Very early this morning, Maureen Orth was on Morning Joe. It was a much better opportunity for her to talk about her Peace Corps Post Card Blog and to show some PCVs in China. I’m told by ‘those in positions to know’ that the agency was very helpful in arranging the trip to China, though as an RPCV Maureen and her partner, Susan Koch, were on their own with contributions from American Express, and, I believe, Bank of America. Check out the website: www.PeaceCorpsPostcards.com and this morning’s appearance on NBC Morning Joe. Luckily Joe wasn’t around so Maureen didn’t have to deal with him and his super ego!
Archives for Peace Corps today
Maureen Orth (Colombia 1965-67) will be on tomorrow’s NBC’s Today Show–Wednesday, Feb. 8– supposedly in the 8:30 half hour with videos from China made for www.peacecorpspostcards.com. She will also be on Morning Joe either Thursday or Friday.www.peacecorpspostcards.com
Maureen launched, with her friend Susn Koch this interactive website: www.PeaceCorpsPostcards.com shortly after the 50th celebrations to celebrate the Peace Corps 50th anniversary, and to share the stories of volunteers across the globe. Susan, an award winning filmmaker, and Maureen has produced a series of video postcards that feature PCVs and RPCVs.
With assistance from American Express and the Bank of America there is a website which allows anyone in the Peace Corps community to post his or her story, picture or blog.
Check out these video postcards at www.peacecorpspostcards.com
And watch the Today Show tomorrow morning.
Once again, an RPCV is proving she can get more PR for the Peace Corps than the Peace Corps.gov can get for their Volunteers.
I was forwarded the very fine first edition of the PCV newsletter out of Colombia. New PCVs arrived there a couple months ago. It is called ¿¡Oíste?! In it is a short article I thought was worth reprinting for all of you. It was written by Chance Dorland (great name) about posting a PodCast using the secret name “Peace Corps.” Here’s what Chance Dorland had to say.
The message: Beware of using the “Peace Corps” name for online media, even if you get permission in advance.
As a write this, I’m still brain-storming ways to inform people my website has changed.
“PeaceCorpsPodCast.com” was easy to remember and straight to the point: it’s a web-site about a podcast I record while in the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, as one staff member told me, “your website is a victim of its own success.”
This all is an example of the power Peace Corps has on hand to enforce its rules. As every Volunteer here knows, I’ve promoted my 3rd goal project since the moment we landed. I followed protocol by informing George about not only my podcast name but the EXACT website I would use to post photos, videos and podcasts. I told him I would also use the podcast to communicate with Iowa students through the World Wise Schools program.
With a false sense of security gained by following the rules, I was blown away after getting pulled aside in January and told I needed, in fact was MANDATED by law, to stop using “PeaceCorpsPodCast.com.” I was being given the “standard” language reserved for instances when someone hadn’t followed the rules, “Bylaw, the Peace Corps name and logo may be used only to designate programs authorized under the Peace Corps Act,” and it was obvious someone hadn’t taken the time properly view my web page, with its clear disclaimer displayed in multiple places and media formats.
The fact that I had used the name for three months, had even interviewed Peace Corps Chief of Staff Stacy Rhodes without incident, corresponded with the acting Director of PC’s Communications Office, or that multiple websites used the name the same way I did (PeaceCorpsJournals.com, Peace-CorpsConnect.org, and Peace-CorpsWiki.org, to name just a few), didn’t seem to matter.
In the end, I was fearful of where a refusal might lead, and probably made the smartest decision by saying goodbye to my journalistic integrity, something I had made of fun of people in college for having, and changed my website to “ChanceDorland.com.”
However, during the week or so I had between my first and final speaking to about the matter, I emailed with a few lawyers and employees of large film and television companies.
