Nearly 20 years have passed since Dave D'Amore landed with his Peace Corps cohort in Mali with hopes of making the world a better place.
When he takes time to reflect, the 46-year-old soil scientist can clearly recall Mali's surreal landscape, beautiful artwork and desert sands. It was in this predominately Muslim country about two times the size of Texas that D'Amore was an agroforestry volunteer and trainer from 1986 to 1990.
D'Amore said recollections of mud huts, vibrant wardrobes and village gatherings sometimes dominate his memories of those four years. Little outward similarity can be found in the beauty of Juneau's rugged, snow-covered peaks and Mali's vast desert landscape. But D'Amore, a New Jersey native, has discovered a sense of community here that he found in his Francophone West African village.
"I lived in a farming village with animists, Muslims and Christians," D'Amore said. "We operated as a team there and I see the same sense of community involvement here."
After receiving a degree in international relations from the University of Virginia, D'Amore acknowledged he just wanted to get into business and make "a bunch of money." But his yearning to see the world and make a difference led him to volunteer. He joined a group of 40 other Americans he described as a "sort of family."
total number of volunteers who have served: about 182,000.
established: march 1, 1961.
total countries served: 138.
current number of volunteers and trainees: 7,810.
toll-free recruitment number: (800) 424-8580.
D'Amore's first government assignment in Mali was to establish a tree plantation. In 1986 the Peace Corps planted trees everywhere in Mali with little care for whether they were native to the area, which D'Amore cited as an issue that needed to be resolved. The solution was to move away from invasive species, he said.
"This was just another government quest for a fast fix with little regard to the ecological ramifications," he said. "These types of lessons from past mistakes I apply to my work in the Southeast."
D'Amore said he is sometimes haunted with dreams of rediscovering long-lost Malian friends, but the hopes have faded with time and distance. He has no regrets that his responsibilities as a researcher, father and husband do not allow him the time or energy to fly across the world, he said.
"The biggest impact (of the Peace Corps) may be the returned volunteers who quietly bring their world knowledge back home," D'Amore said. "They have a broad understanding of the world that we need here."
D'Amore adjusted to the needs of Peace Corps Mali and became the only volunteer to exclusively focus on soils. His success as a volunteer led him to be appointed trainer from 1988 to 1990. He later went on to receive a master's degree in soil science from Oregon State University.
D'Amore is the only research soil scientist covering Oregon, Washington and Alaska for the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station Research Lab. He said he often works with a team of researchers and tries to instill the same team values used by Peace Corps volunteers and villagers.
"Peace Corps is the best-kept secret in the country," D'Amore said. "It is a great opportunity to learn and teach."