June 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Morocco: Community Development: News Views: Morocco RPCV Jason Ben-Meir says Community Development should be the principle focus for the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: June 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Morocco: Community Development: News Views: Morocco RPCV Jason Ben-Meir says Community Development should be the principle focus for the Peace Corps

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-45-115.balt.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 5:46 pm: Edit Post

Morocco RPCV Jason Ben-Meir says Community Development should be the principle focus for the Peace Corps

Morocco RPCV Jason Ben-Meir says Community Development should be the principle focus for the Peace Corps

Morocco RPCV Jason Ben-Meir says Community Development should be the principle focus for the Peace Corps

Community development - the principle focus for Peace Corps
By Jason Ben-Meir

Since the Peace Corps began, there has been an on-going debate within the agency about which of its two goals should be primary - community development or cultural exchange? Historically, agency directors left it to the Volunteers to find their own balance between the two goals, depending on where they served. Today however, there is much greater urgency to this long-standing internal debate. The United States faces the monumental tasks of rebuilding its global image and promoting international development that addresses the root causes of religious and secular extremism. The Peace Corps has a chance to play a pivotal role in helping the United States advance on both of these international imperatives.

Peace Corps Volunteers live and work among the world's neediest populations and thus are uniquely positioned to help local communities to design and manage development projects to meet their needs. This approach to socio-economic development has shown great success, largely because the communities have a strong incentive to maintain the projects its members establish. These projects (in education, health, agriculture, small business, information technology and environment) make communities feel they are included in a development process that is for once responsive to them. Local people in turn feel trust towards the Peace Corps Volunteers and others who helped bring beneficial projects into fruition. Volunteers who are dedicated and well trained in facilitating community development can ameliorate international economic and social despair, and in so doing enhance global security and the image of the United States.

The Peace Corps must now make community development the primary goal of Volunteers and the vehicle they use in functioning as agents of cultural exchange - and social, political and economic change as well. All of the 7,500 Volunteers currently serving in 71 countries, including 3,500 school teachers, should be trained in facilitating and negotiating the process of community development. Though Peace Corps' training of its Volunteers (and staff) is exemplary on the whole, a relative few receive hands-on training in facilitation. Volunteers who receive the training significantly increase (at least double) the number of community projects they help to create. Peace Corps also needs to substantially increase its Small Projects Assistance budget to help implement these new projects. The current annual budget averages only a few hundred dollars per Volunteer.

With plans underway to increase the number of Volunteers to the highest level in the history of the agency, the Peace Corps can, if it moves in this direction, play a truly vital role for peace. If Volunteers do not effectively function as development organizers and focus instead on cultural exchange, valuable as this experience is, they lose the opportunity of being able to create partnerships of potentially enormous benefit to entire communities. The Volunteers themselves also better understand the history, social relationships, economy, language and environment when they serve by being fully engaged in community development.

The urgent need to make the world a safer place should now prompt the Peace Corps to make community development its number one goal. Fortunately, elevating this goal furthers Peace Corps' overall mission; by the agency training all Volunteers to be facilitators of community development, they will more deeply immerse themselves in the cultures they serve while helping communities around the world realize opportunities that until now seemed impossible.

Jason Ben-Meir lectures on sociology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer and Program Manager who served in Morocco, and is President of the High Atlas Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes community development in Morocco.

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: News Views

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Morocco; Community Development



By HARLAN GREEN (harlangreen) (lsanca2-ar34-4-12-083-157.dsl-verizon.net - on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 2:23 pm: Edit Post

I second Jason Ben Meir's advocacy of more and better community development work for PCVs. But my experience as part of the first community development group to live and work in a Muslim countryside (Turkey 1964-66) tells me that building consensus in order to satisfy wants and needs of the poorest in Turkey was viewed with suspicion by their leaders--even though then PM Ismet Inonu requested us (Ataturk's Commanding General and revered second only to him as modern Turkey's founder).
Why? Because it smacked of politics, since Turkish politicians feared we would stir up discontent, in becoming an advocate for Turkey's poorest while living among them in villages. Our program was therefore terminated...I'm sure other rural community developers may have different experiences...But I hope Peace Corps does institute more training, since it is a valuable skill right here in the U.S. of A, where community building is a neglected skill...I also learned much while working for Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union in the 1970s, by the way. Harlan Green, Turkey V

By Erick Nyabala ( on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 8:41 am: Edit Post

I am particularly impressed by Jason Ben Meir's mesage on using community Development as a tool to revitalizing the rural undersrserved communities in developing nations. It is a fact beyond doubt that community development is the root foundation of socio-economic empowerment of any "people".

However, may I pose the challenge of social-inclusion in development strategies and policies as a concern nowadays, especially with the infiltration of Informations & Communication Technologies (ICTs). Young people as well as the old, the splendid and the poor women and men, children and the youth need to be part of our developmental decision-making issues. Unless we balance our inclusion in the decision-making, we won't realize a sustainable development in our societies. So even though we will focus on Community Development, we should equally think about this.

We will post again, but my concern, how can we be in touch with the Peace Corps?

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.