2009.09.17: An Interview with Aaron Williams

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Peace Corps: Director Aaron Williams: Director Aaron Williams: Newest Stories: 2009.11.15: Aaron Williams says the Peace Corps plans to add a couple thousand volunteers over the next two years : 2009.09.17: An Interview with Aaron Williams

By Admin1 (admin) (151.196.124.138) on Saturday, March 06, 2010 - 4:10 pm: Edit Post

An Interview with Aaron Williams

An Interview with Aaron Williams

"It's a unique opportunity to find out what you as an individual can contribute to the community that you are involved in overseas. It's a very structured environment, you're going to get the best possible training, whether it's cross-cultural or linguistic. You're going to have an opportunity to work with people who care about the issues and programs you're working on.... And then when you come back, you're going to be better prepared for the rest of your life because of that experience. I think this is unique. There's no better time for us to serve our country. We've got President Obama, who's asked us to serve, we have opportunities to serve, and Peace Corps is a wonderful channel for that."

An Interview with Aaron Williams

As The Peace Corps Turns 50, What Now?

By David Gauvey Herbert

Interview with Aaron Williams
Director of the Peace Corps

As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, the service program is at something of a crossroads. The agency never fulfilled President Kennedy's dream of sending 100,000 Americans abroad every year, and it has been criticized for parachuting too many inexperienced college grads into development jobs they aren't prepared for. But friends in Congress have secured a 10 percent budget increase for the Peace Corps, and some of the agency's boosters are hoping for more soon.

Enter Aaron Williams, a volunteer in the Caribbean in the late-1960s who has now returned to lead the agency. He spoke to NationalJournal.com's David Gauvey Herbert about putting a price tag on the Peace Corps experience, the dangers of tying the agency too closely to American foreign policy and his own experience in the Dominican Republic.

NJ: You served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 1967 to 1970. What doors did it open for you?

Williams: Well it gave me a view of the world. I had never been on an airplane before the Peace Corps. First time I'd been on an airplane, first time I'd been in a foreign country, obviously. And to have a chance to learn a foreign language, to work cross-culturally, to really see the world from a different perspective. Peace Corps opened all those doors for me. And I always had the interest in going back into international development.

NJ: You may have read a report from Sen. Patrick Leahy's office that it costs $50,000 a year to put a Peace Corps volunteer in the field but only a few dollars for life-saving measles medication. Do you think it's right to be running these cost-benefit analyses when you're talking about a development budget that is limited?

Williams: I think that the United States, as the leader in the world in terms of international assistance, it's important that we have different kinds. The Peace Corps plays a special role because we're the person-to-person humanitarian assistance. It gives Americans an opportunity to serve and it gives the people of many nations the opportunity to learn more about Americans. And I don't think there's ever any substitute for that.

Citizen diplomacy is an important aspect of America, it's what we always do, whether it's through churches, or volunteers organizations, NGOs, universities, high school exchanges, all this is important. And Peace Corps is a formal, targeted way of giving Americans the opportunity to do this.

NJ: You spent two decades at USAID. How will that experience help you now that you're back with the Peace Corps?


Williams: I've seen the developing world close up for many, many years, starting out as a Peace Corps volunteer. And I understand all aspects of development, I've worked on all the continents, I've worked with NGOs, I've worked with the private sector, I've worked with governments. So I have a real keen understanding of what international development is all about, what it looks like, what it takes to be effective.

NJ: What do you make of the criticism that the U.S. shouldn't be sending volunteers to countries like Fiji, Vanuatu and Cape Verde because the U.S. has no strategic interests there?


Williams: Many, many countries are interested in having Peace Corps volunteers serve there. Since President Obama was elected, the reengagement of America in the world is enormous and there are extraordinary opportunities, and we're going to continue to look at a wide range of countries. You need to look at couple things. First of all, where are there countries that desire Peace Corps volunteers? And also, what about U.S. interests? I'm going to look at both sides of that equation.

NJ: A wide array of abroad service programs have sprung up that weren't around when the Peace Corps was founded. Do you feel like you're competing to the best and the brightest?

Williams: I hope we are vying for the best and the brightest, absolutely, all the time. We want the best coming to the Peace Corps. I think that's also good for our country that there are many, many opportunities for people to serve because everybody isn't going to go into the Peace Corps....

But I think that because we offer this wonderful, and in most instances, unique opportunity to serve in a very structured way, the Peace Corps will always remain strong and will have a chance to recruit Americans with interest in serving abroad. Right now our applications this year are up 12 percent, and we've got 14,000 applications for 4,000 slots.

NJ: What do you attribute that jump to?

Williams: First of all, I attribute it to the fact that the president has called on Americans to serve. We're one of the president's two signature initiatives in national service, the other being the National Corporation. I think that Americans are interested in serving, they want to know more about the outside world. It goes back to my earlier point that, as a nation, we're more service-oriented than we have been in the last 30 or 40 years. All of this bodes well for Peace Corps.

NJ: There been a push for older volunteers in recent years, and now 14 percent of your volunteers are over 30. The advantages older volunteers are obvious, but don't older volunteers contradict one of the stated goals of the Peace Corps, that your experience informs your career for decades to come?

