Not sure if anyone reads Parade Magazine (but you’ll read anything on a vacation!) and last week while in Key West I picked up a copy and there was Aaron Williams being interviewed (briefly, only three questions) in the IntelligenceReport page of this Sunday newspaper supplement.
There was the standard (no brainer) question: Who can join the Peace Corps? But the reporter then asked: Why is the Peace Corps roughly half the size it was in 1966?
Aaron replied how funding has gone “up and down” but the Peace Corps now has bipartisan support in Congress “plus the administration’s commitment to expand.” He sums up, “We plan to add a couple thousand volunteers over the next two years.”
Of course, President Obama has already said the Peace Corps should double in size, but then every president has said that and it never happens.
Aaron made one interesting closing comment. He was saying how “tech-savvy” PCVs are and that there was a Volunteer in Nicaragua who had developed a stove that people can use to cook with compost instead of wood. Aaron wants to put this PCV’s blueprints and techniques online so that Volunteers in Africa, Asia, and Latin American can see what he’s doing.
Well, that’s all fine, and I agree, but back in 1997 I dropped into Associate Peace Corps Director Patricia Garamendi’s office in D.C. and she showed me a cooking stove a PCV had invented that used the sun for heat, no compost required.
The book shelves of what was once called in the agency, “Center For Field Assistance and Applied Research” are full of nifty ideas for PCVs to use and develop, and all of them should be on line, but no one in D.C. has yet to grab onto the most obvious idea, and that is to equip PCVs with inexpensive laptops. Half the Peace Corps Volunteers in the world teach, give them computers and students in Africa, Asia, and Latin America can go on line themselves in the classrooms of the developing world and get their own blueprints.
I’d suggest that Aaron call up Maureen Orth (Colombia 1965-67) and let Maureen tell him how she is already using inexpensive laptops at her school in Medellin, Colombia. This school that she supports with her K12 Wired Foundation was one she first built as a School-to-School project when she was a PCV. (By the way, I suggested this idea last year as # 4 Step for what the new Director should do when it took over.)
But to make my point once more! The One Laptop per Child computer is an XO-1 which costs about $200. If 3,500 Volunteers each year took one overseas to use and leave behind in their Peace Corps school or village, I think the cost could drop to $100. This purchase might be paid for by the PCV from either cost-of-living allowance or readjustment money, with another $50 tossed in by the agency.
It is an investment that keeps on giving. As Aaron rightly say, “PCVs are tech-savvy.” Well, let them prove to the world.