“In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people – from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth.”
Archives for Peace Corps today
Not sure if anyone reads Parade Magazine (but you’ll read anything on a vacation!) and last week while in Key West I picked up a copy and there was Aaron Williams being interviewed (briefly, only three questions) in the IntelligenceReport page of this Sunday newspaper supplement.
There was the standard (no brainer) question: Who can join the Peace Corps? But the reporter then asked: Why is the Peace Corps roughly half the size it was in 1966?
Aaron replied how funding has gone “up and down” but the Peace Corps now has bipartisan support in Congress “plus the administration’s commitment to expand.” He sums up, “We plan to add a couple thousand volunteers over the next two years.”
Of course, President Obama has already said the Peace Corps should double in size, but then every president has said that and it never happens.
Aaron made one interesting closing comment. He was saying how “tech-savvy” PCVs are and that there was a Volunteer in Nicaragua who had developed a stove that people can use to cook with compost instead of wood. Aaron wants to put this PCV’s blueprints and techniques online so that Volunteers in Africa, Asia, and Latin American can see what he’s doing.
Well, that’s all fine, and I agree, but back in 1997 I dropped into Associate Peace Corps Director Patricia Garamendi’s office in D.C. and she showed me a cooking stove a PCV had invented that used the sun for heat, no compost required.
The book shelves of what was once called in the agency, “Center For Field Assistance and Applied Research” are full of nifty ideas for PCVs to use and develop, and all of them should be on line, but no one in D.C. has yet to grab onto the most obvious idea, and that is to equip PCVs with inexpensive laptops. Half the Peace Corps Volunteers in the world teach, give them computers and students in Africa, Asia, and Latin America can go on line themselves in the classrooms of the developing world and get their own blueprints.
I’d suggest that Aaron call up Maureen Orth (Colombia 1965-67) and let Maureen tell him how she is already using inexpensive laptops at her school in Medellin, Colombia. This school that she supports with her K12 Wired Foundation was one she first built as a School-to-School project when she was a PCV. (By the way, I suggested this idea last year as # 4 Step for what the new Director should do when it took over.)
But to make my point once more! The One Laptop per Child computer is an XO-1 which costs about $200. If 3,500 Volunteers each year took one overseas to use and leave behind in their Peace Corps school or village, I think the cost could drop to $100. This purchase might be paid for by the PCV from either cost-of-living allowance or readjustment money, with another $50 tossed in by the agency.
It is an investment that keeps on giving. As Aaron rightly say, “PCVs are tech-savvy.” Well, let them prove to the world.
This is an interview done in South Africa by Andre van Wyk for allAfrica.com that appeared today, November 11. Aaron Williams, the new Peace Corps Director, was on a world tour visiting Peace Corps countries on one of those famous ‘all/see’ trip all PC/W staff take. I thought that you’d like to see what the Director is thinking, two or so months into his new job.
The Obama administration earlier this year named a former United States Peace Corps volunteer, Aaron S. Williams, as the program’s new director. The Peace Corps, which will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary, draws thousands of Americans who want to work abroad and under the new administration, it is looking at its areas of focus and how best to continue implementing its programs most effectively. Williams spoke with AllAfrica during a visit to South Africa.
Is this your first visit to Africa since your appointment, and what role does the Peace Corps currently play on the continent?
Yes, this is my first visit since I was appointed two months ago as director… As you know, the Peace Corps is all about trying to promote world peace and friendship. That’s our principal mission and it has continued to be that way for nearly 50 years. We’re about to celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2011 and right now we have 7,500 volunteers in 74 countries around the world and we’re in 23 countries in Africa.
Which countries have you already visited on this trip, and what issues have arisen which you believe to be the most important?
I’m only going to visit one country on this trip to Africa: South Africa. I’m here primarily to meet with the country directors of all our programs in Africa and from here I go on to Bangkok to meet with our directors in Asia and the Middle East.
One of the things that I do when I visit a country is of course go out and visit our Peace Corps volunteers. I went to visit volunteers in Mpumalanga [province] and the North West [province] to look at volunteers who are working in programs in health and education. Those are the two principal sectors in South Africa.
Can you tell us what differences in policy or emphasis the Obama administration will bring to the activities of the Peace Corps?
This is a marvelous time for the Peace Corps as we approach our 50th [anniversary]. President Obama has issued a call to service to Americans and Americans have really responded in an extraordinary manner. Applications this year are up 18 percent. We have approximately 15,000 applications for about 4,000 positions right now so we’re seeing extraordinary interest on the part of Americans.
