Push for Peace Corps
Here’s an excerpt from Peace Corps advocate Rajeev Goyal (we mentioned him in an earlier post highlighting a New Yorker article about him) and his blog on Peace Corps Worldwide’s Website. The first piece is a reaction to the article from The Boston Globe we re-posted yesterday. Read more HERE.
Enjoy this food for thought, Mari & Paul
Why Gal Beckerman is Wrong
Posted by Rajeev Goyal on Monday, May 16th 2011
In recent weeks, the incidence of sexual assault of Peace Corps volunteers has (rightly) been in the spotlight and the subject of a Congressional inquiry. The callous handling of these incidents has been painful to the volunteers.But we have also seen how Peace Corps critics are using this moment as a soapbox to pitch their misguided ideas about how to turn the Peace Corps into a development organization. In a recent Boston Globe article, RPCV Gal Beckerman suggests that because volunteers don’t deliver enough development, “Peace Corps may no longer have a real purpose.” Is that really true?
The glaring omission in Beckerman’s analysis is that there’s no discussion at all about whether “development” is always a good thing. I can think of many examples where development projects harmed the local environment or culture, or else made that community more vulnerable to exploitation or corruption. At the same time, what Beckerman overlooks, is that when volunteers do build something (cooperatively with the community), it is usually after spending lots of time in the field rather than air-dropping an aid project.
Peace Corps critic Paula Hirschoff, a two-time volunteer, is quoted as saying in the Boston Globe article, “Why should the American taxpayer in a time of horrendous budget cuts pay for these college grads to have a two-year vacation in a foreign land?” I would like to ask her if her own Peace Corps service was a paid vacation. If so, she should return the funds to the American taxpayer.
For me, Peace Corps was no vacation. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I was a recent college graduate but my youth was an asset. I came back with a very healthy skepticism about development and the impulse to bring things to scale.
Beckerman would like to see Peace Corps ”abandon the ‘go it alone policy’, and start collaborating with other big aid organizations.” But Peace Corps has always wisely defined itself against the development industrial complex.
Beckerman should realize that just because most volunteers don’t build a school or water well, doesn’t mean they left no contribution behind. That viewpoint undervalues the important impact teachers have made on their students (4 million of them in Africa alone since ‘61).
Perhaps the least convincing of the critics quoted by Beckerman is former Cameroon Country Director Robert Strauss (who was never a volunteer, but seems to really dislike them) who says, “The Peace Corps needs to start operating as an organization that is serious about efficiency and bang for the buck.”
Peace Corps does have some problems to fix, but efficiency is not one of them. At $374 million, the cost of the entire agency is tantamount to what is spent in a few hours prosecuting the pointless war in Iraq. If anything, the issue of sexual assaults shows how Congress should invest more so that victims of these horrible attacks can receive all of the support and medical attention they need for as long as they require.
You want bang for your buck? Go watch the next Harry Potter movie or something but stop using this moment as your soapbox.