Interview with Barbara Lemaire Connors, June 24, 2023

Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project

Interview Summary

Barbara Connors served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa from 2001-2003 in the Agriculture program. Barbara grew up on a farm in Rhode Island. Her stepsister introduced her to travel, and her Mom taught her to give back to her community. She attended college at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York USA where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in photojournalism. In college, Barbara volunteered in a new inner city culture of Rochester, NY through a youth group community feeding program and at a men’s homeless shelter. In her junior year, Barbara decided to apply for the Peace Corps because it combined her love of travel and doing community service across cultures. In her senior year, Barbara accepted a Peace Corps assignment in Agriculture in Guinea, West Africa. Then September 11, 2001 happened just before her departure date for Peace Corps training. Barbara and her family discussed her assignment to Guinea, a predominantly Muslim country, but they decided 9/11 would not deter her from going. After a brief orientation in Philadelphia, PA USA , her training group of 27 traveled to in-country training in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. During the first few days, Peace Corps staff assisted the new volunteers with acclimating to Guinea. Next, her training group moved into two smaller training villages about 45 minutes outside Conakry. Barbara, an agro-forestry volunteer, went to the smaller training village. She spent three months there with her host family learning daily living skills. Host country nationals and Peace Corps training staff also conducted French language and technical training for her group. Near the end of training, Barbara received her assignment to the remote village of Gongoret Mamou in Fouta Djallon, a mountainous region of west-central Guinea. The region and her village are mainly inhabited by the Fulani ethnic group who speak the Pular language and are primarily Muslims. A current Peace Corps volunteer, who lived closest to Barbara’s assigned village took Barbara on a weekend site visit and introduced her to village elders. While there, she met Diakwane, a young man from the village who became an extremely helpful counterpart for her community work. Each day, Barbara walked around her village to greet her neighbors. She also set a weekly schedule and bicycled to nearby villages to meet other Guineans to gather community-driven needs. She met village people where they were: in a women’s gardening group, in a tree planting group, and students and teachers in the village with a high school, where she used Peace Corps health resources to teach about basic healthcare and HIV AIDS. Her visits resulted in villagers prioritizing two actions: tree restoration and improved nutrition through egg production. Villagers committed materials and labor to each project, and Barbara successfully wrote grants to secure funding for Grow Bags for tree seedlings, materials for building chicken coops, and training in how to raise chickens. Barbara saw herself as a conduit for information and resources, and she was always there on community workdays to lend a helping hand. Barbara occasionally left her village on a weekend to visit the nearby city of Mamou, and she made friends at the Peace Corps volunteer regional house there. They would do “city things” like going out for fun. She enjoyed the occasional change of pace from her village life. Twice, she attended the annual countrywide Girls Conference sponsored by Peace Corps. The program supported Peace Corps Volunteers in bringing girls from their local schools to Conakry for the weekend for workshops and networking that encouraged girls to stay in school. After completing her two years of Peace Corps service, Barbara took a yearlong COS (Close of Service) trip with two friends and traveled around the world. With the trip over, and after a brief stop in Los Angeles, Barbara rode a bus back home to Rhode Island. She worked with her father for about a year, and then she traveled again, this time back to Guinea to check in and say hello. This was followed by a short volunteer engagement through Florida A&M University in agroforestry work and education in Cape Town, South Africa. She returned to Connecticut, USA to help her grandmother sell her house and move into an apartment. Barbara started her own family with her husband and two sons, and she moved her grandmother into their home as well. Barbara sees her caregiving choices as firmly grounded in the value the Fulani people from her village in Guinea placed on taking care of their families and communities. Barbara and her family now live in Windsor in western Massachusetts. Barbara works remotely doing marketing for an insurance company. Barbara finds Windsor to be like her Guinea village. It is small (population 900) and quiet (on a mountaintop). People there have a strong sense of community which Barbara and her husband have joined in sharing. They are both involved in town committees like the Parks and Recreation Committee, which recently installed a new $80,000 playground. Barbara noticed that the playground brings community members together for other activities – it is having the same community bonding effect that her community tree planting days did in Guinea. Barbara keeps up her Peace Corps connections. Using technology, she communicates with Guinea volunteers who are now all over the world, and she visits virtually with friends and family in her Guinean village. Sadly, her counterpart Diakwane passed away unexpectedly 10 years ago. He was married and had a daughter, whom he named Kiadiatou after Barbara, using her Guinean name. Barbara pays the annual school for Diakwane’s daughter because, she says, “ $400 a year can change a life.” Barbara believes Peace Corps service is a special opportunity to be welcomed into a community by people who are different from you. Your job is to: Learn. Absorb. Grow. Give Back.

Interview Accession


Interviewee Name

Barbara Lemaire Connors

Interviewer Name

Kathleen Kathy Beckman

Interview Date


Interview Keyword

Peace Corps (U.S.) Guinea (Country of service) 2001-2003 (Date of service) Peace Corps Volunteer Job: Agriculture Program Rhode Island, USA (State where volunteer grew up) Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Rochester, New York USA (Volunteer’s college) Bachelor of Fine Arts (Volunteer’s college degree) photojournalism (Volunteer’s college major) September 11, 2001 Philadelphia, PA USA (Peace Corps orientation) Conakry (capital of Guinea) training village host family host country nationals French (Language) Gongoret Mamou (Volunteer’s village) Fouta Djallon (Volunteer’s location in mountainous region of west-central Guinea) Fulani (main ethnic group in Volunteer’s village and region) Pular (Language of Fulani ethnic group) Muslims (Most people in Volunteer’s village) Diakwane (Volunteer’s helpful counterpart for community work) bicycle (Volunteer’s transportation, issued by Peace Corps) Peace Corps health resources HIV AIDS education tree restoration improved nutrition through egg production Grow Bags (for tree seedlings) chicken coops training in how to raise chickens Mamou (city in Guinea near Volunteer’s village) Peace Corps-sponsored annual Girls Conference COS (Close of Service) Florida A&M University (agro-forestry research project in Cape Town, South Africa) Connecticut, USA (grandmother’s home) caregiving choices for grandmother Windsor, Massachusetts USA (State where Volunteer lives with her family) Parks and Recreation Committee (Volunteer’s community service method in Windsor, MA) $80,000 community playground Kiadiatou (Barbara’s Guinean name) school fees (for Diakwane’s daughter) Learn. Absorb. Grow. Give Back. (Barbara’s Peace Corps service mantra)

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Connors, Barbara Lemaire Interview by Kathleen Kathy Beckman. 24 Jun. 2023. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

Connors, B.L. (2023, June 24). 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.

Connors, Barbara Lemaire, interview by Kathleen Kathy Beckman. June 24, 2023, 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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