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Bruce F.

“Lead with your heart and show your community that you appreciate their way of life, and you will generally reach receptive ears when it comes to trying different approaches.”

Bruce F headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

I don’t recall exactly how I learned about the Peace Corps, but my parents were in their 20s when the Peace Corps was established, so as a family, we were familiar with the Peace Corps’ goodwill and service from an early age.

I studied the scientific impacts of anthropogenic climate change for years and wanted to provide support at the grassroots level. Despite publishing many relevant articles on the subject in peer review scientific journals, I did not feel that I was making the biggest impact. The Peace Corps provided an opportunity for me to share my experience and culture in a small pueblo (village) in the highlands of central Mexico.

About ten years ago, the Peace Corps changed their policy around applicants applying to serve in specific countries, and that made service seem more viable to me as an older Volunteer. Mexico service appealed to me due to the Climate Change Action and Awareness program in collaboration with the country’s environment ministry.  Although I had considered other Latin American countries, this program was more appealing as it offered opportunities beyond solely teaching children in grade school.

2. What projects are you working on?

In addition to teaching environmental science at the local primary school once a week, I have been busy implementing construction activities associated with a USAID grant. Activities include the construction and installation of three 15,000-liter ferrocement rainwater collection cisterns at the primary school and the installation of 10 solar hot water heaters (seven on community household rooftops and three on ecotourism backcountry cabins), two composting dry toilets in the wilderness backcountry of a roughly 5,000-acre wildlife conservation area, and seven trailhead signs along 32 km of horseback, mountain biking, and hiking trails.

Ongoing activities also include working with student volunteers through a professional service program at a nearby university. In collaboration with the university’s biology professor, I have been working with biology and digital marketing undergraduate students on a comprehensive native flora identification program that focuses on edible, medicinal, and threatened species as well as a social media marketing and integrated website presence for the nearby ranch.

Ancillary projects include collaboration with a biology professor/researcher at a second university to perform a comprehensive wildlife survey of a nearby ranch. Additionally, ancient Chichimeca rock paintings (circa 1000-1200 AD) at seven sites are being investigated to better preserve and protect these important artifacts as well as educate the public on their historical significance.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

Lead with your heart and show your community that you appreciate their way of life, and you will generally reach receptive ears when it comes to trying different approaches. I pushed through communication barriers by being extremely transparent with my ideas and how it would benefit the community in the short and/or long term.  All verbal communications were backed up with written communications, reinforcing what was discussed and agreed upon.

Stay with a host family for as long as possible whenever possible because it will improve your communication skills and knowledge of the native culture, as well as introduce you to numerous weekly events and activities that will help you bond and grow.

The first solar hot water heater installation on a family home in the area was promoted as a community training event so neighbors could assist neighbors during the installations to follow.
The first solar hot water heater installation on a family home in the area was promoted as a community training event so neighbors could assist neighbors during the installations to follow.

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

There is honestly not one aspect that stands out—it has all been so gratifying! To receive the sincere appreciation from a family of eight after installing a solar hot water heater is a real blessing. I find it heartwarming when adults in the community call me a Mexican gringo or when the children call me “Profe Bruce.”

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

I am fortunate that much of my family background in Connecticut and Texas revolved around ranching, farming, and horseback riding. To be placed in a community where that is a significant aspect of their livelihood made integration that much easier. That commonality made the community more open to ecotourism ideas to promote the mountainous beauty of roughly 5,000 acres of land. They knew my appreciation for that lifestyle meant that I didn’t want to change it.

Bruce's host nephew, Adriel, shows off his cowboy skills at a cattle drive event.
Bruce's host nephew, Adriel, shows off his cowboy skills at a cattle drive event.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

Relax! What doesn’t get accomplished today, will be tackled tomorrow. Things move slower in Mexico, similar to my Caribbean roots, and I have been reminded of that often. Family is also the center of life in Mexico, with families generally living very close geographically, and many generations living under the same roof often well past their 18th birthday. This makes for a lifestyle that does not revolve around travel and vacations as much as around birthdays and anniversaries.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

When I’m at my site, I am usually with my host family at parties or family gatherings. Because we are approximately the same age, we have become close friends. I have shared recipes, particularly from Texas, because my family appreciates spicy flavors, and my host mom is a chef who is open-minded in terms of learning creative, new recipes that set her restaurants apart.

I will occasionally visit a nearby winery, the natural hot springs, hike, or go horseback riding. Occasionally, I will also venture to nearby sites to visit other Volunteers in my cohort. I have used my allotted vacation time to visit other states in Mexico. Every state I’ve visited has slightly different climates and natural wonders to go and investigate.  I never realized how ecologically diverse Mexico was as a country. In fact, it ranks as the fifth most biologically diverse country in the world with approximately 12% of the known species on Earth living here!

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

During my remaining time, I’m looking forward to completing more climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, furthering our ecotourism efforts at the nearby ranch, attending the quinceaños (fifteenth birthday) of my host uncle´s daughter, riding on one more overnight cabalgata (procession or parade on horseback), and of course, exploring a little more of the beautiful country of Mexico.

The final plumbing connections to the steel roof at the local primary school are completed with the capacity to capture ~55,000 liters of rainwater in the distant ferrocement cisterns.
The final plumbing connections to the steel roof at the local primary school are completed with the capacity to capture ~55,000 liters of rainwater in cisterns.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

Once I finish service, I will stay in touch with my host family and extended family. I have learned to savor each day’s new experiences a little more and to relax about artificial time constraints. The rewarding nature of my work here in Mexico has inspired me to continue a career that combines grassroots service with climate change adaptation and mitigation education.

I will continue to teach earth sciences and raise awareness of climate change. Lastly, I hope to leverage my improved Spanish and grassroots climate change adaptation and mitigation capacities to continue to “pay it forward” in the fields of international development or academics.