Third Goal

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By Lawrence F. Lihosit (lawreflihosit) ( on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 9:21 pm: Edit Post

I just read PCOL's critque of the recent Special Assessment. Thank you for mentioning the foundation which was news to me. In one sense, volunteers never forgot the Third Goal. For decades they have trudged home, sometimes sick and always broke to write and self-publish memoirs. According to John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil (Peace Corps Worldwide & Peace Corps Writers), there are at least 971 former Peace Corps authors who have published hundreds of memoirs and thousands of other types of books. The number of memoirs in print is increasing at a geometric rate thanks to Print-On-Demand technology.

Although some historians dislike memoirs, they are an effective means of describing time and place. Likewise, some literary specialists scoff at memoirs for lack of "style." For those students of history who really are interested in first hand accounts of Peace Corps' sights and sounds, the memoir is a great source. Over the past half century, the Peace Corps has changed as have the countries served. These memoirs are peepholes into the past.

Measuring success has always been controversial. The three main goals (to offer technical assistance to nations who request it, to help foreigners understand Americans and to help Americans to understand foreigners) are difficult to quantify. However, the number of nations where the Peace Corps left and was later invited back is surprising. Likewise the number of volunteers who trudge home to write a book about their experience is equally surprising, one in two hundred. Many Americans speak proudly about our constitutional right to a free press yet very few practice the art of writing and publication. Ninety percent of these Peace Corps experience memoirs are published at the author’s expense. There are now hundreds of memoirs in print and thousands of other types of books written by volunteers. When reading former volunteer’s memoirs, one notes similarities: loneliness, difficulty understanding and adapting to a foreign culture and language, the constant battle to maintain good health and gratefulness for the opportunity to experience something different in exchange for work (much like the CCC for another generation).

Almost since its inception, different institutions have discussed a permanent Peace Corps Library and Museum. Ironically, the majority of research for this chronology was not based upon any institution but rather privately funded electronic sites, obscure books purchased at Peace Corps reunions (which are rarely accepted into university library collections since they are not commercially published), interviews, and newspaper and magazine articles copied at local libraries. The Peace Corps once had its own library. As late as 1989 it had a library with books, magazines, pamphlets and even a librarian. Sometime before 1995 it was unceremoniously dismantled. Nobody seems really sure what actually happened to the collection-there are several versions. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps’ inception, government documents are most probably stored away somewhere in boxes, or on magnetic tape, or Microfiche, or even on transparent rolls of microfilm, quietly disintegrating. The memoirs so carefully written and published by our own citizens are scattered over the nation like blowing leaves, to be lost. On the official Peace Corps web site, this message was recently posted; “Our resources do not permit us to serve as a comprehensive Peace Corps historic archive, nor is it our mandate to do so.” Unfortunately, it is nobody’s mandate. I suggest that Congress mandate the Library of Congress to immediately begin a Peace Corps Experience Special Collection based upon donations of published volunteer and staff letters, journals, memoirs, essays, novels, short stories, plays, poetry and/or songs. In this way we can ensure that future generations can share this wonderful experiment in unarmed foreign policy. It would also fulfill the Peace Corps third goal to help Americans understand foreigners.

By Joanne Roll ( on Thursday, July 29, 2010 - 1:18 pm: Edit Post

I couldn't agree more with the need to have the Peace Corps Foundation be the focus for Third Goal Activities. This is the most important factor for me:

"Ultimately, a Peace Corps Foundation building in Washington D.C. would serve as an educational facility where Americans, particularly children, would come and learn more about other cultures and countries, as well as how the Peace Corps fulfills its mission of promoting peace and friendship worldwide."

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