Monday, May 12, 2008

think again: the peace corps

In the eyes of Americans, no government agency better exemplifies the optimism, can-do spirit, and selfless nature of the United States than the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, it’s never lived up to its purpose or principles.

think again: the peace corps... an article in foreign policy magazine by my former country director, Robert Strauss. it's worth reading. like the recent NY Times op-ed, too many innocents abroad, he's extremely critical of the peace corps on a number of points: the quality of volunteers, their placement, the agency's lack of strategy, etc. and like the op-ed, this article has generated a range of responses from the peace corps community. some positive, some negative.

i won't respond to strauss' article here. suffice it to say that i think he's doing this with good intentions. i.e. wanting to see the agency change for the better. i recall him saying that he came back to the peace corps b/c he believed it could actually make a difference, and he wanted to be part of that. i believed him when he said that. this is what strauss has to say at the end of the article:

[Peace Corps] must go out and recruit the best of the best. It must avoid goodwill-generating window dressing and concentrate its resources in a limited number of countries that are truly interested in the development of their people. And it must give up on the risible excuse that in the absence of quantifiable results, good intentions are enough. Only then will it be able to achieve its original objective of significantly altering the lives of millions for the better.


  1. "truly interested in the development of their people"

    what's his definition of "development?" what do people mean by that word? who gets to decide who needs it?

    i hear the ghost of ivan illich calling...
    sorry, couldn't help but comment on this one. bye.

  2. yes, indeed... i heard ivan's ghost calling, too, ellen. thought of that essay you sent me. been thinking of it a lot recently. the issue being an indictment of development work more generally, not simple peace corps.

    i hope to take this issue up again at some point in the blog's evolution. not sure that i'm clear on the matter myself, yet. thoughts still forming on things like the 3 questions you raised above.

    your comments are always welcome, ellen. no need to apologize. thank you!

    peace :)

  3. confession: i'm not clear on the matter yet, either. still dwelling on/praying about it myself.