Interview with Seraphima Rombe-Shulman, November 21, 2022
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummarySeraphima Rombe-Shulman served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Small Enterprise Development (SED) program in Mali from 2000-2003. Born in Kyiv, Soviet Union, Seraphima immigrated to the United States when she was 13 and settled in Chicago, IL. While studying for her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Loyola University Chicago, Seraphima heard friends talk about Peace Corps. It sounded exciting, but she didn’t feel ready. After taking an office manager job after college, she decided on graduate study in anthropology. To get some practical experience, Seraphima applied to join the Peace Corps. Peace Corps offered Seraphima assignments in Central Asia and Africa, and Seraphima chose Mali because it was an established Peace Corps program. Seraphima’s Peace Corps training started with orientation in Philadelphia, PA followed by a few days of administrative work in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Seraphima’s most vivid first memory of Mali is its deep red soil. Her training moved to the Peace Corps Training Center in Tubani So and the nearby village of Samaya for language and cultural immersion in a Malian family’s home. She learned Bamanankan, an indigenous language, which she used for marketing and other daily activities. Seraphima next traveled to her assignment in Kita, a town of 30,000 about four hours from Bamako. Her job was to support an umbrella artisan association called COAK – Coordination des Organisations d’Artisans de Kita. COAK represented people who worked with their hands – wood carvers, metal workers, plumbers, etc. - and Kondo Jigima, its associated microloan program. The first six months were very challenging until Seraphima found two knowledgeable local partners to connect with. She met Fily Coulibaly, a self-taught entrepreneur with her own market stall, willing to share her business lessons, and Zahara Toure, a professional economist assigned to COAK with several years’ experience and an Economics degree from Bamako University. Their knowledge and friendship were critical success factors for Seraphima’s Peace Corps experience. She also expanded her community contacts by taking drumming lessons and by joining a local theater group that produced educational plays. She toured with the company to surrounding villages and gained even more perspectives on the people of Mali. These contacts helped Seraphima immerse herself more comfortably and effectively in the new place where she lived and worked. This groundwork paid off in Seraphima’s second year. She collaborated with another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to organize the Bamako Artisan Fair, the largest artisan fair in Bamako. After that success, she organized a city-wide artisan fair for her town of Kita, in partnership with COAK and BGECO (la Boutique de Gestion d’Echanges et de Conseils). Seraphima considers these two fairs her biggest Peace Corps Volunteer achievements. When her two-year Peace Corps Volunteer job ended, Seraphima extended for an additional year. She was selected to become a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL). She moved to the Timbuktu region and became the Regional Coordinator between Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the Bao and Mopti regions and the Peace Corps regional office in Sevare. During this third year, she maintained significant relationships from her first two years, acquired leadership skills, and became more self-confident. After returning to the United States, Seraphima studied in the applied anthropology graduate program at American University in Washington, DC from 2004-2014. She returned to Mali in 2006 for pre-dissertation research in Timbuktu and continued her research on the Saharan salt trade until February 2010, but away from Timbuktu after the security situation there deteriorated. While in Mali. she met Canadian research historian Bruce Hall. Both had to leave Mali because of the unsafe security situation. Back in the United States, they married and are parents of three sons, all with West African names. Seraphima changed her career to become a Montessori Primary teacher. The family now lives and works in Berkeley, CA. Senegal, West Africa is a future trip destination for Seraphima’s husband and son. Seraphima reflected that her Peace Corps experience was “life-changing.” She learned the following lessons that she believes are valuable for future Peace Corps Volunteers. First, you will get out of your Peace Corps experience what you put into it. Second, you need to change your perspective and become the student, the apprentice. Third and most essential, you need to be humble and rely on the wisdom of the people who are there.
Interview KeywordPeace Corps (U.S.) Mali (Country of service) 2000-2003 (Date of service) Peace Corps Volunteer Job: Small Enterprise Development Kyiv, Soviet Union (birthplace) Chicago, IL USA (family’s U.S. hometown after immigration) Loyola University Chicago, undergraduate degree Central Asia Africa Philadelphia, PA USA (Peace Corps Volunteer group orientation) Bamako (capital of Mali and site of Peace Corps administrative days) Peace Corps Training Center in Tubani So Peace Corps training village of Samaya Bamanankan (Indigenous Language) Kita (volunteer’s town) COAK (Coordination des Organisations d'Artisans de Kita), an umbrella artisan association COAK (Volunteer’s assignment) Fily Coulibaly (self-taught local entrepreneur) Zahara Toure (professional economist assigned to COAK) drumming lessons local theater group Bamako Artisan Fair Kita city-wide Artisan Fair BGECO (la Boutique de Gestion d’Echanges et de Conseils)Peace Corps Volunteer Leader Timbuktu region Regional Coordinator Bao region Mopti region Sevare region Peace Corps administrators American University, Washington, DC USA pre-dissertation research dissertation research Saharan Salt Trade Bruce Hall (Canadian research historian, married Volunteer) Montessori Primary teacher in Berkeley, CA USA
Interview RightsAll 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.
Interview UsageInterviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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.
Add this interview to your cart in order to begin the process of requesting access to a copy of and/or permission to reproduce interview(s).
Rombe-Shulman, Seraphima Interview by Kathleen Kathy Beckman. 21 Nov. 2022. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Rombe-Shulman, S. (2022, November 21). Interview by K. K. Beckman. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Rombe-Shulman, Seraphima, interview by Kathleen Kathy Beckman. November 21, 2022, Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
You may come across language in UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center collections and online resources that you find harmful or offensive. SCRC collects materials from different cultures and time periods to preserve and make available the historical record. These materials document the time period when they were created and the view of their creator. As a result, some may demonstrate racist and offensive views that do not reflect the values of UK Libraries.
If you find description with problematic language that you think SCRC should review, please contact us at SCRC@uky.edu.
Persistent Link for this Record: https://kentuckyoralhistory.org/ark:/16417/xt71hhct001gn