Williams: I would think that, actually, an American coming back who has had that kind of positive experience, whether you're 25 or 55, I think it's equal.... Whenever a Peace Corps volunteer comes back home, they're going to play an important role in their community just by the nature of their experience.

NJ: I spoke with former Sen. Harris Wofford [a founding member of the Peace Corps in the Kennedy administration]. He takes issue with Sen. [Christopher "Kit"] Bond's vision for the Peace Corps as a tool of American soft power, particularly in the Middle East. Wofford worries that linking the program with American foreign policy, no matter how benign, may hurt its credibility around the world.

Williams: I think not only is that Sen. Wofford's view, it's also Sargent Shriver's view and it was also Kennedy's view, and I stand by that. It's been a successful way of viewing the Peace Corps for nearly 50 years.

NJ: What's your 20-second pitch for why a college graduate should spend two and a half years toiling in Uganda teaching English? [Pause] Go. [Laughter]

Williams: Only 20 seconds? You're so generous. I thought it was going to be 10 seconds. [Laughter]... It's a unique opportunity to find out what you as an individual can contribute to the community that you are involved in overseas. It's a very structured environment, you're going to get the best possible training, whether it's cross-cultural or linguistic. You're going to have an opportunity to work with people who care about the issues and programs you're working on....

And then when you come back, you're going to be better prepared for the rest of your life because of that experience. I think this is unique. There's no better time for us to serve our country. We've got President Obama, who's asked us to serve, we have opportunities to serve, and Peace Corps is a wonderful channel for that.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: September, 2009; Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams; Peace Corps Directors; Peace Corps Dominican Republic; Directory of Dominican Republic RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Dominican Republic RPCVs; Peace Corps Headquarters





When this story was posted in March 2010, this was on the front page of PCOL:




Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers RSS Feed

 Site Index Search PCOL with Google Contact PCOL Recent Posts Bulletin Board Open Discussion RPCV Directory Register

Feb 10, 2010: Senator Dodd to Retire Date: February 19 2010 No: 1433 Feb 10, 2010: Senator Dodd to Retire
Dodd retires from Senate 6 Jan
Cameron Hume named US Ambassador to Pakistan 8 Feb
Florida RPCVs sponsor Everglades Experience 6 Feb
Jeff Hall brings aid to Sierra Leone 1 Feb
Peace Corps to reach 11,000 PCVs in 2016 1 Feb
Hugh Pickens writes: Standing Bear Looks to the Future 27 Jan
Ann Varghese survives 55 hours in Haiti rubble 26 Jan
John Guy LaPlante at 80 was oldest PCV 17 Jan
Steve Radelet to advise Hilary Clinton on Development 15 Jan
Obituary for Co-Author of The Ugly American' 14 Jan
Peace Corps Establishes Program in Indonesia 11 Dec
What Happened to Obama's Promise? 3 Dec
George Packer writes: Obama's Troubles 24 Nov
PC Mourns Loss of Morocco PCV So-Youn Kim 17 Nov
Peace Corps volunteers return to Madagascar 16 Nov
PC to grow by several thousand over next 2 years 15 Nov
Former Hostage John Limbert named to Iran Bureau 11 Nov
Carrie Hessler Radelet named PC Deputy Director 9 Nov
Garamendi Sworn into Congress 9 Nov
Jesse Lonergan writes graphic novel "Joe and Azat" 4 Nov
David Macaray writes: Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan 29 Oct
Dustin Hogenson writes: Sauna in Kazakstan 26 Oct


Memo to Incoming Director Williams Date: August 24 2009 No: 1419 Memo to Incoming Director Williams
PCOL has asked five prominent RPCVs and Staff to write a memo on the most important issues facing the Peace Corps today. Issues raised include the independence of the Peace Corps, political appointments at the agency, revitalizing the five-year rule, lowering the ET rate, empowering volunteers, removing financial barriers to service, increasing the agency's budget, reducing costs, and making the Peace Corps bureaucracy more efficient and responsive. Latest: Greetings from Director Williams

Join Us Mr. President! Date: June 26 2009 No: 1380 Join Us Mr. President!
"We will double the size of the Peace Corps by its 50th anniversary in 2011. And we'll reach out to other nations to engage their young people in similar programs, so that we work side by side to take on the common challenges that confront all humanity," said Barack Obama during his campaign. Returned Volunteers rally and and march to the White House to support a bold new Peace Corps for a new age. Latest: Senator Dodd introduces Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009 .

Meet Aaron Williams - Our Next Director Date: July 30 2009 No: 1411 Meet Aaron Williams - Our Next Director
Senator Dodd's Senate Subcommittee held confirmation hearings for Aaron Williams to become the 18th Peace Corps Director. "It's exciting to have a nominee who served in the Peace Corps and also has experience in international development and management," said Dodd as he put Williams on the fast track to be confirmed by the full Senate before the August recess. Read our exclusive coverage of the hearings and our biography of Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.



Read the stories and leave your comments.








Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: National Journals

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Directors; COS - Dominican Republic; Headquarters

PCOL44924
70


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: