Interview with Jay C. Levy, Sharon Levy, August 19, 2021
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummaryJay and Sharon served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Brazil from 1966 – 1968. Sharon worked as a speech pathologist in a speech and language clinic at a hospital in the city of Salvador, and Jay, who was trained to work in rural health and community development, was assigned to Salvador but with no specific position as it was his wife who was most in demand by Peace Corps. Sharon entered the Peace Corps right after graduation from Temple University while Jay was one year out of college with one and a half years of experience as a newspaper reporter. They both attended six weeks of training in Chicago with 36 other volunteers and then moved to priest’s dormitories at Loyola University in Chicago for more training. There was a parallel Brazil training site at the University of Wisconsin, but the two groups did not coordinate any activities with each other. They both stated that the training was strong in language (Portuguese) training. In training for rural health, the group was required to practice injecting each other, but Jay refused to participate. He also refused to rate his fellow trainees after six weeks as to their probable success as Peace Corps volunteers. Upon the completion of training, they were initially not certified, but then were reevaluated and both passed. After two weeks back home, Jay and Sharon flew to Rio de Janero in Brazil expecting a rural setting for work but were instead asked to settle in Salvador, a major city in the state of Bahia. They lived in a favela, or barrio, which Jay referred to as an “urban slum,” living in a house which he said was a “hovel” without running water. The house was made of cement with a basic kitchen, one bedroom, and an outside bathroom with rats in the sewers. Each volunteer had a Brazilian “counterpart” to assist them, but Jay’s co-worker only appeared once in two years as he embarked upon work in community development. Sharon’s hospital work was in a clinic, and she was expected to continue the work that previous Peace Corps Volunteers had begun. Much of their early duties was, as they said, disorganized with little support or assistance. Jay organized a three-day event for the one-year get-together of all Peace Corps volunteers in the state of Bahia. He also tried to influence city officials to mount a tourist campaign, but having no luck he worked for the only tourist agency in Salvador bringing American tourists to his favela, thus giving them an introduction into a world they otherwise would never have seen. On their first vacation of four weeks, they took the opportunity to travel throughout South America and spent other free time at the beach right in Salvador. The town was known for arts and cultural preservation, especially of African works and traits. The African influence was obvious, especially in religious traditions. Jay began to branch out his abilities and worked as a travel agent/tour guide as well as a driver of other Peace Corps Volunteers. While volunteering, Jay and Sharon had their share of illnesses, as Sharon suffered some gastrointestinal concerns and Jay had to deal with intestinal parasites. Each of them felt that they had contributed to the welfare of their area of Brazil and that their two years gave them a wider perspective of another culture and way of life. Upon returning home, Sharon continued to pursue speech work through graduate school and worked in a school system as a member of a bi-lingual assessment team. Jay says he owes his career as a public information officer with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the Peace Corps which passed on his name to the UN as a good candidate for the position. When the couple returned to their Peace Corps site after six years, Sharon was pleased to find that the clinic she headed at the hospital was still in operation.
Interview KeywordPeace Corps (US) Country of Service: Brazil Dates of Service: 1966 – 1968 Peace Corps Volunteer Job: Rural Health, Speech Therapy Peace Corps (US): 1960-1970 Peace Corps Staff: State of Bahia Meetings Language: Portuguese Language Training: Chicago, IL Training/Cultural Training: Chicago, IL
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Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Levy, Jay C. Interview by Donald C. Yates. 19 Aug. 2021. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Levy, J.C. (2021, August 19). Interview by D. C. Yates. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Levy, Jay C., interview by Donald C. Yates. August 19, 2021, Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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