Technology Changes Life In The Peace Corps
In the early 1980s, Gordy Mengel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in an isolated community in what was then called Zaire, now Congo.
“I was placed somewhere in the middle part of the country,” said Mengel. “And in the small community where I lived there was no post office, so getting letters out, which was basically the only means of communication, was very challenging.
Letters would take weeks, or months, to arrive.
But now, thanks to technology, that is no longer the case. Computers, cells phones and the Internet have changed the way Peace Corps volunteers do their work and stay in touch.
Now a Peace Corps programming and training officer in Rwanda, Mengel says improved communication technology has changed how people serve in the Peace Corps.
Back when he was a volunteer, he lost track of friends and family back in the United States so he had no choice but to integrate into the community.
“These days, with the advent of the internet and cell phone service and so forth, I still see volunteers having some of that experience but again, when they go back to their homes, instead of turning out the kerosene light and going to bed,” says Mengel, “they can get on Skype and they give a quick call to mom and dad back at home. And that part of the experience has changed.”
Sonia Morhange is one of about 100 Peace Corps volunteers now serving in Rwanda. The San Diego native works at an organization in Kigali called Never Again Rwanda, organizing plays about the country’s 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead.
She catches up with friends in California over Skype, talks on the phone with her mom and e-mails her dad. She hasn’t mailed a single letter through the postal system and can’t imagine waiting months for one to arrive.
“I know, I can’t believe it. I can’t imagine having been a Peace Corps volunteer in the 70s or the 80s or even the early 90s,” said Ms. Morhange. “I’m just so used to everyone having a cell phone that works internationally. I’m very, very lucky in the fact that where I live I have wireless internet and that makes it a lot easier.”
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I am well aware that people keep in touch w. each other so easily now. But, in many ways, being isolated and away from home for the 15 months or 2 years, made the P.C. experience special.
Life goes on, with various changes, and the world is certainly different than when I was in the Philippines in 1962.
Nick Royal – group #2, PI
One of the many loses due to the bizarre organization of PC/W is that PCVs and RPCVs did not have a structured way to compare experiences. How we communicated and as importantly, with whom we communciated is a critical piece of the Peace Corps experience. With the expansion of the intranet for serviing PCVs, this may change for them.
This is what I remember. One consequence of the demanding 12 week training period in the US was to wean us from “American culture” and make us increasingly isolated from everything except each other. The training group became our reference group. We developed group goals and group identify. When we went overseas, we were assigned in pairs.
So we had each other to talk with. (We were an all female group and we were going into first time sites) This was our main communication, initially. It may have helped the transition. It did mean that we continued to filter everything we were learning by what had been developed during training. So, one question I have for RPCVs who trained in country is: How important were PC training cohorts in your introduction to your host country? DId you communicate, almost, exclusively with them, initially?
I was incountry almost a year before I was really comfortable communicating in my site. It was even longer than that before I began learning from my Colombian counterparts and friends. Another question I would have for RPCVs is: If you were dealing with a non-literate culture, how did you learn things? How did the people communicate over distance?
Finally, PCVs do live in the culture of the host country. So, my question for serving PCVs is: Do most of the HCNs in your site communicate by cell phone and computer? If so, are you communicating with them using these technologies?