We also teach about 250 languages worldwide and the reason for that is so that Peace Corps volunteers can really reach out and work as partners in communities, with grassroots organizations around the world. One of the things that we try to do is that we want to be a responsive to partnerships. We’re a people-to-people organization. We work directly with communities.
Which African countries have benefited the most from Peace Corps assistance?
I think nearly all African countries have benefited… Historically, the first country that the Peace Corps went into was Ghana. Ghana is going to be the first country to celebrate its 50th anniversary and we have had uninterrupted service… [there] for nearly 50 years.
I think certainly here in South Africa we’re working in areas that are of great interest to the South African government and to South African society, civil society and business. We’re focused on education, we work on HIV/Aids. I had a chance to speak to South African government officials while I was here, in the ministries of health and education, and we want to support national priorities and we will continue to do so. Of course, our role is to work at the community level.
What are the Peace Corps’ biggest achievements, and its failures, in Africa over the last five years?
I think our biggest achievement has to be capacity development. We work with young people throughout the continent in terms of improving their learning ability. For example, we work with deaf children in many countries in Africa. We work with orphans who have been orphaned because of the HIV/Aids epidemic. We work in areas of small businesses and development with young people. As a matter of fact, probably two-thirds of all the people that we reach in Africa are children…
And now a new departure has been the new food security initiative. Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton is very interested in food security; it’s going to be one of her primary initiatives and has the full support of course of the Obama administration. It is a priority at Peace Corps, and we’re going to do more to expand our work in agriculture. Agriculture has always been an important part of Peace Corps’ involvement in working at the community level.
What would you like the Peace Corps in Africa to be doing in three or four years?
I would like to see us continue our program in education; we’re very much involved in teacher training … hands-on involvement with teachers in the schools. I want to see us continue to expand our work in health, not just in HIV/Aids, but also in malaria and tuberculosis. We have trained skilled volunteers who work at the community level, really strengthening the capacity of NGOs at the grassroots to work in these areas.
I want to see us having a broad, expanded role in food security, especially because in Africa women play an instrumental role in the agricultural sector. I want to see us reach out to women who are involved in agriculture. I want to see us reach out to young people and introduce them to the importance of agriculture and food security. So those are the areas [where] I’d like to see us really establish a broader presence and deeper involvement at the community level.
Copyright © 2009 allAfrica.com. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
Policy Makers and International Volunteers Convene In Washington, D.C., To Forge New Partnerships And Advance National Policies For Volunteer Service and Citizen Diplomacy
Partners of the Americas, the International Volunteering Project at Brookings, and the Building Bridges Coalition will host the 2009 Higher Education & International Volunteer Service Conference on November 12-13, 2009 in Washington, D.C. The conference will drive efforts for assessing and influencing national policies related to service, study abroad programs and service learning, and citizen diplomacy.
The first day of the conference will conclude with a special Capitol Hill Reception in the Hart Senate Office Building hosted by Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.). The reception will celebrate international volunteer service and recognize legislative leaders for their contributions.
WHO: Partners of the Americas, the International Volunteering Project at Brookings, and the Building Bridges Coalition.
Invited speakers include: Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.); Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio); Judith McHale, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy; Aaron Williams, Director, Peace Corps ; John Bridgeland, President and CEO, Civic Enterprises; Senator Harris Wofford, former senator from Pennsylvania; Ann Schodde , President and CEO, U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy; Vic Johnson, Senior Advisor, Public Policy, NAFSA: Association of International Educators; and Steve Rosenthal, Chair, Building Bridges Coalition and Founder, Executive Director, Cross Cultural Solutions.
WHAT: The 2009 Higher Education & International Volunteer Service Conference, and Capitol Hill Reception hosted by Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).
WHEN: The Conference will take place November 12-13, 2009; the Capitol Hill Reception will be held the evening of November 12, 2009 from 6-8 p.m.
WHERE: The Conference will take place at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, 415 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington DC 20001. The Capitol Hill Reception will be held at the Hart Senate Office Building.
For more information regarding event details or media requests, please contact Amy Cantu at (202) 973-1325 or email@example.com.
PeaceCorpsWorldWide will be at this event and we will report on it on our website.
I like this question–Does the Peace Corps Really Matter?– and the conversations and discussions that it provokes. It brings the idea of the agency back to mind.
I have been hearing people since the Nixon years trashing the Peace Corps, all of us were ‘draft dodgers” Tricky Dick said. Eisenhower called us a “juvenile experiment,” and the Daughters of the American Revolution warned of a “yearly drain” of “brains and brawn…for the benefit of “backward, underdeveloped countries.” (A year after all of these “wise” pronouncements, Time magazine declared in a cover story that the Peace Corps was “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.”)
