12-Step Peace Corps Program

It might be interesting, in light of the discussion about the ET rate, to look at what else has changed in the fundamental attitudes and beliefs and practices of the agency. Here was some of the thinking and statements within the first year, 1961.

Today's Peace Corps HQ

Today's Peace Corps HQ

In the first days of the Peace Corps (early ’61) the ‘experts’ working with the agency decided there should be a ‘corps’ of between 300 and 500. That would be a realistic number for a ‘pilot program’ to make sure  that the Peace Corps got off on the right foot.

That idea, however, changed quickly after a Peace Corps ‘team’: Shriver, Wofford, Franklin Williams, and Edwin Bayley returned from a trip to Africa and Asia in May of ’61. They had received requests from around the world for PCVs. And at home there had been an onslaught of letters and cables coming to HQ from people who wanted to volunteer. So the numbers of PCVs jumped to 500 to 1,000 by December 31, 1961, and 2,400 by June 30, 1962, the end of the Peace Corps’ first fiscal year. The governments of Ghana, Nigeria, Tanganyika, India, Pakistan, Malaya, Thailand, Colombia, Chile, St. Lucia and the Philippines all requested PCVs.

Also, between March 1961 and June 1961, the basic politics for the Peace Corps were set. This was the 12 Step Program that the original staff  set down. Now how true has the Peace Corps been to this vision?

First, Peace Corps Volunteers would only go to countries where they were invited.

Second, Volunteers would work for the host country government or a private agency or organization within the foreign country, serving under a host country supervisors, and working with host country co-workers wherever possible.

Third, Volunteers would not be “advisers” but “doers.”

Fourth, Volunteers would serve for two years, without salary or draft exemption.

Fifth, Volunteers would be provided a living allowance enabling them to live a modest manner compareble to the circumstances of their co-workers.

Sixth, Volunteers would enjoy no diplomatic privileges immunities, have no PX or commissary rights, receive no “hardship’ or cost-of-living allowances and have no vehicles unless needed for their job.

Seventh, Volunteers would learn to speak the language of the host country, learn to appreciate its customs, be able to discuss adequately and intelligently the United States when questioned, refrain from political or religious proselytizing, and set as the standard of their success how well the requested job was fulfilled.

Eighth, a termination allowance of $75 for each month of satisfactory service was established to help the Volunteer get started again in this country.

Ninth, the Peace Corps would be open to all qualified, single Americans above 18 and for married couple with no dependents under 18, where each had a needed skill.

Tenth, a college degree would not be a requirement for service. A special effort was made to attract farmers and craftsmen who possessed skills and experience but no degrees.

Eleventh, the highest medical, psychological, and character standard were established and it was determined that final selection would be made at the conclusion of training.

Twelfth, it was decided that the hardships of Peace Corps life would be featured in recruitment so no candidate would misjudge the terms and conditions under which he or she volunteered to serve.

Finally, trainees and Volunteers would be told they could resign from the Peace Corps at any time and the Peace Corps would pay their way home.

I’d give the agency an A-

But you have to remember I’m an easy grader. How would you grade the Peace Corps?


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  • I would add one more very important feature: Peace Corps Volunteers were and are Private Citizens, serving “at the pleasure of the President.”

  • By 1968, less than seven years after its inception, nearly two-thirds of all volunteers did not complete the two year obligation. The number of volunteers had increased so dramatically that it became increasingly common for host nations to complain about volunteers who traveled rather than work. There were host nation complaints that volunteers did not assimilate well. Joseph Blatchford instituted “New Directions” in response. The number of volunteers was decreased and the official handbook was rewritten. Among other changes, volunteers now worked at the pleasure of the Corps (not the president) and could be terminated by the Country Director.

  • Peace Corps has made some positive changes, mostly in training and selection. An attempt was made to make training as realistic as possible by moving them to their country of assignment for training. More of the Staff tend to be former Volunteers. We went from 24 months to 27 months including training. When you have a high ET rate, you need to look at the Country Director and quality of staff, are the Volunteers being treated as children or adults. Overall, I would rate Peace Corps with an A…might rate higher if they returned to issuing “Book-lockers” to Volunteers. Sarge would be pleased!

  • Would we reform our educational system based upon grading the one we used during the Great Depression? Would we modernize our military by using examples from the Second World War? Would we revamp our space program based upon the moon-shot strategy? Grading the Peace Corps in 1961 has little to do with the Peace Corps in 2012. It is wisest to take off the romantic blinders of time and seriously analyze the program and today’s problems.

  • That’s good, Larry!

    You stirred me off the couch and away from the Ryder Cup. No easy task on this Saturday morning. As I said on the blog item, I’m an easy grader, just as I was for the students at the Commerical School in Addis Ababa back in the early ’60s.

    However, my A- grade was for how ‘well’ the agency did in fulfilling the goals of the agency as set down in 1961. I wasn’t talking about ET levels.

