Re: [ujeni] future of the Peace Corps?
- 10 December 2008
Thanks for passing this article along.
Greetings of the season,
Now for a few thoughts.
Not only is this article thought-provoking, calling for some serious
mentation, for me it is also disturbing (disconcerting? I'm not sure of
the correct word.) and representative of a certain "shallowness" of
thinking about the Peace Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers. Unless I
missed it, the author fails to mention the most important defining phrase
in the Peace Corps Legislation of 1961, the purpose and mission of the
Peace Corps is to "promote world peace and friendship."
Everything that follows in the Peace Corps Act, all of the bureaucratic
policies and organization hence, all of the people from Sargeant Shriver
to the most recent Peace Corps Recruit, everything the Peace Corps has
done has been an effort to fulfill that mission. In doing so we have, for
the most part, lost sight of the mission of peace and friendship. Indeed
we rarely talk about it, as policy makers, as staff, as Volunteers.
World Peace and Friendship are like religion and politics in family
conversation. "Don't bring it up, and if you do, you do not get to talk
for two weeks." "And by-the-way, don't bring it up again."
So, what do we do?
I will rejoin this conversation is due course. For now, I need to get to
work. Guess I have my priorities in order, isn't it?
> A thought-provoking article...
> Where to Go, Peace Corps?
> By David Lepeska on 08 December 2008
> In a December 2007 campaign speech, the presumptive Democratic
> presidential candidate Barack Obama presented his solution to the United
> States' depressed global stature. "To restore America's standing I will
> call on our greatest resource - not our bombs, guns, or dollars - I will
> call upon our people," the Illinois senator told a crowd of supporters in
> Mount Vernon, Iowa. Among his promises was this: "We will double the size
> of the Peace Corps by its 50th anniversary in 2011."
> The Peace Corps in middle age is a bit like a late model Studebaker: It's
> nice to know it's still around, embodying the unbounded optimism of a
> bygone era, but you might not want to look under the hood. A former
> country director and several returned volunteers have recently done just
> that, pointing out major flaws in Peace Corps operations and raising
> serious questions about its effectiveness.
> Like any bureaucracy, the Peace Corps is cumbersome; current officials
> believe laying the groundwork for an expansion could take years. And
> perhaps most troubling, Obama's words suggest the program's focus has
> shifted from helping the poor to gaining political capital.
> A wave crests, slowly
> Established in 1961, the Peace Corps was borne of President John F.
> Kennedy's desire to employ young, idealistic Americans to help developing
> countries and foster cross-cultural exchange.
> "To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to
> break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them
> help themselves," Kennedy said in his first inaugural speech.
> Kennedy envisioned sending out 100,000 volunteers every year, and the
> number zipped to 15,000 by 1966. Then realpolitik intruded - the Vietnam
> War reversed that growth spurt, beginning a 16-year decline that led to a
> nadir of 4,600 volunteers in 1982.
> A slow climb began under President Ronald Reagan and matured under
> President George W. Bush, resulting in a slightly more robust Peace Corps
> today. The 2007 total of 8,079 volunteers is the agency's highest in
> nearly four decades. Still, after 47 years, returned volunteers total less
> than 200,000, a profound disappointment considering Kennedy's original
> goal. Further, the Peace Corps's global and domestic profile remains low.
> "It's a great brand, but the weight of the brand on the world scene is so
> small it hardly registers," said Lex Rieffel, an expert in overseas
> volunteering at the Brookings Institution, an independent think tank based
> in Washington, D.C. "If this is a brand that is good for America - if only
> because it's good for the world - then let's build on it."
> Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who served as a Peace Corps
> volunteer in the Dominican Republic, is spearheading legislative efforts
> to double the size of the Peace Corps. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the
> Republican Party's likely nominee, also backs a Peace Corps expansion.
> In summer 2008, the National Peace Corps Association's More Peace Corps
> campaign, with a primary goal of doubling the program, hosted events in
> cities across the country. Kevin Quigley spearheads that campaign and sees
> a "perfect storm of conditions" buffeting his efforts: a need to improve
> the United States' global standing after the bullying Bush years; both
> major presidential candidates' stated support for doubling the program
> size; growing political awareness as a result of the Dodd bill; and
> widespread desire for reform in the run-up to the 50th anniversary.
> "We're at, I believe, a historic moment," said Quigley, president of the
> National Peace Corps Association, an organization of alumni volunteers.
> "If it's ever going to happen it's in the next three to four years."
> For an agency that, after 9/11, had slipped from the American
> consciousness, the interest is invigorating.
> "This is a wave that, as I see it, is just in the process of forming,"
> Rieffel said.
