Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Evaluating Village Based Program


Over the past months, I have sadly reported on volunteers from our Peace Corps Group 78 who returning home. Out of the original group of sixteen, two returned for medical reasons, and six have left for reasons best explained by them. Of the remaining eight, three are not based in village and hold jobs in Apia with either an NGO or a governmental agency. This leaves five out of the thirteen village based volunteers, an attrition rate of 62% after the first year. Previous Samoan village based volunteer groups have also faced high “Early Termination” rates. This has attracted the attention of both the Peace Corps in Washington, DC and is the focus of our new Peace Corps Country Director.

The Village Based program is now a rarity within the Peace Corps worldwide. Almost all volunteers are paired with an NGO or governmental agency in the country they are posted. They are plugged into an existing organizational structure, sadly many times becoming a free temp worker for the organization to which they are assigned. This is not to diminish the hardships and challenges faced by these volunteers, but it is not original model of the Peace Corps where volunteers were left to their own ingenuity, to work with locals to determine their needs and assist them. Maybe I think old school and feel Peace Corps means muddling through the vicissitudes and vagaries that the Village Based program represents. It is “Survivor” for real. The results are also real and rewarding.

As Peace Corps Samoa and Washington evaluate, not only the Village Based Program, but also whether the Peace Corps should continue its 40 continuous years in Samoa, I wish them well as they too muddle their way towards an evaluation. This appraisal is against a backdrop of cut backs in Peace Corps worldwide, despite early promises to expand Peace Corps. Vacuums have a way of being filled and in this part of the world the Japanese and Chinese wait in the wings.

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