When the Peace Corps started on March 1, 1961 there were few guidelines on how to train Peace Corps Volunteers for work in the developing world. Ordinary Americans had rarely been trained systematically for service overseas. As a result most Americans living abroad, whether privately or as officials, did not have a real understanding of the society in which they found themselves. There was no such thing as Cross Culture Training in 1961. The Peace Corps, setting up shop, planned to avoid this.
So, of course, the agency called a meeting! The Associate Director Lawrence Dennis actually sponsored a series of what was called Peace Corps Institutes that brought together people from government agencies, universities, foundations, business, labor and professional and academic societies. Conferences were next convened to discuss how to train for particular nations around the world. Next conference were held to get advice on how to train Volunteers for foreign language, area studies, health orientation, etc.
Meanwhile, other staffers in the Training Division went in search of American universities looking for colleges where, for example, Volunteers going to Thailand might be trained.
While that was going on, Shriver got involved. In February and March of ’61, Shriver started studying the work of the British Voluntary Service Overseas Program. He saw that some of the most successful members of this program had undergone training at what the British called Outward Bound Schools. (The VSO was founded by Alec and Mora Dickson in 1958, three years before the Peace Corps.)
These Outward Bound Schools exposed students to unexpected challenges and the students were judged by how well they reacted to new situations. This kind of training was meant to generate self confidence and erase unreasonable fears of the unknown. The method was developed during WWII and was later adopted by British industry as a technique for training potential leaders.
The Peace Corps contracted the Outward Bound Trust, and then with help from an American private foundation, brought two of its members to the U.S. to assist the agency to incorporate their experiences into its training programs. Interestingly, the two members were: Sir Spencer Summers, chairman of the Trust and a member of Parliament, and Captain Frederick Fuller, Headmaster of the oldest Outward Bound School at Aberdovey, Wales.
In Puerto Rico these two met with Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Munoz Marin, who was also interested (I’m told) in the Outward Bound philosophy, and they conducted an aerial search of the island looking for a site for the camp.
(What is interesting to note is the influence that the Peace Corps had at the times. Shriver, being the president’s brother-in-law, helped to get the attention of a members of the British Parliament, and Captain Fuller, who spent six months on site to assist in setting up the camp. Also, we had the Governor of Puerto Rico jumping into finding a site. Ah, those were the days!)
The new Trainees for the Puerto Rico camp were to have their first exposure to another culture, the topical life of the Caribbean. They lived briefly with host families, studied a language, and were involved with an extensive physical fitness program: mountain climbing, swimming (including rescue work and ‘drown-proofing’), a four-day survival trek, and the mastering an obstacle course. This program–which was adjusted to age and abilities–was aimed as much at the mind as the body. It was intended as a means of strengthening self confidence through challenges. Also it allowed the Peace Corps Staff to observe the Trainees going through the various stress situations at the camp. It gave them (the Staff) time to do “total evaluation and selection of the individual Volunteer.” Talk about High Risk/High Gain!
After the first camp was built, the Peace Corps moved ahead and established a second one. Within the year, the two camps were named after two early PCVs who lost these lives in a plane crash in Colombia. The victims were Lawrence Radley and David Crozier. The first camp, near Rio Abajo, was named Camp Crozier; the second was called Camp Radley. Radley and Crozier were killed April 22 when a DC-3 airliner crashed into a Colombian mountain, killing all 30 persons aboard.”
These “outward bound’ training sites lasted until the last Sixties and then were dissolved, as were most U.S. training programs eliminated as the shift was made to In-Country Training.
Next: The the Peace Corps and Universities!
End of Part Three