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The Peace Corps Debate

Posted by PCV Sam 
PCV Sam
The Peace Corps Debate
April 29, 2009 09:15AM
Fantastic Episode! Very beautiful footage and I think you presented the issues in a very even-handed way. Well done! I hope this episode generates a good debate about the effectiveness of the Peace Corps.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer a few years ago, and I definitely encountered many of the same challenges that you addressed in the film. I never felt fully effective in my work (although I definitely gained a lot personally). I'm not sure that I had much added-value in my community and I doubt that my projects survived beyond my time there.

Your question about President Obama's plans to double the size of the Peace Corps is very important... I'll be curious to hear what other viewers think. My own opinion is that until the Peace Corps improves its quality (especially in regard to training), it doesn't make sense to increase quantity!

Other opinions?
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
April 30, 2009 10:46AM
I think the first couple in this video was certainly the exception. They were really able to get things done...it seems like every group has a few people who can do this, and then a lot of people who struggle to find their place in the development world (and then a lot of people who struggle even to find their place in their community). And then PCVs who make peace with what they can do in 2 years and what they can't.

I honestly believe the personal relationships PCVs make in their communities are the most important things we can do. Peace Corps is so unique in that very few other organizations require their employees to live at the local level, to integrate, to really learn the language. I met so many other development workers in Mozambique who didn't speak Portuguese and who were just shocked that PCVs took public transport, lived without drivers and plumbing, without internet in their homes and sometimes even without electricity. This means PCVs are in a position to learn infinitely more about the people they work with than those who drive around in white SUVs all day. And if Peace Corps helps young Americans learn that they want to continue working in development, this knowledge makes us better at what we will do in the future. Some people might resist this, but if Peace Corps is simply a training ground for a career in development, maybe that's ok. Wouldn't you rather have people that have experienced what it is like to live at the local level, than someone striaght out of graduate school who has no idea what it is like to live without indoor plumbing?

I agree with the statement above; Obama doesn't need to increase the number of volunteers. He needs to ensure that enough people want to volunteer that Peace Corps can actually make the selection process as "competetive" as they say it is. Certainly there are a number of PCVs who look at the experience as a vacation, as an escape, as a time to act like a fool. Quality needs to be improved, no doubt.
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
June 02, 2009 01:32PM
I'm glad people are really looking at Peace Corps' value, and I agree with the other posters--no sense in increasing Peace Corps' size just for the sake of putting more Americans out in the world.

This video accurately depicted my experience serving in Morocco. Think about it realistically--how can PCVs "helo" when they have little expertise themselves, don't speak the language where they are posted, spread out far from other volunteers which prevents them from helping each other and have little to no administrative support (during my service, the PC bureau wouldn't even write a letter to a provincial leader for me so that I could teach health lessons in schools).

Like PC says, 2/3 of its goals are just cultural exchange. That's great, but especially in this economy, the extra money is better spent elsewhere.
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
June 12, 2009 12:11AM
The Peace Corps is not perfect by any means and those who expect a a "return" on U.S. tax dollars in the form of 100% (or even 50%) 'success' rates in every community impacted by Peace Corps are delusional. Give me a break. How many volunteers are going to come out and say, "I made a difference". Most PCVs I've met are relatively modest. They are volunteers, not investment bankers!

There are marginal benefits that happen as in the case of expanding production of vanilla in the Madagascar village. Other marginal benefits might come in the qualitative form as when a PC teacher imparts his/her different way of tackling challenging mathematical exercises to students and other teachers or when a PC focusing on nutrition cooks together with the neighbor every night and all go to sleep on a healthy belly.

Also, I've always been interested in the lack of 'skills' argument that people who are quick to criticize PCVs effectiveness repeat incessantly. The PC is not an org. that sends seasoned medical doctors and civil engineers as free labor in countries that might not have the capital to put these 'skills' to use as it is. Its called "bootstrapping" my friends. Google it.

As for expanding the PC, I'm all for it. I'd say it's a net positive for both the host country and the U.S. If people young and old are anxious to volunteer either at home or abroad under a U.S. sponsored program, I'd say they deserve the benefit of the skeptics doubt. There's nothing wrong with being skeptical, but hopefully you are both physically and mentally engaged at some point, and for those who are and don't feel like they are making even a tiny difference, don't be so hard on yourself.
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
August 18, 2009 06:44PM
As a recently returned Peace Corps Madagascar volunteer, I think volunteers and others often hear of the lack of accomplishment or lack of impact seen by the volunteer during their two years of service. However, while a volunteers service may last two years, the Peace Corps program does not. In many cases, and in Madagascar, logs are kept by volunteers at their sites. When their two years are over, a majority of those sites are replaced with new volunteers who continue projects. Therefore, no one volunteer sees the total impact on a community over a long time period.

I agree, that during my two years, I felt as though my impact was minimal. But changing the way someone has planted crops for who knows how long, introducing a new way to cook without fire, or overcoming cultural barriers regarding safe sex doesn't happen quickly.

