It was me! Sorry to say that I personally–not the Peace Corps! Not the CIA—deleted the post I put up on the Peace Corps and the CIA. I went to delete another item and missed! (Much like my golf game.) Now, if Marian was here in the States and now off in Ethiopia building a home in her old site, she could fix it, but I have NO IDEA! Sorry to everyone who made commetns on the blog. Thank you.
Archives for Peace Corps today
On the Peace Corps new website yesterday I noted that The Franklin H. Williams Award Ceremony will be held on September 9, 2010 at the Peace Corps Headquarters in D.C. The announcement listed the years that the Award has been given in Williams’ name. It does not say, however, that the first Franklin H. Williams award ceremony was held in the Regional Recruitment Office in New York City in 1999, and that the New York Office named it “The Franklin H. Williams Award” and held the event.
Now, nothing gets lost faster in the Peace Corps than its history so I thought (since I was involved!) I would detail how the Franklin H. Williams Award came about in the first place.
At the time, I was the Regional Manager of the office and one of my recruiters, Leslie Jean-Pierre (Guinea 1997-99), came to me with the suggestion of having an event in New York City that would highlight minority recruitment.
I suggested the Schomburg Center in Harlem as the site for the event. Their famous Director, Howard Dodson, Jr., was an RPCV from Ecuador (1964-66). Leslie and the other Recruiters picked five minority RPCVs who had helped us with recruitment, and had interesting and successful careers.
I suggested “Franklin Williams” as the honorary name for the award as I knew Williams slightly from the early years, and he was from Queens, New York, and had gone to Fordham Law School in the Bronx.
I called Chuck Baquet (Somalia 1965-67), the former Ambassador, and then the Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, and asked Chuck to come up to New York to present the awards which we designed in our New York Office.
Going back to Franklin Williams and his history with the agency. He was a high-profile minority in the Peace Corps in those early Mad Men Days of the agency. His first job at the agency was Chief of the Division of Private Organization. This office was involved with private agencies (CARE, Experiment in International Living, YMCA, etc.) and he negotiated with them on training programs and overseas administration.
Williams was a tough guy, one of the famous Mad Men, who had been an assistant to Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP in New York before going to San Francisco as the NAACP director on the West Coast. He was a friend of Harris Wofford and through Wofford came to the agency. One story that Wofford told me, and to show you how difficult it was for African-Americans in the U.S. in the early Sixties, was that when Williams wanted to buy a house in Maryland, Harris and his wife, Claire, pretended they were the buyers, as white owners won’t sell to blacks in Chevy Chase or Bethesda.
Wofford and Williams had become friends when Wofford was teaching law at Notre Dame (this was just before the Kennedy campaign) and Harris invited Williams to ND to give a series of lectures called “The Changing Legal Status of the Negro in America.”
Wofford then got Williams involved with the Kennedy campaign where William ran the voter registration drive, and when Harris went to work in the White House as special assistant to President Kennedy for civil rights, Harris called Franklin to D.C.
Williams had been offered jobs with the Civil Rights Commission and the State Department in the new Administration, but considered both jobs boring. Wofford wanted him in the Peace Corps, however, Williams wasn’t particularly fond of Shriver.
In her book, Come As You Are, Coates Redmon quotes Williams, who was then working for the attorney general of California, Stanley Monk.
“I didn’t want to see Sarge particularly,” Williams recalls, “and I said so. Harris knew why. He’d taken me to see Sarge during the campaign when Sarge was running minority affairs. There he was, up in this big hotel suite with all these blacks and Chicanos. That turned me off. Special segregated treatment was not my style.
“But I figured, what the hell, I’m here. Might as well see where Sarge is now. Well, he was at the barricades. And boy! He began pounding his desk and saying, ‘This is where the action is. You gotta come with me!’ He made it sound so damn exciting. I said, ‘Like when?’ He said, ‘Oh, now. Today. Well how about tomorrow?’ I saw he wasn’t kidding. I said. ‘But Sarge, I can’t leave the attorney general’s office just like that.’
Sarge said, ‘Yes you can.’ And he picked up the phone and called Stanley Mosk in California. He said, ‘Stanley, we gotta have your assistant, Williams.’
