Interview SummaryLarry Zensen served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (Community Economic Development) in Ecuador from 1973 to 1975. Born and raised in Oakland, California, Larry graduated from St. Mary’s College of California. After working for a few years in his father’s print shop, Larry decided it was time to challenge himself. He credits his mentoring conversation with a former professor at St. Mary’s College and his picking up an information packet from campus Peace Corps recruiters as his catalysts for joining the Peace Corps. Larry was accepted and assigned to Ecuador. Larry’s group of new Peace Corps Volunteers spent 3-4 days staging in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There they met Volunteers currently serving in Ecuador and completed numerous vaccinations before flying to Ecuador’s capital Quito for Peace Corps administrative days and to acclimate to the 10,000’ altitude. From Ecuadorian nationals, Larry’s group received 90 days of Spanish language, culture, and general job training. The new Volunteers lived with host families; Larry’s host family had five children. On his first weekend there, the older children took Larry to a party. There, he met the Ecuadorian woman he would marry a few months later. Larry’s first assignment, based in Cuenca, Ecuador, was to help the Ecuadorian host agency CREA [Centro de Reconversión Económica del Azuay) organize a “colonization” project in the Amazon River basin region (El Oriente). Its goal was to foster agricultural development in the region by creating “colonies” (settlements) of 12-15 Ecuadorian farming families from the rural sierra region (mountain) areas. In a settlement, each family would receive title to a cleared parcel of land to farm and raise livestock (10 hectares). Peace Corps Volunteers were the face of this project, communicating status and details with the incoming families. Unfortunately, the host agency overpromised, and tensions rose. For security reasons, Peace Corps closed the project. So Larry was transferred to a second Community Development project - a School Partnership Program in mountainous Cañar Province. This was a provincial government school construction project in very remote areas, accessible only by horseback or hiking. Larry described the setting as “cold and mud.” Each school had two rooms built of cinder block, a tin roof, but no electricity. The estimated cost per school was$2,500 USD. Larry’s job was to survey the site and hold community meetings to determine school needs and each community’s ability to contribute labor, project supervision, and furniture. Larry consulted with Peace Corps Volunteer architects and engineers in Cuenca about each site’s needs. Next, Larry wrote proposals for Peace Corps to send to U.S. public elementary schools, asking them to partner with an Ecuadorian community and raise money to build their new school. Larry would then coordinate securing and delivering building materials for the new community school. He recalled the scene when a community would celebrate its new school building as “massive appreciation.” After his Peace Corps service, Larry and his wife and family returned to Napa Valley, California, where Larry served for seven years as Executive Director of a nonprofit alcoholism treatment center. As a direct result of his Peace Corps experience in Ecuador, Larry added new services for Spanish-speaking clients. In December 1981, Larry and his family returned to live in Ecuador - it felt “magic” to them. Larry worked in Ecuador for 30 years in marketing and banking for U.S. companies in Latin America. Now retired in Florida, Larry remains in touch with three good friends from his Peace Corps/Ecuador group. In reflecting on the impact of his Peace Corps service for himself, he says “Peace Corps changed my life.” He feels he “did something important for someone else/for the kids.” He also thinks about President Kennedy’s idea that the most important thing Peace Corps Volunteers bring back is an understanding of other cultures to share within the U.S. Larry has been looking for a way to communicate that understanding of the sense of community and common purpose when building schools in Ecuador, and that’s why he decided to share this oral history.