It is good for the agency when the whole idea of ‘The Peace Corps” is in the public currency. The problem today is that while the agency is ‘Mom’s apple pie’ in the minds of most Americans, the next question most Americans ask is: ‘Does the Peace Corps still exist?”
We know the majority of Americans are ignorant of the world beyond the borders of their home state. Oh, they (sort of) know Disneyworld is in Florida, but that is about it when it comes to geography. Where were they in seventh grade? The other day–this is in 2009!—a woman holding a senior position at the college where I work asked me where Liberia was.
So you cannot underestimate the lack of knowledge of the world possessed by ‘our fellow Americans.’ Many of them are still trying to find Iraq on a world map. So, lets not expect too much from our citizens locked away in the United States. Why, I still can’t see Alaska from my front porch perched high in the hills of upstate New York.
But back to my point, and I do have one.
How do we make the Peace Corps matter in America, and matter to Congress, our fund agency?
The other day I suggested on this blog that the Peace Corps appoint an Associate Director for the Third Goal. A senior level person with the job of rallying the assumed 200,000 of us back home, not only to come to D.C. for the 50thanniversary, but also to have these 200,000 throw their active support behind the agency, to grow the Peace Corps through their voting power in home districts across America. RPCVs by voting as a block, and getting their neighbors to join our cause, can make the point that America no longer influences the world through the barrel of a gun, and the work done by PCVs in the developing world is as important for our safety here at home as any army overseas.
Over the last year we have had a number of meetings taking place within the Peace Corps regarding the 50th Anniversary, meetings organized by the old administration and now with the new director, Aaron Williams. Some of these proposals for what to do on the Anniversary are on the Peace Corps website. Take a look.
Representatives of the NPCA have been asked to attend the Peace Corps meetings, but unfortunately they have not been able to bring much influence or many ideas to the table. While the NPCA has a limited membership (maybe 4k) they have a good database of recent RPCVs. The Peace Corps’ lists are longer and more accurate, however.
The Peace Corps didn’t track RPCVs until RPCV Carol Bellamy came into the office in 1993. She put together a data base then of about 90,000 names and addresses of RPCVs.
The NPCA (since the 25th Reunion in 1986) has had reunions, but not since Kevin Quigley, the CEO and President of the National Peace Corps Association, realized the NPCA loses money every time RPCVs gather in the same room. He hasn’t organized a meeting of the community since the Chicago RPCVs had their summer event, which was, I think, six years ago?
Events organized by the NPCA would help to launch this 50thAnniversary, but that is not going to happen. The NPCA, with its limited membership and limited money, doesn’t have the funds to cover a gathering of RPCVs anywhere, anyplace, any how.
The Peace Corps itself has similar money problems. Being a government agency they can’t spend money on what is basically a bunch of old RPCVs getting together to tell lies about what they did when they were young and overseas.
As I previously detailed on this website, the 25th reunion of RPCVs would never have taken place but that the Washington, D.C. group organizing it received a grant of $25,000 from the McCarthy Foundation. Only then did Director Loret Ruppe jump into the planning so the agency could take control of events — fearing an RPCV uprising. She, however, got herself (and the agency) in trouble with the IG’s office for spending money on ‘non Peace Corps work.’
The Peace Corps has to be careful how they spent our tax dollars. (Who do we think we are, Goldman Sachs?”)
So….what to do? There is a way, but it has to start with the agency.
Anyone who has spent ten minutes around Peace Corps HQ realizes that the best recruiters are former Volunteers who come home and return to campus or their hometowns and talk about their life in the Peace Corps. (Not that the Peace Corps needs to worry about recruitment today, what with this economy. Young people are flocking to the Peace Corps for work, health insurance, and a way to put off paying back their college loans for a few years.)
I suggest that to start organizing this 50th Anniversary in D.C., an event that is beyond the current capabilities of the Washington RPCVs, the NPCA, or the Peace Corps, Aaron Williams needs to appoint — with a staff and budget — a Third Goal Director, someone (an RPCV) who can rally the RPCVs, get them united to the cause of the agency, and to get them to come to D.C. in the fall of 2011.
There are a number of very practical reasons for an Associate Director for the Third Goal, but the most important one is that RPCVs vote, and they vote in their home districts. Letters, emails, and phone calls ‘back home’ get the attention of their congressional representations. These letters and emails show support for the Peace Corps and that translates into support in Congress, which translates into $$$ for the PCVs overseas and the expansion of the agency. Remember, MorePeaceCorps? Or is it, BoldPeaceCorps?
