Kevin Quigley Wants You To 'Call Home!'

Lost Touch: Peace Corps In Search Of 100,000 Old Volunteers

January 11, 2012

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Five Peace Corps trainees look at a map of the Philippine Islands in University Park, Pa. on July 31, 1961. The trainees will go there upon completion of training as teaching assistants in rural elementary schools.   Paul Vathis/AP

Five Peace Corps trainees look at a map of the Philippine Islands in University Park, Pa. on July 31, 1961. The trainees will go there upon completion of training as teaching assistants in rural elementary schools.

The National Peace Corps Association says it’s looking for about 100,000 good volunteers.

They’re people who served in the overseas development program at some time in its 50-year history but later lost touch with their former colleagues.

NPCA President Kevin Quigley says there’s no complete list of the 200,000 Americans who volunteered for the program, in part because key records were lost during its early days.

“When the agency was in its infancy [in the early 1960s], a lot of systems for tracking former volunteers just didn’t exist,” Quigley says.

The Peace Corps’ first director, Sargent Shriver, resisted anything that smacked of bureaucracy, so he imposed on five-year term limit on staffers.

As result, Quigley says, the Corps lost institutional memory.

The Kennedy-era program was a low priority for the Nixon administration, which had little interest in preserving its records, he adds.

The NPCA has launched a campaign to re-connect with former volunteers who are out of the loop.

The group is an independently run non-profit that is separate from the Peace Corps. It says it added more than 3,900 names to its list last year, and aims to identify 10,000 more in 2012.

Quigley says he’s hoping to add members, raise money, and build the organization’s clout when it advocates for more resources for current Peace Corps programs and support for returning volunteers.

The agency came under fire last year for allegedly failing to provide adequate support and protection for volunteers who were raped or sexually assaulted overseas.

The Peace Corps responded by creating a task force to re-examine its policies for dealing with assault victims.

The agency took a 6.5% funding cut during congressional budget battles last year, but was spared further cuts when President Obama signed an FY 2012 budget that kept Peace Corps funding level at $375 million.

(Corey Flintoff is a correspondent for NPR’s Foreign Desk.)

8 Comments

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  • I have made numerous attempts to get in touch with fellow volunteers from my program (Kenya Education III), 1966-68 but have never had any success. It seems exceedingly odd that the Peace Corps would not have made some attempt to retain contact with those who spent two or more years of their lives in service with the Peace Corps, certainly representing an untapped resource to this country, as well as preventing returned volunteers from staying in touch with each other. However, I welcome any move to build or rebuild a data base.

  • Peace Corps is a federal agency. There are millions of former federal employees including fire-fighters, scientists, and warriors. Do you really want to spend taxes on keeping track of all former federal employees? That sounds like something out of 1984. You can’t contact acquaintances from nearly a half century ago so the government is responsible to do it for you? Maybe these people do not wish to contact you.

  • If there is a good reason to gather this info, it will be done. However if this effort is a means to draw attention to the need to change the “Five Year” rule…don’t do it! Kevin, I don’t believe that you really think doing away with the “Five Year” rule will produce better records…you know it will not!. Why not just ask PCV’s to complete a form for NPCA at the time of their COS and start building from there, and reach out to the RPCV community and invite those that want to participate to do so! Give it a try Kevin! Bob in Colombia

  • Kevin Quigley says, the Corps lost institutional memory. I guess he doesn’t read John Coyne’s blog!!!

    The task of building databases and mailing lists, like the planning of the 50th activities, has defaulted to the Country of Service groups, like Friends of Colombia, Friends of Philippines , etc.

    I would suggest NCPA support the database activities of the Service Groups to build a master list.

    Dennis Grubb

  • Hugh Pickens’ Peace Corps on Line has a webpage in which RPCVs can list their contact information by country of service. That is a good place to start.

    Peace Corps/Washington maintains personnel records that document peace corps service for all Volunteers who served. That information is confidential and governed by federal personnel law.
    That has nothing to do with the absence of “institutional memory.”

    At one time, you could send a letter to an RPCV c/o Peace Corps Washington and the office would forward it, if they had a current address. I don’t know if they do that, now.
    University Alumni offices will do that, sometimes for a fee.

    The alumni group, Friends of Colombia, has an archive at American University. Thanks to Bob Colombo and Pat Wand, the biographical data of all groups from 1961 to 1981 has been preserved.

  • Thanks all for the very good comments.

    Under Privacy Laws and Regulations, PC can only share contact information if volunteers sign a release form. If those forms are distributed, they are done at the COS conference with a stack of other forms. Having been there, we all know the slim likelihood of volunteers signing such a form. Sharing this information has become more difficult given a provision in the FY 2011 omnibus appropriation bill that precludes federal agencies from sharing this information. As Dennis suggests, we are trying to build on the fabulous work done by groups like Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia and Korea–to name just a few–who have tracked down “lost volunteers.” We are trying to amplify the voice and impact of RPCVs, and are not tryiing to change the 5-year rule or any other provision. To succeed, it’s going to take the entire community. Thanks in advance for your help with this. Kevin Q.

  • Kevin…we are right here if you need assistance! Nothing is perfect, even for RPCV’s, but with our interest and support of RPCV groups we can add to the list. I wish you well…thanks Joey and Dennis! Bob
    PS: Will copy to Friends of Colombia, Panama, and Paraguay!

  • I should clarify. The Friends of Colombia Peace Corps Archive has the training bios of all PC/Colombian groups from 1961 to 1981.

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