1963: Editorial: Talking and writing have spread the "Peace Corps idea" around the world
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1963: Editorial: Talking and writing have spread the "Peace Corps idea" around the world
Editorial: Talking and writing have spread the "Peace Corps idea" around the world
"Many Volunteers display an ambivalence toward publicity. They seem to want publicity for their project while eschewing it for themselves. They act something like the woman with whom every newspaper editor is familiar: "I don't want you to mention little old me, but why don't you print something about my school project (or my rummage sale or my church social)?" Many Volunteers cannot make the journalistic jump from the idea that stories about projects must often be told as stories about people and their labors. Part of the Volunteer's attitude is an honest desire for anonymity. One staffer wrote: "The Volunteer is not always the best judge of his own contribution; the very modesty of so many of our Volunteers is proof of their fine human qualities." But part of the altitude springs from the Volunteers' (mostly) youth and from the unaccustomed glare of publicity on them as Volunteers. Not many Americans in their 20s have had the public eye as has Jack Nicklaus or Mickey Mantle."
Editorial: Talking and writing have spread the "Peace Corps idea" around the world
Can It Be Better?
With this issue THE PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER marks its first complete year of publication. Thousands of Volunteers who have gone into service since November, 1962, cannot remember when the newspaper looked any different from the way it does now. In fact, it grew out of a merger of The Volunteer, a brown-ink-on-gray-paper publication which went only to Volunteers and their relative and "The Peace Corps News." (blue on white), which was used for general circulation in the U.S., although it too was sent to Volunteers. Neither publication pleased the Volunteers: those who wrote in to protest were few but word came back from abroad that the Volunteers believed that they were being oversold, that their labors were overmagnified. that their successes were overglorified.
Some Volunteers were acquiring inferiority complexes, reports said, because their accomplishments could not measure up to those of Volunteers whom they read about.
From its start THE PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER tried to do without loaded words like success, wild.blue-yonder words like challenge, and the whole range of value-judgment adjectives, It shifted the onus of reporting Volunteer activities to volunteers themselves. (Oddly enough, Volunteer writers in describing their activities and their philosophy, leaned heavily on words like success and challenge.)
In time, word came back to Washington that the Volunteers "liked" the new publication. Their reaction to it was probably not so much a matter of "liking it" as of having fewer complaints about it. As before. few Volunteers wrote in about it. Word of their changing attitude came back by word of mouth and by letters from staff people in the host countries. Underlying the changing view. though, was the lingering suspicion that the new VOLUNTEER printed only success stories:
"Are we the only Volunteers who have problems?" complained one Volunteer to a staff man in an Asian country.
No, of course they were not: Volunteers everywhere had problems. They still do. There are the surface complaints:
"Where is my travel money?"
"When will I get the shovel you promised two weeks ago?" "They told us we were going to be given sheets and towels."
And there are the complaints that relate to the job:
"My co-worker would rather sleep than work,"
"My supervisor gives me make-work projects so he won't be embarrassed by my suggestions about improving the job."
"The ministry has reneged on its promise to send supplies."
Beneath Complaint Surface, a Maelstrom
Many of the complaints are valid. All of them may be. But what many Volunteers fail to perceive is that one millimeter underneath their surface complaints is a maelstrom that could wreck their chances to achieve those very purposes they sought to serve when they went abroad. Many problems trace back to the system within which the Volunteer has to work. To paraphrase one observer: if there were no inefficiencies in the host countries, if all Volunteer jobs were perfectly structured, there would be no need for Peace Corps Volunteers.'
It is difficult, therefore, for THE VOLUNTEER to describe in detail the origins of many Volunteer problems. The Peace Corps, after all, is a guest in a country. What is common to the guest's tradition may be offensive to the host's. Drawing a line between acceptable, factual observations and comments that offend the host is one of the Volunteer's largest jobs--and one of THE VOLUNTEER'S, too. Failure to draw this line can at the very least imperil the complaining Volunteer's effectiveness in his job. At the most, it might imperil the Peace Corps' effectiveness in his host country. The Peace Corps' job in host countries is to help.
THE VOLUNTEER has printed a wide range of stories by Volunteers on their achievements and their frustrations; it has also printed a wide range of interesting or contrary opinions of the Peace Corps by "outside" writers. It has done so conscious that it is subject to diplomatic scrutiny und interpretation.
