This is why I am a bad blogger. I cannot write something without feeling afterwards that what I’ve written is not the truth, is not honesty. Especially after I see the responses it illicits from random readers of my blog. I don’t want the random readers to stop coming to my blog, I enjoy the notion that my blog is seen as worthy of peoples’ time, but I also want to ensure this blog represents my complete experience in Peace Corps. The last post was a rant. Do I recant anything that I have said? No. Do I regret it? No (never regret anything that doesn’t kill you and you can learn from!). Do I agree with the points made and agree that those points still anger me? Of course. However, I would like to attempt a more objective clarification on the issues raised, as I see them.
At this point in time, Peace Corps is going through an identity crisis. Peace Corps is the rebellious teenager trying to figure out if he is a jock, a musician, a nerd, a geek, popular, handsome, ugly, smart or stupid. Should he listen to his parents and their wisdom-through-experience, or should he accord his own generation a temporally-unique experience that is therefore alien to his parents and their wisdom and nuts to them. And what’s this college? Who cares about college? I’m going to start a band! Rock on!
Do not worry, taxpayers, Peace Corps is not going to try its hand at the music industry. Instead, Peace Corps is struggling to be what it was, what people expect it to be, what it is becoming and what it should be. Peace Corps was conceived in the 1960’s as a means for the US to boost its image abroad, provide the developing economies of the world with energetic, intelligent individuals and to coincidentally rid the country of those same individuals who might have swayed towards the subversive with their intelligence and energy. It worked and membership soared as people fell in love with helping out others and getting free plane rides around the world.
In this day and age, this expectation from the American people still exists. In fact, it is another stressor on my life, though not constant. I do not live in a mud hut. I do not walk 10 kilometers a day to fetch water. I do not eat bizarre insects on a regular basis. Yet, for right or wrong, this is what I feel people expect me to be doing in Peace Corps (though readers of this blog have now learned otherwise). Joining the Peace Corps, this is still a very possible reality for volunteers, including some of my very own friends serving here in Kenya, but on the flip-side of this, volunteers in Jordan for example frequently have satellite television in their rooms; in Thailand they work in offices with air-conditioning and have washing machines; I have regular electricity, and an affordable high-speed Internet connection. Do we all still face very difficult challenges living abroad as Peace Corps volunteers? Most certainly. I would never belittle the Peace Corps experience of a volunteer who lived with air-conditioning because, basically, we all still go through a lot of tough times. However, are these challenges and tough times what the American public expect them to be? In my opinion no, the expectations and realities differ.
On top of that, we have an American government that is strapped for cash while still looking to grow the program… somehow. How does one justify growth? With oversight, statistcs and other forms of quantitative anaylsis and proof. It’s what the computers understand. It fits better on single-page white-papers being passed around committees, and it makes it all so much more tangible to hardworking law-makers in Washington. I would not want their job for the life of me. Their expectations of Peace Corps volunteers are very different from the American public’s, but both fuel this identity crisis.
Finally, throw into the mix a radically changing development situation around the world. We still need teachers going out teaching best practices, but we need to be teaching them to engineers, doctors, computer scientists. The developing world is learning on its own how it should develop. Cultures that were seen to be under attack, and still are, are also learning how to adapt on their own. I don’t need to teach a Kenyan mama how and when she should use her mobile phone. I teach her what it does, and she fits it into her own life. What developing economies need are educated professionals who are also in tune with the masses of their respective nations. For example, when a library comes to a computer scientist and says we need library software to run on this old computer that still functions but cannot run the latest software, that programmer can write up the custom tailored software. The numbers and energy are all there, it just needs to be properly focused. Development needs volunteer professionals to show where host-country nationals could be put to use to foster the growth of creative solutions to in-country problems.
This is not necessarily what Peace Corps is right now or ever was, nor is it what the American people expect of it at this moment. But this is what it should become because this style of development is what the world needs of Peace Corps. Until this transition is complete however, we suffer through this identity crisis and subsequently opinions such as those expressed in my blog. Peace Corps administration is not blind to the needs of the world, yet at the same time, it has never had the budget to implement this paradigm-shift. I am confident that the Peace Corps administration knows how to do enact the shfit, but it’s hands are tied. It tries. It throws itself into the rink anyway and returned volunteers, discharged trainees, early terminators, and volunteers like me kick it, beat it viciously, hoping to humble the beast but only because it cannot always fight back.
When it can fight back however, it does, fighting hard, sticking to their rules
when they can be enforced and expecting of their volunteers all they
need to get their program the funding it deserves. It’s going to be a
tough time for Peace Corps: prospective volunteers join expecting to be dumped into the middle of
nowhere; Congressmen expect numbers; Peace Corps Administration wants
to shift the program’s focus but comes into scuffles with those same
prospectives and lawmakers. Its hands are tied in many of these circumstances. But it’s
necessary and unavoidable if Peace Corps is to become what the world
needs it to be: an organization providing energetic, intelligent and
now professional individuals to developing economies and the people that
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