Words Of Wisdom From "When The World Calls"

These last few days I have been having the pleasure of reading Stanley Meisler’s When The World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and its First Fifty Years. (The book will be published in February but you can go on-line now to Amazon.com and order your copy.)

There are a lot of gems in Stan’s narrative, background stories on questions you might have had on ‘why in the hell is the Peace Corps doing this?,’ etc. that Meisler, a former foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, now answers for you.

What I liked especially is the way Stan summed up the story on the agency in a short and telling, and I believe, very true statement, writing in his Introduction:

“The Peace Corps has one great inner resource. The strength of the Peace Corps has always depended on the energy and commitment of the Volunteers. No matter how asinine the director in Washington, no matter how much the U.S. president despises the agency, no matter how faulty and lackluster the program in their countries, most volunteers have persevered, determined to do the best they can. That quality has persuaded many countries to ask for more Volunteers, year after year.”

Thanks, Stan, for telling it like it is.

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  • I’m guessing, and I hope I am wrong, that this will be another Washington-centric view of a government program, not a story of 200,000 + volunteers and what they did, hoped to do, and what changed as a result. To be honest, I’m not sure anyone could tell the story I want told given the nature of so many different experiences and the lack of a central source of information. But. let’s all buy the book; at least one PC book should make a profit.

  • An excellent account of the early Peace Corps, from the
    point of view of those of us who were volunteeers, can be found
    in my group memoir of Ghana I, Being First.
    To quote from the introduction, “Our [Ghana I] behavior and
    performance over the next two years helped to establish the
    viability of the Peace Corps”.

  • Good news about Stan’s book. That one paragraph does sum it all up. I have also read Bob Klein’s book, which is testament to that reality. Sometime in the new year, several of us from PC/Philippines in 1961 will publish a collection of essays from the first Volunteers, first staff, and some Filipino contributors–it will do to some extent what David Searles wishes for. It is definitely not a Washington-centric book. What;’s amazing about the collection is that although everyone had the”same experience” everyone had his or her own unique experience. The stories do not get repetitive and attest to what Stan says in the above excerpt–the ingenuity and dedication of the Volunteers is what built and sustains the Peace Corps.

  • Maureen, Bob, David,

    Group memoirs are a great idea!. Did you know about these? “Niger 66 – A Peace Corps Diary,” is a film created by five RPCVs who were part of an original PC group of 65 which arrived in Niger in 1966. They returned in 2008 and documented the visit, showing Nigerian friends, their old sites, etc. It is being shown in Denver as part of the Starz festival’s series of Peace Corps films. The ETV, Educational Television Group, which went to Colombia in the mid 60s, did a video documentary of their experiences. It is archived at the American University’s Friends of Colombia Peace Corps Collection. Also, there many books written by staff and “consultants” about Peace Corps during the early days. Maureen, is your goup going to site “Those Peculiar Americans – American National Character” by Lawrence H. Fuchs, the first PC Director in the Phillippines?

    For me, this is how a comprehensive history of Peace Corps will ultimately be developed.

  • I would just like to assure David that my book is a history of the Peace Corps, not a history of Peace Corps/Washington. I have tried to devote as much attention to the Volunteers overseas as to the battles in Washington. Of course, that was not easy. There have been 200,000 different stories overseas. I had to choose some and try to fit them into a narrative that kept a reader going. I did receive a good deal of help, including the kindness of Bob Klein in letting me see the manuscript for the Ghana I book, a wonderful treasure.

  • Stan, Thanks for the reassurance. I can image how difficult it was to ‘get out of Washington.’ All of us who tried to tell part of the story have been in the same boat. My advice to one and all stands: ‘Buy the book!’

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