From the room again today, although very soon I’ll have a porch that’s every bit as hot as the one in DC, and come summer, much, much hotter.
I mentioned the Peace Corps’ second and third goals in passing in my last post, but I’d like to look at them in depth this time. They are strangely difficult to find on the Internet, considering how prominent they are in training and in PC culture in general (talking about something as 2nd or 3rd goal is readily understood even before our myriad acronyms become second nature). In any case, here they are:
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.
The number one reason we ought to pay attention to two and three is that we’ve really got them handled. They’re in our wheelhouse. Goal one, which concerns sending trained men and women to meet the needs of the developing world and to improve the quality of life of the people of hour host country, it’s important. Very much so. It consumes the vast majority of our two years on site, and when we’re evaluating our performance as volunteers against our country plan, it provides the tangible criteria that we use.
But you know and we know and everybody knows and nobody’s even pretending anymore that the best way to run an international development organization is with a bunch of two-year volunteers, the majority of whom come without a wealth of experience in the field. That’s not to say that everyone’s a history major like me (although some folks might argue, myself first, that having gone to the School of Foreign Service merits something). In fact, I’m the only non-scientist/statistician/engineer/professional educator here, and they only took me because my counterpart was looking specifically for somebody with my work history.
Even more than what amounts to, on balance, our inexperience, the thing that keeps the Peace Corps from being a world-changing development organization is that we’re small potatoes. There’s 7,209 of us working right now, sure, but we’re spread out across 60-odd countries, and we’re not large-scale. We’re not pulling down millions of dollars for highways and power plants and dams, we’re working village by village, improving crop output here, sinking a well there, getting a community or two to switch to solar boilers and efficient stoves. The most cash I can get from State at any one time is $7,500, and that’s only if I can get my host country partners to pony up $2,500, which is far from small change just about anywhere we’re at work.
There are, including me, three environmental education Volunteers in the Sierra. To cover five large towns and more than six hundred communities. If we really, and I mean really, wanted to do the region right, we’ve have 50 Volunteers, each charged with 12 communities. We just don’t have the numbers. Now, I think we should. I think there ought to be 100,000 of us out there, rather than what we’ve got. With all the infrastructure, the office staff, the training, the support, the medical expenses, travel, all of it, each Volunteer only costs the taxpayer $43,000 per year. Compare that to the million or so big ones it takes to keep a fighting man in the field and we start to look pretty economical. The Peace Corps budget is a congressional rounding error. All the money we’ve ever gotten, ever dollar since 1962 put together would pay for our military today for five days. But that’s an argument for another post.
The reason second and third goal activity becomes so important is that even though we three in the Sierra can’t do a whole lot to revamp environmental consciousness in the whole Reserve (although Chava’s working on it), we sure as shit can change the minds of a huge number of people with regard to how they see Americans and America’s role on the world stage.
Mexicans have a dicho, a saying, that goes “So far from God, so close to the United States.” Whether the intent is to set us up as an opposite, it’s the dichotomy that emerges anyway. It does because that’s the role the US has played down here and across much of the developing world ever since Monroe had the gall to pretend that we weren’t as much of a grasping Imperialist power as everyone else. America’s fostered a whole lot more violence than education, more dictatorship than democracy, more corporate interests than popular, more support for an unjust global economic system than any meaningful equality. Which is why you might think, my politics as they are, that I’d go around try to spread some ‘true history of the US’ or trying to educate people about how they should be afraid of the US, but I’m not, and it comes down to the third goal.
The Peace Corps has been characterized as a cynical ploy to generate goodwill on the ground while the main force of the government has gotten down to the real business of global exploitation. That’s kind of true, until you consider third goal and the fact that there aren’t enough of us. They go hand in hand.
I talked about this in a previous post, but the third goal of the Peace Corps implies an ongoing lifelong responsibility to represent the people of your host country to the folks back home. That is, I can’t just tell my Mexican friends how great the US is and leave the country without a thought. I have to, now and when I come home, try to convince my friends, my family, my community, my congressmen, that they’re people down here too, and that they’re worthy of the consideration we sometimes give our own. When we’re thinking about starting drone warfare across the border or pressuring the government to change the constitution so that we can start depwater mining the Mexican half of the gulf, I have a positive duty, for the rest of my life, to stand up and say something, to try to achieve some amount of leverage, of power, of influence, and to put myself in a position to help.
Which is why we need more volunteers. We need to flood the world with Volunteers. We might get some economic development done, sure, and by God we’d show the international community that we aren’t all Cheneys and Rumsfelds and Obamas, but more importantly, we’d come back to the United States and make it impossible for elected officials to visit the kind of hell they’re used to unleashing on the less fortunate peoples of the world.