Records of Peace Corps offices in Host Countries
“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.”
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Even after 50 years of existence, Peace Corps carries with it a sense of impermanence — weren’t we supposed to work ourselves out of a job? work to train those who could replace us? The records of our performance and achievement should be within the archives of the agencies and institutions of the countries in which we worked. It seems to me, as former PCV and overseas staff (1961-1968), we were encouraged to constantly ‘re-invent the wheel’ and not fall back on agency reports, evaluations, and studies — we were consciously avoiding operating like and appearing to be USAID.
Also, from the perspective of African education prgrams of the 60s, it was considered improper and easily misunderstood for PCVs to be reporting back to PC in any way — this was against the constant background hum of accusations of CIA connections and PCVs as spies.
Thank Bob, your comments illustrate how varied the needs are for different programs. I would think that education programs in Africa did not call for the same kind of coordination as community development and health education and technology programs did and still do. The examples given by Evelyn Reed are illustrative of what kind of continunity is necessary for Community Development. When there is technological intervention which may impact health or local economies, I think it is ethically imperative to monitor those interventions, through time and space.
Your comment that records should be within the archives of the agencies with which we worked is very interesting. When you were on staff, did you pass along program records to the governments in the countries where you were assigned? It is the responsibility of Peace Corps to know what happened to its records.
This comment of yours reflects major concerns I think we all shared.
“Also, from the perspective of African education prgrams of the 60s, it was considered improper and easily misunderstood for PCVs to be reporting back to PC in any way .”
That is a legitimate concern. In Colombia, we were required to do monthly site and program reports. There was concern among my fellow PCVs as to how those reports might be used or who might read them. Our initial presumption was that the reports were necessary and their confidentiality protected.
Public records play a part is documenting the history of public agencies.
This discussion revolves around a basic question, is the job of the Peace Corps to improve the lives of the less fortunate or to improve mutual understanding between Americans and other peoples? These are not mutually exclusive goals and indeed one can presume that working to help others better themselves increases mutual understanding. But the reality is that a relatively small group of people, the Peace Corps with maybe 7000 volunteers in the field in any given year, has a very small ability to improve the lot of the roughly one third of the 6+ billion people in the world who live in poverty. Do a worthy job, but put the emphasis on improving understanding. And to do a worthy job does not require mountains of reports.
I am so glad to see you return to restate your opinion. I think your experience can not be the measure for all of Peace Corps. I think the experience of “pioneer” Volunteers in Africa in education is valid and you have earned the right to your conclusions – but not the right to negate my experience nor to pontificate on what the Peace Corps “really is.” The legislation mandates tht the First Goal of the Peace Corps is to provide technical assistance to requesting nations. If the evidence proves that that is not possible, then the legislation should be changed. I was not invited into my site to just “make friends.” I was invited in because the need was so great. I thought that I could be trained to make a difference.
I am an army brat, Leo. I lived all over the world. From the time I was a Brownie Scout in Occuppied Japan, dependents were charged with making friends with defeated enemies. Brownies made little gifts and visited orphanges. I bunny hoped with German students. The military, via the good will of its soldiers and their families, made a lot of friends.
There are better programs, now, to promote cultural understanding and friendships between nations if that is all that Peace Corps can do.
I respect your opinion, but I will be “darned” if I will defer to it.
Joey I do not “pontificate” on the essence of the Peace Corps. However, I do point out the reality of what a small group can do to alter the poverty of several billions of people. You will recall that JFK visiualized a Peace Corps of 100,000 volunteers in the field. Now that may be able to make a difference in targeted areas.
I have been working to promote and develop a more “globalized” ecomomy for 50 years. We see the possibilities for this to improve the lot of billions of people in the enormous economic gains being made by China and India.
And yes, there are many channels through which Americans are able to foster better understanding between ourselves and others. I believe that the Peace Corps is perhaps the most effective since the experience is more initimate.
Leo, This is your comment to which I would like to respond:
”This discussion revolves around a basic question, is the job of the Peace Corps to improve the lives of the less fortunate or to improve mutual understanding between Americans and other peoples? These are not mutually exclusive goals and indeed one can presume that working to help others better themselves increases mutual understanding.”
I argue that the latter cannot be done if the former is not effective.
Therein lies our disagreement. It is precisely the intimate nature of the relationship between the Volunteer and the people with whom he or she works that makes it imperative that the Volunteer’s efforts are positive. The value of such efforts varies so much by the type of program, the country, the time, the needs of the people served and the skills of the Volunteer. Ghana’s president needed teachers, immediately, and Shriver provided them, immediately. And Peace Corps was on its way. Education programs are probably best suited for creating “mutual understanding,” except when they create conflict or competition with Host Country teachers. How common is that problem? How has it been solved? Let’s look at the record.
More difficult, by far, are the technological interventions in health, agriculture, and environment. Not only do such interventions demand resources, but also they can have unintended consequences. Friendship and “mutual understanding” are not enhanced if promises are made and not kept. Reviewing, where possible, the public records can help to answer how well Peace Corps kept its promises. Finding out where those records might be is the purpose of my blogging.
I do value your perspective and certainly the work you have done over the decades.
The reports we have file is still a problem. The imformation rewuested is classice itelligence. Reporting to DC really isnt the issue. Reports are made to HCNs that my use the information for tjeir own government or friendly countries. In effect you have us government employyee reporting to anHCN-overnment. That is basic problem for the us government. PC also get confused as to loyalty and report their gatjering as espionage to the host country. Much of this was solved by the trimester reports that allows the PC to report anything dire ty to congress.