I think it is unfair to judge the productivity of the Peace Corps program by two years of a volunteers service. Instead we should be asking those in the community, those who have been living there, who have had a chance to see the changes over time, and most of all those who have been impacted by those changes over time.
Paneet
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
October 04, 2009 01:29PM
All your videos are very insightful.
This has really helped me reconsider the direction I'll be taking in my years at university, so that hopefully I can make more of a difference when I go out into the field.
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
October 16, 2009 06:20AM
I'm a volunteer in Ukraine. I finish in 39 days. In my experience, the success of the volunteer depends on two things: The quality of site they are sent to and the motivation of the volunteer to help. The most motivated volunteer on earth can be worn down by a site that doesn't actually want any help. Conversely, a site that has a perfect idea of exactly what they need can be stymied by a do-nothing volunteer.

Each of those problems goes one step back. Recruiters need to actually pay attention to the people they interviewing. My recruiter listened to what I wanted, then looked at my background and placed me where she thought I would do the most good. My first choice had been beekeeping in Central America. She probably made a great decision not to place me there. She sent me here to teach English. Flip it and Peace Corps' in country staff should do a much better job isolating good sites from bad sites. PCVs aren't trophies to be displayed. They are there to work and try to not just improve their host organization, but the whole site. Here in Ukraine, many volunteers are used as placeholders so teachers can go shopping or tend to other personal matters.

I'm lucky enough to have a great site and an amazing counterpart. My legacy is the things I showed him and the lessons we learned together. Both of us are better for my having been here. Students are students. Some of them appreciated having a native speaker here, some of them didn't.

Increasing the size of PC is a great thing for which to aspire, but without the recruiters doing their job and nominating quality volunteers, it doesn't matter in the least.
It seems like one of the gripes I hear most often from disgruntled Peace Corps volunteers is that they wanted to go to a specific country and were placed somewhere else or had a specific kind of work they wanted to do and were given a different job. How much more effective would Peace Corps be if volunteers could have more control over the kind of work they'd be doing? Passion is a strong motivator. I think giving would-be volunteers more personal investment in designing their experience would seriously strengthen the program and the quality of work done. What if the Peace Corps became an organization providing grants for US Citizens who want to volunteer abroad and have more of a specific plan (and have sought out a local partner in the country they want to go to)? Something more along the lines of Fulbright, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarships, or the Christianson Grant Award? Peace Corps could pay the living wage and cover airfare, healthcare, and emergency evac and maybe even do it more cheaply than the avg of $41,000/year/volunteer.
Building relationships and getting the cultural immersion, on the ground experience seem to be the benefits of the program. Why not make those things the explicit focus? I sought out my own volunteer/cultural immersion experience outside of the Peace Corps. What do PCVs think about the above proposal?
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
May 27, 2010 12:53AM
Hi,

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana. I also make films! (I applaud this website!)

I like to say Peace Corps is the same as the Army, but the opposite. It's remarkable how people who have never left the USA can end up in a village in the middle of the bush. The bush is the bush wherever you go.

It's a life changing experience for many and will not be forgotten. Especially at the common age of 23 years old. The counterpart and the PCV exchange information about two different worlds. It should be better than watching a documentary on TV or reading a book. It's real. The effect on both people doesn't wear off after those 2 years.

It's also not uncommon to take bucket baths, live without electricity, fetch/catch your own water, sleep outside, cook with coals, recycle waste materials, use solar panels, or car batteries. New ways of doing things might come from old ways of doing things.

Sustainability is out : Marginalized is in

-alicia

--------
About Above Points-

- something does exist, it's "peace corps response" where former volunteers can apply to go into more specific jobs usually for 6 months or so. I think if Peace Corps tried to allow the volunteer more options, the staff costs would go up a great deal to actually find those jobs. Wherever the PCV goes they can find them for themselves.

- I think it's hard to determine someone who is going to stay and someone who is not - especially in this kind of situation. I remember trying to predict in training (and I actually knew the people) those who would leave and those who would stay and it was surprising to see what happened!
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
August 21, 2011 02:37AM
Just a point of curiosity, what becomes of most peace corps volunteers once they complete their obligation. How many are recruited to joint the CIA as analysts? I'm serious. thanks
Re: The Peace Corps Debate
September 05, 2011 11:20AM
The Peace Corps is the only way for an American to experience life in remote and often very poor communities around the world. American are working in development and aid at all levels, and the Peace Corps is the best way to prepare for that type of work. As an RPCV (Bolivia and Liberia) and currently a graduate student in International Development I am one of the few students who has a realistic outlook on the challenges of development work. Too many people only ever see the HQ side or the excel sheet side of research and development, from those very comfortable places it is easy to assume that any intervention is better than none. It isn't until you live and work in the field that the true challenges come out. The Peace Corps is almost a dirty word in academia, the assumptions of idealistic young unskilled Americans spreading peace and love and trying to "save the world" continues. As with any job or experience there are people who are dedicated and do really great and innovative things with their time, and others who are overwhelmed or just don't feel the need to. In the end all of our resumes say the same thing. The same goes for graduate school, and any other work environment. The Peace Corps has and continues to struggle with an identity crisis, is it a development organization or an exchange program, and there are PCVs who fit into both categories.

Overall I think having a PC background makes me more effective as a development practitioner, or whatever it is that I choose to do with my life.
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