“It is foolish for us to work here and never have or leave any records or data on what we are doing or have done…This eliminates any follow-up after we leave.” – Departing CD Volunteer: Colombia 1965. Evelyn Reed, on assignment from Charlie Peters legendary PC Evaluation Unit, quoted from this Volunteer’s memo in her report entitled “Peace Corps Community Development in Colombia,” November 28, 1967. (All the Peace Corps records at the National Archives have been renumbered since I made a copy of that report. The old citation is: Record Group 490; Entry 20; Country Program Evaluations; Colombia 1967; Box 23). To quote Reed further from that report,
I found a chaotic jumble of old and recent records scattered all over Colombia…my concern grew about what such a lack of record-keeping did to program planning and current Volunteer work…(From a visit to a storage warehouse) The warehouseman ground his heel on the paper that had spilled out of one of the dusty boxes. I picked it up. A Colombia I Volunteer wrote the memo recommending that careful records be kept of each site surveyed so that better programming could be done for CD (Community Development). The day before this disturbing review of the records in the warehouse, I read a monthly report from a new 1967 Volunteer who bemoaned the fact that he had to start out cold in a reopened site because no one knew where the old site records were. New Volunteers told me they arrived at their sites only to learn from Colombians that previous volunteers had worked in the community…A barrio expected a replacement Volunteer and the people found and a house for her…the termination report of the departed Volunteer got lost in the files and no Volunteer was assigned to the barrio…In addition to information about sites, Volunteers have left a gold mine of information about what they learned from their work experience…CD Volunteers alone have left approximately 12,000 reports in Colombia (page 26-30). That was in 1967.
In 2010, more than forty years later, Peace Corps reviewed its operations, at the direction of Congress, and published “The Peace Corps -A Comprehensive Agency Assessment. Management practices in Peace Corps offices in Host Countries or posts were assessed. Quoting from that report, the assessment team also observed that there are few standards or requirements for:
- Insuring that expectations are documented, other than in performance appraisals, private conversations, or Integrated Planning and Budget System documents
- Maintaining accessible records of prior performance to illuminate decisions about new tours; and,
- Keeping a central file of key information about a specific post history.
The team noted “Historically in the Peace Corps, the passing along of information and experience has depended heavily on oral tradition and a network of personal contacts. (Chapter V, Part A, A.4. Consistency in Management Practices. Pg 70).
Ironically, that is precisely how information and experience is traditionally” passed along” in the villages and barrios of the developing world. Although, I would argue that tradition provides information that is more complete, consistent and accurate.
The Peace Corps administration in the Host country (or Post) is the linchpin. It connects PC/DC and the Volunteer; the Host Country with the Volunteer and with Washington. It links past, present, and future programs in the field. It trains and evaluates. Its records are critical to understanding the record of Peace Corps in that country. The Assessment team did made recommendation for improving management practices for this vital function. Also, it was noted that the new Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning at PC/DC has been tasked with collecting and sharing data on the Peace Corps’ activities, “including post specific history.”
It may well be that there are “secret caches” of records from the Host Countries. It may well be that the late Peace Corps Library was a source of information from Host Countries. It may well be that within the RPCV community there is information that could help reconstruct the decades of incountry administration. It may well be that I simply do not know how to look or how to ask the right questions. It isn’t for lack of trying. My FOIA request and appeal to learn of the “location or disposition” of those 12,000 reports that PCVs in Colombia had produced by 1967, was not successful. The final disposition? After a year, Peace Corps wrote me, “Our Records Manager reviewed all records of documents retired by Peace Corps and was unable to locate these 12,000 reports.”