Everyone seemed to agree my website was legal, but more or less encouraged me to either save myself trouble by folding my hand or getting a lawyer and try to make a fuss large enough to gain the attention of national news. I wonder how it would have turned out. — Chance Dorland
In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks in an Op-ed weights in on Charles Murray’s (Thailand 1965-67) new book, Coming Apart, writing, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.” Brooks recaps the narrative Murray lays out about our two American societies, and adds a few ideas of his own. “The word “class” doesn’t even capture the divide Murray describes,” Brooks writes, “You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.”
Summing up his column, Brooks has his own solution to the dilemma facing our culture: “I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.”
I have a better idea. Let’s make everyone join the Peace Corps, those with college degrees can teach in schools in the developing world, and those Americans with real work skills can build houses, roads, and installing plumbing, and then all of us, from both of our ‘tribes’, will know and understand how most of the peoples-of-the-world really live out their lives.
Last week marked the first anniversary of the passing of Sarge Shriver. His son, Mark Shriver, was invited by Director Williams to be one of the speakers in the Loret Miller Ruppe Series of talks given at the agency. Here are Mark’s comments if you were not at the Peace Corps, or have not read them.
WHEN MY FATHER DIED, my siblings asked me to give the eulogy at his funeral. At the time, I didn’t really want to be drafted into that role, but I was, and it has turned out to be a blessing for me.
Because before I wrote that eulogy, I thought I knew my father. Of course I did know him — as any son knows his father. But as I was preparing the eulogy, I began to get to know him as a man in his own terms — not just as a father in relation to me. And what I learned was such a revelation to me that I have spent the last 12 months in a quest to understand him even better. So in my remarks today, I will share with you some of the things I have learned about him and from him over these past few months; he continues to lead and teach me, and I think he can teach us all one or two things tonight.
When President Kennedy called Dad 50 years ago, the Peace Corps was a new idea.
Nothing like it had ever been tried by the U.S. government, and in 1961 the very notion of launching the Peace Corps triggered tremendous enthusiasm. A Harris poll taken just prior to President Kennedy’s inauguration showed that 71% of Americans favored the creation of the Peace Corps, but there were very serious obstacles to its creation. First of all, it was an idea and really only an idea — no one had fleshed it out beyond a few campaign conversations.
Not only was it just an idea, but there was no funding for the project and existing foreign aid agencies also posed significant opposition. If it was going to be created at all, existing departments did not want it to be independent. They wanted it within the existing bureaucracy, which Dad was vehemently opposed to.
The odds of making the idea a reality were stacked against Dad. Former President Eisenhower mockingly dubbed the Peace Corps a “juvenile experiment,” and in an editorial entitled “It’s a puzzlement,” the Wall Street Journal wrote: ”The thing is so completely disproportionate as to be nonsensical. The wars of the civilized world did not break out because there was any lack of peoples-to-peoples contact between Germans and Frenchmen . . .. What person — except perhaps the very young themselves — can really believe than an Africa aflame with violence will have its fires quenched because some Harvard boy or Vassar girl lives in a mud hut and speaks Swahili?”
Some who were supportive of the idea suggested that it start out as a small pilot program.
And foreign governments accused the effort of being a vehicle for American infiltration (read: spying) of their cultures. And as you saw, Dad even joked publicly that he was given the job because Jack told him that if it failed, it would be easier “to fire a relative than a political friend.”
Yet Dad, through grueling months of strategic lobbying, cajoling, hell-raising, and insisting, almost single-handedly turned a wobbly idea into what I believe is the most enduring legacy of the Kennedy Administration. He appeared on Meet the Press to lobby the nation; he went to the Hill almost every other day to lobby congressmen; and he traveled the country encouraging and being encouraged by all the young people who wanted him to deliver on the President’s promise.
As for a pilot program? Dad thought that approach would ruin the Peace Corps. The result? In June 1961, there were no — zero — Volunteers in the field, but by December, there were 900 in 13 countries.
In the five decades since its creation, the Peace Corps has gradually become a fixture of our political and cultural landscape. Over 200,000 Volunteers have served overseas. Some 9,000 are serving now, including my nephew, Teddy Shriver, who today is serving in Peru.
