Ten years after college, Timothy Brennan decided he wanted to put his agricultural knowledge to good use and help others. In 1989, he joined the Peace Corps and after 13 weeks of intensive language, technical and cross-cultural training found himself on the streets of Gualan, Guatemala.
“I heard about the Peace Corps in college. After graduation I decided to stick around and make some money. 10 years later I found myself in the Peace Corps. I learned a lot in those 10 years though that made me a better volunteer than I would have been right out of college,” Brennan said in a phone interview.
Brennan was known as a Livestock Volunteer. He traveled all over Gualan and shared his knowledge of agriculture with the small subsistence farmers. These subsistence farmers only had a small group of livestock, maybe a pig and a couple chickens. Brennan and his colleagues taught the farmers how to do things like worm the animals and castrate the pigs. This brought more value to their livestock if they ever decided to sell them.
“We were working to better the lives of subsistence farmers by helping them improve the care of their livestock,” Brennan said.
Brennan and his colleagues were hoping to create a chain reaction amongst the farmers in Gualan. After they helped a small group of farmers, these farmers would go and help other farmers and hopefully their teachings would reach across the entire country.
“The Peace Corps is not USAID. We worked with individuals, sewing the seeds of change one individual at a time,” Brennan said.
Brennan admitted though that his decision to go into the Peace Corps was not solely focused on his desire to help, but his desire to learn another language as well as another culture. When he was not working, Brennan would travel all over Guatemala learning the trades of the people and the simplicity of their lifestyle.
“You can be very happy without all the petty comforts. You slowly begin to realize that many of the things you feel like you would die without are completely unnecessary,” Brennan said.
Brennan went on to say that these people did not wake up everyday feeling sad because they were poor. In their eyes they aren’t poor. He said it was amazing to see people living in such simplicity and happiness.
Brennan then told a story about a boy who was walking along the beach. The beach that day was covered with starfish as far as the eye could see. One by one the boy was walking along and throwing the starfish back into the ocean.
A man came up next to the boy and said, “You are crazy, kid. There is no way you’re going to be able to save all of these starfish.” The boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it out into the ocean. Then the boy said, “I helped that one at least.”
“The moral of the story is we set out to better the individual farmers with hopes that they would then use this knowledge to help others as well. We just took day by day, one farmer at a time,” Brennan said.