In some 135 countries, over the last 55 years, Peace Corps Volunteers have worked at the grassroots crossroads of the past and the future. Volunteers have witnessed the end of colonization, the rise of modernity and its cultural blowback, climate change and its environmental consequences, political violence and terrorism. Volunteers have intervened and interfered in other peoples’ lives, sometimes with outstanding success and sometimes not. Peace Corps Volunteers have opened a window on the lives of people of the world.
There are great Peace Corps books, blogs, websites, videos, archives, and oral histories, public, private and personal. There is a treasure of invaluable information in all of Volunteers’ work and observations. Perhaps clues to solving some of the world crises of today might be found in this work. But for these materials to be accessible to researchers and historians, as well as the general public, they have to be preserved and organized by time and place. They have to be easy to find and easy to get.
But, it is not clear exactly who, if anyone, is responsible for such a monumental effort. Peace Corps Directors have the critical task of recruiting, selecting, training, placing and supporting Volunteers. They have to prioritize staff and resources. Currently, there is no in-house Peace Corps Library or Librarian; nor, is there even one list describing all of these great resources and their location. The Peace Corps Office of the Third Goal is hoping to expand its list of RPCV Third Goal activities.
There is no one place to go to learn about Peace Corps. Does it matter? I say yes, and this is why.
1) The Third Goal – “To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served” has never been more important. This mandate falls mainly to RPCVs who in thousands of ways have brought home their experiences. But, this understanding is not embedded in the public square. It is only by luck or coincidence that the average American encounters Third Goal activities to better understand peoples of other lands.
2) Authors are writing about Peace Corps and some are getting it wrong. Here are some examples by non-RPCV
- One book on the early days of Peace Corps has many assertions without citation. My favorite comment stated that Volunteers were given 45 days of vacation and received, in addition to their living allowance, $75 dollars a day vacation pay.
- Another example is in a book by a respected professor of Public Administration. He has a glowing section on the Peace Corps agency. In the article, he states that (only) male trainees were sent to Puerto Rico for endurance training. He also wrote that during the Nixon administration, Peace Corps staff members occupied the Peace Corps office to protest the Vietnam War in support of demonstrations against that war. To his credit, the professor said if he were to do a second edition of the book, he would review that chapter based on references that contradicted this statements. However, the publisher has no plans for a second edition.
- Kathleen Kanne, the student author highlighted here on Peace Corps Worldwide recently wrote, in her prize-winning essay “It is also worth noting that the first missions of the Peace Corps were male-only initiatives.”
- NPR prefaced its interview with Dr. Kerry about the Peace Corps partnership with Global Health with this statement: “Fifty years ago President Kennedy started the Peace Corps with the promise that it would train doctors in faraway lands. But, you may be surprised to know, the Peace Corps has never actually recruited doctors and nurses as mentors and medical educators.”
3) ”Peace Corps has no “ Institutional memory” is a refrain that echos through Peace Corps corridors. . In June 2010, the report, “The Peace Corps -A comprehensive Agency Assessment” called for more systematic record keeping, but did not define which records. The Director of the National Archives and Records ultimately decides which federal records will be kept and which will be destroyed. However, federal agencies, including the Peace Corps, make recommendations. The criteria for recommendations from Peace Corps vary from one political administration to the next. Valuable records may literally be assigned to the “dust bin of history.”
These are the reasons I believe that it is time to build a Peace Corps Library and Museum.