View more photos of the VISTA Program in Guam entry here.

Focused on community development

Fifteen VISTA volunteers came to Guam 12 November 1967 on Pan American Airlines with the general goal of assisting with community development. The volunteers were recruited from across the United States to serve a one year contract. They were sponsored by the Guam Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).  Twelve of them had prior VISTA experience. In all, there were five men and 10 women, including three married couples, with ages ranging from 19 to 61.

VISTA, the acronym for Volunteers in Service to America, was often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps, an idea originated by President John F. Kennedy. Volunteers were recruited and trained to work in OEO programs in low-income communities. Guam volunteers were expected to organize a local volunteer corps and serve in community development.

The federal OEO was established in 1964 to administer President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty programs, including Head Start, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Job Corps, Job Development and Pre-Job Training, and VISTA. It was estimated that there were about 20 percent of Americans in poverty at that time.

The main Guam OEO headquarters was in Hagåtña with funding beginning in 1965. Judge Joaquin C. Perez served as the first chairman of the Guam office, and George Eustaquio was the commission director.

“I had the pleasure and privilege of writing the initial VISTA proposal for the Guam OEO Commission that was submitted and approved by Washington. The thrust and goal of the program was to provide the disadvantaged communities with outside resources and perspectives that were fresh and youthful. These included establishing community centers, tutoring….and training in English language skills for senior citizens. But above all to refrain from being involved in local politics!” 

G. Eustaquio, GEOC Commission Director

In preparation for their arrival, all of the VISTAs assigned to Guam received two weeks of training at San Francisco State University conducted by retired educators, Maria Ulloa and Joaquin Aflague, who were the first Guamanians that any of the VISTAs met.  

“Their warmth and friendliness provided a wonderful introduction to Guam. Mrs. Ulloa and Mr. Aflague taught us a bit of Chamorro language, history and culture which included learning to sing “Nobia Cajulo” and “Nihi Tafan Hanan Tafan Picnik”, and Mrs. Ulloa told us that she was part taotaomo’na and explained what that meant.”

D. Wood, VISTA volunteer

“I still smile when I remember Mr. Aflague’s twist on an American adage, “Don’t throw stones at glass houses.” 

C Shaprio, VISTA volunteer

Fury saved a letter written by Ulloa in reply to a “thank you” letter from the Hågat VISTAs. She had words of encouragement for the volunteers along with interjecting some humor about finding a special someone in Guam.

Arrival in Guam

From California, the volunteers traveled to Hawai’i for a two day stop-over to meet with the regional VISTA supervisor, Bill Sutkus, and then on to Guam after a refueling stop on Midway Island. Guam was preparing for Typhoon Gilda at the time and local OEO officials had not expected their arrival. The volunteers were shuttled off to typhoon shelters such as churches and vacant housing. 

No one was at the airport to meet the volunteers, according to C. Shapiro, one of the volunteers. Eventually a bus came and delivered  them to various safe places to ride out the storm. After three days Shapiro and her husband were taken to a vacant house and then to the Sinajana Service Center.

“We spent our first three days scattered around the island in safe places eating K rations and hoping the roof wouldn’t blow off. Because Typhoon Karen had decimated the island just five years earlier, Guamanians took this typhoon, which fortunately missed the island, very seriously.”

D. Wood, VISTA volunteer

After the storm passed, the volunteers received their assignments to one of six different area OEO centers headquartered in the villages of Tamuning, Dededo, Sinajana, Yona, Hågat, and Inalåhan. Some volunteers initially stayed with families until more permanent housing could be arranged. The Governor and several organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Guam Women’s Club, welcomed the VISTAs and a two week orientation was provided in coordination with the College of Guam and Monsignor Felixberto Flores who provided daily CHamoru language lessons. Frederico Gutierrez, who was the acting VISTA supervisor, was also present. Federal OEO paid for the airfare of the VISTAs to Guam and for their living accommodations. Local OEO funding provided each volunteer with a $50 monthly salary.