From the Peace Corps Williams went onto work for the UN, then was the US Ambassador to Ghana, and from 1970 to his death in 1990, at the age of 72, he was the head of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, that is an educational foundation working for minorities in the US and Africa.
To our event in New York in 1999, we invited, among others, Mrs. Williams, Franklin’s widow. She graciously came and remarked that this was the first time the Peace Corps had remembered her husband and the work he had done for the agency in those early days.
After the Schomburg Center event in Harlem, I talked to Chuck about making the Frank Williams Awards national by moving it to Washington, D.C. Chuck agreed and the Frank Williams Awards went national.
Now, I hope that those in D.C. who are putting on this year’s Franklin Williams Award will be gracious enough to note when they gather on September 9, 2010, that it all started at the New York Peace Corps Recruitment Office with a suggestion from Leslie Jean-Pierre (Guinea 1997-99).
You might have seen the Washington Post article on Teach for America, how it has become the ‘hot’ program for college graduates. 4,500 Teach for America recruits were trained this summer. Smart kids are attracted to this program for lots of reasons, one simply being the salary and the opportunity to study for advanced degrees.
This month, Teach for America won a $50 million federal grant that will help the program nearly double in the next four years. Teach for America was founded in 1990 by a Princeton graduate who hoped to expose future leaders to the problems of education.
The program resembles the Peace Corps: two years in low-income urban and rural public schools.
Applications are up by a third, but only about 12% are accepted. The new college grads make $49,000 this year, and possibly more if they participate in a voluntary performance pay program.
That’s better than the Peace Corps’ readjustment allowance. The young people I’ve seen selected for this program are first rate. I’m sorry to see them ‘pass up’ the Peace Corps, but they tell me it is easier to get into Teach for America than the Peace Corps and the agency’s lengthy application process.
Or as one young friend at the college where I worked asked, “is there still a Peace Corps?”
How far off the radar are we anyway?
The African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be hosting a conference on the Peace Corps and Africa from March 24-26, 2011. The intent of the conference is to explore the impact of the United States Peace Corps in Africa and elsewhere, and on the lives of Americans who have served as volunteers or have been otherwise touched by the Peace Corps.
Timed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps (launched in March 1961) and of Wisconsin’s African Studies Program (founded in September 1961), the conference will include opportunities for celebrating, reminiscing, and socializing (see the preliminary program online, e.g., a keynote address by Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams, story booths, the ultimate Peace Corps dance party in Memorial Union, etc.), but the core of the conference will be several evaluative panels featuring research and commentary by scholars and writers bringing a variety of perspectives on the Peace Corps and the experience of volunteer service.
To present at the conference, whether in one of the panels you see on the preliminary program or in a panel that you think we should create, please write an email message to us at <email@example.com> describing your work and interests and outlining briefly the subject that you might be prepared to address in a 15-20 minute panel slot. Please use the subject header “Potential Participant” in your email message.
To attend the conference please send us an email. All are welcome. We especially welcome anyone who ever served in the Peace Corps in Africa or elsewhere, Africans and others who knew Peace Corps volunteers during their service, and anyone who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. To express tentative interest in attending the conference, or to inquire about it, please send your email message to that same address, <firstname.lastname@example.org> and use the subject header, “Interested in Attending.”
Online registration begins in September or October, 2010, but we’re eager to gauge national (and international) interest now. Blocks of hotel rooms have been set aside, and former Peace Corps volunteers in Madison are ready to put up guests at no charge, so if a late March weekend in Madison to mark 50 years of the Peace Corps appeals, please let us know!
A conference organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program to honor fifty years of volunteer service and assess the impact of the Peace Corps in Africa and beyond
March 24–26, 2011
Memorial Union, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thursday, March 24th
5:00-7:00 Welcoming reception,co-hosted by the UW-Madison African Studies Program, the Chicago Peace Corps Recruiting Office, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison. Off-campus venue: Promega Corporate Headquarters, 2800 Woods Hollow Road, Fitchburg (15 minutes from Memorial Union; bus transport provided by the organizers). Promega is the site of a month-long exhibition of Peace Corps memorabilia and reflections, curated by Donna Page, who, after welcoming remarks by the organizers, will briefly describe the exhibit. Refreshments provided in the gallery.
