As a Volunteer in Colombia when I was asked by a Colombian, “Quien es?” I would reply “Cuerpo de Paz.” When asked the same question by an American, I would say “Colombia XI.” Those were all the IDs I needed; designations I was proud to claim, then and now. One of the unique features of Peace Corps administration that gets too little attention is the organization of Volunteers into groups.
Volunteers apply individually, are accepted individually and serve individually; but in between, they are “staged,” “trained,” and “sworn in,” as a member of a group. Everyone in the group goes to the same country; has the same starting and terminating date; usually the same program description; attends classes together; and serves under the same Host Country management. The groups are named by country and then by number; the numbers are sequential within each country, except when they are not.* Taken all together, the records of each group could be the building blocks for a complete history of the Peace Corps.
The first step in conceptualizing such a history project, I decided, would be to obtain the list of all the Peace Corps groups beginning in 1961. Before I describe the results of my FOIA quest, let me pause and introduce a great RPCV Peace Corps website for Peace Corps data, created by Will Dickinson , RPCV Armenia 2004-2006 Co-Founder and Director, PeaceCorpsWiki. Peace Corps Wiki has been very active in using the FOIA process to obtain a wide range of important information from Peace Corps, including some of the same kind of information from Peace Corps as I and with much the same results.
But, first from the Peace Corps Wiki website:
Peace Corps Wiki is a collaborative project whose goal is to create a free, interactive, and up-to-date source of information about serving as a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. Anyone is welcome to edit, add, or change any entry, or start a new one. So far there are a total of 7,962pages that have been written and edited by (R)PCVs and Friends of Peace Corps from around the world. This public benefit not for profit website tax exempt 501c3, designed and operated by returned Peace Corps Volunteers with no government funding, provides the transparency called for by President Obama to enable the public and potential PC volunteers to view extensive information about the agency’s operations and Peace Corps service.
Right now, Peace Corps Wiki is in a funding crisis and is requesting donations to stay operative. The goal is $3000 by July 31st and about $1000 is still needed. I donated and I would urge others to visit this valuable site and do the same.
Now, to return to my request. On March 30, 2007. I requested,
A list of all Peace Corps training groups, including the country of service, the years of service and the project title beginning with Ghana I, the first Peace Corps training group and concluding with those groups currently in services as of February 28, 2007.
In my response, FOIA #07-044, I received 88 pages of something called “Sector Assignments.” That is evidently the same document that Peace Corps Wiki received and posted. To view it, visit: http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Peace_Corps_Wiki and key the following navigation path: left hand menu; choose “Country;”choose “Browse Wiki by Country;”-choose “Category Country Category;” Scroll down under C, key “Colombia;” there are four pages for Colombia, choose ”Colombia” from Group C-. This will bring up the list of sector assignments.
Any Colombia RPCV will know immediately that the sector assignments and the dates make no sense. Yet, this is what the FOIA officer in 2007 thought was a list of training groups. I appealed the decision and this was the final result:
“1)In regards to files related to Volunteer training groups for specific projects or programs, the Agency’s retention schedule, 923.7, states that these files should be held for 2 years, retired to the Federal Records Center to be destroyed after 5 years.
2) Second, the group numbers you requested are neither considered official or required nor consistently assigned to training groups. These numbers may be determined differently from post to post (e.g., in some countries the groups are identified by their training group site and a number, in others, may simply be sequential based on arrival) or not at all in some posts.”
Peace Corps doesn’t retire numbers, it destroys them. No wall in the lobby of the Coverdell building proudly displaying who it was we were. But Colombia XI’s history exists in my memory and that of all my cohorts. The real history of Peace Corps depends on the efforts of all RPCVs. Right now, Peace Corps Wiki is one such special effort deserving of our support.