Who Said The Peace Corps Didn't Want Skilled PCVs From Day One?

[A friend who I served with in Ethiopia (1962-64) sent me this article from the January 3, 1963, The Machinists, a newspaper published by the International Association of Machinists. It is the way that the Peace Corps did recruitment in those early days. Here was an announcement looking for Diesel Mechanics. The  contact person at the Peace Corps was Jules Pagano. A few months ago I wrote about Jules as one of the original Mad Men at the agency. Here’s the newspaper ad:]

Peace Corps Needs Diesel Mechanics

The Peace Corps is looking for 30 gasoline or diesel engine mechanics to volunteer for a special repairing and maintenance project in Tunisia.

JULES PAGANO of the Peace Corps public affairs office announced recently that volunteers will be assigned to repair shops to maintain trucks, buses, and auto engines and to help train Tunisian mechanics.

The operation is part of a Tunisian Peace Corps project already in progress-maintenance and repair of heavy road building equipment. Here are prerequisites for volunteers as listed by Pagano for THE MACHINIST: Qualifications. Volunteers must have previous experience in repairing and maintaining various types of gas or diesel machines. Graduates of auto mechanic schools, retired mechanics, and graduates of technical schools with training and experience as bus or auto mechanics are eligible. Peace Corps volunteers must be American citizens, 18 years of age and older. Married couples are eligible if both qualify. They cannot have dependent children under the age of 18.

Training. Volunteers will go through a two-to-three month training program in the United States. They will learn some of the language, history, culture and traditions of the country in which they will serve. They will also take refresher courses as mechanics.

Allowances. Volunteers receive $75 a month readjustment allowance, paid at the end of the assignment. They also receive allowances for food, clothing, housing and incidental expenses and 30 days of leave per year. Transportation and medical care are provided.

TUNISIA is an independent country located on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa. It is bordered by Algeria and Libya. Training for the project will begin in July. Interested IAM members should make application as volunteers now. Questionnaires are available at any U. S. Employment Security Office or by writing: Jules Pagano, Director, Professional, Technical, Labor Division, Peace Corps, Washington 25, D.C.

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  • I know that inviting families came along much later than this 1963 request for PCV, not until perhaps 1968?…It was a failed concept in that one partner had no real job role beyond mother and/or father, and while some PCVs family were successful, (I am thinking here of the late novelist Maria Thomas and her husband (Ethiopia 1971-73) the whole project was too costly to maintain, and presented too many problems for the staff, from what I observed first-hand traveling through about 25 countries in Africa in late ’69 and into early 1970s.

  • I found having families a ‘plus’ in many ways, and was sorry to hear that the practice had ended (maybe in the early 80s?). Our families in the Philippines generally did well in their host communities and on the job, helped out by providing role models for the younger PCVs, and their children often helped lighten the burden of a bad day (which did occur, but not often). Given the cost (more so than the drain on staff time and the lack of a spouse job) I guess stopping the practice was the right thing to do.

  • I remember reading about the efforts to recruit machinists but I cannot find the reference. My recollection is that the response was minimal. I think that Peace Corps should have gone further and polled machinisits to see why they were not volunteering. In Community Development training, we learned the very first rule is to determine what are a population’s “felt needs.” My guess would be that two years without a salary represented a barrier to participation. But, I could be absolutely wrong. It may have been that machinists had already served in the military and did not want to “serve” again. It would be really good to know what happened.

  • Does it mean that the spouse has to know gasoline/diesel mechanics as well? Hopefully not. I remember the summer that we trained at Georgetown, there was a training project at Howard University that was training seven Maine fishermen to help one of the coastal African countries to do deep sea fishing, with the current technology available in that country.

    I taught auto mechanics, because I had built my own hot rod, and lived with a machinist and a sheet metal worker. They were fully prepared to teach, but I was very weak on theory; whereas, the machinist had been a tool and dye maker for Boeing and the sheet metal worker had been “laying tin,” as a member of the Sheet Metal Workers Union, since his return from Korea. There were a couple of other technical people to teaching drafting.

    However, our real challange was the lack of material with which to teach, and for me, a set of decent tools. Peace Corps bought materials for them and a tool kit for me. But, spare parts were a real challange, everything had to be rebuilt by hand. I even learned how as well as taught students to make their own gaskets!

    The cultural challange that we faced was that the students were hoping to attend academic schools, but had scored less than 80 percent on the middle school leaving exams to qualify. Having scored at least 70 per cent on the exams, they still hoped to take the leaving exams for secondary schools and be eligible to attend college.

    Because many of them did not want to work with their hands, a number wore ties and white shirts to school. There were other cultural prohibitions to working with their hands. They had a saying in Amharic, “from the hand comes slavery, but from the mouth comes master.” Also, there was a small ethnic group living near the capitol city that did work with their hands, quite successfully. They were know as Gurage (see William Shack’s book on them). If one student wanted to insult another, he would call him a Guage! Also, a number of them grew one or more long finger nails to show that they did not work with their hands. I would occasionaly threaten to break off their nails in the shop vice, if they did not participate in the practicum in the shop, following classroom preperation.

    Of course, there were exceptions, with a hand full of students really wanting to work in their chosen technical fields. We successfully placed all of them with employers, like the airlines, because they had Americans working as consultants there and we convinced them that our good students possessed the basic knowledge and more important the incllination, necessary to be trained by the employer(s).

    However, we did complain about our situations to both the Ministry of Education, where I was told by my country director that I had not been particularly diplomatic in speaking for my collegues during a conference for this purpose, and to the Peace Corps evaluator toward the end of our second year. In any case, Peace Corps did not assign any more technical teachers to the country, possibly because of our comments to the evaluator and it may have been difficult to recruit technically skilled Volunters.

  • David, How tremendously interesting and productive. It sounds as if you may have been one of the original “Ugly Americans.”

    As for Peace Corps Volunteer families, there is a good account of that experience in the book “For Two Years, Who Cares?” Kathie and Al Wiebe wrote about their experiences in Colombia as a family, where Al was evidently the “official” Volunteer. The book is listed and reviewed on the Peace Corps Writers website.

  • “Peace Corps Chronology; 1961 – 2010” which answers these questions and many more will be in print by X-mas and for sale on Amazon.com. It will be available in hardback, paperback (Trade) and as an e-book at very reasonable prices for the curious.

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