“Reinventing the wheel” is a common problem faced by Peace Corps volunteers.  Many volunteers have gone before, started and completed projects with successes and failures.  Then, their days of service end and they go home.  Unfortunately, much of their wisdom gained by experience is lost and the cycle begins again with a new group of volunteers.  How can we pass on the wisdom and experience of past volunteers to current volunteers?

I believe the first step for each newly arrived volunteer is to familiarize herself with the IRC, Information and Resource Center, housed at the country’s Peace Corps office.  Each country has one.  In some countries, it is a bookshelf in an APCD’s office.  In other countries, the IRC is a “real” library complete with library software to facilitate finding the desired resources that are actually in the IRC or are online.  The luckier posts have an IRC coordinator.  In other posts, the job is performed as an additional task for the IT person or by an APCD.  In Costa Rica, a committee of volunteers perform the IRC coordinator’s job.  I was very fortunate to work in the IRC in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from Nov. 2006 to June 2008 at which time the DR was designated as one of two test sites for automating the library with ResouceMate software.  Since that time, according to the IRC coordinator in Washington DC , Rachel Forman (rforman@peacecorps.gov), many more sites now have ResourceMate.  This automation helps find resources faster and more efficiently.

The Information Resource Center can be a very helpful place for volunteers to find information to help them in their work.  ICE publications can be ordered through the IRC and housed there for future reference.  Ideally, the IRC has computers for volunteer use, ICE publications, how-to manuals from building latrines to organizing summer camps for youth and a variety of other resources.  Also, ideally, there would be an IRC coordinator available to help locate the resources in the center as well as online.  One thing that our Peace Corps experiences have taught us is that ideal situations do not exist in the real world.

A valuable addition to every IRC would be if each PCV  wrote about her project experiences including what worked,  what did not and why.  These reports could then be housed in the IRC and become part of the country’s Peace Corps history that would enable future volunteers to avoid “reinventing the wheel”.  Also, the IRC should be as country specific as possible.  Any  publications by the host country’s government and NGO’s should be housed in the IRC.  Some countries have government websites.  In the Dominican Republic, we were fortunate enough to have access to the government’s websites:  a great place to find statistics about population, education and agriculture.  Tourist attractions such as the National Zoo and Botanical Gardens also have websites.  The IRC could keep track of these websites for the volunteers.  I was able to create a “library of websites” for local information and organize them in the library software for use  by the volunteers.

My advice to volunteers in the field is to 1) locate the IRC, 2) identify the IRC coordinator and 3) add to the IRC’s collection by contributing information about personal experiences in the field.  Sharing information and housing it in the IRC will help combat “reinventing the wheel”.