Friday, March 25th
8:45–10:15 Panel 1: Fifty Years of the Peace Corps in Africa: Presentations and discussions featuring scholars
10:30-12:00 Panel 2: The Past and Future of International Development, Humanitarian Aid, andPresentations and discussion featuring scholars, observers, and critics of international All Day Story Booth: Peace Corps Reflections: Record your Peace Corps story (it does not have to be Africa-connected); audio and video options available, ten-minute maximum; stories will be edited and assembled for posterity and available for web access; selected clips will be included in an expanded (late 2011) version of the Dan Banda documentary (see below)
12:00-1:00 On your own for lunch
1:15-2:45 Panel 3: Fifty Years of Return: Former Peace Corps Volunteers in America: Presentations
3:00-4:00 African Politics Today, a lecture by Crawford Young
4:15-5:15 Friday Keynote Address 1: C. Payne Lucas, Peace Corps Assistant Director, Togo; director, Niger; and Director of Returned Volunteers, 1961-1971. Co-founder of Africare
5:30-6:30 Friday Keynote Address 2: William Josephson, founding staff member (with Sargent Shriver and Bill Moyers) of the United States Peace Corps.
6:30-8:00 On your own for dinner and sociability in Madison.
8:00-10:00 Peace Corps in the Telling: Two prepared stories of 20 minutes each, told by professional writers who served in the Peace Corps, interwoven with 5-minute spontaneous (or not-soUpdated spontaneous) open-mike presentations by RPCVs willing to come to the stage from the audience, Frederick March Play Circle, Memorial Union
Saturday, March 26th
All Day Story Booth: Peace Corps Reflections: Record your Peace Corps story
12:00-1:00 On your own for lunch
1:15-2:15 Film Premier, Peace Corps Africa, Peace Corps Wisconsin, a documentary film by Emmy Award winning documentarist Dan Banda (includes discussion with Dan Banda)
2:30-4:00 Panel 6: The Peace Corps and American Foreign Policy: Brief presentations and discussion featuring Senator Russ Feingold (unconfirmed), Governor Jim Doyle (unconfirmed), Congressman Thomas Petri, Ambassador and former Congressman Mark Green, Ambassador John Lange (unconfirmed), and two African ambassadors and/or former heads of state (to be announced).
4:15 Welcome and Introduction to the Keynote Program, Carolyn (Biddy) Martin, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
4:30-5:45 Saturday Keynote Address: The Peace Corps in the 21st Century, Aaron Williams, Director, United States Peace Corps
6:00-6:30 Reception for Director Williams and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
6:30-8:00 On your own for dinner in Madison
8:00 pm - 1:00 am The Ultimate Peace Corps Party, music, dance, and sociability, featuring bands from at least two African countries, Great Hall, Memorial Union
- Registration commences September 2010 (www.africa.wisc.edu).
- Conference fee (covers admission to all events, including the dance): $40
- Some events, including keynote addresses, will be free and open to the public
- For further information please contact us at <email@example.com>
Joining the University of Michigan http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/babbles/2010/07/17/university-of-michigan-events-for-the-50th-anniversary/ and the Black Mountain Institute of UNLV, http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/babbles/2010/08/02/black-mountain-institute-features-rpcv-writer/ is the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison Campus. This is fitting as Madison was the first campus to get Bob Gale’s Big Blitz treatment back in ‘63.
I received a note from James Delehanty (Niger 1979-81) from the University outlining the event.
It will take place in Madison on March 24-26, 2011; the focus is Africa. The intent of the conference is to explore the impacts of the United States Peace Corps in Africa and elsewhere, and on the lives of Americans who have served as volunteers or have been otherwise touched by the Peace Corps.
Tthe conference will include opportunities for celebrating, reminiscing, and socializing (see the attached preliminary program, e.g., a keynote address by Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams, story booths, the ultimate Peace Corps dance party in Memorial Union, etc.), but the core of the conference will be several evaluative panels featuring research and commentary by scholars and writers bringing a variety of perspectives on the Peace Corps and the experience of volunteer service.
