May 17, 2002 - PCOL Op-ed: The New Peace Corps Legislation - High Risk/High Gain
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May 17, 2002 - PCOL Op-ed: The New Peace Corps Legislation - High Risk/High Gain
The New Peace Corps Legislation - High Risk/High Gain
One of the purposes of PCOL is to encourage and facilitate the exchange of different opinions and views within the Returned Volunteer Community. PCOL sent out advance copies of the new draft Peace Corps legislation to RPCVs who have previously expressed themselves on our Message Boards and asked them to read the legislation and give us their reactions in op-ed pieces.
This op-ed piece on the new legislation written by RPCV Joanne Roll. We are publishing other op-ed pieces on the new Peace Corps legislation in this issue and in future issues of PCOL.
Read and comment on this op-ed piece on the new Peace Corps legislation at:
High Risk/High Gain*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
High Risk/High Gain
by Joanne Roll
RPCVs should award the New Charter Peace Corps Act a High Risk/High Gain rating; High Risk because it moves the Peace Corps into political waters and High Gain because it may exploit well the talents and experiences of RPCVs.
The draft legislation for Peace Corps in the 21st century reflects forces afoot both before and after 9/11. Prior to 9/11, Nigerian RPCVs David Hibbard and Roger Landrum in conjunction with the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) advocated an expansion of the role of returned peace corps volunteers. After 9/11, President Bush called for an expansion of the Peace Corps with particular attention to Muslin countries. Sargent Shriver, in a speech at Yale University, envisioned a fourth goal - a fleet of volunteers all over the world promoting democracy and peace. The proposed New Charter legislation reflects the influence of these ideas.
The Goals of the Peace Corps
This “New Charter” redefines the goals of the Peace Corps and adds a fourth. RPCVs are included and given an opportunity to seek funding for activities in pursuant of the third and new fourth goal. But, this Act would redefine the peace corps mission; in ways that may not be fully foreseen, but should certainly be questioned.
The Peace Corps becomes more political with the new statement of goals.
The Peace Corps Act of 1961 was straightforward in its aim - to promote world peace and friendship THROUGH the SERVICE of Americans abroad. The first and second goals, established then, have been rewritten. Then, the first goal read, ...”help the peoples of interested countries meet their needs for TRAINED MANPOWER.” Now, it reads...”help people in developing nations MEET BASIC NEEDS.” The original second goal was to “help promote a better UNDERSTANDING of the American PEOPLE on the part of people served.” The change now is significant as this goal reads..”to promote understanding of AMERICAN’S VALUES AND IDEALS ABROAD.”
The third goal, the one unique to RPCVs remains essentially the same: “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples by Americans.”
The fourth and newest goal is: To help promote GLOBAL ACCEPTANCE OF THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND NONVIOLENT COEXISTENCE AMONG PEOPLES OF DIVERSE CULTURES AND SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT.
The new 2nd goal reads like the mission statement for the United States Information Agency and this 4th goal sounds like the United Nations Charter.
The “principles of international peace” are conveniently not spelled out And just which “American values” are to be promoted and who decides? Are volunteers to promote such classic American values as separation of church and state in Muslim communities? There appears to be an inherent contradiction between the 2nd and 4th goals. Trying to resolve it could entangle Volunteers, staff, host country citizens as well as RPCVs in political controversy.
The strength of Peace Corps is its historic determination to put aside religious and political differences and work together with host country people in common purpose.
The strength of the RPCV community is its diversity and the multitude of ways in which the individuals have brought the world home. This legislation acknowledges the presence and importance of the RPCV community. It allows for the talents and experience of RPCVs to be utilitzed, but exactely how and to whose benefit is still not clear.
The Role of the NPCA
There is just one formal, national, membership organization within the Peace Corps Community. That is the National Peace Corps Association, whose membership is broad based, including many non Volunteers and only about 10% of the RPCV population. Proponents of the New Mandate White Paper had advocated RPCVs engage in planning and evaluation and in specialized operations overseas and stateside. Their proposal suggested the National Peace Corps Association be the designated body to direct such operations.
The National Peace Corps Association lobbied to be designated the vanguard for the RPCV community. It didn’t get that. The NPCA is not named in the legislation; but, there are opportunities for non profit corporations, run by RPCVs, to receive federal funding; with a curious restrictions. The non-profits must be incorporated in the District of Colombia and the funding, which will be competitively awarded, comes from the Corporation for National and Community Service - home of the Freedom Corps.
(see website: nationalservice.org)
The private non-profits are to serve as “incubators for returned volunteers seeking to use their knowledge and expertise to undertake community-based projects to carry out the third and fourth goals of the Peace Corps Act.” Elsewhere, the Act stipulates that the “stated purpose of the nonprofit corporation shall be to act solely as an intermediary between the Corporation for National and Community Service.
The private non-profits have to be incorporated in the District of Columbia. Does this stipulations give an unfair advantage to the already politically powerful NPCA? And if so, why? And why the restriction to activities which are "community based?" Developing school curriculums; sponsoring writer workshops and Internet websites are just some of the ways that RPCVs have created to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Does the "community activities" provision have to do with the public health and safety mandates of Homeland Security? Could this complicate programs for RPCVs who wish to work with foreign students or in immigrant communities?
Congressman Farr has graciously invited all of us to engage in discussing his proposed legislation. I urge that these changes be made to protect the integrity and independence of Peace Corps:
1. Reinstate the original language of the Peace Corps Goals,
2. Eliminate the requirement that RPCV non-profits have to be incorporated in the District of Columbia. Allow RPCV communities all over the country to participate.
3. Clarify the relationship of RPCV grants to the Public Corporation for National Service and the Freedom Corps. If RPCVs could become entangled with homeland security mandates; that needs to be spelled out.
4. Broaden the list of activities which are eligible for funding.
5. Finally, the fourth goal: Forty years of peace corps volunteer service either stands as a commitment to world peace or it doesn't. If it does, then the fourth goal is redundant. If it doesn't, then all the rhetoric in the world won’t help. Let the work speak.
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