It’s the go to solution for any liberal arts graduate trying to “find themselves”, but what the hell is the Peace Corps and why is it a strange career? Well, worry not my unaware reader I’m about to drop a two megaton knowledge bomb on you…maybe that metaphor is in appropriate since we’re talking about the Peace Corps…I’m about to drop a two ton bouquet of, ehm, knowledge on you? Anyway this is the strange career of being in the Peace Corps.
It Doesn’t Pay
Although the promise of helping humanity while traveling to exotic and under-developed locals might seem appealing, it doesn’t pay for shit…literally. Sure you receive a monthly living stipend but it’s only enough for daily expenses…in a third world country. Which is fine when you live in a third world country but eventually you’ll need to return home and even though you get a “readjustment” stipend, it’s just enough for about half a month’s rent. That means after working for two years the only thing that you’ll have to show for it are stories you can tell your friends while you sleep on an inflatable bed in their pantry.
Although not especially advertised by the Corp, volunteers get a meager two days off for every week month they work…for two years. Oh and three months which is considered your training period. That is actually illegal in many of the countries the volunteers come from, most workers are entitled at least (again by law) one day off for every week of work. Apparently changing the world is hard work and requires long hours, so don’t expect to drink it up with locals at the local watering hole.
Also, according to various blogs and ex-volunteers the application process is freaking intense. Of course, you can expect medical exams, but you will also be subjected to dental examinations and huge mounds of paperwork. The Corps also requires three letters of recommendation that back up your work ethic, background in volunteer work and your (of course) bright personality. Only about a third of all volunteers end up being selected when everything is reviewed.
First world poverty and third world poverty are very different. I’m not undermining the struggles of the lower class and people that do not have homes in developed countries, but the reality is that people in developed countries at least have the availability of infrastructure such as: sewage, roads and even if it seems prohibitively expensive in some regions and cities, public transportation. Of course, the people that are struggling to survive within their countries will probably not volunteer for the Peace Corps. According to a Peace Corps survey 82% of P.C.V. are white, between the ages of 20-29, 81% hold a bachelor degree.
I’m not a statistician, but that sounds pretty white middle class to me. That demographic also knows little about true poverty and complete lack of infrastructure. When you join the Peace Corps, though, you will be immersed into extremely hard, poverty stricken locations and unlike Teaching abroad educators and NGO workers, you will be living amongst the locals you are trying to help.
No, not the amazing hip hop band, the organization’s roots. The true roots of the program aren’t necessary to help, but as the mission statement says: “providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand American culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries”. Of course, under the premise of promoting the understanding of American culture and Americans understanding foreign culture the organization does do humanitarian work…sometimes.
The Peace Corps have seen their fair share of controversy and scandal. Some of them are pretty innocent and the result of white middle Americans’ insensitivities, like in the case of one of the first volunteers, Margery Jane Michelmore, who was posted in Nigeria. She wrote an unsealed postcard to her boyfriend that called the country amongst other things squalid and primitive, even telling her boyfriend “Bobbo”(what the hell? Was he a clown or something?) that people used the street for everything, even a bathroom. Dumbass move, especially when you’re talking smack about a country that was an English colony, and thus spoke English, on a piece of correspondence that is open for any person to see.
Well, some people took offense to her description of their country and even made copies of the postcard and distributed them. The whole offensive thing snowballed into a diplomatic incident, making front page news both in Nigeria and the U.S., prompting protest of the program from students of the University that housed the volunteers. For some strange reason the volunteers held a hunger strike, I’m not really sure why…it’s not like they were in the right, they did bad-mouth the country hosting them… Oh, I’d be remised to mention all this happened in the first year of the program’s life.
Rape and Murder
Look I’m not saying that everywhere the Peace Corp goes their volunteers are subjected to physical, emotion and sexual abuse, but it definitely happens, and Peace Corp definitely avoids talking about it. In a recently revealed case, a 23 year old Berkley graduate Frank Castle died from a gastrointestinal disease as a result of a lapse in the health care he received by the program appointed physician.
This followed another case that created public outcry in which a volunteer died in Morocco, and another volunteer that was murdered in Benin. ABC has actually found that the organization has attempted to cover-up the rape of over 1,000 female volunteers in just the last decade, and almost 300 volunteers have died or been killed since the Peace Corps inception. But because I’m a dark, cynical bastard…it gets worse.
Spies, Drugs and Coup D’Etats
So you put on your obscenely large backpack and you’re off to South America to help change the world. You go through your training and are going to be sworn into the Corps. Just as you’re about to put your superhero cape on, though, you’re approached by an Embassy official and asked to spy on Cubans and Venezuelans in Bolivia. Of course, the Peace Corp is against any political interference, and the spying request is withdrawn.
The infamous Paul Theroux a volunteer in Malawi, which had an anti-Vietnam article published in a Malawi newspaper, helped a political dissident of the Hastings Banda (the country’s president) escape to Uganda, then helped the dissident’s mother escape. Theroux was also invovled in facilitating communication between the exiled dissident and other sympathizers, helping them to gather weapons and assumedly commit a Coup D’etat.
They do help
Although it does have a contested and controversial history, the Peace Corps does help. The volunteers teach, build and train people, beyond that it also broadens the horizons of not only the volunteers but the local populations that host them.
Were you a Peace Corps volunteer? What was your experience like? We would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave your comment in the section below.