If you may wish to present at the conference, whether in one of the panels you see on the preliminary program or in a panel that you think we should create, please write an email message to us at <firstname.lastname@example.org> describing your work and interests and outlining briefly the subject that you might be prepared to address in a 15-20 minute panel slot. Please use the subject header “Potential Participant” in your email message.
All are welcome. The African Department is particularly interested in those who served in Africa, and those who graduated from the University of Wisconsin. To express tentative interest in attending the conference, or to inquire about it, please send your email message to that same address, <email@example.com> and use the subject header, “Interested in Attending.”
Conference registration will be an on-line process commencing in about September or October, 2010.
Blocks of hotel rooms have been set aside, and former Peace Corps Volunteers in Madison are ready to put up guests at no charge, so if a late March weekend in Madison to mark 50 years of the Peace Corps appeals, please them know!
Reading some passages in The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps by Gerard T. Rice, I was struck by a quote from David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest.
Rice notes that Shriver’s effusive brand of idealism went against the grain of John Kennedy who was, according to Halberstam, “at least as skeptical as he was idealistic, curiously ill-at-ease with other people’s overt idealism, preferring in private the tart and darker view of the world and of mankind.” Harris Wofford is also quoted in an Oral History Interview at the JFK Library that Kennedy was “put off by too-far-reaching ideas…Certainly, idealism or liberalism in any conventional sense was uncongenial to him.”
Kennedy’s existential sense of irony was the polar opposite of Shriver’s unbounded idealism and optimism. Within the Kennedy clan, Shriver was called the “family Communist” for his very liberal views.
We are hearing much the same about Obama, about how he is ‘too cool’ for the presidency..you know, ‘No Drama Obama.’ Clearly, some might say, he doesn’t ‘feel our pain.’
But reading further about Kennedy and the Peace Corps we can see that it was Kennedy’s aide, that Irish Mafia–O’Brien, O’Donnell, and Dungan–who were cool at best to the new agency.
Wofford said the Peace Corps was Kennedy’s ’special baby’ in the sense that it was the first offspring of the New Frontier. And when the ‘baby’ was just a year old, TIME Magazine declared in a cover story that the Peace Corps was “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.” (This must have really pissed off the Irish Mafia!)
Anyway, Shriver said that Kennedy “never ever turned down anything we asked him to do” whether it was a request to greet Volunteers in the Rose Garden, announce a new program, or sign a letter of congratulations to those serving abroad.
Kennedy’s aides, however, were very different from the people who went to the Peace Corps. Shriver was attracting idealists. The joke in HQ was that they were “working for Hallelujah.” Fred Dutton, who really hated the Peace Corps, found the Peace Corps’ “we-can-walk-on-water’ attitude intolerable as he told Rice back in 1978.
The Peace Corps Staff, all those Mad Men and Mad Women were, of course, full of themselves, but then everyone in the New Frontier was full of themselves, and thought that they really were the ‘best and the brightest’! Rice tells the story how at the first senior staff meeting, Bill Moyers, when talking about tradtional foreign aid programs, proclaimed, “We can do it better.” Moyers was then 26! This Peace Corps’ credo, not surprisingly, pissed off the White House and the State Department. But, as we know, Moyers was right. The Peace Corps could do it better. And has, for 50 years.
Up in Columbia County, I settled into a wicker rocking chair on our screen porch overlooking a valley of pine trees, and in the distance the rolling Berkshires hills, and instead of doing something useful like organizing the socks in my sock drawer, I dipped once again into the 204 pages of Assessments and Recommendations slapped together by that Gang of Six consultants the Peace Corps hired: Maryann, Megan, Ken, Jean, Diana, and Carlos!
I wanted to see what they had to say about Recruitment and Selection that they titled (page 105) IMPROVING THE RECRUITMENT AND SELECTION PROCESS TO ATTRACT A WIDE DIVERSITY OF HIGHLY AND APPROPRIATEDLY SKILLED VOLUNTEERS.
