Serving the Peace Corps in El Salvador in 2008-10 was truly a life-changing experience for Kylie and Jacob Rieke of rural Fairfax.
“It was in El Salvador where we realized we liked living in rural communities.” said Jacob. “After our two-year commitment, we decided to go home to join the farm.”
Kylie, who grew up near Bernadotte, and Jacob, who grew up south of Fairfax, met at Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop High School.
After Kylie earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Augsburg University in Minneapolis and Jacob earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from St. Hamline University in St. Petersburg. Paul, they decided to join the Peace Corps.
“It was something we always talked about doing (in college) and we wanted to do it. We knew it would be a great life experience,” said Jacob. “It’s a tough experience, but you get out of it and you’re ready for life. You don’t have much fear after spending two years abroad like that. “
El Salvador is a relatively poor developing country with volcanoes, beaches, coffee farms, great surfing and stunning scenery. The dollar is the legal currency and English is commonly spoken.
Transportation can be a challenge.
“It really expands your protection and gives you a boost of confidence,” added Jacob.
“It also gives you a sense of satisfaction to be at home,” said Kylie.
“We live on $ 300 a month down there, but it was a lot of money,” said Jacob. “It was hard, but it was one of the happiest moments of my life. We were in the countryside, near the border with Honduras, away from the big cities.”
Rieke said there is gang violence in El Salvador, but it mostly occurs between the same gangs and in larger cities.
“There we worked in rural health and sanitation,” said Jacob. “Some of our main goals were to impress people by washing their hands, keeping food and bathing areas clean. Kylie did a lot of art with the people there.”
The Riekes set up a school computer room, clinics, and improved efficiency stoves for people, so they didn’t have to breathe so much smoke while cooking.
Kylie taught art classes and painted several murals in El Salvador.
Back home, on a family farm that was established about 150 years ago, the Riekes stay busy producing corn, beans and pigs. They are also busy with other things.
Jacob is the chairman of the RS Fiber Cooperative Board. He started as a volunteer for the project in 2010, helping cities promote the project.
In 2018, he was accepted into Minnesota’s agricultural rural leadership program. With MARL, he has attended many seminars in Minnesota, as well as seminars in Washington, DC, and a series of two-week seminars in Cambodia and Taiwan.
Jacob is running for the District 2 seat of the Renville County Board this fall.
Kylie works as a production potter and is a founding member of GFW’s T-Bird Community Arts Board. She has participated in community art shows and volunteered for art projects as much as she could, winning regional and state art scholarships.
“Handmade and functional pottery is especially unique, because you interact with it continuously.” Kylie added. “There’s something really satisfying and remarkable about using handmade dishes. I love bringing vibrant colors to places that were once boring and boring. Large murals can completely change how you feel inside a space. They can add meaning and much needed beauty in our lives. “
His pottery is available at The Grand Center for Arts and Culture and the New Ulm Community Market and Co-op.
Kylie plays Maria in the summer musical T-Bird Community Arts “The sound of music.” Her daughter, Avery, 12, plays Brigitta in the music. He also plays the violin and Maya, 10, plays the cello. Participate in the New Ulm Suzuki School of Music.