For too long the Peace Corps has promoted a myth through its recruiters and marketing materials that falsely presents a favorable image of an agency that in actuality is in desperate need of reform. The true experience for those serving in the nearly 70 Peace Corps countries around the globe is one riddled with problems brought on by poor program management, bad site development and a culture of disrespect for Volunteers when speaking out about such issues.
From 2005-2007 I was a Volunteer in Eastern Europe and fell victim to the incompetence of in-country management of a failing Peace Corps program. I was sent to a site where my skills were poorly matched with a municipal government office and I spent most of my time doing nothing. After bringing up my concerns to program managers in an attempt to improve the situation I was summarily sent home. What happened to me is not uncommon.
Volunteers are routinely sent to places where their expertise is not matched to the needs of the sites requesting help. Some are even told by country directors to forget about doing anything more than just hang out for two years and have a cultural exchange. This is hardly the image of Americans engaging in rigorous international development work that Peace Corps promotes to the public.
In recent times there has been a notable effort to introduce meaningful reform to the way Peace Corps is run. In 2007, former Volunteer Senator Christopher Dodd introduced the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act, which would have mandated multiple operational reforms for Peace Corps. After the bill was defeated through the lobbying efforts of Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps Association, two-time Volunteers Chuck Ludlam and his wife Paula Hirschoff put together a twenty point plan of reform to strengthen the Peace Corps. The plan has been widely circulated among Volunteers and has gained their support. Peace Corps still resists change. The question that remains is why?
A wealth of information on the topic of Peace Corps reform is posted on the Peace Corps Wiki located online at: peacecorpswiki.org. I have found the site to be a invaluable resource in learning more about the inner workings of the organization, which routinely resists transparency and stonewalls with unreturned phone calls and e-mails. Of note are country post evaluation reports published by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Not surprisingly, I found the program I served in received a scathing analysis and a recommendation by the OIG for it to be discontinued. The report was compiled shortly before I arrived to begin my service.
In January 2011, ABC’s 20/20 program aired a piece about the tragic murder of Kate Puzey. Kate was a Volunteer serving in Benin in 2009 who informed her country director that a Peace Corps employee was sexually abusing students at her site. Because her message was not kept confidential the man Kate exposed retaliated against her and killed her as she slept one night. 20/20 shows how Peace Corps was more interested in maintaining its image during the aftermath than helping Kate’s family through this tragedy. Perhaps Kate Puzey would still be with us today had Peace Corps been mandated to reform itself. It is also quite probable that many Volunteers currently serving are in jeopardy of being harmed because of Peace Corps continued disrespect for their serious and valid concerns.
Too many people who sign up to serve in Peace Corps are being wasted due to the continuous poor management of programs and the prioritizing of bureaucratic interests of over the needs of Volunteers. Life is calling so hang up the phone on Peace Corps.
// Jules Manning
3 notes, April 26, 2012