Their descriptions of the ‘process,’ summing up, and recommendations for 25 pages and says virtually nothing. For example:
Recommendation VI- 3: The assessment team recommends that the Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection develop a new recruitment strategy that has an integrated diversity recruitment component. The new recruitment strategy should focus on recruiting individuals with limited work experience but who have the personal attributes and non-technical skills necessary to be successful Peace Corps Volunteers.
They got paid good money for this utterly useless bullshit! They call that a recommendation?
Look at what Bob Gale told the Senior Staff, all those Mad Men and Mad Women back in 1963, after Shriver asked for new ideas and Gale listened to all the “naïve, ill-informed, even disastrous” ideas floating round the conference table on the 5thfloor of the Maiatico Building.
Off the top of his head, Gale said, “I’d send in some kind of team, not just one person. I’d send in senior staff. I’d send in famous names. I’ d made a big thing of it. I’d get the college administrators and the faculty fully on my side, get them involved. I’d alert the campus newspaper and the campus radio station. I’d try to co-opt office space in the Student Union-that’s where a lot of the action is at a big university.”
Now those are recommendations on how to recruit on college campuses.
And now, near 50 years later, the ‘new’ Best and the Brightest that the Peace Corps Director hired with big buck to come up with a comprehensive Agency Assessment, have only this dribble: The assessment team recommends that the Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection develop a new recruitment strategy that has an integrated diversity recruitment component.
Com’on gals and guys, get off your collective asses and say something. Put meat on the bones of your ‘recommendations’… Or as Walter Mondale famously asked, “Where’s the beef?”
I hope that the Gang of Six ran to the bank and cashed their consultant money before the IG asked for an accounting.
First of all with regard to Recruiting, you are riding the tide of the times. Just as the Republicans can use the unemployment numbers to get back control of Congress, the Peace Corps can brag about their high number of Applications because of the economy. College grads can’t find work, young professionals are getting whacked in the job market, teachers aren’t being rehired. It’s a golden age for Peace Corps Recruitment. Everyone wants to get out of America and two years, and Peace Corps service will look great on resumes once these kids come home from the Third World, now with global experience, and an improved economy.
But the worm will turn and getting Apps won’t be like picking apples off the trees in the days ahead.
Well, here are some real recommendations that details what can be done for Recruitment and Selection. They’re yours for the taking, and I invite other RPCVs to come forward with your ideas, not that Peace Corps/HQ ever listened to what RPCVs had to say.
- Close the Regional Recruitment Offices and move Recruitment back to D.C. This will save money and involved HQ in recruitment.
- Make the Internet as the only way to apply to be a Volunteer. This will the streamline the process.
- Focus attention and dollars on social media outlines. Place ads where college students surf, not magazines or newspapers.
- Give monthly $$$ awards for the best essay that comes in from an Applicant. Post the essay on the site.
- Add blogs to peacecorps.gov. The Director should blog at least twice a week. He needs to become a personality, not a bureaucrat. Blog about his own Peace Corps; blog about who comes to see him in D.C., and what he hears from the field. Get CD directors and PCVs to blog about what is happening todayin their host country. Get HCNs to blog on the site about the Peace Corps in their country. Let them - let everyone - give the pros and cons of volunteer service.
- Get rid of the ‘official’ photograph of the Director that dominates the site. It makes Aaron look as if he runs a funeral home and not head of an vital volunteer organization that is working hard in the developing world. We need photos of Aaron Williams in the
Third World, with PCVs, withHCNs. We need photos of him as a Volunteer. Personalize the guy. Get him on television. Get him on t.v. Hire Matt Losak (Lesotho 1985-88) and he’ll make it happen.
- RPCVs have proven time and again that they are the best recruiters. Hire RPCV college professors and other local RPCVs to recruit. Train them, pay them a % for the skilled Volunteers that join because of them.
- Make joining the Peace Corps special. Today, the outstanding college grads want to part of Teach For America, not the Peace Corps. We are seen as ‘old fashioned,’ out of date, history. Form a relationship with Teach For America, help them help us!
- Do joint advertising with AARP. The head of AARP once worked for the Peace Corps. Talk to him about seniors in the Peace Corps. Reinvent Yourself at 50…Be a Volunteers. It is what you always dreamed of doing? This sort of message.