> Hitting the wall
> The wave may have slowed after Robert Strauss pointed out that the
> emperor's clothes were looking rather tattered. In a January 2008 New York
> Times op-ed the former country director for Cameroon (2002 to 2007)
> complained that the volunteer selection process was not rigorous enough,
> that a lack of oversight and management rendered much of the work useless,
> and that funding shortfalls meant volunteers and staff were inadequately
> supported. He described how volunteers were constantly mis-assigned - the
> Peace Corps continued to send volunteers to teach English in Cameroon, for
> example, even though Cameroonians repeatedly listed English instruction as
> their lowest priority.
> Strauss urged the Peace Corps to seek out and accept only the best and the
> brightest, to assign volunteers more effectively and to reform before it
> considered expansion. A few months later he expanded these complaints in
> an article in Foreign Policy magazine, arguing that the Peace Corps had
> "never lived up to its purposes or principles."
> Many volunteers relish their volunteer experience and return transformed.
> Yet others bear out Strauss's criticisms. The latest edition of Peace
> Corps' internal biannual survey found that less than half the volunteers
> felt their job took advantage of their skills, interests and experiences.
> Ecuador volunteer Jeffrey Jackson, for instance, left his Peace Corps
> assignment early because, as he explained on his blog, "in a school of 35
> students, with eight qualified teachers and four volunteers, the role of
> room checks and kitchen governor didn't seem sufficient for two years of
> my life and service."
> At the same time, many volunteers - often fresh out of college - are
> unprepared for the seriousness of the work. A perusal of Peace Corps
> volunteer blogs at www.peacecorpsjournals.com finds volunteers enjoying
> the carnival in South America, brewing their own beer in Burkina Faso, and
> tanning on Caribbean beaches.
> "Those are not the activities the Peace Corps is hoping for from them,"
> Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter acknowledged in an e-mail.
> For Rieffel, such failures are related to funding and thus inherently
> "Many of these problems would be easier to solve in the context of a very
> different foreign policy articulated by a new president and supported by a
> new Congress," he said. "The Peace Corps has been fed scraps from the
> budget for the last 30 years, and that pattern has had the result of
> putting it inside a protective shell."
> American taxpayers might not consider the Peace Corps's 2008 budget of
> $330 million mere scraps. That breaks down to about $40,000 annually per
> volunteer in the field; volunteers are paid about one-tenth that amount.
> Supporters say this is only a third the expense of maintaining military,
> diplomatic and aid personnel working abroad.
> While the number of volunteers increased about 30 percent over the past
> five years, the budget expanded by just more than 10 percent, Strauss
> pointed out.
> "The potential is still there for the Peace Corps to be a wonderful
> organization and a tremendous American initiative," Strauss said. "That's
> never going to happen as long as people respond to criticism by defending
> the orthodoxy."
> Mission statements
> That orthodoxy is represented by Peace Corps's three goals: development,
> cross-cultural exchange and understanding. Strauss sees the cultural
> exchange aspects as mere icing.
> "If you don't have a cake, there's not a lot of point in having icing," he
> said. "What Peace Corps sells to other countries is that it's a
> development organization that's going to help them with trained personnel;
> if that's what the United States is promising, that's what we should be
> Peace Corps Deputy Director Jody Olsen has several problems with Strauss's
> criticisms. Firstly, host countries are not under the impression that the
> Peace Corps is primarily a development organization.
> "I've had those conversations setting up Peace Corps programs with host
> country ministries," the former country director for Kazakhstan said.
> "It's made clear that we will learn the language, be part of the
> community, live with host families and we learn from you and bring that
> Olsen added that the host countries are aware that a good number of
> volunteers will be relatively inexperienced. More importantly, Olsen said,
> Strauss misses the point.
> "We have never been and are not seen as nor should be seen as a
> development agency," she said, referring to the three goals of Peace Corps
> work. "It's the integration of those goals that creates the trust which is
> where in small-scale ways Peace Corps volunteers make a difference, make a
> development difference."
> Rieffel called the goals debate narrow-minded.
> "A federally funded international volunteer program is going to work best
> when it doesn't have arbitrary constraints and defines useful activity
> broadly," he said.
> But how broadly can one define useful activities when projects involve
> goal-oriented development funds? The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS
> Relief, or PEPFAR, for instance, has given the Peace Corps more than $50
> million over the past five years. Some of that money has been used in
> Ethiopia, in fact, where officials recently told Peace Corps Country
> Director Peter Parr that volunteers sent to work on HIV/AIDS need
> expertise, not mere zeal.
