RPCV evaluator writes: “The Rice Must Reach the People”

 

 

Robert G. (Mick) McGuire was a Volunteer teacher at Raishahi University, East Pakistan, and he was subsequently briefly an evaluator for the Peace Corps. He wrote this essay for the 1966 Peace Corps Volunteer, one article of 14 that focused on what the Peace Corps should become by 1976.

The Rice Must Reach the People

by Robert G. McGuire III (Pakistan 1961-63)

What will the Peace Corps be in 1976? The destiny of the Peace Corps is tied to the forces at work in the world. Therefore, to ensure our relevance to development, which is on of the major forces of our era, we must try year by year to maintain an acute sensitivity to the economic, political, and social forces in the developing nations.

My own bias is that the Peace Corps must justify itself solely in terms of its contribution to the development of the non-Western world. Out of the task of development can flow certain important by-products–friendship and understanding between human beings of different cultures and the personal enrichment of those Americans who serve.

The By-products

Before we get into a discussion of what I call the main task, let’s look at the by-products and how they will have affected Americans by 1976.

By that time many thousands of Volunteers will have returned home to begin or to resume their careers. I am not as optimistic as many people around the Peace Corps who feel that the returned Volunteers will have a profound and widespread influence on America. My lack of optimism stems from two beliefs.

  • All Volunteers do not return with the charisma often ascribed to them, and only a quarter of all Peace Corps Volunteers gain the maximum wisdom, tough idealism, sensitivity and dynamism which the overseas experience can provide.
  • The pressure sucking the individual into the stream of American life and molding him into a pattern is extremely strong.

A few former Peace Corps Volunteers, having had bitter experiences, will try to forget the whole thing. Others, complacent, having led passive lives overseas and patting themselves on the back for surviving, will return to the same mediocrity they left-basking in the glow of having done something–once.

Some of the 25 percent who got the maximum benefit from their two years will always feel out of place. Others of them will work themselves into responsible positions, sublimating their deepest inner feelings until they are at the top–and never really know who is out of step. Still, others will plug away at jobs that are usually unrecognized and unrewarded by our society. All of these people will make their small but important imprint.

The fact that thousands of Americans have served in the Peace Corps is good for the country, and the effect of the Peace Corps on American society will neither be spectacular nor will it be as pervasive as many think.

It is much harder to gauge the effectiveness of the Peace Corp on international understanding. Hundreds of thousands of foreigners will have seen Peace Corps Volunteers. Some of these foreigners will have decided that Americans are clannish, disrespectful, immoral or not serious. Others will have seen serious, interested, competent, intelligent, sensitive friends who happened to be Americans. But unfortunately, personal friendships do not determine international relations.

 The Main Task

The fact that American is a superpower which gives food to the hungry and protection to the weak, throws money to those eager to use it or interferes internal politics when it sees fit, combined with the perceived interests of a given foreign country, will determine the policy and propaganda of that foreign government. Although Peace Corps Volunteers can accomplish little without making friends, they must do much more than that in order to serve the real national interests of the host countries.

This brings to the main task again. To live up to our very weighty responsibilities to the countries which have asked us to help, we must concentrate our efforts on helping to solve the social, economic and political problems of development. No government or agency has yet come close to solutions. Other dispensers of aid have learned that the supplying of money, food or machines alone does not solve even the economic problems. Tons of rice given to starving Indians cannot be delivered efficiently; money does not reach people for whom it is intended; machines are misused or fall apart because of lack of care; teachers bring facts which are not absorbed into the lives of the people they teach.

Bridging the Gap

The key to the problem lies in finding out why the mere presentation or introduction of skills and goods has nor achieved the desired results. This is a problem of human communication and human organization. Because the Peace Corps has already addressed itself to the masses, our unique contribution can be made in bridging the gap between technical and human development.

This means that we must program teaching jobs and select and train Volunteer teachers who can make education relevant to the student’s life outside the school. If a teacher cannot do this he is not attacking the basic problem of development.  If a Peace Corps Volunteer construction work does not instill in the people an ability to articulate their need for a bridge and the confidence to use their own resources to build a good one themselves, he has not solved the basic problem.

If the Peace Corps concentrates its efforts in a particular country on an educational system that produces unemployable clerks when the country desperately needs to motivate its people to increase agricultural production, the agency minimizes or retards its effect on development.

We have programmed some jobs that go to the heart of the problem, but not nearly enough of them. Many of our Peace Corps Volunteers, who join the Peace Corps, because it is a safe, middle-class thing to do after college, do not have the interest or skills to dig deeply into the human problem.  Most of our training institutions, accustomed to the presentation of static academic information, are unable to train Volunteers to solve the problems of human development. Overseas staff, too burdened with everyday problems, have not been able to study in-depth the needs of the host countries. And Peace Corps headquarters has not provided a unified, coherent philosophy of operation.

No Time To Be Cocky

In the past five years, we have done an amazing job–for amateurs–and we are becoming more professional (and I hope not more bureaucratic and less experimental).

But this is not the time to be cocky. During the next ten years, we must give much more thought to the kids of Volunteers we are getting (and the right kind may not number 10,000 a year); where we are allocating our scarce resources; how each job directly contributes to development; and what the long-range political, social and economic effect of our presence will be on the masses in each country. In 1976 the host countries will want to know what we have done for them, not for American youth or international understanding. They should not have to ask us.

According to Coates Redmon in her book on the early year of the agency: Come As You Art The Peace Corps Story, Mick McGuire was from Washington, D.C. and “a sophisticated, smart, and half the womenfolk at the Peace Corps were in love with him. He later married the Belle of Ghana I, Georgianna Shine. After McGuine left the Peace Corps he studied for a doctorate in International Relations at Columbia University.  He taught at Howard University and also briefly ran the three-generational family funeral business in Washington, D.C. Mick would die tragically in a car accident in the 1970s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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