James Bovard on the Peace Corps
By David Henderson
“The toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Robert E. White, Peace Corps regional director for Latin America, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970, “In the early days … it was like a parachute drop. A Volunteer would be told, ‘Here’s the bus that you take. Go and look around and get off where you think you can do some good.'” An official report by the government of Honduras concluded in 1968, “The Volunteer appears to be someone with nothing to do; his skills are not utilized and the community doesn’t know what he has to offer in the way of help.”
Indeed, throughout Latin America, volunteers were sometimes referred to as “vagos” — Spanish for “vagabonds.” A Brazilian development expert concluded in a Peace Corps-commissioned study in 1968, “As economic developers, Volunteers have not had any lasting impact on any community. They are more efficient spokesmen for their interests than … for the poor.” One Latin American government official complained to a Peace Corps auditor in 1968, “The Volunteers I have known recently — with one exception — are not helping us at all. They created problems for us.”
This is from James Bovard, “The Forgotten Failures of the Peace Corps.” The whole thing is worth reading.
Every Peace Corps veteran I’ve ever run into talks about what a great experience it was, what a growth opportunity it was. My Congessman, Sam Farr, whom I’ve seen speak a few times, always fits in his Peace Corps experience in Colombia. It was clearly very important to him. Talk to each one a little more and you find out it was about their growth. When you ask what was accomplished for the people they worked with, the answer is typically that they don’t know.