India, Eggs and Peace Corps: Why the loss of Peace Corps history is tragic

Sunday, the New York Times published an article, “Saving the Cows, Starving the Children”  by The author contends that poor children in India are undernourished and one reason is the failure to use cows for beef and feed eggs to these children. To read the article, here is the link:

From that article:

“GANDHI famously denied himself food. And by starving himself to protest British rule, he ultimately made India stronger. But India’s leaders today are using food as a weapon, and they are sacrificing not themselves, but others. Their decisions threaten to make India’s children — already among the most undernourished in the world — weaker still. Earlier this month, the chief minister of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, struck down a proposed pilot project to introduce eggs in free government nursery schools in districts populated by economically disadvantaged indigenous groups. The proposal came from the state’s own officials, but was dismissed by Mr. Chouhan on the grounds that eggs are a nonvegetarian food. Mr. Chouhan, like many Hindus, is a vegetarian and avoids eggs because they may be fertilized and are seen as a life force.”

The article is good to read.  Why is Peace Corps important to these concerns?  In the 60s, hundreds of Peace Corps Volunteers went to India on projects  to promote poultry as a source of protein to combat hunger.  This effort is not mentioned, of course, in the article.  It would be critically important to know:

-What happened with these Peace Corps project.

-Were the projects successful or not?

-If successful, what elements were essential to the success?

-If not, what elements contributed to failure?

-Did the Volunteers meet with cultural barriers?

In order to address these questions, a person would have to know first that there was a Peace Corps in India. How would the average person know that? Perhaps a google search might yield some information,but not a comprehensive analysis. Peace Corps does have a random selection of materials from the last 50+ years. But one would have to know not only that once there was a Peace Corps in India to even think to google the topic.Then, one would have to know that the Peace Corps website does have an random collection of documents from the last 50+ years. More importantly, how would once access that page? It is not easy.  One would have to know the key link is: But, again, one would have to know that once there was a Peace Corps…in India.  There are no evaluation reports listed.

As usual, it falls to a RPCV to provide important information. John Chromy (India III)  describes how and why Peace Corps left India. Here is that link:

Peace Corps Volunteers and their host country counterparts and other HCNs all spent time, effort, and the little treasure they might have had, to try to met the nutritional needs of children. Is it important to know all about that work? YES.


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  • It seems, sometimes, that the history of our Peace Corps service is written on water, or may not have mattered much in the host country. I recall, however, that India was a high-profile country for the Peace Corps, not so much Turkey, where I served.

    We were in Turkey for only eight years, and I’m hard-pressed to state what difference we made. Of course, it was just eight years; the Peace Corps was forced on Turkey by the Johnson administration; and operational screw-ups by Peace Corps Washington didn’t help matters. I can only speak for myself, but I am not a romantic about Peace Corps Turkey.

  • Gerald, I absolutely do not believe that the history of Peace Corps is romantic. You are a journalist. Tell us how, other than your own recollection, how would you document the statement:
    “”the Peace Corps was forced on Turkey by the Johnson administration; and operational screw-ups by Peace Corps Washington didn’t help matters”?

  • I’m only referring to Turkey.
    I’ve excerpted this from Dave Weinman’s history. Dave set up the program in Turkey. Read the entire piece, if you wish, and decide for yourself if Peace Corps Washington made its share of screw-ups, as did the Turks. And I may have overstated it saying the program was forced on Turkey. But it wasn’t an open-hearted embrace from the Turks, and I think the U.S. administration wanted to get program into as many countries as possible. Also recalling Lyndon Johnson’s ability to persuade and bully, I’m would not be surprised if there wasn’t a fair amount of arm-twisting. [GOT stands for Government of Turkey. “Dostluk” means friendship. I don’t know if Dave meant “trappings of dostluk” ironically

    Within the framework of a well-ensconced Cold War and influenced by the generosity of the Truman plan’s aid to Greece and Turkey, the U.S. and Turkey had forged a very close and interactive partnership which had resulted in large numbers of U.S. military and foreign air technicians going to Turkey.  By September 6, 1962, when Turkey 1 disembarked at Ankara’s Esenboga airport, the trappings of “dostluk” had been in evidence for some time.  Turkey agreed to accept “middle-level manpower,” but there was not a genuine understanding of the concept, and, therefore, no impetus to assess its potential contribution in glowing terms.  Turks had long since become accustomed to skilled technicians criss-crossing Anatolia.  Thus, Peace Corps/Turkey (PC/T) from the beginning was not granted that feeling of specialness which many other Volunteers experienced, at least until they had integrated themselves into their respective towns.  In Ankara the Turkish officials assigned to work with Peace Corps staff were lower level in rank and generally bureaucratically conservative in attempting to derive full return from one more U.S. contribution. 