Understandably, most of us are now no longer as spontaneously curious as we were in 1961 about what Peace Corps is; what it does; how it works. So it is now easy to underestimate the distinctive approach to peacemaking that Dad and his staff built into the policies and procedures of the program, and to overlook the fact that “Peace Corps” was my father’s tough-minded, practical answer to a question that I think is just as pressing for us today as it was when he asked it in 1961: “If you believe that people must live in harmony in this conflict-ridden world, how is this going to come about?” My father took this question very seriously, and his answer was: the Peace Corps.
In fact, in the lobby of the original Peace Corps offices in Washington DC, Dad hung a sign with words in six-inch silver letters:
“If they mean to have peace, let it begin here.”
Now, these words speak for themselves, but Dad’s sign was also a play on words, a reference to a famous quotation that would certainly resonate with history buffs of the Revolutionary War and school children in Massachusetts. For there is a monument on Lexington Green in Lexington, Massachusetts, dedicated to the first battle of the Revolutionary War — a monument that also memorializes the words that Captain John Parker spoke to the Minutemen he commanded that day, just before the first shots in the first battle were fired: “If they mean to have war, let it begin here.”
In Dad’s mind, the Peace Corps was the beginning of a Revolution — a revolution for peace. “If they mean to have peace, let it begin here.”
But what kind of revolution did Sargent Shriver think he was starting?
“The Peace Corps is different,” Dad told the Foreign Policy Association in December 1963. “It goes beyond politics and national rivalries to reach the deepest hopes of man. It is a working model, a microcosm, a small society representing the kind of world we want our children to live in.”
But what is the driving force of this revolution? What takes us beyond violence, beyond politics and national rivalries, to realize our deepest hopes for the kind of world we want our children to live in? In a speech at Fordham University, Dad stated the foundational principle of his revolution: “Compassion and service,” he said, “shatter barriers of politics and creed; [they] dissolve obstacles of race and belief anywhere in the world.”
Dad built these revolutionary ideals into the policies that guided the work of Peace Corps Volunteers in the field. As he explained to the Foreign Policy Association:
Our Volunteers [do not] go overseas as the salesmen of a particular political theory, or economic system, or religious creed. They go to work with people, not to employ them, use them or advise them. They do what the country they go to wants them to do, not what we think is best.
They live among the people, sharing their homes, eating their food, talking their language, living under their laws, not in special compounds with special privileges.
“Compassion is the ideal,” he maintained in a speech at the World’s Fair in 1964, “that must illuminate, from the very center, all our efforts to bring a better life to our world, within our own country, and in the farthest reaches of the planet.” As he went on to say: “it is only with this compassion that man can look upon man — through the mask of many colors, through the vestments of many religions, through the dust of poverty, or through the disfigurement of disease — and recognize his brother.”
To get a better sense of what my father was getting at, let’s consider for a moment the story of Dave Meyercord. Dave served in the Dominican Republic and accomplished some amazing things as a Peace Corps Volunteer: He built his own house by hand. He helped to build an aqueduct, so that the village women no longer had to walk miles each day to carry water. He helped to build two schools. He was instrumental in clearing a road to the village, which before had to be reached by donkey on a mountain trail.
In fact, most Peace Corps Volunteers have stories comparable to Dave’s and as a result we tend to identify Peace Corps service — and the point of engaging in such service, with the good that it does — with its external results. But you know what? My father took that for granted. He knew Peace Corps Volunteers could do good things for people.
Fifty years ago — when he was working with his staff to hammer out the policies and procedures for Peace Corps — when he was launching his peace making revolution — he was concerned with a prior set of practical questions. What would it take for villagers like those in the Dominican Republic to welcome a Peace Corps Volunteer like Dave Meyercord into their community in the first place? What it would take for them to want to engage with him — to help him build his house — to listen to his ideas about aqueducts and schools and roads? How could Peace Corps position the Dave Meyercords of the world to cross the barriers of race, culture, politics, and belief that would ordinarily divide them from the people they wanted to serve?
