pc-chronology-140Peace Corps Chronology: 1961–2010
by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975–77)
$22.95 - hardback; $13.95 - paperback; $9.99 - ebook
120 pages
November 2010

Reviewed by P. David Searles (Staff: CD Philippines 1971–74, PC/W 1974–76)

A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN FIFTY YEARS, as demonstrated by Lawrence F. Lihosit’s superb book:  Peace Corps Chronology, 1961-2010. Lihosit has carefully sifted through an immense cache of Peace Corps data from a wide variety of sources, some of which are familiar and some of which were previously unknown, at least to me. In the book he gives a detailed account of the critical happenings — year by year, decade by decade — from 1961 to the present.

The book will be read in two ways. The first, and this is probably what most of us will immediately do, is check out what he has included from our years with the Peace Corps. For me that meant 1971–76, and I say he got the important points very well. Of course, I would have preferred that he include far more details from that period (as we all would for our own years), but we can do that for ourselves.

The second way — and this is of more importance — is to use the material in the book to track both the significant changes that have occurred over fifty years and the matters that have remained untouched throughout that same time period. Some of the changes he records are remarkable. The ratio of men to women Volunteers is now the reverse of what it was in the beginning.  Volunteer isolation in remote work sites — the norm early on — has been alleviated dramatically by the advent of new communications technologies. An unheard of health problem in my time (HIV/AIDS) has become both a significant personal concern and a valuable and much appreciated area of Volunteer work. Happily, Lihosit’s data indicate that at long last the very worrisome problem of early terminations has lessened. Readers will find evidence of any number of similarly important changes — as one would expect over fifty years — and then be able to puzzle over whether or not the changes are good or bad.

On the other hand, it is a bit disturbing to learn that some of the major problems encountered in the early years remain. The Peace Corps still struggles with the question of how best to recruit, train, and support Volunteers.  The Federal Government has more often than not failed to provide adequate budgets for the Peace Corps. Too often staff appointments reflect political connections, rather than a person’s personal commitment to “making the world a better place.”  The merits of the five-year rule continue to be hotly debated, and often ignored, despite an open and shut case for it, in my opinion. Perhaps the most disturbing fact that Lihosit has produced is that the Washington-based bureaucracy now sucks up a much greater portion of the Agency’s resources than it has done historically. The growth in Washington staff alone is enough to make a fellow think seriously about becoming a Tea-Partier!

Hopefully, the preceding paragraphs will show just how valuable, and thought-provoking, Lihosit’s book can be. I have barely touched upon all of the important issues it raises, and what is considered important will probably be different for each of us. We all tend to see things our own way, but now we have some facts to go on thanks to the author’s many months of diligent research. I want to especially point out the usefulness of the tables and charts he has included in the book. As they say, a picture is often worth a thousand words.

In the Preface Lihosit makes a strong case for the establishment of a permanent home for Peace Corps material such as books (including self-published ones), personal memoirs, official documents, photos, art — everything and anything that has a Peace Corps connection. He favors housing the collection at the Library of Congress, which seems right to me. Elsewhere he makes another strong case for doing something to combat the rising tide of violence directed at Volunteers, especially women.  This also seems right, although I’m not sure that some of his specific recommendations are wise. (Issuing pepper spray to women and training them in combat judo hardly seem in keeping with Peace Corps traditions.)

Finally, Lihosit has dedicated his book to the Volunteers who have given their lives in Peace Corps service. This is a fine gesture, and, in fact, is a belated recognition of an occurrence which has been far more common than most of us realize.

Let me simply say “Buy this book.”  Doing so will arm you with the information you need to be a fully informed member of the Peace Corps family.

P. David Searles served three years as the Country Director for the Peace Corps in the Philippines from 1971 to 1974, and then spent two years at Peace Corps headquarters as Regional Director for NANEAP and as Deputy Director of the agency under John Dellenback (1974-76).  His career has included work in international business, government service and education. In 1993 David earned a Ph. D. from the University of Kentucky and published two books: A College for Appalachia (1995) and The Peace Corps Experience (1997), both published by The University Press of Kentucky.

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