The volunteers’ subsistence salary was paid by the federal government referred to as OEO VISTA and was around $200 a month per volunteer. The local contribution for those housed in government facilities lasted about six months. A vehicle for each of the six VISTA locations was also provided by the local office.

The work begins

GEOC carried out job training programs with local government and private business support. The Upward Bound Program was delegated to the College of Guam. At that time the federal government was issuing food commodities and Guam received its share, so one of the activities included assisting with distribution and use of these food products. 

“I remember that cheese was a prized item to receive; however, bulgar, which even I did not know how to use, was probably given to the pigs. Rita Salas, a local nutritionist, developed recipes using the food commodities and would give cooking demonstrations as well.”

K. Fury, VISTA volunteer

 In April 1968, inservice training began for the Community Service Workers at the Area OEO Centers. VISTA volunteers assisted with the training by leading discussions on community action.

A week-long Job Corps camp was held in June 1968 in Malesso’ for 27 boys, ages 16-21, from various villages. The camp, under the direction of Pete Rosario, Guam Recreation Commission, and Albert Topasna of Public Safety, was part of the GEOC Job Development and Pre-Job Training Program and served as a mechanism to select 12 local youths to attend Job Corps training in Hawai’i. VISTA volunteers who were nurses staffed the camp’s first aid station. 

The VISTAs helped to recruit volunteers into the VISTA program in cooperation with Dean of Students, Jack Guerrero, College of Guam, and worked with Francine Malkin, Youth Activities Coordinator of the Governor’s Committee on Children and Youth, to provide a four day summer camp in Malesso’, Yona, Barrigada, and Dededo. In addition to these day camps, the All-Island Youth Association and EOC area centers sponsored “Summer 68” which held dances and other youth activities.

The VISTA activities varied depending on the direction of the area OEO director and community needs. Common to all areas was the need to address student academic performance. As early as December 1967, an islandwide tutorial program started which focused on the recruitment of tutors to help students with academic subjects and study skills. All VISTAs were involved in this effort. 

Every area expressed the need for helping boys and girls who were on the verge of dropping out of school. The program needed as many tutors as it could possibly get.

Area OEO Centers

Four VISTAs were assigned to the Hågat Area Opportunity Center which was responsible for the villages of Humåtak, Hågat, Sånta Rita-Sumai, Piti, and Asan. Center Director, Jose Nededog, and Deputy Director, Lloyd Umagat, provided administrative guidance. In the course of one year, VISTAs organized youth activities such as basketball and dances; started a “Tiny Tots” pre-school program for four and five year olds in Sånta Rita-Sumai with the help of village mothers; conducted sewing classes; introduced Girl Scouts in the villages of Humåtak, Hågat, and Piti; started first aid classes; organized art classes, one at the Guam Penitentiary; surveyed health needs and taught prenatal and health classes; recruited tutors and provided tutoring for students. 

The Center staff published a newsletter called The Community Organ which always stated the Center’s motto of “Togetherness + Effort = Progress,” gave a report of activities, and invited participation from the community.

Three VISTA volunteers were assigned to the Tamuning Area Opportunity Center, which also covered the villages of Barrigada and Hagåtña. The Tamuning center director was Moses Sam and the assistant director was Manuel Castro. The VISTAs had the added opportunity to be in contact with the main OEO office as well as working on community projects.

The primary efforts of the Tamuning VISTAs were focused on organizing an evening study hall for children at St. Anthony’s Church, recruiting high school students and adults to tutor elementary school students, working with youth and the Tamuning Commissioner to build a palapala, organizing a three-month summer activities program, working with Girl Scouts, and organizing community meetings for parents to voice concerns about the lack of a suitable building for the Tamuning Headstart program. The parents eventually built a simple but adequate building themselves. 

“Part way through the year, we (the volunteers at one of the centers) had a crisis of confidence and conscience when we began to wonder whether our work, as “outsiders” was helpful or hurtful to Guam. A consultation with Msgr. (later Bishop) Felixberto Flores somewhat relieved our doubts.”