In a speech he delivered to the Commonwealth Club of California in October 1963, my father set forth what he referred to as the “five simple rules” for making peace as a Peace Corps Volunteer:
- First, learn the language of the people with whom you work.
- Second, make up your mind that the work of developing nations is worth the price of personal sacrifice.
- Third, anchor yourself in the customs and traditions of the country where you are serving.
- Fourth, take your standard of living down near enough to the local level to make it possible to mix freely and easily with the people.
- Fifth, believe in the power of personal integrity, humility and determination.
I find these five rules to be both elegantly and deceptively simple. To grasp their inner logic, try to position yourself imaginatively as a villager in the Dominican Republic, or in Mali, or Peru. What would it take for us to engage with a Peace Corps Volunteer, to get to know her, to trust her, to work effectively with her?
First, at a minimum, she would need to speak our language. Without a common language, it would be impossible for us to work effectively together at all. Rule One: “learn the language of the people with whom you work.”
Third, as important as it would be for her to speak our language, this alone would not ensure that we could establish a meaningful, collaborative relationship with her. She would also need to learn the basic rhythms and patterns of our culture. If she does not understand our ways of communicating, relating, and connecting, we simply would not be able to engage meaningfully with her, nor she with us. Rule Three: “anchor yourself in the customs and traditions of the country where you are serving.”
Fourth, she would also have to live among us. Without a common set of experiences, interests, and concerns, there would be no occasion for us to have a conversation and no reason for us to connect with each other, even if we happened to speak the same language or share a cultural frame of reference. If she lived with the ex-pat community in a compound, what chances for meaningful contact would we have? How would we talk with her, get to know her, work with her, or learn to trust her? Rule Four: “take your standard of living down near enough to the local level to make it possible to mix freely and easily with the people.”
In this connection, it is important to highlight what has been explicit all along: that the Volunteer’s effort to make peace takes place on the home field of the host-country national, in terms of their language, their culture, their way of life. It takes but a moment’s reflection to grasp the degree of difficulty involved in the Volunteers’ decision to cross over to a different culture to make peace in the spirit of service. It is the Volunteer who takes on the primary burden of understanding and of making oneself understood. As my father put it, “For the Volunteer to succeed, the Peace Corps could not be just another job. The Peace Corps Volunteer had to share the impatience, the anxiety of the people. And for him to succeed, he needed to know as much about how to work with the poor as he did about how to make corn grow.”
At base, this calls for a generosity of spirit that Dad forthrightly associates with compassion and personal sacrifice: “Our objective [is not] discomfort for discomfort’s sake, but rather a willingness to share the life of another people, to accept sacrifice when sacrifice is necessary.”
There is a personal cost to such compassion: the pain that comes from making oneself vulnerable to the projections of misunderstanding and ulterior motives in the process of making peace. Rule Two: “make up your mind that the work of developing nations is worth the price of personal sacrifice.”
Finally, for this peacemaking strategy to work, the Volunteer has to deliver on it. A Volunteer has to be genuinely motivated by the spirit of service to human welfare and human dignity, not some other political or personal purpose. As my father explained in an article in Foreign Affairs: “Peace Corps Volunteers are not trained diplomats; they are not propagandists. They represent our society by what they are, what they do, and the spirit in which they do it.” Rule Five: “believe in the power of personal integrity, humility and determination.”
But do these five rules actually make peace? Is this rhetoric . . . or revolution?
In reading through my father’s speeches, I was astonished to learn not only that these five rules were put dramatically to the test time and again in the early years of Peace Corps, but also that my father stood by them.
For example, in 1964 in Panama, violent, anti-American, anti-colonialist riots erupted in the country and mobs of angry Panamanians went looking for their North American oppressors.
As Director of the Peace Corps, my father had a decision to make. What was he going to do about the scores of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the country? Officials in the State Department urged him to evacuate the Volunteers, to pull the Volunteers back into the safety of the Canal Zone.
