Bridport man to give insights on his experience in Peace Corps
BRISTOL — A personal journey as a Peace Corps volunteer where ideals encountered the gritty working realities of another culture is the subject of the upcoming One World Library Project program on Thursday, Jan. 21, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol. Paul Kenyon, an engineer from Bridport, will present “It’s Often Not What We Expect: Experiences of a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic.”
In this free slide-talk program, Kenyon will demonstrate a practical application of what became his primary Peace Corps work. During his time in the village of Piedra Blanca located in the center of the island, Kenyon created a highly insulated cooking box as a way to eliminate the billowing, choking cooking smoke commonly found in traditional outdoor kitchens, a problem that can cause severe respiratory health effects.
The cooking box was an easily and inexpensively built solution that also had the advantage of saving fuel and getting more nutrition from the food. And yet, Kenyon says, the Dominicans he worked with didn’t want to use it, preferring their old way of cooking.
Kenyon’s talk will explore what he learned about himself as he stepped back from expecting results from his project. He paid attention, observing while also thinking critically about what he was seeing. “One doesn’t learn these things until one takes off the rose-colored glasses,” he says. “We often don’t get what we expect, but rather, we get what is there.”
Sixty-three years old when he began his work with the Peace Corps, Kenyon was much older than a typical Peace Corps volunteer, but he wanted to immerse himself in the experience and do something beyond his career in mechanical engineering. He wrote in a blog at the time that his intention was to find out what happens when a person like himself, a normal guy, goes into such a different experience from his life up until then. “It’s complicated; that was never in question,” he said. “I knew it would be complicated. Normal respect for another culture tells us that. We know instinctively that we are setting ourselves on a journey of depth.”
His personal reflection has continued since he returned to Vermont in 2014 after three years of service. “I never saw myself as ‘part’ of the DR while I was there,” he says. “In part, this is the Peace Corps ideal; it’s not ‘about us,’ it’s about them.”
A mechanical engineering graduate, Kenyon designed meteorological towers and wind resources sensors for NRG Systems for 12 years before starting his own company, Cumulus Engineering LLC in Bridport. An environmentalist and avid recreational sports participant, Kenyon has lived off the grid for 30 years. His home in Bridport relies on power provided by the wind and sun, and he uses a gasoline-powered generator only when “desperately needed.”
Kenyon will be making ginger tea in his cooking box for those attending the program. Prior to his talk, he will also share some of the music that infused his three years in the Dominican Republic.
For more information on the program, contact the Lawrence Memorial Library at 453-2366 or go to www.OneWorldLibraryProject.org.