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Beth Crawford
Gregory Garbinsky
Keith Cressman

Dennis Latimer: working in Honduras

Dennis Latimer graduated in 1981 from Washington State University in agriculture. He was recruited for a mission in Honduras and then went on to work as a Peace Corps recruiter and coordinator in Latin America for many years. He now works at FAO headquarters in Rome, as Operations Officer for TCEO, Africa Desk.

I grew up in Costa Rica and in the United States with a Peruvian mother so Latin American culture is part of my background. I joined the Peace Corps because it sounded like an interesting experience which would also allow me to return to Latin America. When I told my mother I had joined, she reminded me how she used to take me as a child to evening English classes held by a Peace Corps volunteer teacher in our small town of Arequipa, Peru.

My daily routine
I was assigned to a small village in Honduras to work on an agricultural project that would introduce farmers to the procedures of artificial insemination for cattle. We would teach the farmers how they should improve their breeds and how in turn that would increase the production of milk and beef. It was a time of reaction against the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s when everything was imported from the United States, including hybrid crops and pure-bred animal species that could not survive in countries like Central America. In the mid 1980s agriculture adopted a bottom up approach, using farming system methodology and helping improve agricultural production through local knowledge. Every day, I would visit farmers, do the inseminating rounds for the cattle, conduct animal health or nutritional campaigns, have a break for lunch and then go to the office to write reports. Life was simple, there was no electricity, phone calls were possible only through a distant phone centre and contact with the world was the odd Newsweek magazine in the post. You had to boil and peel everything you ate, although for me that was a familiar habit since my mother used to do the same in Peru and as matter of fact she still does now in the United States.

The highlights
I fell in love with Honduras. The country was a tropical paradise full of colourful parrots, iguanas and amazing wildlife. I enjoyed going to the Mayan ruins of Copan, in Western Honduras and doing things like swimming in the river. But it was also a difficult time because the whole of Central America was in political turmoil. There was a civil war both in Salvador and Guatemala and the United States was conducting covert operations in Nicaragua. You had to be really careful, for example crossing borders or wandering to off-limits areas at night.

How my career took off
In 1985, I landed a job as a recruiter for the Miami Peace Corps office. However, I wanted to pursue a career in international development so I went back to school for a Masters in Agribusiness in Arizona State University. While I was studying, I worked part-time as a Peace Corps Campus Representative, recruiting other students for volunteer missions. I then returned to Miami as the area manager for the recruitment office of the whole South-East region. When an opportunity arose to return to Honduras as an Associate Peace Corps Director for the agriculture sector I jumped at the chance and got the job. Suddenly, I became the person responsible for the work I had done 10 years before. I was now in charge of 70 volunteers, planning projects, training, conducting community assessments, developing action plans, reviewing reports and liaising with government and host agencies. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch struck, causing widespread damage all across the country. I was asked to set up a Crisis Corps office to deal with the unprecedented emergency. The job wasn't about agriculture anymore, but about restoring water systems, rebuilding schools, cleaning land slides, opening up the roads and even counselling those who were dealing with the grief. It was also very hard for the Crisis Corps volunteers who found themselves returning to familiar villages and having to deal with destruction and the death of Honduran friends. It was a stressful 24/7 job.

Life after Peace Corps
After a year, I left the Crisis Corps job in Honduras and went backpacking in South America to relax. During my travels, I found myself one day in La Paz, Bolivia, sipping my tea at 4 000 metres above sea level, thinking: "I could easily live here". Surprisingly, I soon received an offer from Catholic Relief Services to work on an agribusiness project in La Paz. Two years later, I was posted to Ethiopia where I was involved in what soon became another emergency and rehabilitation job because of a severe drought in that country. Professionally, Ethiopia was incredibly stimulating. Because of the large availability of funds we were able to come up with innovative schemes such as seed fairs for farmers and small scale water systems with multiple uses. In 2004 as my contract was coming to an end I decided I wanted a change and applied for a job at FAO. I am now an Operations Officer in the Emergency Operation Service, with the Africa desk, where I provide administrative support to the country field coordination units.

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