What do you think would you have done? Follow the State Department’s advice or leave a bunch of young Volunteers out in the field by themselves to fend for themselves?
My father rejected the advice of the State Department.
He described this incident as well as his decision in a speech to the National Conference on Poverty in the Southwest, in Tucson, Arizona in early 1965, “We decided to stick it out!” he said. “We dispatched orders to every Volunteer: Stay put. Don’t leave your villages.”
Why? As he explained: “We had gone to Panama for one purpose — to work — to work for and with the Panamanians.”
“Then,” he went on to say, “we held our breath — and sweated! For three days, we heard nothing.”
Remember, 1964 was before the era of instant communication — before the Internet, before cell phones, before You-tube, before Skype. For three days, he had no idea what was happening to his Volunteers, or what the dire consequences of his decision might be.
In the face of a violent uprising, my father decided to trust that the policies and procedures he had built into the Peace Corps had enabled the Volunteers to make peace, to form human connections — real relationships with the Panamanians they served. As he said earlier: “deeds of compassion and service dissolve barriers of politics and creed anywhere in the world.”
But of course, there are no guarantees. We know that, and he knew it too. That’s why he was sweating it out!
“Finally,” he went on, “the cables started coming through from the field office. They told how the Panamanians had protected the Peace Corps Volunteers — how they had hidden them, when necessary, in Panamanian homes. And then, the New York Times came out with the incredible story: Not one single Peace Corps Volunteer had been injured. Only in the “safety” of the Canal Zone, surrounded by the armed might of U.S. military forces, had anyone been hurt.
In the rural villages, in every town where Peace Corps Volunteers lived, the villagers had repulsed every marauding band searching for North American victims, and hidden the Volunteers in their own homes.”
Think about that for a minute. The only place where Americans were hurt was in the “safety” of the Canal Zone, surrounded by the armed might of U.S. military forces.
And now imagine the dilemmas and decisions facing the Panamanians. In their villages and in their homes, they were confronted by angry bands of their fellow countrymen — by their neighbors perhaps — by mobs searching for gringos and Yankee imperialists, for Americans they surely knew were there.
If you were a Panamanian villager, what decision would you have made in those circumstances? We all know what mobs are like — how contagious violence and destruction can be. We all saw the pictures of the riots in London a few months ago. What does it take to make the decisions all those Panamanians made to protect the Peace Corps Volunteers serving in their villages?
It takes a revolution in peace making of the kind carried out by Peace Corps Volunteers.
It takes the willingness of people willing to affirm, “If they mean to have peace, let it begin here.”
And lest you think that the events in Panama were an anomaly, in April 1965 the citizens of the Dominican Republic — the citizens of the same country Dave Meyercord served as a Peace Corps Volunteer some 25 years later — rose up and overthrew the military junta that had deposed the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch. Fighting broke out in the barrios of Santo Domingo between the rebels and the army, and President Lyndon B. Johnson — fearing that communists supported by Fidel Castro had inspired the uprising — sent 25,000 Marines to the country to restore order. At the time, there were 107 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Santo Domingo and throughout the rest of the country. Again, the State Department urged that the Volunteers be evacuated, this time to Puerto Rico, with the rest of the Americans who were fleeing the country.
What do you think my father did? He gave each Volunteer the choice to leave — or to stay with the people they had come to serve.
What choice would you have made? What choice do you think the Volunteers made?
Every one of the Peace Corps Volunteers decided to stay and continue to serve the people in their communities, all of whom were Constitutionalist rebels. The Volunteers worked in the hospitals tending the wounded. They distributed food supplies to the people trapped in the barrios by the Dominican army supported by the U.S. Marines. The rebel leader declared the Peace Corps Volunteers are “the only Americans welcome” in the Dominican Republic.
If they mean to have peace, let it begin here.
As I thought about those words, I thought that it was good and right to celebrate the last 50 years here today — a lot has been accomplished and we need to understand and, yes, celebrate those accomplishments.
