August 20, 2002 - Washington Post: Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort by Ivory Coast PCV Mark Shahinian

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : The Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast: August 20, 2002 - Washington Post: Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort by Ivory Coast PCV Mark Shahinian

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, October 20, 2002 - 1:23 pm: Edit Post

Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort by Ivory Coast PCV Mark Shahinian





Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the Washington Post by PCV Mark Shahinian who says that expanding the Peace Corps gives Bush a carrot to use with his big stick that is the war on terrorism, but it's a paltry effort to win over hearts and minds, when what we really need to do is fill the stomachs and pocketbooks of the developing world. Read the op-ed at:

Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Bigger Peace Corps, Paltry Effort

By Mark Shahinian

Tuesday, August 20, 2002; Page A13

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- President Bush has proposed doubling the size of the Peace Corps -- to help, he says, "spread the good story" of American values and ideas to the Muslim world. From my perspective as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Muslim village in Africa, the plan seems whimsical at best.

Expanding the Peace Corps gives Bush a carrot to use with his big stick that is the war on terrorism. But it's a paltry effort to win over hearts and minds, when what we really need to do is fill the stomachs and pocketbooks of the developing world.

Doubling the size of the $275 million, 7,000-volunteer Peace Corps wouldn't do much to alleviate the poverty and hopelessness that foster terrorism. For, in reality, the Peace Corps does more to make us Americans feel good about ourselves than it does to fight that poverty. Instead, we need to change the economic policies that I often find punishing the very villagers I am trying to help.

I am posted in a Muslim village in Ivory Coast -- one of about 150 Peace Corps volunteers in this West African country. My fellow volunteers and I weigh babies, set up Internet terminals and build latrines. We make friends with villagers during our two-year stay and share our experiences when we go back home.

But I, as a lone volunteer, and we as a nation have failed to help the people of my village and villages like it across Africa achieve the general prosperity that they see as the real promise of America.

Take, for example, the now-infamous farm subsidy bill signed by Bush in May. U.S. cotton growers already receive $3.4 billion in annual subsidies, and the farm bill will tack on hundreds of millions more.

Meanwhile, a typical farmer in my village earns the equivalent of $900 from the sale of his cotton -- that's most of his income for the year -- and he supports a family of eight with that. Any extra income would help send children to school and buy meat for the family. Instead, these farmers have to sell their cotton into a market depressed partly by overproduction in the United States.

To help the family buy food, women here walk the eight miles to town carrying 60-pound sacks of charcoal on their heads. They sell the sacks for the equivalent of $2. Their children still die of diarrheal diseases not seen in the developed world for many years.

I can weigh all the babies I want, but in the end I'm not going to make much difference if families here have to fight the U.S. Treasury and the subsidies it doles out to American farmers.

No, I don't think this continued poverty will encourage people in my village to turn to terrorism. But the poverty does create an underdog complex, by which people think their country can't develop because they just don't have what it takes.

The few villagers I have met who support Osama bin Laden say they do so because he fights for the underdog. People living in more violent cultures might well decide to take up the fight, bin Laden-style, despite having Peace Corps volunteers in their countries. Indeed, volunteers have served in Libya and Afghanistan.

As for Bush's evangelical call to "spread the good story" of American values, the president is only making clear his ignorance of how Peace Corps volunteers operate.

The fact is, people in my village are mostly sold on American values and culture. They get excited about multiparty elections, talk about the rule of law and watch Clint Eastwood westerns. And where we don't see eye to eye -- as on the local practice of polygamy -- I have been told by Peace Corps administrators (and I happen to agree) that it is not my role to impose American values.

Expanding the Peace Corps is a nice gesture. But if that's the sort of carrot we're using alongside the very big stick of U.S. economic and military might, it isn't much of a meal.

The writer, who has worked as a journalist, is a Peace Corps volunteer. The views here are his own.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company



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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; PCVs in the Field; Speaking Out; COS - Ivory Coast

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