The Peace Corps, as an agency, has never, never cared or successfully recruited RPCVs to support its work. The 50th gives us a golden opportunity.
So, on this 50th Anniversary, lets get the Golden RPCVs to come to D.C. and more importantly, rally behind the agency. To do this, we need an Associate Director for the Third Goal at HQ in Washington.
It is not the whole answer, but it is a start.
As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, the service program is at something of a crossroads. The agency never fulfilled President Kennedy’s dream of sending 100,000 Americans abroad every year, and it has been criticized for parachuting too many inexperienced college grads into development jobs they aren’t prepared for. But friends in Congress have secured a 10 percent budget increase for the Peace Corps, and some of the agency’s boosters are hoping for more soon.
Enter Aaron Williams, a volunteer in the Caribbean in the late-1960s who has now returned to lead the agency. He spoke to NationalJournal.com’s David Gauvey Herbert about putting a price tag on the Peace Corps experience, the dangers of tying the agency too closely to American foreign policy and his own experience in the Dominican Republic.
NJ: You served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 1967 to 1970. What doors did it open for you?
Williams: Well it gave me a view of the world. I had never been on an airplane before the Peace Corps. First time I’d been on an airplane, first time I’d been in a foreign country, obviously. And to have a chance to learn a foreign language, to work cross-culturally, to really see the world from a different perspective. Peace Corps opened all those doors for me. And I always had the interest in going back into international development.
NJ: You may have read a report from Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office that it costs $50,000 a year to put a Peace Corps volunteer in the field but only a few dollars for life-saving measles medication. Do you think it’s right to be running these cost-benefit analyses when you’re talking about a development budget that is limited?
Williams: I think that the United States, as the leader in the world in terms of international assistance, it’s important that we have different kinds. The Peace Corps plays a special role because we’re the person-to-person humanitarian assistance. It gives Americans an opportunity to serve and it gives the people of many nations the opportunity to learn more about Americans. And I don’t think there’s ever any substitute for that.
Citizen diplomacy is an important aspect of America, it’s what we always do, whether it’s through churches, or volunteers organizations, NGOs, universities, high school exchanges, all this is important. And Peace Corps is a formal, targeted way of giving Americans the opportunity to do this.
NJ: You spent two decades at USAID. How will that experience help you now that you’re back with the Peace Corps?
Williams: I’ve seen the developing world close up for many, many years, starting out as a Peace Corps volunteer. And I understand all aspects of development, I’ve worked on all the continents, I’ve worked with NGOs, I’ve worked with the private sector, I’ve worked with governments. So I have a real keen understanding of what international development is all about, what it looks like, what it takes to be effective.
NJ: What do you make of the criticism that the U.S. shouldn’t be sending volunteers to countries like Fiji, Vanuatu and Cape Verde because the U.S. has no strategic interests there?
Williams: Many, many countries are interested in having Peace Corps volunteers serve there. Since President Obama was elected, the reengagement of America in the world is enormous and there are extraordinary opportunities, and we’re going to continue to look at a wide range of countries. You need to look at couple things. First of all, where are there countries that desire Peace Corps volunteers? And also, what about U.S. interests? I’m going to look at both sides of that equation.
NJ: A wide array of abroad service programs have sprung up that weren’t around when the Peace Corps was founded. Do you feel like you’re competing to the best and the brightest?
Williams: I hope we are vying for the best and the brightest, absolutely, all the time. We want the best coming to the Peace Corps. I think that’s also good for our country that there are many, many opportunities for people to serve because everybody isn’t going to go into the Peace Corps….
But I think that because we offer this wonderful, and in most instances, unique opportunity to serve in a very structured way, the Peace Corps will always remain strong and will have a chance to recruit Americans with interest in serving abroad. Right now our applications this year are up 12 percent, and we’ve got 14,000 applications for 4,000 slots.
NJ: What do you attribute that jump to?
Williams: First of all, I attribute it to the fact that the president has called on Americans to serve. We’re one of the president’s two signature initiatives in national service, the other being the National Corporation. I think that Americans are interested in serving, they want to know more about the outside world. It goes back to my earlier point that, as a nation, we’re more service-oriented than we have been in the last 30 or 40 years. All of this bodes well for Peace Corps.
NJ: There been a push for older volunteers in recent years, and now 14 percent of your volunteers are over 30. The advantages older volunteers are obvious, but don’t older volunteers contradict one of the stated goals of the Peace Corps, that your experience informs your career for decades to come?
