Step # 7:Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Improve The Agency, Save Money, And Make All PCVs & RPCV Happy!

Step # 7: Curtailing APCDs

I remember a period of time–perhaps six months–in 1965 when there were 450 PCVs in Ethiopia working mostly teachers, nurses and highway surveyors and there were a total of 4 APCDs.

Like all bureaucracies overseas staffs have grown and grown in 50 years. It is the nature of the beast. Now is the time to try it a new way.

A couple true stories. A good friend would worked in HQ in the early days, then much later as a CD in Africa, said that what was needed as a CD was someone with  counseling skills, not management or development experience, and that she spent much of her days talk with emotionally distraught PCVs. It is not for naught that psychological payments are so high in the agency when the PCVs come home again.

Working as an APCD in Ethiopia, I had under my supervision a 100 PCV spread over a 1000 miles. I usually spent 24-27 days a month traveling from town to town visiting the Volunteers, check up on then, seeing what they needed. It is what I thought (and what I believed at the time) what an APCD did. Other APCDs never left Addis Ababa. They kept in touch by mail. At the time, telephones were chancy.

My approach was the wrong approach. Once you start hand holding, you can never do it enough. It is best to set up another kind of paradigm between APCDs and the Volunteers and the Peace Corps has done a good deal at turning the Volunteer loose overseas, beginning with Training.

I remember stopping on the Dessie Road in the provinces of Ethiopia and picking up a hitchhiking young woman. She was one of five Swedish Volunteers building a school in one of the small villages off this main artery of the country. Her LandRover had broken down and she was headed back to her village to get help from one of the other Volunteers.

These Volunteers operated on their own with very little organization support from their government. While they worked as teams-5 or 6 together–building two- room elementary schools, they were young kids virtually on their own in Africa.

What the ‘new’ agency needs to do is cut back on the APCDs, as well as, increase the number of HCN APCDs. (I can hear the hue and cry already!)

Yes, at first it will be difficult. Just like getting off a plane in the developing world and moving in with a homestay family a day or two later, and then starting 10-weeks of training, taking on a language, technical skills, cross-culture, community development, personal health and safety and security. It ain’t easy. But as a student here at the college where I work wrote back from Tanzania…”Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania is certainly not easy, but whose to say life should be easy? Each day is a learning experience and I am certain that by the end of my service here I will gain a lot more than I will give.”

Which of us hasn’t said the same thing?

Lets cut the hand-holding, lets send the PCVs off to do the job they are capable of doing, and lets tighten the financial belt of the Peace Corps. It can be done.


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  • John: As a volunteer, I hardly ever saw staff. When I served as a Country Director, I set myself a goal to visit every one of my 400+ volunteers at least once, believing that a country director should (i) have first hand appreciation of the conditions under which his or her volunteers are living and working, and (ii) that the director ought to show that he or she cared enough to visit, observe and listen to gain such appreciation rather than rely on third hand reports. That being said, I do not disagree with your concern about “hand-holding” — PCVs need to be as self reliant as possible — but this needs to be accomplished without them feeling “abandoned.” It is always a delicate balancing act.

  • or do the Colombia I APCD’s , instead peer leaders. The leader would show up once a month, like you John 25 days on the road , drink a few beers, spend the night , listen to the compliants and because there were no answers he need not hold any hands. I think this is why we relive the experience the way we supervision, limited support , just do it!!! Saves a lot of money , and believe me no one felt “abandoned.”

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