“What?” I exclaimed. “Some reports compiled by Peace Corps Volunteers are actually permanently preserved at the National Archives!”
I was reminded, once again, that such outbursts are frowned upon in this establishment. Here is the description in the ARC catalog that caused me such glee:
Mid-Service Conference Reports, compiled 1971 -1975, documenting the period 1970 – 1975. ARC Identifier 1512310 / MLR Number P92 – http://www.archives.gov
Scope & Content
This series consists of reports compiled by Peace Corps volunteers, concerning projects they were concerned with and the general situation in the country they were serving in. The Reports were generally compiled at the one-year mark of their two year service.
I had been searching for anything written by Volunteers and had been frustrated at finding almost nothing. All reports that I had seen were reports generated by or for PC/DC by administrative staff. The voices of serving Volunteers as well as those of Host Country staff and counterparts were not there. Absent such contributions, The Peace Corps collection is the sound of one hand clapping.
But this group of documents was different, and wonderfully so. It was the sound of Volunteers and counterparts working. The reports come from conferences held in countries all over the world, but the format is very similar. Evidently, PC/DC instructed Country Directors to hold such conferences, to administer a common Volunteer questionnaire and to maximize Volunteer participation. There is reference to the MSC Guide, but I could not locate it. Given the beginning date, I would assume that it was the work of Director Blatchford. The intent was to gather input during service so that it could be utilized to immediately improve programs rather than waiting until COS conferences to collect such data. The reports reflect discussion that identified problems, potential solutions, and recommendations. Training was evaluated in light of the year of service.
Let me cite from some of the reports:
MSC – Colombia, Ag. Extension and Ag. Nutrition (69-01-03 and 69-02 06) February 1970 (MLR P92, Box 1)
One Volunteer observed:
“But this conference rose above the level of the traditional PC bitch session because it opened communications among the three groups of people involved in PC function – the people from the Colombian agencies, PC staff and the Volunteers themselves.”
INCORA, Host Country agency identified two of the most important problems:
1. The need that the Volunteer’s work will be well defined, and planned within the agency context.
2. Transportation: In many cases, the means of transportation available to the Volunteers are inadequate.
Another HC agency, ICA, wanted to know what were the goals of the Peace Corps and how was Peace Corps financed. A Volunteer suggested that initial sessions by Volunteers describing their work would have been helpful. This conference was evidently organized by PC staff and the report written by staff, both HC and PC, and the PCVs were identified as “participants.”
Contrast this conference organization by one held in Ecuador.
Rural Development (518-69-02-1-02) October 1970 (MLR #P92 Box 2).
The conference was chaired by a PCV. Discussion group leaders were PCVs. PCVs led the task forces on salary and vacation pay problems caused by the recent devaluation. Host Country staff, PC staff and U.S.A.I.D and U.S. I.S were invited to attend. The report was written by a PCV.
In Afghanistan,there was this conference:
Education project (306-69-02-06) was held in 1970 (MLR #P92 Box 1).
It, too, was Volunteer led, directed, and researched. Staff was invited. The Volunteers passed a resolution requesting the Director to poll all Volunteers on any proposed policy changes. The Director disagreed and vetoed the proposal. Still, Volunteers were in charge of the Conference program.
I remember mid- term conferences in Colombia in the early sixties, but the focus was Rest and Recreation. The conferences were not structured for serious discussion, collaboration with Host Country agencies, or Volunteer empowerment. This is another reason I find these conference reports so interesting. But, the historical context is missing.
The question I find myself asking with all Peace Corps records is “What happened next?” Was there follow-through? Were problems solved? What is the link between the Mid-Service Conferences and the Close of Service conferences? Did the conferences make a difference? Did these Mid-Service Conferences become routine in the years beyond 1975? The answers to these questions are not to be found in the public record, but rather in the recollections and opinions of the RPCV community.
The reports are all bound separately, by program, country and date, and stamped “Property of ACTION Library.” So at one time, they were part of the now defunct Library at PC/DC Headquarters. As Groups, (or Batches or Pods, or whatever it is the current PR people have decided to call us) begin to write their own histories, I would urge that such public documents, as these, be included.
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