peasants-come-last-140Peasants Come Last: A Memoir of the Peace Corps at Fifty
by J. Larry Brown (India late 1960s)
Lucita Publisher
$12.99 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle)
174 pages
September 2011

Reviewed by  Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67)

A DENSELY POPULATED, complex and important African country, Uganda suffers from a history of violence reflected in names like Idi Amin, Milton Obote and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Peace Corps has entered Uganda three times and left twice since the ’60s.  Currently, some 175 PCVs serve in Uganda supported by a staff of 30+.

Dr. J. Larry Brown became the Uganda Country Director in late 2008.  Peasants Come Last is a punchy and compelling narrative of his latest Peace Corps experience, providing a chilling perspective of the significant challenges faced by Peace Corps in such a post.

The book applauds and honors Peace Corps Volunteers and staff in Uganda, explaining the worrisome dangers that must be faced in serving there and the concomitant concerns and challenges in supporting them.  It is a well written and a very enjoyable read, providing context with fascinating anecdotes and salient conclusions.

Peasants Come Last traces the author’s experience from his decision to apply for a CD position until his sudden dismissal just eight months after his arrival in Uganda. One of few books that speak to the Peace Corps experience from the staff perspective, it should be of significant interest to the Peace Corps community, particularly in light of the important questions it raises.

No newby to Peace Corps — RPCV India in the 60’s, head of Volunteer Recruitment in the ’70s, Dr. Brown is a distinguished leader in the field of hunger in America and across the globe. He is a former Chair of Oxfam America, and professor of public health at Harvard.  A “child of the ’60s, political and social activist, Dr. Brown is an outspoken advocate against the ravages of hunger.  His accomplishments in the field of public health are significant.

In the interests of disclosure, Dr. Brown and I worked together at the ACTION Agency. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting and renewing our friendship in the context of his book, albeit long distance. Dr. Brown currently runs a program in Oman.

Dr. Brown’s book provides a vehicle for his conclusions about the state of Peace Corps and the case for its renewal and revival.  He mourns its mire amid a dominant climate of bureaucracy, a view consistent with that of many other recently returned overseas staff.  Peasants Come Last is interesting, compelling and credible. There are important lessons to be learned from it!

Following his service as a Volunteer, Ken Hill  joined the Peace Corps staff in Washington after recruiting for a year.  In 2001, Ken was Chief of Staff of the Peace Corps following his positions as Chief of Operations for Europe and Asia and Country Director in the Russian Far East, Bulgaria, Macedonia.  Ken was Chairman of the Board of the National Peace Corps Association in the mid 2000s, and is currently on the Board of the Bulgarian-American Society and Friends of Turkey (Arkadaşlar). An Advisor to the Obama Transition Team for the Peace Corps, Ken was subsequently a principal of the MorePeaceCorps and Push4PeaceCorps campaigns. He organized the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Staff Reunion.