Do Africans Want Peace Corps Volunteers?
Thanks to ‘heads up’ about the following article from Mark Wentling (Honduras 1967–69, Togo 1970–73; PC Staff: Togo, Gabon, Niger 1973–77)
Do Africans Want Peace Corps Volunteers?
by Francis Tapon
Contributor, Forbes Magazine
Most tourists use the city of Tambacounda as a pitstop as they traverse Senegal. There’s little to see or do in town. There are even fewer touristic sites in the surrounding villages. Still, sometimes it’s the unpopular destinations that yield the most interesting stories.
The United States Peace Corps operates in safe, poor African countries. It avoids dangerous regions. The Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Tambacounda invited me to celebrate the Fourth of July with them. We had no fireworks but we shared some hotdogs and Doritos under an American flag. I asked them, “Is the Peace Corps useful in Senegal?”
One PVC said that they had trouble convincing locals to plant their own crops because they knew a supply of free food would be delivered anyway. She still felt that “the benefits outweigh the cost.”
Some foreigners think the PVCs are just young spies. There’s some truth to that. Peter, another PVC, said, “The Ghana USAID Director said that he uses PCVs to know what’s really going on. Short-term, there are probably better ways to accomplish the goals. But long-term, the $100,000 for two years pays off. You’re investing in Americans.”
How can you know when you’re dealing with a useful Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)?
Katie Letheren, who has worked with many NGOs, said:
One major thing to look at is how locals are involved. Are they being trained to run it themselves or are they always in support roles while the foreigners run it? I get the feeling that a lot are just altruistic projects for people to come take a year off and work, but they aren’t really committed to changing the local situation fully, which requires expanding your scope, which oftentimes people aren’t willing to do. For example, if a health NGO is not addressing the poverty that’s causing the health problems, then it’s just a Band-Aid. People with TB or HIV are unlikely to get better if their financial situation doesn’t improve.
PCVs are usually in their 20s. They usually start off idealistically and end cynically.
When they begin their two-year tour of duty, they run around enthusiastically trying to “fix” all sorts of “problems.” They are frustrated to see African men sitting underneath a tree all day while the young PVCs hustle to “save” the village.
At the end of their two years, you’ll often find the PCVs languidly sitting next to an old man under the same mango tree.
The child looks everywhere and often sees nothing, but the old man sitting on the ground sees everything. — Senegalese proverb
Over 30 years ago, The New York Times’ Africa correspondent wrote something I could have written today.
“Friends would ask, ‘But what is Africa really like?’ The best answer was ‘Different.’ The poverty is enormous and yet only by Western standards would you call the rural African poor. He has all the things needed to sustain him—food, clothing, a modest shelter, family love. Health conditions are appalling, but most Africans have access to better medical facilities than they did 30 years ago. The phones that don’t work and the clocks that are ignored may ruffle an American visitor but they don’t affect the African’s life much at all.”[i]
Just because Africans seem so blasé about PCVs doesn’t mean they don’t love them. Nine out of 10 Senegalese want more foreign aid. Two-thirds of Africans surveyed by Pew Research in 2015 felt the same way.
Only South Africans were divided about whether they need more or less aid. Seven in 10 Africans were either “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that the foreign aid organizations will “help solve major problems in our country.”
Showing their love for paternalistic governments, they are even more confident (78%) that their national government will solve big problems.
Some disagree. In 2002, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade said, “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit. Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.”
The problem is that 12 years after those wise words, 74 percent of Senegalese were still “dissatisfied with the availability of quality healthcare,” according to a Gallup poll. That was the worst rate in Africa.
For Senegal to provide outstanding aid-free healthcare, it will need to do a better job at copying the best practices of the countries that ex-President Wade listed.
Find out what would really help this Gambian entrepreneur the most:
Francis Tapon Author of Hike Your Own Hike & The Hidden Europe. Creating The Unseen Africa: a 5-year trip to all 54 African countries. Director of Best Luxury Safaris.
3 CommentsLeave a comment
Blanket statements and generalities which begin reasonably and then in a breath move to stark conclusions are easy to make. One example is Mr. Tapon’s, “PCVs are usually in their 20s. They usually start off idealistically and end cynically.”
It’s also easy to mistake generalizations as absolute statements that apply to all cases.
Dear Mr. Tapon,
Speaking from experience, most Post Corps Volunteers I know or have known did not end their service as cynics. They had spent several years working with specific organizations and specific people who had specific goals to improve the lives of their fellow citizens and appreciated the time, commitment, and expertise that Peace Corps Volunteers had willingly shared with them. I am sorry that your travels did not bring you in contact with any PCVs who could have introduced you to their colleagues and their shared work.
For just one example of collaboration, please read my short article “Midwives and Paramedics: Tracking the careers of promotoras in Ecuador’s rainforests” published in WorldView magazine, Spring 2018 on pages 23 & 24.
Please let me know what you think and ask any questions you have about the article and the program. By the way, 52 women were trained, not 32 as mistakenly printed in the last section.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer