FUTURE PEACE CORPS?
By Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras, 1975-77)
Lately there has been a slew of articles about the Peace Corps and change. Some authors describe rising assaults on volunteers. Others discuss the lack of adequate medical compensation for returning volunteers. For decades, many have criticized the program itself: recruitment, job placement, purpose and bureaucracy. None of them analyze a simple fact: America and Americans are not perceived as they were in 1961. Sixteen years after the end of the Second World War, we were perceived as the Great Liberators. That seems to have changed. Now, we are often seen as the Evil Empire and volunteers as stormtroopers.
Today there are no volunteers in the field. This might be an opportune moment to revise the Peace Corps mission. Maybe it should be a simple post-graduate exchange between nations. For example, we send them an architect and they send us an engineer or teacher (at our cost). The program could be open to the humanities as well (writers, actors, musicians, and artists). All participants would need to already speak the language. However, one could add a six-month tutorial in-nation if deemed appropriate.
The package would offer tuition, books, supplies, some sort of medical services (as offered in each nation), a dorm room, food, and a stipend for living expenses during a one or two-year sojourn. If any staff was required, it would be minimal. There are no federally funded retirement packages or job preference status for participants. No language schools to fund. No real offices. A minimal annual report to Congress. The savings would be incredible.
The purpose is cultural exchange. We can’t save the world. In fact, we shouldn’t try. That assumes our way is somehow superior which is arrogant. We can all learn from each other and maybe get along better.
For those who seek a reprieve on their student loans, offer them AmeriCorps. For every year of work, you get a 30K loan reprieve (from the federal government) plus salary and benefits from the hiring agency. For example, our national park system could really use some help, just like the CCC lent a hand in the 1930’s clearing and building. They also need a hand to selectively harvest diseased and/or dead timber. The Veterans Administration needs nurses and other skilled labor. Many school districts have problems recruiting teachers and aides. Volunteers would be under the auspices of whichever organization puts them to work.
No need for either the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps to be an independent agency. They both serve as headhunters. The only real federal workers are computer specialists, screeners, and very few managers. Using good systems, maybe one employee for every 500 placed.
Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras, 1975-77), is a retired urban planner who has self-published nearly a score of books, several about the Peace Corps.