But I also know that if my dad were here today, physically — because I feel him here spiritually — if he were here physically he would be agitating us all to think ahead, to the next 50 years.
He would challenge everyone in this room — from Director Williams to Donald Dell to the newest employee here — each one of us to do more for peace.
He’d ask us if we really believe in peace, why do we as a country spend less on the Peace Corps than we do on the marching band of the Army?
He would ask why we spend more in five hours in Iraq than we do on supporting the 8,700 Volunteers around the world for an entire year.
And he would — as he did to President Kennedy and Johnson and every leader he met — speak truth to power: he would know that during the 2008 election, President Obama campaigned on doubling the size of the Peace Corps. That is not even close to happening — indeed, there is a long waiting list of 20 new countries requesting Peace Corps programs.
Do we really mean to have peace? If so, why isn’t it beginning here, in the United States?
Or are we just supporting the rhetoric and spending the money elsewhere?
Now these challenges, especially in tough economic times, might seem overwhelming, if not impossible, to overcome.
I mean, the President has so many other things on his mind, right? And they are all more important than the Peace Corps, correct?
Come on, now!
Think of what Dad overcame in 1961: we were right in the middle of the Cold War, Ike thought the idea was crazy, as did the Wall Street Journal, President Kennedy was focused on other, more important issues, other government entities didn’t want the Peace Corps to be independent.
The Peace Corps had no structure.
There was no budget.
And the few supporters there were wanted a small, pilot program. But that didn’t deter Dad and his colleagues — they worked hard and smart and that’s why we are here today in this auditorium!
Let us today celebrate our first 50 years, but let us recommit ourselves to the same spirit, the same fight that created the Peace Corps in the first place!
Let me close by quoting my dad’s speech at the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps:
The Peace Corps seeks peace through service, not through economic strength or military power. Service is the heart and soul and substance of the Peace Corps. Service is a discredited word these days. Who wants to be a servant? No one! Service implies servitude, failure to achieve even equality, let alone dominion. Yet the Peace Corps exists to serve, to help, to care, for our fellow human beings. It works its magic from below, not from above. It concentrates on basics — food, health, education, community development. Peace Corps Volunteers are rarely in capital cities, rarely seen with gilded potentates. They are almost un-American in their willingness to serve in the boondocks. Peace Corps Volunteers come home realizing that there are billions of human beings not enraptured by our pretensions, or practices, or morals . . . billions of human beings with whom we must live in peace. PCV’s learn that there’s more to life than money, more to life than the latest styles in clothes, cars, or cosmetics.
Suddenly I realize I do have a response to the original title given me for my speech.
They asked me to talk about ‘the challenge of the Peace Corps.’ The challenge is simple to express, difficult to fulfill: PCV’s stay as you are . . . be servants of peace . . . work at home as you have worked abroad, humbly, persistently, intelligently. Weep with those who are sorrowful, rejoice with those who are joyful.
Teach those who are ignorant. Care for those who are sick. Serve your wives . . . serve your husbands . . . serve your families . . . serve your neighbors . . . serve your cities . . . serve the poor.
Join others who serve.
Serve, Serve, Serve! That’s the challenge.
For in the end it will be the servants who save us all.
So to all of you here today, I ask: do you, really, mean to have peace?
If so, we have work to do! Let it begin now and let us go forth from this auditorium and let us all serve! Serve! Serve!
For in the end, my father was right, it will be the servants who save us all.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, January 20, 2012, PCV Jared Metzker, who is stationed now in Guatemala, said that the Peace Corps should not have pulled out of Central America, saying that the one Volunteer who had been murdered in Guatemala was the first in 40 years.
Metzker goes onto write in his op-ed piece, “The Peace Corps director Aaron Williams decided last month to take a step back from the programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He has evacuated all Peace Corps workers from Honduras and is suspending the induction of new volunteers in Guatemala and El Salvador. From my perspective, based on being here, speaking to other volunteers and reading the Guatemalan press every day, these decisions seem unnecessary, even cowardly.”
I don’t think Director Aaron Williams is a coward or afraid to assign PCVs to the “real world.” Aaron and I were born and raised on the southside of Chicago; we know what the “real world” is like. (There is, however, a very funny story about his chief of staff living in the “real world” but I’ll save that’s for another blog.)
What is important about the past, present and future of the Peace Corps, and what makes the agency unique, is Metzker’s final point:
There is no Peace Corps draft, after all; we sign up and agree to come, fully cognizant of the risks. Furthermore, if we decide once we get here that it’s more than we’d bargained for, we can leave at any time. Unlike in the case of the military, there is no such thing as a dishonorable discharge from the Peace Corps.
Before the Peace Corps’ inception, some Americans wondered whether our “young men and tender young girls, reared in air-conditioned houses,” could handle life in a poor country for two years. Fifty years later, with more than 200,000 current and former Volunteers, the Peace Corps remains as clear evidence of America’s best intentions with regard to foreign policy. Volunteers working in countries such as Guatemala do much to improve the United States’ image abroad and often make significant contributions to the development of their host communities. The Peace Corps has proved itself to be a phenomenal idea, and, in contrast to our military endeavors over the last 50 years, its mission has never lacked approval from the American people, liberal and conservative alike.
As the U.S. passes through adverse times, it’s important that we not lose sight of the ideals that made us great in the first place. The Peace Corps is a paragon of these ideals, and any decision to scale it back should be taken with full awareness of the damage that doing so would cause. In the case of those of us who are now finishing up our service, much of the work we started will be left unfinished because there will be no one to continue it, but it’s more than that. Young Americans, and those young at heart, deserve the opportunity to venture unarmed and un-air-conditioned into developing countries to experience life as it presents itself to the majority of the human population. To deprive them of that opportunity unnecessarily is cowardly, and such cowardice - although perhaps appreciated by their mothers - is inexcusable considering the courage that potential volunteers exhibit just by signing up.”
Jared Metzker is just stating once again — as PCVs have for fifty years — that Volunteers in the field are much more courageous than the staff back home, tucked away safely behind their desks in their downtown D.C. offices.
Read the full article here at LATimes.com.
The following paragraph is from the Peace Corps Agency Assessment Report published in June 2010. It is Recommendation #4 in the Vision Summary on page 12, and reads:
Breaking from the current mission of Peace Corps Response, assignments would be open to those who could meet qualification criteria, whether or not they had been Peace Corps Volunteers in the past. The program would place experienced and qualified individuals into assignments that draw on their specific skills and experience, with flexible time commitments.
Questions RPCVs might raise are:
Does this negate the language and cross cultural training that Volunteers receive?
Does this negate the experience that serving Volunteers gain by service that would be helpful in a crisis response?
Does this allows those who do not have the Peace Corps experience to use the “brand name” to their advantage?
How do you keep the CIA from ‘volunteering’ and using the Peace Corps as cover?
There are, of course, advantages to the relaxing of requirements. The change might bring into the Response (Crisis Corps) experienced individuals who, while they never served in the Peace Corps, did work once as missionaries (Sudan Interior Mission?) overseas, in the army’s Special Forces, teach or do research as Fulbright Scholars, or been employed by international companies such as Bechtel. These volunteers might now want to enhance their international CVs by volunteering to a county where they previously lived or want to see.
It is my understanding that later this month the Response/Crisis Corps will enact these changes in the program to allow for 3, 6, and 12 month assignments to anyone with international experience so they, too, will be able to work under the Peace Corps banner, just like us!
The only RPCV organization (at the moment) that might object to this fundamental shift in the program would be the NPCA, and they won’t, I’m sure, raise a hand to object fearing they’d put themselves on the outs with the agency, fearful, too, that they might lose future funding from the Peace Corps, and generating money to support itself has always been a problem for the NPCA.
For example, the NPCA recently announced that they had moved their offices again, this time into even smaller space, and to a higher floor, in their downtown D.C. building. It is another sure sign they are strapped for cash.
