Interview with Margaret Marek Rohter, February 28, 2022
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummaryMargaret Marek Rohrer served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (Health program) in Brazil from 1973 to 1975. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Margaret grew up with a worldwide perspective because she was surrounded by adults active in international missionary service. Margaret received her BA degree in Anthropology in 1973 from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and then continued her family’s tradition of international service by joining the Peace Corps. Margaret had designated Afghanistan as her area of interest, so she was surprised when Peace Corps offered her a public health assignment in a fishing village in southern Brazil. However, she accepted and traveled to Natal, Brazil for twelve concurrent weeks of language training in Portuguese and technical training in working with Brazilian health agencies. Her prior knowledge of Spanish helped her quickly learn Portuguese and communicate with the Brazilian family she lived with during training. Her next surprise - Peace Corps had to cancel her project in southern Brazil. She was disappointed but determined to find another Brazilian project to join. She was quickly recruited for a public health project in northeastern Brazil in the state of Bahia, known as the cultural heart of Brazil. She was assigned to Jequie, a town of 60,000. Margaret found housing where she could live singly, which was unusual for a woman at that time. Her landlords, however, were open to her choice and became good friends. Margaret worked with a counterpart from the Catholic Church on a grant to organize basic health training sessions for rural community health workers. She coordinated with a Brazilian doctor and nurses and with Peace Corps community development volunteers in the region. Margaret’s job included traveling by bus to rural areas to recruit health workers for training and to serve as a public health resource. She enjoyed monthly trips to Salvador, the capital of Bahia, where she could socialize with other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and attend Carnival and musical events. From her Peace Corps experience, Margaret developed a great admiration for Brazilian values of openness to others, hospitality, and inclusion of newcomers into their community. After completing her term of service, Margaret spent seven months traveling through all the countries in South America before returning home to Chicago. Margaret’s Peace Corps experience influenced her professionally and personally. She completed an MPH in Public Health at the University of Illinois Chicago. She composed a career devoted to delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate health services. First, as Executive Director of Migrant Health Services in Fargo, North Dakota, Margaret applied her Peace Corps community health experience in Brazil to serving Spanish-speaking migrant farmworkers from Texas. Then, for the past 22 years, Margaret worked for the Tuberculosis (TB) Control Program for the Cook County Public Health Department, focusing on lowering the incidence of TB among the foreign-born. She says fluency in Spanish and Portuguese have been critically important to her work, starting with Peace Corps. Margaret has strong family ties to Brazil, so much so that her young daughter told a teacher, “My Mom is Brazilian.” Margaret’s husband’s cousin lived in Brazil with his wife, who is Brazilian, so there are close family ties and shared good times. Margaret also stays connected with people she met while in Peace Corps Brazil. Margaret generously volunteers her time on two major boards promoting Peace Corps values of intercultural connection and service. Margaret was involved with the Peace Corps Partnership Program through the Oak Park (Illinois) Council on International Affairs, which has funded 500 international projects requested by Peace Corps Volunteers. For this outstanding work, the Peace Corps presented her group with a certificate of achievement in 2014. Margaret also serves on the board of a Chicago Partners of the Americas chapter, which has a Sister Cities program with Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Interview KeywordPeace Corps (U.S.) Brazil (Country of service) 1973-1975 (Date of service) Peace Corps Volunteer Job: Health Chicago, Illinois, USA (hometown) Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri USA(undergraduate degree) Portuguese (Language) Spanish (Language) Afghanistan (area of interest) Brazil (Peace Corps country of service) Natal, Brazil (site of Peace Corps Volunteer training) Bahia (a state in Brazil) Jequie (Volunteer’s assigned town in state of Bahia) basic health training sessions rural community health workers Salvador (capital of state of Bahia) Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) carnival Brazilian values from Volunteer’s perspective (openness to others, hospitality, and inclusion of newcomers into their community) South America (Volunteer traveled through all countries) MPH (Master’s degree in Public Health) University of Illinois Chicago Migrant Health Services Fargo, North Dakota, USA migrant farm workers Tuberculosis (TB) Control Program Cook County Public Health Department TB incidence among foreign-born
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Rohter, Margaret Marek Interview by Kathleen Kathy Beckman. 28 Feb. 2022. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Rohter, M.M. (2022, February 28). 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.
Rohter, Margaret Marek, interview by Kathleen Kathy Beckman. February 28, 2022, 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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