- Make official arrangements with Teachers Unions that they give sabbaticals to their faculty members who join the Peace Corps. It will enhance the reputation of the local school district and bring back into the classroom teachers with new experiences and skills.
- Post the specific position on line so that the Applicant who is applying knows: 1) the country; 2) the starting date; skills required. For example:
Water and Sanitation Extension Volunteer: Niger
One year experience in construction, masonry, carpentry or plumbing, or BA/BS in any subject area with an interest in hygiene education /sanitation and an interest in hands-on skilled work as demonstrated by 3 months or more relevant work or volunteer experience in one of the following areas: mechanical repairs, construction, carpentry, set design, Habitat for Humanity, home repair and/or remodeling. Departure Date: 7/21/2010.
Links to the Peace Corps pages sites about the country-of-assignment, background details, history. Educate the Applicant before they apply for the position.
- Get rid of the Office of Selection. Turn the process over to the Desk Officer and the field. Give the Regions the authority to select PCVs, to bid on them against other Regions, to make their case to the Applicants why being a PCV in X country is better than what Y has to offer.
- Place the Regions (and the desk officers) in competition with each other, not the Applicants in competition with each other.
- We say: “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love!” Well, let’s present it to Applicants as a real job overseas. If you want “skilled” and ‘professional” PCVs, then treat them that way.
These are a few recommendations, suggestions. They are more than that toothless-tiger ideas offered by the consultants hired by the agency.
What do you suggest? Post your ideas in the comment section.
I remember back in ‘95 e-mailing Susan Snelson, who was finishing up her tour as a PCV in Poland and asking her how she had become involved in the Peace Corps. In the late ’80s, she told me, she had gone to visit her son who was a PCV in Niger and she decided ’she could do this!’ and came home to Midland, Texas, where she owned a travel business, turned the business over to others, joined the Peace Corps, and went off to Poland to help them develop their tourist business.
Because she had been in the travel industry, she was assigned to the Ministry of Tourist. It all made a lot of sense to the CD and the Polish government, but they, the Tourist Bureau, had no idea what to do with Susan. They gave her a desk to sit at, and for awhile she sat at it, but the Ministry had no idea who they were dealing with, this woman from Midland.
She began to see that U.S. tourists arriving from the midwest, mostly Michigan and Ohio, were first and second generation, the sons and daughters and the grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants. They were coming to Poland to find their own histories. And these visitors, mostly middle class, had only the expensive hotels available to them, or so they thought.
They didn’t know it, but there was a Peace Corps Volunteer in-country who was willing to make their journey to Eastern Europe the adventure of their lives.
“I began,” she recalls, “working in the historical areas outside establishing tours and started bed-and-breakfast businesses. I finished up my two years by writing a manual on how to develop tourism in the whole country, a manual that was supported financially by the Polish government, Peace Corps, and Delta Airlines.”
We all know, from having been in the Peace Corps, that it wasn’t as simple as she makes it sound.
Having no real job at the Ministry of Tourism, Susan began to warder around the beautiful old town of Warsaw, and she saw all these old buildings in what we might call the historical distract, empty except for an old woman, the mother of a large family left behind by children who had moved away from home.
Susan went back to her office and wrote a proposal for Delta Airlines to underwrite. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse. She could work with the women and have them open their homes to the American tourists, proving them B&B lodging, and a real Poland experience.
She put together three partners: Peace Corps, the Tourist Office, and Delta to sponsor her B&B program for the inner city of Warsaw. Pamplets were prepared for people planning to travel to Poland from the US that described the B&B program. She visited the ’mothers’ living alone in those large, empty historical buildings and instructed them on what the typical American tourist wanted, everything from hot water, clean sheets, to soap.
She created a small industry where women earned income and American tourists had a great experience in a historical city.
“I believe in world peace,” Susan explained. “And it is only through business that people learn they must work together if they want peace. Religion and politics keep people apart, but our economies are global. It is important for the Peace Corps to be involved in business projects throughout the world. If you learn to do business together, you learn to live together. I also know that people who really enjoy the Peace Corps–and I was one of them–make their own jobs. I made my own way and found my own job as a Volunteer.”
