Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Still Peace in My Heart

Internet Comes to Youth Health Centre, Mont Fleuri, Mahi, Seychelles, Fall '97
Once again it's Peace Corps Week!

The Peace Corps Mission is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
 On March 1 1961 John Fitzgerald Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the Peace Corps. The first group of  51 Volunteers arrived in Accra, Ghana, to serve as teachers. Since then nearly 225,000 Americans have served overseas. And as the independent federal agency now boasts on its website,, although times have changed since the Peace Corps' founding in 1961, the agency's mission—to promote world peace and friendship—has not.

When I first joined in 1987 some of my family members were mystified. They thought I was being offered an administrative job with the agency itself, and couldn't understand how I'd contribute as a hand-on Volunteer. The early '60s picture of Volunteers digging pit latrines and supervising school construction still predominated the public view. But Peace Corps had expanded beyond basic physical infrastructure programs, or teaching English as a second language. Now Volunteers were involved in youth development, small business enterprises, information and communication technology and public health projects.

Apparently even now not everybody understands this. Some still think Peace Corps is a parachute-in and parachute-back-out up for a few weeks and then be on your way. This kind of misunderstanding is perpetrated even by such novelists as John Grisham, in Skipping Christmas. Here's a review I posted on Amazon on November 29, 2001, not long after that book's debut:

Peace Corps closed its program in Peru in l975, an essential fact that Grisham never bothered to research. Additionally, Peace Corps Volunteers attend stagings in the U.S. and leave as a group for their assigned countries, where they begin a two-to-three month training period, living with host families before beginning their assignments. They aren't escorted to the airport by parents on Thanksgiving weekends nor are they ensconced in grass huts with coworkers immediately upon arrival. These may seem quibbles, but any journalist will attest to the importance of getting the facts straight to lend authenticity to a piece of work. Though I'm enjoying the Kranks as I Metro from Silver Spring to Peace Corps headquarters here in D.C., I have a tough time suspending disbelief.

Similarly, Rita Goldman Gellman, in her memoir, The Female Nomad, alludes to "an American couple just finished with their Peace Corp (sic) duty in Peru." This was in the mid-'80s, again over a decade after Peace Corps had left that country, and years before it reentered.

As an editor myself, I wonder how such inaccuracies can slip by unnoticed. Again, perhaps these are minor errors, but ones I suspect irritate many a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Some more egregious myths contribute to more persistent misunderstandings about the Peace Corps:
  • that it's a branch of the State Department (it's a freestanding agency), 
  • that it's a kind of a covert program of the CIA (nobody who has worked for that program is eligible for Peace Corps service),
  • that there's an upper age limit (there's none, and many Volunteers serve as seniors),
  • that it's a suitable place to send delinquent adolescents to shape them up (no kidding...I heard this from my hairdresser last year), 
  • that it's a place for recent college grads to waste time until the job market picks up again, 
  • that Volunteers need to pay their own airfare and living expenses in their assigned countries. (Airfare, medical costs, and a living stipend are all provided.).
Here's the current fact sheet on the ever-evolving Peace Corps:

 My personal story about why I joined and what I did can be found here:

Life is far will you go?

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