    As for ‘blinders’ well, my history with the agency goes from 1962-67 as a PCV and staff, at HQ and overseas as an APCD. I then returned to the Peace Corps on staff in D.C. and New York from 1994 until 2000, On top of that, I have edited 5 books over the years written by RPCVs from all decades, and I have edited a newsletter and now a website since 1989 or so on the writings and opinions by many PCVs and RPCVs (like you!)…..And when it comes to comments and views about the Peace Corps agency and the job it is doing just ask any of the Directors if Coyne has “romantic blinders” about the Peace Corps or the job being done today by the staff, in Washington or overseas.

    So, I’m going to give you an Incomplete for the semester.

  • @Lawrence

    All Volunteers still serve at the “pleasure of the President,” but that authority has been delegated to Peace Corps staff, ie. the Country Director and/or medical officer. That has been true since the beginning of Peace Corps.

    See: Public law 87-293 Section 4 (b) “the President may exercise any functions vested in him by this ACT through such agency or officer of the United States Government as he shall direct. The head of any such agency or any such officer may promulgate such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or appropriate to carry out such functions, and may delegate to any of his subordinates authority to perform any of such functions”

    You are right about the consequence of rapid expansion between 1965 and 1968 or so. However, Charlie Peters who was part of Sarge Shriver’s original “Mad Men”, talked about sending Volunteers home who did not have the “right stuff.” Terminating Volunteers prior to the end of service happened routinely.

  • Most importantly, right now, for the New Peace Corps is the elimination of John’s Third, Fourth and Seventh steps by the creation of lateral entry into the Peace Corps Response program by non-RPCVs.

    These people will serve under the banner of Peace Corps. But,
    they will not necessarily be “doers”, but rather they may well be “advising” and “training.” These non-RPCVs will not serve for a two year term-
    rather the service time will be staggered from three to 12 months depending on the assignment. Most importantly, Peace Corps will not train these non-RPCVs. It is not clear, to me, how the Seventh step will be met:

    “Volunteers would learn to speak the language of the host country, learn to appreciate its customs, be able to discuss adequately and intelligently the United States when questioned, refrain from political or religious proselytizing, and set as the standard of their success how well the requested job was fulfilled.”

    These non-RPCVs will NOT have previously demonstrated any of
    the characteristics and values described in John’ Seventh Step in a Peace Corps assignment.
    They will not come from the Peace Corps Volunteer culture.

    So, I would argue that this represents a dramatic change in how Peace Corps would structured, initially.

    Of course, the Peace Corps Response Program is headed currently by a political appointee and not a RPCV.

  • Joey- Thank you for the correction. The point I was trying to make is that the PC has been criticized for not having a “collective memory” due to the five year rule and the lack of a library. The flip-side of this argument is that even with such a memory, it is best to resolve today’s problems with today’s resources. For instance, this site has had a on-going discussion about the Book Locker for years. Well, if that is really such a great idea why not propose giving each volunteer a Kindle and an e-book account? Another alternative is that the PC buy the e-rights to a mass of books and share it with volunteers electroncically. This would involve less logistical problems and less cost. The younger crowd likes e-books better.

    Each perceived problem should be approached in a like manner, not with one foot in the grave, mumbling about how we did it one half century ago. That’s one of the quickest ways to get ignored.

  • The book lockers won’t come back. Too expensive. However, the idea of the book locker, while giving PCVs something to read, also were to be used to set up the ‘first books’ for school libraries where PCVs were teaching. They were to be left behind by the Volunteers.

    Years ago when I was working in the ’90s at HQ I suggested that the PCVs be given laptop (those $99 Laptops by the Boston non-profit. Your famous ‘old timers’ Larry shot down that idea. Too much high-tech goodies, they said.

    There is reason enough for that, I guess.

  • @ Joey,
    I am currently a Response volunteer and in my group was the first Response volunteer not to have served in Peace Corps Previously. Jamaica was the pilot for this initiative. The volunteer was older and had copious amounts of relevant experience and had even travelled as a tourist quite a bit in the Caribbean. However, those experiences did not translate to the skills needed for a Response volunteer.

    From my vantage point I do not believe it is a good idea to open up Peace Corps Response to non-RPCVs. Without going into details – the first non-RPCV in PC Response did not complete her assignment. I hope that Peace Corps seriously evaluates this pilot program for PC Response. I think that admitting non-RPCVs devalues the experience that RPCVs gain in their two years of service. Also travelling to a country short term as a tourist is a far cry from serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer. I witnessed this myself in observing this Response volunteer during orientation.

  • Thank you so much for this information. I have never been a Response Volunteer, but I really don’t think it is a good idea for all the reasons you mentioned. The Peace Corps really promoted this person as the first non-RPCV to be a Response Volunteer.

  • This program is most probably being tested as a future Peace Corps substitution, ie: phasing out the Peace Corps by replacing it with the Response Corps. Very capitalist- no investment in training per se and cuts costs tremendously. Yo Leo! Ya gotta love it!

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