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Friday, March 06, 2015

Peace Corps Week 2015

I had big intentions for Peace Corps Week 2015. I was going to pre-write and auto-post a new blog for each day, highlighting a different aspect of Peace Corps history, Peace Corps life, and Lesotho.

Instead, life got distracting. I did not have time while in town to find the nuggets of awesomeness I was going to share. After nearly a month with little rain, we had only gray skies and showers for four days, making it impossible to use my phone to follow through. (Sun = power)

Enough excuses though. It is Peace Corps Week. Peace Corps, like some of my friends, sees its birthday as cause for a week of celebration. I, for one, agree. The reality is that Peace Corps has done so much in its 54 years that one day simply does not do it justice!

For example:
  • As of 2008, 961 PCVs has published books after their service. (“Did You Know: 25 Peace Corps Fun Facts")
  • The oldest PCV to date was 87 when he completed his second service. (“Did You Know”)
  • As of 2008, there were 224 languages spoken by PCVs. (“Did You Know”)
  • Nearly 220,000 Americans have served as PCVs in 140 countries. (“Fast Facts”)
  • There are currently just under 7,000 PCVs in 64 countries. 45% of them are with me in Africa. (“Fast Facts”)
  • In 2014, Peace Corps unveiled a new, faster, and more streamlined application process. While applicants are still encouraged to be flexible, they can now apply for specific jobs in specific countries. When I applied, we simply said, “I want to serve.” I had no real say in where or what I would do as a volunteer. I had not even heard of Lesotho before I received my invitation in October 2013!
  • Twelve current African presidents say they got their start because of interactions with a PCV in their country! (Georgetown)

But Peace Corps is more than just statistics and little tidbits. Peace Corps is a unique approach to helping the developing world. We are not the only volunteers representing our country, other countries send volunteers to developing nations as well. We are not the only United States-funded program in the developing world. We work alongside the US Embassy, US AID, and many more government funded programs. But, at least in Lesotho, we are the only ones living life alongside the local population.

The Peace Corps approach does not use quick fixes. When we arrive in our sites, the first six months of our time is spent getting to know the people and the local population. We are not allowed to start projects until we have been in our community for half a year! Even when we do start our projects, there are steps we must take to ensure we are meeting a need the community recognizes and wants met instead of simply doing what we think is best. Our projects are not really “our projects,” they are the community's projects and we are simply helping the community complete said projects. We are, for the most part, a source of education, training, inspiration, and ideas, not a source of money. The goal is that when we leave our community after two years living like and working alongside the local population, they will be able to continue our work without us or outside money. Our job is to be not only replaceable but unnecessary over time.

And that is what makes Peace Corps different than others working in the developing world. Because we are bring capacity building instead of cash, our work can continue to impact long after we leave.  

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