Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond
by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971–73)
Peace Corps Writers
$18.00 (paperback), $5.00 (Kindle)
Reviewed by John Holley (Colombia 1968–70)
I WAS ASKED to review this book because my life’s work parallels Mr. Walkers in many ways: we both got our start in the Peace Corps, and worked in international development. Furthermore, the Walkers have a strong tie with Guatemala where I attempted to make it my permanent home but failed. Furthermore, having moved around a lot and worked in 50 countries, I have lived a similar family life, and could easily relate to Mr. Walker’s experience. My work, however, was very different from Mark’s: I worked in mainstream development, improving health care systems and programs, hired at one time or another by most of the major donors, such as the World Bank, various UN agencies, USAID and others.
Mark, on the other hand, played a critical role in a sector of international development that I knew existed, had contact with, and had friends working with some of the organizations, and even gave money to some, but never worked for them. Mark’s principal work was to provide the money to fund development activities for the various organizations he worked for, many of which are household names such as Plan International, CARE, Feed the Children, etc. These organizations generally focus on specific villages or groups, and target specific developmental activities, and often fill in neglected areas such as children’s health and education, human trafficking, agriculture, etc.
In approaching this book, it is important to understand that it is principally an autobiography. In this sense, it is very personal, and we get to meet the mentors who have played a strong role in Mark’s career whom he was smart enough to cultivate. We also meet his lovely wife and children, living the life of expatriates. It is also important that from the outset, to understand that Mark is part of a world that acts on Christian compassion to help the less fortunate. This is a significant group of organizations that rely upon individual donations to survive and carry out useful and difficult activities all over the world.
I mention this background because the book gradually evolves to the eventual key role that Mark played in his world: by schmoozing rich individuals both in the US and abroad, he made the activities feasible for improving the lives of those living in poverty. This was his success, and in part why he wrote the book: to show that an individual can make a difference in international development. Along the way he sometimes describes the political situation in relation to getting things done for the poor people,
There are several excellent reasons for reading this book, and no reader will be interested in everything Mark tries to say, in part because as an autobiography it evolves over time and we meet many of the people who are mentors, bosses, colleagues or just friends, many of whom have mere cameo appearances at dinner parties and we never see them again. I realized that Mark has done this deliberately as recognition and thanks to each person with whom he shared something. As a reader, it is hard to remember all the characters in this narrative, but my advice is to forgive Mark his effort to acknowledge the most important individuals who cross his path. What this does do is help to recognize the importance of networking!
The book begins with the Peace Corps, and his message is that once again, the Peace Corps is arguably the best way of seeing if a life in International Development is something you might aspire to. After a tour with the Peace Corps, you will know if you want to make a career in International Development. Anyone considering a career in international development should read this book. The Peace Corps experience worked out very well for thousands, including both of us.
The last third of the book focuses on two things. Mark’s real gift in development is his genuine Christian desire and personality to help others, and wound up being a real expert and extracting large donations which allow the subsector of Christian organizations to operate. Anyone who aspires to that calling can learn important lessons from Mark’s example.
The last third of the book describes a number of successful activities related to fund raising. Again, anyone who aspires to pursue fund raising there are some lessons to be learned from Mark’s experience. Note that one of the places where he sought funds was Rotary International, where he has been long been active in this very American institution which now has has chapters in many countries.
Another reason why Mark wrote his book, is that he was very successful in pursuing his goal of helping the poor in the world of development which demonstrates that an individual can make a significant impact working in development, and have a fulfilling life. The way I described this myself was that after 40 years of consulting, I looked back and realized that I could legitimately declare that I had improved the lives of millions of poor people in small ways. Mark can definitely say the same: he coaxed huge sums of money from donors that have been used to improve the lives of millions of people all over the world! Bravo! Wouldn’t it be fantastic if somehow thousands of other people working in development could be say the same thing! Working in international development can be very fascinating and fulfilling in many ways.
If any of the topics I’ve mention attract your interest, I urge you to read Mark’s book. The plot is his life and skips around, sometimes chronologically, but skips around by countries when it makes sense and the participation of lives of others they whom were associated. He has a lot to say. I recommend simply skim those sections of lesser interest.
Finally, I would encourage readers not to limit their development world to that of Mark. He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, but this task is the domain of specialists, and requires a certain type personality. Other opportunities in development abound, particularly in the mainstream of development. For more information about this life style and specific consulting skills, behaviors, etc., I urge you to read my book as well: Consulting in International Development: a Primer.
Reviewer John Holly worked for 40+ years as a health care management consultant to USAID, the World Bank, and various UN agencies, in a wide breadth of activities in about 50 countries, and is now mentoring the new generation. For more information on him or his book, Consulting in International Development: A Primer, visit his website: jholleywritings.com.