I got the attached PDF from Jim McCaffery (Ethiopia 1966-68) recently. It is an article by Jim published in the old Volunteer Magazine. It is a terrific article and I’m glad Jim sent it. Jim is from Wisconsin and went to Ethiopia in 1966. Later he worked at a Trainer in Addis Ababa and then went to Botswana as the Deputy Director. (I’m indebted to Jim for when I was traveling through Africa for a year in 1969 he put me up for several weeks and never charged me rent!)
After the Peace Corps Jim got a PhD from the University of Wisconsin and in 1981 he and a couple others founded TRG, an organization development consulting firm that has been very successful and well respected.
Now semi-retired Jim is the process (as we all are) of tossing away most of the Peace Corps files we have in the attic and he came across this article he wrote years ago.
It is entitled, “The Legends of Volunteers Past”
As Jim wrote me, “I haven’t seen it for years, forgotten I had written it (almost 50 years ago). So I reread it, hoping it wasn’t too cringeworthy. Wow, it was fun…it took me back to those years, where I was talking about a legacy of the Peace Corps that was barely 5 years old.”
There are two major issues discussed in the article: student support and language learning, and both were interesting at that time.
In retrospect, he wrote, he missed one aspect of student support: “Some students, whether poor or not, were simply entrepreneurial in a positive way, and managed the volunteer support ‘system’ in much the same way they were smart in working various systems to get an education, and then to move on to the work world quite successfully. For example, the student I supported in Wolliso that first year, eventually made his way through high school, then to college, then somehow to the US for a master’s degree. He drove a bus in Chicago to help his finances, eventually got a job with GM, and then rose to become a chief financial officer for one of the major divisions. He worked in Janesville, Wisconsin just 10 miles from where I grew up. Talk about a full circle.”
In terms of language–and here Jim is speaking about Ethiopia–he says. “I think the fact that most PCVs at that time didn’t learn Amharic tended to lead to a number of Peace Corps mini-communities in a lot of towns that had 2-6 volunteers and did produce an inward looking sub-culture. Most were teachers, and in fact could get along at school with English, and many of the students wanted their teachers to speak English. So all the incentives were in place to view Amharic as nice but not necessary. With a broader level of Peace Corps experience, I subsequently learned this was the case in many countries where English was seen as being present or prominent. This was not true in French or Spanish speaking countries where PCVs tended to be better at addressing the language issue.”
Jim goes on to say that he was “a little too optimistic” about the future of the Peace Corps in regard to language in his article, thinking of the “positive changes in Peace Corps language programs that began in the late ‘60’s.” He now knows that a person can get along in a country without learning the language, and there are so many other cultural and work issues to address, then most didn’t learn the language.
Here is Jim’s article
(By the way, in the “Old Days,” Jim would have been classified as a Low Risk/High Gain PCV.)
Here’s a photo of Jim hard at work in Wollisso, Ethiopia.