2008.07.04: July 4, 2008: Headlines: COS - Peru: Journalism: Expansion: Internet: Pickens: Will's Blog: An Interview with PCOL

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Peru: Special Report: Peru RPCV and Editor/Publisher Hugh Pickens: 2008.07.04: July 4, 2008: Headlines: COS - Peru: Journalism: Expansion: Internet: Pickens: Will's Blog: An Interview with PCOL

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Wednesday, August 06, 2008 - 9:10 am: Edit Post

An Interview with Hugh Pickens, Publisher of PCOL

An Interview with Hugh Pickens, Publisher of PCOL

"The goal of PCOL is simple, to serve as a resource for Returned Volunteers and Friends of the Peace Corps and to further the third goal of Peace Corps. I have never liked the term "Former Peace Corps Volunteer." To me once you are a volunteer, you are a volunteer for life and I like to think of myself as continuing to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer primarily by contributing to the third goal through my web sites."

An Interview with Hugh Pickens, Publisher of PCOL

Interview with Hugh Pickens founder and Administrator of PCOL

Caption: At the annual picnic held by the Maryland Returned Volunteers.

Will Dickinson of "Peace Corps Journals" recently conducted an interview with Hugh Pickens of "Peace Corps Online" on his views on the Returned Volunteer community, the use of the internet to promote the Peace Corps, and the future of the Peace Corps.

Will: Hi Hugh; Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Hugh: I look forward to answering some questions.

Will: PCOL (Peace Corps Online) is the largest, oldest, and most concise resource about Peace Corps on the internet, could you please give me a brief history of it and how you see it serving the Returned Volunteer community.

Hugh: PCOL has been in operation since 2001 and since that time we have collected, posted, and classified approximately 50,000 articles relating to all aspects of PC service. This includes several bulletin boards for RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), and an online newsletter with information about current events surrounding the Peace Corps.

In addition we are hosting one of the pioneering Peace Corps internet sites, Peace Corps Crossroads, created by the late Jonathon Muehl in 1996 at:


We also host hundreds of documents pertaining to Peace Corps' history at:


We also publish a lot of writing by John Coyne of Peace Corps Writers. John is one of the pioneers of the third goal and has been promoting the Peace Corps since 1989 when he started his original newsletter and later opened his web site at http://peacecorpswriters.org.

PCOL is privately funded and receives no income from any external source nor income from online advertising. The goal of PCOL is simple, to serve as a resource for Returned Volunteers and Friends of the Peace Corps and to further the third goal of Peace Corps. I have never liked the term "Former Peace Corps Volunteer." To me once you are a volunteer, you are a volunteer for life and I like to think of myself as continuing to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer primarily by contributing to the third goal through my web sites.

Peace Corps Online

Caption: Our extended interview with Director Gaddi Vasquez in 2004.

One unique aspect of our web sites is that we are an independent voice for the Returned Volunteer community. We are not constrained by the legal limitations of a 503(c) organization and are free to take a position on how the government agency is being run without running into problems of losing tax exempt status by participating in political discussions.

Will: Thanks Hugh, I had no idea the scale of your project, it is truly has enriched the PC community. Thanks. The information that you have collected is really important to keeping the institutional memory of the organization alive as well as keeping RPCVs connected to each other.

Hugh: It has been a lot of work but I have really enjoyed it. I will continue work on and improve PCOL to make it more accessible and useful to PC community.

Will: How have the new generation of web tools affected RPCV connectivity and the PC experience?

Hugh: It's interesting. Our web site actually predates the popularity of blogs and we have observed with great interest how blogs have changed the nature of Peace Corps service especially the third goal. When I served overseas as a volunteer, the only means of communication to the US was via the postal service with a round trip transit time of several weeks. In those days most volunteers waited until they returned from their overseas assignment before beginning their work on the third goal.

My 22 year old niece serves in the Peace Corps, so I am seeing first hand how the Peace Corps experience has changed for the new generation of volunteers. Everyone in my family and all her friends read her blog - probably twenty or thirty people - so now blogs make it possible for volunteers to contribute to the third goal while they are serving. It is a huge leap forward.

The government agency originally seemed somewhat skeptical of volunteer blogs and didn't know quite how to deal with them but now it appears that the Peace Corps is embracing blogs to some extent. There has been a big change in the past four or five years. A blog collector such as the Peace Corps Journals has been very effective in capturing and promoting volunteer writing and the site has been very useful to me personally. Whenever I hear about problems in any country of service I go right to "Peace Corps Journals" to find volunteer blogs for that country and get information right from the source.

Will: How has PCOL changed in the last eight years?

Hugh: One thing that we noticed on the PCOL web site is that the nature of posting has changed substantially in the past few years. There is a rule of thumb on the internet that for every 1,000 visitors to a Message Board, only two or three will actually make a post and we see on our own site that with between 20,000 and 30,000 unique visitors each day, we get fifteen to thirty posts.

Back eight years ago, we sent out a monthly newsletter on subjects like Safety and Security of Volunteers and the treatment of volunteers who were disabled during their service. We were the first to talk about issues with Lariam and we hosted the debate over the "fourth goal of the Peace Corps" that we championed. In the early days PCOL would get dozens and sometimes hundreds of posts on these subjects. Now we are seeing the posts difuse more throughout the entire PCOL Message Board and are seeing a lot more posts targeted at specific RPCVs and projects. It is really the posts we get every day that add depth to the wide range of subjects we cover.

Will: What do you think about the PCwiki web site?