> Fine-tuning the approach
> In mid-June, Rieffel and Quigley attended a weekend conference on
> re-envisioning Peace Corps for its next 50 years. Most attendees - a group
> that included architects of the program, former directors, analysts, and
> representatives from non-governmental and nonprofit organizations - agreed
> that the core idea, while good, needed considerable tweaking.
> "We can be a lot more innovative with how the program is run," said
> Quigley, who is convinced Peace Corps could expand to 10 or 20 times its
> current size via partnerships with the aid agencies of other governments,
> nonprofits and NGOs like World Teach.
> "This would allow Peace Corps to experiment in a way that it just hasn't
> for years and years," he said.
> That's news to Olsen, the Peace Corps deputy director.
> "Peace Corps already works with many, many NGOs all over the world," she
> She pointed to Peace Corps volunteers reporting to the local official of
> the Academy for Education Development as part of an HIV/AIDS project under
> PEPFAR in Malawi, and estimated that 50 percent of volunteers work with
> either local NGOs or local offices of international NGOs.
> "We work with NGOs all the time but the critical element is we work with
> them in country," she noted.
> The need for innovation remains.
> "We can't only do what Peace Corps has done in the past," Rieffel said.
> "There have to be other flavors of Peace Corps service."
> He and Quigley believe the 27-month service requirement should be just one
> option among several time commitments, that the agency should invite more
> older volunteers and that it should build a group of experienced aid
> workers and former volunteers to use in a variety of ways, including more
> development-oriented work.
> Under Tschetter's leadership, the Peace Corps has made some moves in this
> direction. His campaign to bring in more older volunteers has proved a
> quick success - with applications from volunteers aged 50 and over up 65
> percent in the past year. His use of Peace Corps Response - which offers
> four- to six-month tours to returned volunteers - and the creation of an
> office to perform annual field evaluations that will include effectiveness
> feedback from host country communities suggest a leaning toward
> impact-oriented development work.
> Volunteer Service Overseas, a British volunteer organization, moved much
> further in this direction years ago. Today, applicants need to have
> development experience and are placed in jobs that match their
> credentials. Service commitments can be anywhere from one month to two
> years and the emphasis is on combating global poverty, not cultural
> exchange. As a result, fewer volunteers (1,500 in 2007) work more
> effectively, and the average age is 41, compared with 27 for the Peace
> Bigger should be better
> If the Peace Corps is to double to 16,000 volunteers by 2011, it needs to
> get moving.
> "It would be, I think, a several-year effort," said Olsen, who has been
> with the Peace Corps since serving as a volunteer in Tunisia from 1966 to
> She said the various host countries would first need to request the
> additional volunteers. The Peace Corps would have to prepare, too.
> "The proper structures need to be in place to support a doubling in the
> number of Volunteers," Director Tschetter said in an e-mail. "We have to
> maintain the quality of the program and most importantly, the safety and
> security of the volunteers."
> The demand is there; at least 20 countries have requested new programs,
> according to the More Peace Corps campaign. Rieffel pointed out that no
> volunteers are serving in India, Russia, Brazil or Indonesia - four major
> developing economies of clear geostrategic significance.
> Perceptions of the United States abroad have improved in response to
> humanitarian relief initiatives, according to a study by Terror Free
> Tomorrow, a Washington-based nonprofit group whose advisory board includes
> McCain, the likely Republican presidential candidate. Polling data
> indicated nearly 60 percent of Indonesians and 75 percent of Pakistanis
> held a more favorable view of the United States following tsunami and
> earthquake relief efforts. Like Obama, many believe an expansion of the
> Peace Corps could further such efforts.
> Fast factsName: U.S. Peace CorpsEstablished: 1961Mission: Help developing
> countries meet the need for trained men and women, and promote
> understanding between Americans and other peoples. Headquarters:
> Washington, D.C.Budget: $330 milion (2008)Focus: 36 percent education, 21
> percent healthPresence: 74 countriesVolunteers: 200,000 so far, including
> 8,000 in fieldVolunteers characteristics: average age is 27, the oldest is
> 81, 93 percent are single, 95 percent hold undergraduate degrees
> David LepeskaDavid Lepeska has served as U.N. correspondent for the
> newswire UPI and reported for several major newspapers, including the New
> York Daily News and Newsday. He was chief correspondent for the Kashmir
> Observer in Srinagar, India, before starting his fellowship with Devex in
> Washington, D.C., in October 2007. He assumed his current post as Asia
> correspondent for Devex at the beginning of 2008. He holds a bachelor's in
> journalism and international studies from Brooklyn College and regularly
> contributes to the Economist, among other publications.
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