Williams: I would think that, actually, an American coming back who has had that kind of positive experience, whether you’re 25 or 55, I think it’s equal…. Whenever a Peace Corps volunteer comes back home, they’re going to play an important role in their community just by the nature of their experience.
NJ: I spoke with former Sen. Harris Wofford [a founding member of the Peace Corps in the Kennedy administration]. He takes issue with Sen. [Christopher "Kit"] Bond’s vision for the Peace Corps as a tool of American soft power, particularly in the Middle East. Wofford worries that linking the program with American foreign policy, no matter how benign, may hurt its credibility around the world.
Williams: I think not only is that Sen. Wofford’s view, it’s also Sargent Shriver’s view and it was also Kennedy’s view, and I stand by that. It’s been a successful way of viewing the Peace Corps for nearly 50 years.
NJ: What’s your 20-second pitch for why a college graduate should spend two and a half years toiling in Uganda teaching English? [Pause] Go. [Laughter]
Williams: Only 20 seconds? You’re so generous. I thought it was going to be 10 seconds. [Laughter]… It’s a unique opportunity to find out what you as an individual can contribute to the community that you are involved in overseas. It’s a very structured environment, you’re going to get the best possible training, whether it’s cross-cultural or linguistic. You’re going to have an opportunity to work with people who care about the issues and programs you’re working on….
And then when you come back, you’re going to be better prepared for the rest of your life because of that experience. I think this is unique. There’s no better time for us to serve our country. We’ve got President Obama, who’s asked us to serve, we have opportunities to serve, and Peace Corps is a wonderful channel for that.
In today’s Counterpunch (edited by Alex Cockburn) Pam Martens writes about the “long-awaited investigative report by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Inspector General on how the SEC bungled multiple investigations of Bernard Madoff.” According to Martens, the team that produced this report on one of the most long-running and convoluted frauds in the history of Wall Street included Inspector General H. David Kotz who came to the SEC-IG post in December 2007 after five years as Inspector General and Associate General Counsel for the Peace Corps. The Deputy Inspector General, Noelle Frangipane, also came to the SEC from the Peace Corps where she had served as Director of Policy and Public Information.”
At home and abroad, the Peace Corps cleans up the mess!
August 24, 2009
TO: Peace Corps Community
FROM: Allison Price, Communications Director
SUBJECT:Greetings from Director Williams
This morning I was sworn in as the 18th Director of the Peace Corps. While preparing for this day, I decided that the first thing I wanted to do was to take a moment to introduce myself to the Peace Corps community and thank you for everything you have done and continue to do.
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, this is quite an emotional moment. When I was in that small town in the Dominican Republic, I was consumed by the same daily thoughts: How was I going to master another language? What did it mean to be a 20 year old, training rural school teachers, many twice my age? How would I make a life in a community so far from my home? In 1967, I couldn’t have imagined all of the people who had worked so tirelessly to allow a Volunteer like me to help in this small community - a community that most staff would never get the chance to see or experience.
Today, the roles are slightly reversed. I have spent most of my career working in developing countries - but now I will have the extraordinary opportunity to work with the staff in the U.S. and abroad to ensure that the next generation of Volunteers will have the same quality experience that I had in the Peace Corps. Everybody’s service is unique, but I know that no matter where or when someone served - being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a life changing experience. We all tried to make a difference every day. We accomplished a lot with very little. And most importantly, we had the opportunity to recognize what we can achieve when given the tools to succeed. As President Kennedy envisioned, we learned to understand, respect and admire our host communities and countries.
This is my first day at Peace Corps headquarters since my nomination in early July. I am truly excited and honored to be here. In these first few weeks, I will be spending time getting to know many of you, listening to your ideas, and getting reacquainted with this agency that has meant so much to all of us. We’ll immediately move forward addressing the challenges — both old and new - the agency faces.
At this historic moment, America is now led by a President committed to renewing the call to service and the Peace Corps is on the cusp of our 50th anniversary — I believe there could be no better time for us to work together to capture the imagination of those Americans interested in serving. I can’t do this alone. I look forward to working with you to maintain the high standard that has been set by all of those who have come before us. Together, in the 21st century we will build on this legacy and grow a stronger Peace Corps that continues to champion world peace and friendship.
Hugh Pickens (Peru 1970-73) who started www.peacecorpsonline.org back in the early days of 2001 as a news service to the Peace Corps community has collected the various documents relating to what Aaron Williams should do, now that he is about to be sworn in as the new director. Check out the ideas at:
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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