked for six years before that at Varian Associates.  

After her Volunteer experience in Micronesia, Betty  worked for the Peace Corps as a recruiter and then she used their publication called The Hotline to apply for an English-teaching position in Esfahan, Iran.

Betty says that “Peace Corps opened my eyes to the world, and cemented my interest in other countries and cultures.”

She has stayed connected with Tonga through personal contacts and reading about Tonga and through organizations like Friends of Tonga.  She has also been back to visit two times since her assignment was complete.

Betty has also served on the national board of the World Affairs Councils of America and on the local board of the World Affairs Councils of Monterey Bay.  She feels this helps her remain current about world affairs and work with people who have had interesting international working and living experiences.

And, she adds, “my husband and I love to travel, too”. 

Betty has many fond and interesting memories of Tonga and the people that we met there.  For example, here are a few (in Betty’s words):

One day one of the government ministers came into my office and wanted me to explain the US Constitution and how the electoral college works but he had only about 20 minutes!

Another memory that stands out for me is the overnight boat trip I took from Nuku’alofa to Nomuka to visit the Volunteers serving on that island.  It was long and quiet, but thankfully calm.  In the middle of the warm night, the Tongans broke out in song. 

One day at the office I received an invitation to be a speaker at the high school graduation ceremony.  Turns out the ceremony lasted 7 hours and my speech was about hour 4 and it was shorter than the opening prayer.  

When asked what the most challenging part of being in Tonga was, Betty says “I am a planner by nature and by training.  So I tend to plan things well in advance. The challenge was melding western planning ideas with the Tongan culture.  The end result was always met, we just had different approaches on how to get there.  So we learned from each other to achieve our goals in Tonga.” She also mentions how it is always a challenge in any job to balance the needs of the country, the Volunteers, the staff and keeping Washington, DC informed and up-to-date on issues.
They  also had some very close calls with typhoons in our area.  She says that the Volunteers, and especially the staff, were immensely helpful and resourceful in gathering everyone to safe locations.

When asked what sticks out from her time in Tonga, Betty remembers “The friendliness, helpfulness and resilience of the Tongan people and that has been reaffirmed here in the US when we meet Tongans.  We are still in contact with many Tongans, as well as PCVs that we met while we were there. For me, being in Tonga for 3.5 years was amazing.  I would not trade that experience for anything”.

Betty’s advice to those visiting Tonga for the first time is to “Be absolutely open to the experience.  This is your opportunity to really immerse yourself into another culture, to see things from a different perspective, to appreciate a different way of looking at the world, make lasting friends and contribute in a meaningful way”.

She also encourages people who have been accepted into the Tonga Peace Corps program but haven’t yet gone to contact RPCVs from their group for more information

When asked what the most rewarding part of her experience with the Peace Corps was, Betty says she met some really amazing Volunteers who were serving in Tonga who have gone on to have very impactful careers in a variety of fields and disciplines.  She says she has also met some amazing Tongans who are totally devoted to their nation and have implemented some much needed projects.

When asked to provide advice to Friends of Tonga based on her experiences on how we could better serve the RPCV and Tongan community Betty stated that she thinks Friends of Tonga is doing a fantastic job now in continuing to engage Tonga RPCVs in the ongoing challenges and needs of the people of Tonga.  She thinks that this organization can also serve as a model for other RPCVs from other countries to continue their engagement and, perhaps, learn from other RPCV groups how they keep their Volunteers engaged.  

Betty loves the idea of the FOT scholarships and expanding that program as resources allow always seems to have a great impact on individuals as well as communities.  To the extent possible, remaining in contact with scholarship recipients--perhaps through your PenPal program or in some other way would keep the students engaged as well as the RPCVs.

She also recommends continuing to grow as an organization of people who are interested in Tonga----current and former Volunteers to Tonga, current and former staff, Tongans or others who have an interest in and love of Tonga.  This could give a broader perspective to projects.

She also mentioned that Friends of Tonga can serve as a resource to people who have been accepted as Peace Corps Volunteers in Tonga but haven’t gone there yet.  

Lastly, she says that her and her husband have been back twice to Tonga since they lived there and found each experience enriching and interesting.  Perhaps, Friends of Tonga could organize a return trip to Tonga for RPCVs----putting an itinerary together with a specific purpose (with each individual paying their own way, of course). 

Thank you very much to Betty Crowder for taking the time out to talk to us! We hope you all enjoyed reading about her experiences as much as we did!