Reinvent the Peace Corps — Climate Change Volunteers
Those of us who were around when the agency was created know why and how it was. Peace Corps was a hope and a vision for the developing world. We could help poorer nations of the world. And we did. The Peace Corps changed the lives of many host country nationals and it also changed our lives.
Today, 60 years after the first PCVs went overseas, we have another world with new needs.
One of those needs is the climate all of us are living with. It is a problem we have wherever we live in the world.
President Biden has recently spoken about what must be done here at home.
What he hasn’t done is link today’s Peace Corps Volunteers with the needs for Climate Change in the developing world. This is the role, many of us think, that should be a new role for Volunteers in the coming decades. PCVs need to be involved.
PCVs on the ground in the developing world can help others as we help ourselves at home.
President Biden asked world leaders to take action to combat climate change collectively as he announced an aggressive new goal for greenhouse gas emissions. Biden pointed to actions the US would take, an effort to reassert US leadership and put the US back to the center of the global effort to address the climate crisis after the Trump administration largely disengaged. “The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable that the cost of inaction, it just keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting. We are resolving to take action, not only our federal government, but our cities and our states all across our country, small businesses, large corporations, American workers in every field,” he said.
How can Peace Corps Volunteers help with this world problem? What are your ideas?
What can today’s PCVs do? As…..
- Community Development
You know. You have been there. Write down your ideas and we’ll publish them on our site.
How can PCVs help and make a difference?
I suggest that all PCVS go overseas knowing Climate Change is one of their jobs. PCVs in training should go through an orientation on the problems they’ll face with the host country climate. Volunteers need to be supported with information in-country and on the Internet about what they can do. Peace Corps HQ needs to establish an Office of Climate Change so PCVs can email for information and assistance while overseas.
As we ‘restart’ the agency, let’s also reimagine the role of PCVs in the developing world, whether it is teaching about our change globe to students or helping our host families and villages by educating them about their lives, crops in the field, or fate if their nation.
We need to learn how to help control the climate for ourselves and for the people we have come to help.
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One factor that is rarely mentioned–when considering factors influencing climate change–is population growth. When I was born in the late 1940s, earth’s population was 2.5 billion. When the Peace Corps was founded in the early 1960s, it was 3.5 billion. Today we are approaching 8 billion humans on planet earth. The hockey stick diagram which shows the correlation between the recent dramatic rise in earth’s temperature and increased CO2 emissions matches earth’s dramatic surge in human population.
I link the problem of continuing assault problems among servicing Volunteers to the archaic personnel system. Nowhere else in the federal government or its history do people working overseas have virtually no legal protections but rather serve at the” pleasure of the president.”
When President Kennedy signed the Executive order establishing the Peace Corps in early 1961, it was imperative that the President and his chosen staff have complete control over the new program. No one know if it would work or how Volunteers and Host Countries Nationals would work together. No one knew for sure how the Volunteers might be harmed or subverted by foreign hostile forces. That was sixty years ago, yet today, Volunteers still serve at “the pleasure of the president”, and do not have the legal protection of civil service employees or anyone else in the government. That has to change before one Volunteer is sent overseas, in my opinion.
Also, the personal system was designed to prevent an inflexible bureaucracy from developing and to give opportunities for RPCVs to join the agency. The so-called limited five year tenure was created precisely to allow such an unique situation to occur.
But President Kennedy was assassinated. Within three months, Shriver was only working part-time at the agency. Perhaps the feeling was that control of the Volunteers was still absolutely necessary. However, subsequent Presidents liked the control it gave them over the agency, in my opinion and were most reluctant to relinquish it.
The consequence is today Volunteers still have very little legal access to the protections the law has promised them. The agency, more often than not, suffers from frequent turnover, long periods of unfilled positions, and a political bonanza for partisan politicians who have no experience with Peace Corps. The overseas Host Country staff is not subject to the Five Year Rule. However, they many times do not have adequate training.
Only Congress can change this.
My above comment was to be directed toward the problems the USA report identified. However, the personnel system must be changed if Volunteers are going to be adequately trained and supported to work effectively with the crisis created by Climate Change.
I appreciate the interest in protecting P.C. women from assault. I was one of the people who was assaulted, and the Peace Corps tried to change the law in my country of service (Paraguay) to protect volunteers, but it was not completely successful. The social change however, was massive. After the war with Bolivia in the 1930s, the country was repopulated from a decimated state of population depletion partly by having no limits on the number of women men could impregnate. Rape was endemic culturally. Marriage was not possible for many, financially, and the word they used was “carried off” — as in, “she was carried off by him, so now they are a husband and wife”. I lived with a family, and the 3 year-old daughter of that family grew up to get a degree in psychology in the Capitol, and become a therapist for women who have suffered assault or domestic violence. So there is a huge shift, over the past 50 years, in what is socially acceptable, and how much language is aimed at the problem of language around choice and sexual behavior. My “little sister” is on Facebook with me!
I appreciate the desire to link service with the effort to combat Climate Disaster. Especially in Central and South America, we could make the difference, (finally!) in our hemisphere, if the Peace Corps were allowed the means and the connections to help accomplish the clean energy goals, and active support for countries which have willing people but not as much money as they need for the infrastructural changes needed. We also could hopefully help defend democracy in our hemisphere by doing this, with a great infusion of teaching, skilled engineering and support funding.
Thanks for being an institution of idealism and hope for the future. There is no substitute for that desire to “help save the world.”
Martina Nicholson MD
I am so sorry you were one of the women assaulted. I really appreciated your analysis of what happened in your host country and how much has changed. Your story is so important. Thank you.
I served more than fifty years ago in Colombia in Health Education/Community Development. In the early days, and I don’t know until when, we Volunteers took the technology and the values from our high gain/high risk culture and attempted to intervene amd interrupt traditional patterns. Those patterns had been tested over generations. Our technology had not. It is only now that we are beginning to realize the unforeseen consequences of so much that we advocated.. Peace Corps Volunteers promoted fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides in subsistence areas before we realized the dangerous and long terms side effects.
There are little long term evaluations of Peace Corps’s efforts in these areas. Peace Corps does not maintain records from sites. Before Volunteers become involved with attempts to work with the problems of climate change, it is imperiative that they are trained by experts. And, that there is ongoing evaluation, including the input of host country nationals, with every single project. There should be ongoing followup after the initial work by Volunteers was finished.
As a doctor perhaps you may understand, the frustration and regret I have when I remember what it was that I promoted, at the direction of a well meaining, well trained Host Country Doctor. I worked with a maternal health and infant program. In those days, the early sixties, breast feeding was not encouraged. The “saying” was human milk won’t support human life. Therefore we were encouraged to teach early infant feeding, For example, orange juice was recommended beginning at two weeks for the infant. Infant formula was seen as a better alternative to nursing. Fortunately, the women I worked with were very poor and could not afford infant formula.
When I encountered resistance, I had been taught that peasants were resistent to change and very superstitious.
More than a decade later, when I had a child, the best practices in the United States were to nurse for six months without supplementation. That was precisely the traditional practice I had tried to change.
We need to be humble and understand how very little we actually know, in my opinion.