D. Wood, VISTA volunteer

“All and all, it has been the parents, the youth, the children, and members of the community of Tamuning that I have worked with that have made my VISTA experience here worthwhile…’Guam is Good’.”

C. Carter, VISTA volunteer 

The two VISTAs assigned to the Inalåhan Area Opportunity Center focused on a preschool program for four year olds and arts and crafts. They taught English skills to 120 children which then supported the request to fund a Head Start Program for the village. 

“There was a new public health clinic in the village. I think I was the first patient after getting a wound from a fall on the coral reef. As a nurse, I occasionally helped out at the clinic.”

C. Kuehne, VISTA volunteer 

The Sinajana Center was assigned two VISTAs with prior VISTA experience. In addition to supporting the Center’s programs such as Headstart and tutoring, other activities were undertaken. 

“I taught sewing classes to young girls and we held study halls in the local church. My favorite project was helping third graders with reading vocabulary and then extending this to first and second graders.”

C. Shapiro, VISTA volunteer 

“I was recruited to coach the local Catholic junior high school basketball team resulting in some improvement. Someone must have heard I was a graduate of UCLA, a school with recent success in NCAA tournaments, and assumed I could coach. Having prior summer camp counseling experience, I served as a consultant to the Parks and Recreation Department and provided written materials about planned program activities and guidance for an island-wide day camp program.”

R. Shapiro, VISTA volunteer 

The Yona Center VISTAs were involved with tutoring students in the 1st through 5th grades, setting up a youth organization, and introducing agricultural programs such as gardening, chicken raising and egg production.

Ideally, VISTAs got people involved in addressing their own needs as the volunteers were not going to be in Guam forever. They wanted to get the people to carry on their own programs. However, observations and recommendations were made by the volunteers.

Education was the topic that was given the most attention. During an interview of VISTAs in May 1968 by Joe Murphy, editor of the Guam Daily News, several VISTAs expressed their frustration with lack of progress and emphasized the importance of improving education in Guam. 

Suggestions included the use of bilingual teachers, orientation to the local culture for contract teachers, and introduction of a kindergarten program. As a follow-up to this interview, three news articles were written by several VISTAs which focused on education and emphasized the need for improving parent-teacher interaction, increasing the number of local teachers, and teaching CHamoru language and culture.

A letter writer wrote in the October 1967 Guam Daily News, that It might be interesting to watch what happens when VISTA arrives. The writer said it should be a unique experience for Guam to have 15 enthusiastic volunteers in Guam but that the writer didn’t anticipate huge cultural changes would occur. They won’t eliminate fiestas or other CHamoru customs, the writer said, but they may help institute some changes.

At a VISTA conference held in Saipan along with Peace Corps volunteers, a common thread in the conversations was that the volunteers were probably going to be as much or more impacted by their service time than the local populations. The volunteers found that to be true over the years.

 “From what I’ve been told by people familiar with the program, the VISTA volunteers learned more about the Guam culture and more than the village people learned about the American way of life!”

George Eustaquio, Commission Director

The question remains as to what impact the VISTA program had in Guam. Not all of the Guam VISTAs completed a full year in Guam. Starting in July 1968 some started leaving due to personal reasons, job reassignment, or discouragement and frustration. It was not unusual that in many VISTA projects there are tensions between VISTAs and sponsoring agencies. Almost from the beginning of their work, the volunteers and the local Advisory Council had different understandings of the role of VISTA volunteers.

Regardless of these issues, Guam OEO determined that more VISTAs would be sponsored but with better delineated roles. Therefore, when the second group of six VISTAs arrived in February 1969, they were assigned to work in pairs on three different teams addressing health, jobs, and education. 

Lessons learned by the VISTA volunteers 

For the 15 Guam VISTAs themselves, it was a learning experience that was most appreciated and which cultivated some life-long friendships. Five of the Guam VISTAs provided the following memories of both meaningful and humorous “lessons learned”. 

