Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Here's my DOS (or Description of Service), the only "official" document that says I was in Peace Corps. Enjoy.


Class 6 Primary School Teacher

Appropriate Technology Specialist

Name: Taylor J. Okamura

Country: Republic of Vanuatu (South West Pacific)

Dates of Service: December 12, 2003 – December 8, 2006

Assignment and Professional Training

After completing the Peace Corps application process which stressed both mental and physical health, a diversified background and a cross cultural understanding, Taylor Okamura was accepted into the U.S. Peace Corps as a trainee in 2003. He arrived to Vanuatu in October with group 16B and soon began an intense three-month training in the village of Epau on Efate island. During this time he lived with a host family and participated in all aspects of rural life including the planting and harvesting of root crops, listening to the traditional stories, learning to cook the local dishes and adapting to a foreign culture.

Practical training consisted of the following components:

Language Training: 120 hours of practical training designed to gain proficiency in speaking, reading and understanding Vanuatu's official language, Bislama.

Technical Training: 120 hours of practical training designed to develop requisite skills forfounding, developing, managing and teaching at a rural, community-based, school.

Cross Cultural Training: 180 hours of practical training designed to develop assimilation strategies for integration into rural Island village life.

Medical Training: 20 hours of practical training in medical self-sufficiency and emergency self-treatment in remote and medically isolated locations.

Taylor succesfully completed the comprehensive practical immersion training program on December 12, 2003 and ultimately achieved an 'Advanced High' score in language proficiency.

Life as a Teacher

In the two years that Taylor was at Naworaone Primary School, he taught math to fifteen year six students and often assisted the headmaster and other teachers with their classes. He taught Health and a science class called "Trees & Water" several days a week. Taylor developed strong relationships with the teachers, helping them to write future lesson plans, build the school garden and organize school fund raisers which raised over $600 USD.

Village Life

Taylor lived in the village of Purau on the island of Tongoa. While in the village, he was adopted into a host family, earned a kastam name and was given a local style house made of wild cane and thatch roof. Taylor discovered that life in the training village gave him a very basic understanding for life on Tongoa, but realized he still had to undergo a large amount of adjustment. Life on the island was very rural, much more so than Epau, even more rugged than the backpacking trips Taylor had been accustomed to in the States. Without plumbing, electricity, gas or refrigeration, Taylor had to rely on seasonal rain for water, candles for light, a wood fire for cooking, and trips to the market or garden every few days for food. Despite these radical changes in lifestyle, Taylor adapted to "island life" and grew to appreciate his new existence. He read over 100 books and wrote countless letters home to friends and family during service. One of Taylor's fondest memories was preparing kava, the local drink, in the traditional manner with his friends.

Cyclone Ivy

In Taylor's first year of service, Vanuatu was struck by Cyclone Ivy, a category four hurricane. Ivy devastated gardens, contaminated water supplies and uprooted local structures. Using the skills he learned in training, Taylor was able to secure his house and assist other villagers in preparation for the coming storm. After Ivy, Taylor made site visits to the other two volunteers serving on Tongoa and submitted a damage report to Peace Corps Vanuatu.

Volunteer Advisory Committee

Taylor began to serve on the Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) shortly after arriving on Tongoa. VAC is a group of elected Peace Corps volunteers who, for two years, present volunteer issues to the Country Director. Taylor was elected as the VAC Chairman in his second year and remained active as Chairman until the end of that year. While on VAC, Taylor helped to draft a new policies on alcohol use, safety and security procedures, per diem, cohabitation, mail, vacation leave, and living allowances.

Secondary Projects

In his second year on Tongoa, Taylor completed several secondary projects:

- Compiled and wrote the new Peace Corps Vanuatu cookbook to be used by all current and future volunteers

- Presented five cooking workshops on Tongoa Island for thirty villagers

- Taught several workshops on salt preservation of meat

- Taught a workshop on the production of brain-tanned rawhide

- Assisted in a local tourism project on Tongoa with marketing, publicity, security and meeting Western expectations

- Facilitated a five day business workshop on Santo Island with two fellow Peace Corps volunteers for over thirty villagers stressing the importance of market share, budgets, and book keeping

- Visited the island of Futuna to develop a local primary school for the island's first Peace Corps Volunteer.

Extension of Service

While serving his two years on Tongoa, Taylor became more and more aware that one of Vanuatu's largest problems is the lack of power on the outer islands. Reliable electricity is very important in sustatinable development and is cruicial in sectors such as sports, education, and health. It was for this reason that Taylor extended his service for a third year, moving to the capital city of Port Vila on Efate Island where he began to work with Vanuatu Renewable Energy Power Association (VANREPA), a local non-government organization working with sustainable energy projects. Living in the capital gave Taylor a unique opportunity to use his knowledge of the outer islands to develop energy solutions on a national level, installing several wind and solar power systems with VANREPA throughout Vanuatu and helping to write several successful grant proposals. In his third year he worked on a Solar Water Pasteurization project in the Black Sands community, a large wind turbine project on Futuna and Aneityum islands, and several solar and wind power schools in Vanuatu. Taylor also wrote and translated into Bislama several technical manuals for solar and wind systems and VANREPA policies. He also helped author VANREPA's website (

As part of an initiative to strengthen the relationship between VANREPA and Peace Corps Vanuatu, Taylor worked closely with Peace Corps in designing and teaching over 60 hours of appropriate technology courses to selected staff members and 48 new Peace Corps trainees on the island of Lelepa over the course of one year. These courses included:

- Soap making and personal hygene

- Water sanitation and ways to eliminate communicable water-based diseases

- Water catchment systems and acceptable water treatment options

- Desalination of salt water

- Construction of local toilets (Pit, Ventilation Improved, and Compost)

- Food preservation (smoked/salted, meat, jams, dried fruit)

- Rawhide production and basic leather working skills

- Alternative energy systems (Wind, Solar, and micro-hydroelectric systems)

- Designing improved cookstoves

- Community skepticism towards technology

- Solar cooking techniques

- Correct disposal of batteries

During this time Taylor also wrote the accompanying appropriate technology manual which has now been incorporated in volunteer training, benefitting the 76 volunteers currenty in the field.

Pursuant to Section 5 (f) of the Peace Corps Act, 22 U.S.C. No. 2504 (f) as amended, any former Volunteer employed by the United States Government following her Peace Corps service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps Volunteer service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave or other privileges based on length of government service. Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of a probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.

This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order No. 11103 of 10 April 1963, that Mr. Taylor James Okamura served satisfactorily as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He service ended on 8 December 2006. He is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order entitlement extends for a period of one-year, except that the employing agency may extend for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities which, the view of the appointing authority, warrants extension of the period.


Marije said...

Wow! Reading all this and not only reading this but also try to understand what you did and how you lived, ... I've so much respect for you, you have no idea. And I'm unbelievable proud of you!

Taylor said...

Writing everything up formaly makes it seem so surreal, almost like it wasn't me doing all those things. Sometimes even I can't believe some of the things I've done.

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