Now, I’d say, that’s a successful Peace Corps story.
As Chris Hedrick (Senegal 1988-90), a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford where he studied political history, and who is today the CD in Senegal, mentioned in his ‘comment’ on this site that it is the PCVs who make the difference, not the HQ staff in D.C. Chris wrote on July 29:
As always, the real work of the Peace Corps is being done every day by Volunteers in the field. For example, my Volunteers have led the way in Senegal with innovative approaches to preventing malaria and distributing bed nets. They have provided an example that has now been adopted by the government of Senegal and USAID and is saving hundreds of lives here. See: http://pcsenegal.org/malaria/index.html
No particular help from Washington, and none needed but outstanding work by dedicated Volunteers which my Senegalese staff and I do our best to support, as has ever been the case.
There are a few other examples of what PCVs in the field achieve in the Report Aaron Williams told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he planned to do once confirmed, i.e., an “agency-wide assessment of the Peace Corps as means of strengthening, reforming, and growing the agency.”
Now what we have to remember is that most (if not all) new Directors come riding in D.C. wearing a white hat and with pistols blazing just as if they were John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, ready to clean up the ‘mess’ at the Peace Corps.
God love them. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it should be applauded. Even with the five-year-rule (and we’ll get to that regulation in another blog) the arteries do get stiff at any agency in the middle of middle-age. What we all have to remember is that the Peace Corps isn’t an agency in D.C., but is Peace Corps Volunteers working on their own in the developing world.
Even in this unreadable document–the new comprehensive Report to the Director– there are examples of why the Peace Corps works, and has continued to work for 50 years.
One comes out of Namibia where two PCVs developed Health Education Response (HER) software that has, according to the Report, “revolutionized health education in Nambia.” The HER software is designed to provide health information through mobile phone-based text messaging, permitting the program to operate throughout the country.
The system works because it permits people to ask questions they could not ask directly, and also gives a way to provide information in a non-threatening way.
Health information is distributed through mobile phones to a pool of Peace Corps Volunteers who handle health-related inquiries, including HIV/AIDS and birth control. Set up in February 2009 it had by June 2009 handled over 2,300 text messages from more than 300 people per month.
My guess is that these two PCVs weren’t any sort of highly trained experts, but just tech-savvy, as most college grads are; they understood what could be done within the culture, and came up with the idea that solved a major problem of getting information to a rural population.
In another bracketed paragraph in the Report there is a comment by Ambassador Mark Gitenstein in Romania. He explains why the Peace Corps works in Romania, and why it will always work.
“One of the greatest strengths of the Peace Corps is its ability to complement U.S. interests overseas without compromising its independence….A more direct advocacy of U.S. policy interests could jeopardize the Peace Corps’ significant contribution by undermining its credibility and independence in-country. So, the Peace Corps, by its very nature, operates very differently from the U.S. mission.
Embassies work with contracts and colleagues primarily in the capital city. Volunteers work with people in villages and small towns whom would otherwise not interact with an American, let alone the United States government. The positive impression Volunteer generally make as a result of their work and service effects, dramatically enhances our ability to build friendships and partnerships abroad.”
Yes, there are bad PCVs. Yes many PCVs need direction, support, and encouragement, if not a quick airlines ticket home. God knows, none of us were perfect overseas, or even very good at what we did, but we were there for the long haul, and our hearts were open to new adventures and new friendships, and we cared, and we were willing to learn, and that was all understood by the host country nationals who became our friends.
For the most part we were just kids growing and trying to find our way in another country and in our own lives, and those of us who were older, who carried into the developing world the baggage of a lifetime of hard work, had the wisdom of those experiences, and wanted to share what we had learned from good and bad and hard times at home.
We had a few skills; we adapted ourselves to the Third World; we went to work in the most surprising ways in new nations and new cultures, and, I think, from the ways we were accepted, we were appreciated for what we were trying to do.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about one of those small, unnoticed successes by a PCV, a woman who came to the agency from the most unlikely of circumstances, and proved again that Shriver and the handful of others in the Mayflower Hotel were right in what they crafted out of nothing, those simple Three Goals of the Peace Corps.
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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