Hugh: As for wiki technology, my opinion is that the wiki has limited applicability to the Returned Peace Corps community. As an avid Wikipedia author who has made many contributions to Wikipedia on Peace Corps themes and has created and expanded the biographies of many RPCVs and Peace Corps Directors, I know the limitations of wiki's very well. In fact, I started a PC wiki several years ago as an experiment but I no longer host it. I have found that there isn't a "critical mass" of returned volunteers ready to contribute to a Peace Corps themed wiki.

That being said, I think Wiki technology could be a very effective tool within the agency itself where, for example, best practices as regards criteria for medical selection, could be compiled as an antidote to the five year rule. Wiki technology could be very useful within the agency as a means for creating and fostering "institutional memory" and I think that is one initiative a future Peace Corps Director may want to take.

Peace Corps Online

Caption: Meeting with Sargent Shriver in 2001.

Will: Tell me more about the "fourth goal of the Peace Corps."

Hugh: In 2001 my wife and I met with Sargent Shriver for several long conversations about the future of the Peace Corps and we talked to him about our ideas about a fourth goal for the Peace Corps that Sarge eventually incorporated into a speech that he gave at Yale University in 2002 that I and another RPCV, John Rude, contributed to.

Basically the fourth goal says explicitly that peace is part of the agency’s mission and what I have found is that many RPCVs are making huge contributions to the fourth goal as diplomats, journalists, founding NGO's, and as activists.

Let me give you one example. In 2002, President Bush talked about the "axis of evil" that included Iraq, Iran, and Korea. While everyone knows about the mistakes with regard to Iraq that ended up costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives, people don't hear about mistakes that were avoided in Korea that may have saved billions of dollars and thousands of lives. RPCV Christopher Hill has been the chief negotiator in the six party talks with North Korea. Hill served in Cameroon and credits his work with the Peace Corps for teaching him his first lessons in diplomacy. Hill has been the key figure in arriving at an agreement with North Korea on their nuclear weapons programs.

Korea is a first hand example of an RPCV contributing to the fourth goal, who has helped shape American diplomacy and taken us down a road to peace and there are many others like Hill who are making major contributions to peace in the world today.

That is why I am such a huge proponent of expanding the Peace Corps. When you look at the contributions that RPCV's have made in diplomacy, education, journalism, even science and engineering because they were exposed at an early age to international service, it makes you understand how much the world critically needs more RPCVs.

That's why I really don't take criticisms of the Peace Corps too seriously. For me, the benefits to America and to the world of having a large community of individuals who have first hand experience serving overseas are so overwhelmingly positive that any shortcomings are small in comparison. The Peace Corps is without a doubt the government's most cost effective program because the Peace Corps fosters a long term view to solving the world's problems by training and encouraging volunteers who my make their greatest contribution to peace 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.

Will: What criticisms do you have of the Peace Corps?

Hugh: One aspect where I think the Peace Corps could do a better job is in correctly applying the five year rule which ensures that the Peace Corps avoids becoming an entrenched bureaucracy. One benefit of the five year rule that I think few people appreciate is that it allows Returned Volunteers the opportunity to enter government service and get training and real responsibility at an early age.

If it were up to me, instead of having over twenty "political appointees" within the agency, the only two "political appointments" at Peace Corps Headquarters would be the Director and the Deputy Director - all other policy making positions should be held by Returned Volunteers - preferibly volunteers who have just returned from the field.

Peace Corps Online

Caption: Mrs. Edna Wiggins, widow of Peace Corps Architect Warren Wiggins, with (left to right) Director Jack Vaughn, Senator Harris Wofford, and Hugh Pickens.

Will: In closing, could you speak briefly about your service and how it influences your efforts?

Hugh: I was a volunteer in Huancayo, Peru from 1970-1973. When I entered Peace Corps, I was a recent graduate with a physics major and I was assigned to be a teacher trainer for three years and I lived in Peru for five more years after my service. One of my proudest accomplishments is that by the end of my service in Peru I had reached FSI level 4 in speaking, reading, and writing.

Since then I have served as the President of the Maryland Returned Volunteers and started the annual Peace Corps History lecture series that is now hosted by the Shriver Center at University of Maryland in Baltimore County.

Of course, Peace Corps is not the only thing I am interested in. In addition to doing a lot of writing for Wikipedia, I am also a frequent contributor to "Slashdot: News for Nerds" that has a daily audience of millions of readers - hundreds of times as large as our audience at PCOL. I am one of Slashdot's top ten contributors having written over 150 stories for Slashdot on subjects ranging from science and engineering to religion and civil liberties. I have even contributed several stories to Slashdot about the Peace Corps that have been well received. I also write a blog about my hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma where my wife and I now reside. You can read more about my interests at:


Will: Thanks for taking the time for the interview.

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: July, 2008; Peace Corps Peru; Directory of Peru RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Peru RPCVs; Journalism; Expansion; Internet; RPCV Hugh Pickens (Peru)

When this story was posted in August 2008, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Contact PCOLBulletin BoardRegisterSearch PCOLWhat's New?

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers RSS Feed
Dodd vows to filibuster Surveillance Act Date: October 27 2007 No: 1206 Dodd vows to filibuster Surveillance Act
Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped this administration violate the civil liberties of Americans. "It is time to say: No more. No more trampling on our Constitution. No more excusing those who violate the rule of law. These are fundamental, basic, eternal principles. They have been around, some of them, for as long as the Magna Carta. They are enduring. What they are not is temporary. And what we do not do in a time where our country is at risk is abandon them."

Peace Corps News Peace Corps Library Peace corps History RPCV Directory Sign Up

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Will's Blog

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Peru; Journalism; Expansion; Internet; Pickens


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