  • “Guam time” is at least one hour later than the scheduled time.
  • How to have a less rigid attitude toward punctuality. 
  • Maintaining motivation throughout the day in 90 degree heat and in the classrooms with no air conditioning. With practice, motivation and a desire to serve, it became normal.
  • Recognizing that the Guamanians that we were teaching, taught so much about patience, living on an island and the love for geckos. They said if the geckos vocalize when you are speaking, that means they are confirming the truth in what you are saying. 
  • How to make CHamoru kelaguen, and a marinade and a sauce (Fina’deni) you can put over rice. 
  • Don’t wash the Toyota jeep in the ocean.
  • You can’t leash a gecko to your bed to catch the mosquitoes. Geckos can die from fright.
  • Toads pop when you drive over them.
  • Guam roads are like ice after a rain. 
  • Bugs seem to be everywhere – and it’s okay.
  • Because of Guam’s high rainfall, we packed raincoats and rain boots only to find out they were not needed. 
  • Being awakened at 6:30 am daily by the B-52s returning to Andersen Air Force Base after making their bombing runs over Viet Nam was a reminder there was a war going on.
  • Feeling a sense of distance and disquiet upon learning that Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated and the chaos that prevailed in the US at that time. 

VISTAs and assigned areas

  • Hågat Area OEO Center (Agat, Asan, Piti, Santa Rita, Umatac) Elaine Barr, Karen Fury, Theresa Suleyman, Melvin Tyler 
  • Dededo Area OEO Center (Yigo, Dededo) Stephen and Barbara Gillaspy 
  • Inalåhan Area OEO Center Inalåhan, Malesso, Talofo’fo) Jean Garner, Carol Kuehne 
  • Sinajana Area OEO Center (Agana Heights, Chalan Pago-Ordot, Sinajana) Robert and Carole Shapiro 
  • Tamuning Area OEO Center (Hagåtña, Barrigada, Mongmong-Toto-Maite, Tamuning) Sharen Burns, Carole Carter, David Wood 
  • Yona Area OEO Center (Mangilao, Yona) Claude and Lillian Bishop 

By Karen Fury Cruz

Editor’s note: Several Guam VISTAs assisted in writing this article. They are David Wood, Robert and Carole Shapiro, Theresa Suleyman Coleman, Carol Kuehne Sutkus, Carole Carter Golda. Other contributors were Bill Sutkus and George Eustaquio. 

For further reading

Carter, C. “Voice of People.” Guam Daily News, 1 October 1968.

Fury, Karen, Carol Kuehne, and David Wood. “VISTA Volunteers Look at Education.” Guam Daily News, 8 August 1968.

–––”VISTA’s Report: ‘Teachers Should Learn Guam’s Culture.'” Guam Daily News, 10 August 1968.

––”VISTA Workers View Local Education.”Guam Daily News, 13 August 1968.

Guam Daily News. “VISTA Volunteers Coming Here.” 6 October 1967.

–––”VISTA Comes to Guam.” 7 October 1967.

–––”VISTA Volunteers to Arrive on Sunday.” 8 November 1967.

–––”Older Couple Enjoys Working in Guam on VISTA Projects.” 20 December 1967.

–––”VISTA Needs Tutorial Assistance.” 28 December 1967.

–––”Tutoring Sessions Start at Yona Under VISTA Volunteer Program.” 13 February 1968.

–––”For Community Workers: EOC Conducts In-Service Training.” 24 April 1968.

–––”VISTA Volunteers to be Recruited Here on Guam.” 27 April 1968.

–––”Forty Youths to Begin Camp Work in Merizo.” 7 June 1968.

–––”Boys Undergo EOC’s Summer Job Corps Camp.” 25 June 1968.

–––”Summer ’68 is a Barrel of Fun for Guam Youths.” 7 July 1968.

Laughlin, Laurie. “VISTA Volunteers are Now Ready to Put Program into High Gear.” Guam Daily News, 29 November 1967.

Murphy, Joe. VISTA Volunteers Report: ‘The Boat Needs Rocking’.” Guam Daily News, 22 May 1968.

Wikipedia. “AmeriCorps VISTA.” Last modified 22 February 2022.

–––War on Poverty.” Last modified 6 March 2022.