As a Volunteer in Colombia when I was asked by a Colombian, “Quien es?” I would reply “Cuerpo de Paz.” When asked the same question by an American, I would say “Colombia XI.” Those were all the IDs I needed; designations I was proud to claim, then and now. One of the unique features of Peace Corps administration that gets too little attention is the organization of Volunteers into groups.
Volunteers apply individually, are accepted individually and serve individually; but in between, they are “staged,” “trained,” and “sworn in,” as a member of a group. Everyone in the group goes to the same country; has the same starting and terminating date; usually the same program description; attends classes together; and serves under the same Host Country management. The groups are named by country and then by number; the numbers are sequential within each country, except when they are not.* Taken all together, the records of each group could be the building blocks for a complete history of the Peace Corps.
The first step in conceptualizing such a history project, I decided, would be to obtain the list of all the Peace Corps groups beginning in 1961.
On March 30, 2007. I requested,
A list of all Peace Corps training groups, including the country of service, the years of service and the project title beginning with Ghana I, the first Peace Corps training group and concluding with those groups currently in services as of February 28, 2007.
In my response, FOIA #07-044, I received 88 pages of something called “Sector Assignments.”
“1)In regards to files related to Volunteer training groups for specific projects or programs, the Agency’s retention schedule, 923.7, states that these files should be held for 2 years, retired to the Federal Records Center to be destroyed after 5 years.
2) Second, the group numbers you requested are neither considered official or required nor consistently assigned to training groups. These numbers may be determined differently from post to post (e.g., in some countries the groups are identified by their training group site and a number, in others, may simply be sequential based on arrival) or not at all in some posts.”
Peace Corps doesn’t retire numbers, it destroys them. No wall in the lobby of the Coverdell building proudly displaying who it was we were. But Colombia XI’s history exists in my memory and that of all my cohorts. The real history of Peace Corps depends on the efforts of all RPCVs.