Cold Hand of History, The Peace Corps Part 8

The end of the Ethiopia 1 tour began with the Completion of Service Conference in April, 1964. The conference was conducted by Dr. Joseph English, chief Peace Corps Psychiatrist, and Jane Campbell of the Division of Volunteer Support. (Jane the following year would return to Ethiopia as an APCD.)

May reports in his article that at the time the PCVs were uncertain about their future careers. He quotes John Rex writing to his parents in early ’64, “Can’t I write a book or travel, or do something different?” Most planned to spend the first few months following termination traveling through Europe. Some looked back and felt discouragement about what they had achieved in Ethiopia. Rex observed. “I certainly have benefited from the experience, but I ask myself if anyone else really has.”

One of the PCVs interviewed by Gary May was Mary Lou Linman, who was a PCV in Debre Berhan. She told him, “I had thought that I had become very cynical but now I see that I am no more cynical than the other volunteers. Generally we are cynical and disillusioned about Ethiopians and their values, but we remain idealist and enthusiastic about the Peace Corps and the importance of our work here.”

At the conference, May writes, “many volunteers expressed the view that Ethiopians were ‘passive, apathetic, hostile, and suspicious of all foreigners…and new ideas. They are not interested in working to help themselves,” Linsman wrote, “or in any work at all, but only in how much other countries will give them. This is not an underdeveloped country, it is an under developing country!”

The volunteers were as critical of themselves as they were of the Ethiopians. “They will admit that, on the whole, they did a poor job of learning the language,” Jane Campbell wrote in her final report. “That they did not make the ‘supreme effort’ to overcome the cultural barrier between themselves and the Ethiopians that they could have become better teachers….”

Almost everyone detested the “image” of the volunteer promoted by the Peace Corps to win public support. “I’m sick and tired of the mud-hut-image” said one volunteer. “It doesn’t’ apply to us” “How can I live like my counterpart?” asked another. “I don’t even have a counterpart.”

In the Final Report, Jane Campbell would write, “despite their distaste for Ethiopian culture and Peace Corps public relations, 96 % of Peace Corps Ethiopia as a whole believed their work had “made a contribution to [Ethiopian’s] economic, cultural or social development.” More children had been able to attend school, and the quality of teaching had improved.  They helped “some students to reason rather than to memorize,” and “perhaps” a few Ethiopians had learned that “there maybe there is dignity in manual labor.”

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