Ambivalence Shown to Publicity
Many Volunteers display an ambivalence toward publicity. They seem to want publicity for their project while eschewing it for themselves. They act something like the woman with whom every newspaper editor is familiar: "I don't want you to mention little old me, but why don't you print something about my school project (or my rummage sale or my church social)?" Many Volunteers cannot make the journalistic jump from the idea that stories about projects must often be told as stories about people and their labors. Part of the Volunteer's attitude is an honest desire for anonymity. One staffer wrote: "The Volunteer is not always the best judge of his own contribution; the very modesty of so many of our Volunteers is proof of their fine human qualities." But part of the altitude springs from the Volunteers' (mostly) youth and from the unaccustomed glare of publicity on them as Volunteers. Not many Americans in their 20s have had the public eye as has Jack Nicklaus or Mickey Mantle.
But the Peace Corps is people. The Peace Corps is being widely written about and talked about because it represents one of the truly challenging ideas of the mid-20th century (its success will have to be judged by history). But it is also written about and talked about because it works. It works despite its frustrations and its problems; it works because of the Volunteers; it works because it is a good idea being implemented by men land women of ability and determination.
Talking and writing have spread the "Peace Corps idea" around the world; a dozen industrialized countries have or are planning: their own versions of the Peace Corps; others are adapting the idea for domestic use.
Talking and writing will also sustain the Peace Corps by carrying its message to the Americans who will one day replace the present Volunteers in the field.
Ideally, a Volunteer should have written this essay-to keep off it the stigma of "The Bureaucrat." Almost any Volunteer could have reached the same conclusion about his working position 'if he had been forced to scrutinize it from a really detached point of view. But Volunteers seem to confine their philosophy to bull sessions. Few write in about it.
The columns of THE VOLUNTEER have never been closed to any rational discussion of any topic concerning the Peace Corps. They are not now. Let us hear from you.
This editorial first appeared in the November, 1963 issue of the "Peace Corps Volunteer."
When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:
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Story Source: Peace Corps Volunteer
This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; PCV Magazine; Speaking Out; Journalism
Peace Corps history is like doing geneology! A clue here, a paper there and link or a line of investigation all of which may or may not illuminate what really happened. I love this editorial in the Volunteer. As a serving Volunteer at this time, I, of course, never saw this or most copies of the Volunteer.
In historical context, this may have been the last publication before the Kennedy Assassination. Peace Corps was a little more that two years old and the first Peace Corps groups had come home. The previous summer of 1963 had seen an explosion in Peace Corps training and deployment. The face-to-face contact, the personal "write a letter to Sarge" if you had problem and the "let's go out to Hickory Farm and toss these ideas around" had already passed into Peace Corps mythology, phased out by sheer growth.
The editorial speaks to all kinds of struggles to communicate now with a larger peace corps contingent. How to provide field support? What is evaluation? How to get accurate feedback and still be respectful of host country officials. How to "supervise" Volunteers in the field who were quickly becoming more knowledgeable than those who were hired to manage them? All of these happy sounds were silenced by the day in Dallas. How the Kennedy Assassination changed the Peace Corps is a historical record still to be discovered.
When my two years were drawing to a close, I wrote a letter to Betty Hutchinson, my Project Director; ( who arrived in country four months after my training group did, who visited my site once and who I saw on two other occasions,) and explained in great detail how inadequate our health education training had been and stressed that I was assigned to work with women who counted their families, first by the children living and then by those who were dead and who begged us, daily, to help them keep the children they had living, alive. Our training and the resources we could access did not begin to meet the need and I felt that the clinically trained volunteers should be placed in such position, por lo menos.(at the very least.) Betty replied, using the exact phrases from that editorial, explaining to me that I was not the best judge of my contribution and I just didn't realize all the good I had done.
What I learned decades later, was yet another "piece of the puzzle" and that was in the archives of the South West Research Center at the University of New Mexico. Those archives have training documents and correspondence from the Center for Community Action and the Peace Corps Training Center and reveal that staff was tremendously worried about the lack of effective training that my group and others had received and it was Betty Hutchinson whose letters were the most demanding of improved training. poco a poco (little by little)
Thanks so much to Hugh Pickens and Peace Corps On Line for providing such important links in the history of the Peace Corps.