Film: UH Hilo to host showing of documentary on history of the Peace Corps, free and open to the public, Feb 5

The documentary is directed by filmmaker Alana DeJoseph, a former Peace Corp volunteer who will be at Monday’s screening. A Q&A will follow showing of the film.


By Susan Enright.

Alana DeJoseph pictured.
Alana DeJoseph

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo will host a showing of the documentary film, A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps, on Feb. 5, 2024, at the Performing Arts Center, 7:00 p.m. The event is free to the public and no reservations are required.

The documentary is directed by filmmaker Alana DeJoseph, a former Peace Corp volunteer who will be at Monday’s screening. A Q&A will follow showing of the film.

DeJoseph has worked in video and film production for nearly 40 years. She began her career as a 10-year-old actress. Since then, she has worn many hats as producer, director, videographer, and editor, but her heart has always been in documentaries.

In 2013, DeJoseph began working on the first feature documentary about the history of the Peace Corps. On Sept. 22, 2019, the film premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In December 2020, she won the Best Director award in the feature documentary category at the Indo Global International Film Festival in Mumbai.

The Peace Corps and UH Hilo

Su-Mi Lee pictured
Su-Mi Lee

The Peace Corps has historical significance to UH Hilo. Hawaiʻi Island was chosen as a primary training location for thousands of Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s and the university’s precursor—UH-Hilo Branch—contributed greatly to the training program.

Many of those Peace Corp volunteers returned to Hawaiʻi Island to settle down and build their careers, becoming productive members of island communities. UH Hilo political scientist Su-Mi Lee has been collecting biographical stories of those former Peace Corps volunteers and also those who have maintained ties to Hawaiʻi Island.

Lee hopes the collection of stories will be archived at the university’s Mookini Library or possibly published as a book if the project can be extended for the time needed to collect more stories. “For now, we are collecting as many stories as possible.”

Large installation with JFK quote "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Below is a description of the Peace Corps training that took place on Hawaiʻi Island in the 1960s.
The plaque above honors President John F. Kennedy and his creation of the new agency, the Peace Corps, an opportunity for Americans to serve their country and the world. Hawaiʻi Island was chosen as a primary training location for thousands of Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s and the university’s precursor—University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo Branch—contributed greatly to that training. The plaque was originally placed at the Hawaiʻi Island Peace Corps Training Center, located at the Hilo Memorial Hospital, and was later moved to the UH Hilo campus as pictured above. Click photo to enlarge. (Cooper Lund/UH Hilo Stories)

The toughest job you will ever love

Lee says she greatly admires and respects Peace Corps volunteers for their work.

Two men work on laying a cement slab.
Peace Corps volunteer and UH Hilo alumnus Joshua Tarbox (at left) works with members of the village of Manunu, Sāmoa, constructing a fishpond. Read more about how he helped a Samoan village with sustainable fish farming in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

“It is said the Peace Corps assignment is the toughest job you will ever love,” she says. “Peace Corps volunteers come from different parts of the country with different interests and backgrounds, but it seems they share one common trait: a desire to serve the world in the hopes of making the world a better place.”

Lee says many of the volunteers were sent to regions that suffered from political instability, and their assignment got shortened because of major social unrest or even war.

“Some necessities in life that they took for granted, for example running water, might not have been available in the country they were sent to,” Lee explains. “Some were sent to a remote part of a country where they had nobody around them within the 100-mile radius who could speak English.”

“Yet,” she says, “with a full heart, they not only survived but also thrived. That is, they not only completed their assignment but also they were taken as a family member by the host country. That itself is an amazing story to me. It is the ‘We Are the World’ kind of moment. My work related to the Peace Corps is to honor them.”

Lee adds that at times, or at many times, governments do not know how to communicate with each other or work together.

“However, as fellow human beings, we seem to share more similarities than differences, which can bond us together. As we engage in more people-to-people interactions, we may contribute to making the world a bit better place, although we may not end wars for good.”

Related story

UH Hilo political scientist Su-Mi Lee compiles biographies from Peace Corps volunteers with ties to Hawai‘i Island


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.