    In its first year Turkey 1 performed as hoped, and the result was a second request for TEFL, to be followed by Turkey 3, an amalgam of 30+ Volunteers with backgrounds in Nursing, Home Economics, and Business Education arriving in December ’63.  Ross Pritchard, a former college Professor and congressional candidate from Memphis, arrived in September ’63 to become Director.  Many Turkey 1 Volunteers moved to open new sites for their second year, as TEFL in Turkey grew beyond 100.  The new Director, steeped in evaluation reports he had read on the importance of Community Development, moved quickly to sell GOT on that “felt need.”  The government responded by requesting Turkey 5, while displaying little real understanding of what they had ordered.  Turks have always been sensitive about the conditions of their villages, and it was only their lack of knowledge about Community Development which allowed them to consider placing foreigners there, if that’s what the Americans wanted.  Peace Corps/Turkey numerically took off, and by September ’64 totaled over 300 PCVs.  In the Fall of 1964 the mosaic of PC/T changed dramatically, when Volunteers moved for the first time into villages and as singly assigned teachers to remote kazas of eastern Turkey.

    By September 1965 PC/T was heading toward its numerical zenith, soon attained by Turkey 12’s arrival in late Fall.  Turkey 12 embodied the worst of Peace Corps planning both in its specifics and in stretching PC/T’s ability to manage the overall program which had reached almost 600 and was third largest worldwide.  Even the Peace Corps was not exempt from charges of hubris! 

    Earlier in the Fall of ’65 PC/T had suffered another blow to its credibility with the arrival of its largest group ever, 200+ Volunteers in Turkey 8 [my group].  It turned out that GOT had not made plans to utilize them at all, and so a cadre of 30 or so were left to depart Ankara and move around Turkey looking for TEFL positions.  Finally everybody was placed, but neither Turkish officials who heard about it nor the PCVs involved, ever quite forgot the embarrassment.  A year later when staff held a round of regional meetings, the anguished comments of the Volunteers were still to be heard along with their impatience at Ankara’s admin operation not being able to meet their needs quickly enough.  Thus PC/T, having violated the dictum that small can be beautiful, foundered on managing a very large program in an increasingly fractious environment.

    [This is Dave’s assessment of what the Peace Corps accomplished in Turkey. He was in a much better position to judge than I].

    It is clear from all the visits with Turkish officialdom that much service was rendered.  A good number of children and adults learned English; hospitals glimpsed what up-graded nursing skills could mean; orphanages began to consider that baby-sitting small children might not be the best alternative, and rural villagers learned new techniques to lessen the poverty surrounding them.  Holding an incremental view of development I have personally not wavered in strongly believing that the Peace Corps, warts and all, was and is a truly noble endeavor.

    I will defer to him.

  • My mistake: the first Peace Corps program in Turkey began during the JFK administration not LBJ’s. LBJ could be a very persuasive bully, but whether he played an active role in the Peace Corps entering Turkey I can’t say.

  • Gerald,
    Thank you very much. I did read the article you referenced. The article certainly supports your assertion that PC/W screwed up by sending a large contingent of PCVs before Turkey had requested or approved the project.

    When you read the actual overview of the history of Peace Corps Turkey, you corrected your statement that “Peace Corps was forced on Turkey by the Johnson administration.” In fact, Peace Corps entered Turkey during the Kennedy administration.

    The website is that of the Association of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Turkey. I could not find the article or the association referenced on the Peace Corps Website.

    I think your response reinforces my belief that we need a Peace Corps Library that would
    gather all the information about Peace Corps and make it readily accessible to everyone.
    That information would include the actual public documents created during service, as well as memoirs and history contributed later. I thought that the author, David N. Weinman made an excellent suggestion:
    “Moving the query further along, individuals can provide the best in-depth analysis of what life in Turkey did or did not do for them. It is in this vein that it was considered worthwhile to gather as a total Peace Corps program of 17 groups and bring our collective consciousness to bear. It is hoped that the brief time allotted to our small seminars will prove useful in sharing and sharpening the perspective that the years since Turkey have tempered.”

    Do you know if this ever happened?

    Thank you again.

  • No, not to my knowledge. I should add that my personal experience in my town of 2,500 was positive. The mudur (principal) at the middle school where I taught English was very welcoming and supportive, which set the tone for my reception overall. Of course, trying to teach a foreign language in a class of 35 students- some of whom couldn’t care less – was not always rewarding.

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