What I suggest is that the NPCA try being a virtual office with their skeleton staff working from their apartments via computers, saving the organization on rent, lights, heat, and freeing up limited funds so the NPCA would have money enough to host another fancy affair (tuxedos only please) for the card-carrying 1% alumni of the Peace Corps Family. Just a thought.
One of these days the Peace Corps is going to get the Crisis Corps/Response Corps right. Word has it that this month the agency will announce short term assignments of 3,6, 12 months and that you don’t even have to be an RPCV to serve.
All 158 Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras left the country on Monday, weeks after the United States announced that it would pull them out for safety reasons.
The U.S. group said in late December that it was bringing home volunteers from Honduras and suspending training for new volunteers in El Salvador and Guatemala, though existing volunteers would remain in the latter two countries.
The region is plagued by gang violence and Honduras is considered to have the highest murder rate in the world. Honduras President Porfirio Lobo said Monday that the Peace Corps volunteers had been affected by rising crime, but neither he nor U.S. officials have cited specific attacks as reasons for the withdrawal.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ledy Pacheco said instructions for the withdrawal came from Washington, where the group’s head office is located.
The Peace Corps had operated in Honduras since 1963.
The three countries make up the so-called northern triangle of Central America, a region plagued by drug trafficking and gang violence.
A recent U.N. report said Honduras and El Salvador have the highest homicide rates in the world with 82.1 and 66 per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively, in 2010. Guatemala had a rate of 41 per 100,000 last year. All three are more than double the homicide rate of 18 per 100,000 in Mexico, where drug violence has drawn world attention.
President Barack Obama announced Friday that he will ask Congress for the power to merge agencies to streamline government and improve efficiency.
Obama wants to merger the Commerce Department, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade representative and other independent business agencies into a new, unnamed Cabinet agency to create a more efficient experience for businesses.
“Right now, there are six departments and agencies focused primarily on business and trade in the federal government - from the Commerce Department to the Small Business Administration to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. “In this case, six isn’t better than one.”
The president needs Congress to enact his idea.
What next? The Peace Corps and AID? USIA all one Happy Agency?
January 11, 2012
Five Peace Corps trainees look at a map of the Philippine Islands in University Park, Pa. on July 31, 1961. The trainees will go there upon completion of training as teaching assistants in rural elementary schools.
The National Peace Corps Association says it’s looking for about 100,000 good volunteers.
They’re people who served in the overseas development program at some time in its 50-year history but later lost touch with their former colleagues.
NPCA President Kevin Quigley says there’s no complete list of the 200,000 Americans who volunteered for the program, in part because key records were lost during its early days.
“When the agency was in its infancy [in the early 1960s], a lot of systems for tracking former volunteers just didn’t exist,” Quigley says.
The Peace Corps’ first director, Sargent Shriver, resisted anything that smacked of bureaucracy, so he imposed on five-year term limit on staffers.
As result, Quigley says, the Corps lost institutional memory.
The Kennedy-era program was a low priority for the Nixon administration, which had little interest in preserving its records, he adds.
The NPCA has launched a campaign to re-connect with former volunteers who are out of the loop.
The group is an independently run non-profit that is separate from the Peace Corps. It says it added more than 3,900 names to its list last year, and aims to identify 10,000 more in 2012.
Quigley says he’s hoping to add members, raise money, and build the organization’s clout when it advocates for more resources for current Peace Corps programs and support for returning volunteers.
The agency came under fire last year for allegedly failing to provide adequate support and protection for volunteers who were raped or sexually assaulted overseas.
The Peace Corps responded by creating a task force to re-examine its policies for dealing with assault victims.
The agency took a 6.5% funding cut during congressional budget battles last year, but was spared further cuts when President Obama signed an FY 2012 budget that kept Peace Corps funding level at $375 million.
(Corey Flintoff is a correspondent for NPR’s Foreign Desk.)
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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