Jerry and Betty Pasela meet and marry while in the Peace Corps
The couple then lived in five different countries, returning to Little Falls in 1987
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Jerry Pasela met his wife, then Betty Ring, while training for his second stint in the Peace Corps. He was from rural Ohio, she was from Little Falls. She had just joined for the first time.
“I had decided to rejoin the Peace Corps in 1966, and was training in Dartmouth, N.H. when I met Betty,” said Jerry. “We were both learning French since we were being sent to Togo, West Africa.”
Jerry said they got to know each other well during their training.
“She made me fall for her because she kept sharing her candy bars with me,” he said.
From there, Betty went to Florida for field training and Jerry went straight to Togo, his second time in Africa.
The two were stationed close to each other, Jerry in the provincial capital of Lama Kara and Betty in Landa. He proposed to her on the beach about nine months after they met and they were married in Togo in September 1967.
When the Peace Corps was first created by Pres. John F. Kennedy in 1961, Jerry joined right away. He had been in the service from 1959-1961, and after a year at home doing odd jobs here and there, he decided to give it a try.
“When I was in fifth grade, I read a book by Osa Johnson called ‘I Married Adventure.’ It was all about Africa and the seed was planted,” he said.
“I joined because I wanted to explore. I found out Africa wasn’t just a country. It is all about the people.”
He received his first training in the Peace Corps at the University of Maine. From there he was sent to Sierra Leone, West Africa, the first rural development program in any country by the Peace Corps.
No materials were supplied for any of the projects, the Peace Corps only assisted in language, cultural and technical training. The materials were donated for the projects by CARE, the relief organization begun in 1945 by Pres. Harry Truman.
“CARE supplied vehicles, flatbed trucks and well drilling equipment,” said Jerry. “It was our job to provide fresh, clean water for the villages in the Port Loko region. We either improved the existing systems, drilled wells or installed cisterns to catch some of the 108 inches of rain that fell each year.”
Jerry said that water is still a problem in Africa. Children die of dehydration at a high rate in the tropical regions of developing nations due to non-potable water.
“Our team members were pioneers,” said Jerry. “We created the programs that are now being used.”
In 1964, Jerry came home and returned to school, taking pre-med courses before rejoining the Peace Corps.
While in Togo, Betty, a registered nurse, administered diptheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus shots. She also taught about nutrition and sanitation.
“So many children were dying of malaria and measles,” she said.
Jerry worked again in rural development, building concrete bridges on feeder roads that helped local farmers get their crops to market. They also built a windmill and a honey processing house.
“We were there to assist the people,” said Jerry. “They would identify their problems and we helped them find solutions.”
The local people were taught how to plow with oxen. The farmers were taught how to train the animals and the blacksmiths were taught how to make the plows. They in turn, taught others.
“This was a giant leap forward for these people. They were being taught how to solve their own problems and to help themselves,” said Jerry.
The people of Lama Kara were also taught how to make the cin-va-ram block for construction. Developed by an engineer, the blocks are made from 10 percent cement and 90 percent moist local soil. With a roof overhead and paint for protection, the blocks could last forever.
In 1968, Betty and Jerry returned to the United States, settling in Ohio so Jerry could finish college. Jerry got his bachelor’s degree in English literature and then a master’s degree in African studies.
In 1971, the Peace Corps called and he went to Chad as the associate director. Betty also went along. There he worked with farmers installing wells for water, teaching irrigation farming, reforestation and introducing oxen to farming practices. They were there for 18 months.
From 1972-78, the Paselas worked in Benin (then called Dahomey). Jerry’s new title was the associate director for rural development. He tackled many of the same projects he had done in Sierra Leone, Togo and Chad.
“One of the big projects was alleviating the grain storage infestation of bugs and rodents,” he said. “We introduced cement block silos and grain-drying platforms to the villages. These were easy techniques the people of Benin could afford to put together, especially since it increased production by 90 percent.”
When oxen were introduced into the farmers’ lives, production was increased even more.
Betty returned home in 1975 to have their first child, Sarah. She returned to Benin a couple of weeks later.
“In 1976, there was a coup and the Benin government changed to a Marxist/Leninist dictatorship. The country’s name changed to the Peoples Republic of Benin,” said Jerry. “This had a negative impact on volunteer activities for the United States was seen as the problem, not the solution.”
Due to the attitude of the government and the danger that grew from that, many of the Peace Corps volunteers left before their tour was finished. And, since the then director’s tour with the Corps was finished, Jerry was named the new director.
“During that time, the program in Benin was in a holding mode. It was becoming difficult to keep it going,” said Jerry. “Betty and I were under house arrest for three months and we had limited access to the other volunteers after the phones were shut off.”
Jerry said that he finally was able to meet with the Minister of the Interior. He appealed to the minister’s better judgement about what the government was doing to hamper the efforts of the Peace Corps. He finally received a travel permit and got the phones turned on.
The Peace Corps has a five-year limit of volunteering for its staff members, so Betty and Jerry had to leave Benin in 1978. They had been there longer than five years due to the government coup.
In 1978, Jerry and Betty had their second child, Christopher.
For two years, Jerry worked at St. John’s University as the director of annual funding. Then, Save the Children called the Pasellas in 1980, to go to Burkina Faso (previously called the Upper Volta). They were asked to help with rural development.
“We again had the villagers identify their problems, then showed them how to alleviate each one. We helped them help themselves,” said Jerry.
The Save the Children team worked in 15 villages for five years, all centered around the provincial capital of Dori.They helped improve grain storage, created community gardens and stores in the small towns. They also improved local hygiene, assisted in generating income for women and began an adult literacy program for 30 adults.
“One man told me that before the intense class in the Fulda language, the world controlled him. Now he controlled his world,” said Jerry.
The four Pasellas came home for a very short time. In 1985, they were again called by the Peace Corps to go to Guinea West Africa to set up another program. They lived there for two years.
“In 1964, the Peace Corps had been kicked out of Guinea for political reasons. They wanted me to return and re-establish a program,” said Jerry.
Betty taught primary health education and Jerry helped in reforestation efforts and agro-forestry.
“We showed the farmers how to plant rows of fast-growing trees between rows of crops. After the trees had been growing five years, they would be cut for fuel, posts or buildings. More trees would be planted where the crops had been and the crops were planted in place of the cut trees,” said Jerry. “It was a form of crop rotation.”
During their time in Africa, Betty worked as a Peace Corps nurse, an embassy nurse in Burkino Faso, a medical officer and a maternal/child social center worker. She also worked with Medivac and emergency services.
While she went to Africa each time Jerry was called, Betty didn’t always work with the Peace Corps. But, she always found a job in the health care field. She was also a member of school boards at the International Schools in Burkino Faso and Guinea. After returning home, Betty was a 12-year school board member in the Little Falls District.
“I appreciate the resilience and wonder of the people of West Africa. They overcome so much adversity and still love life and others,” she said.
Jerry said, “We are all different, but are the same. We all want to see our kids grow, be healthy and have a good life. My biggest joy was seeing the West African people grow and experience their own self development.”
Raising their family in various African countries had its ups and downs. There were constant health worries. The family members did suffer from dysentery and yellow jaundice. Concerns centered mainly around food-, water- or air-born diseases.
The pros in raising their family in Africa were the children learned to appreciate the diversity of humanity and the respect for all people.
“We are also a very close family because of our travels,’’ said Betty.