Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Peace Corps and Development

As I’ve talked about earlier, the Peace Corps has three basic goals: 1 development, 2 educate foreigners about Americans and American culture, and 3 educate Americans about foreign culture. So basically the PC is a development agency plus a cultural exchange program. The cultural exchange aspect is controversial for different reasons, but right now I’ll just talk about the development aspect of PC and development in general.

A lot of development resources have been but into Africa and other parts of the developing world since decolonialization with disappointing results. It’s something that was often discussed my Political Science classes: aid to the developing world isn’t as effective as one might hope. A common scapegoat is the governments of those countries receiving aid. It is said that they line their pockets with aid money instead of distributing it to the people who need it. Yet that isn’t the only problem.

For example, there are two other development agencies in Morocco that bear some similarity to the Peace Corps. One is from South Korea and the other is from Japan. Both send citizens abroad to live and work in development for two years. One big difference between these organizations and PC is that they are much better funded. They pay their workers much better, thus increasing their applicant pool. Additionally, their projects are much better funded than ours. They tend towards big infrastructure projects; for example, the Japanese organization in one of my fellow volunteer’s site has recently built a large community building for women to work and congregate in. In another volunteer’s site, they built a large and well-furnished high school.

However, the failing of these organizations (and many others like them, both governmental and NGO) is that there is no community involvement. The workers in these organizations live in a house, isolated from the community that they are helping. They don’t speak the language of the people – they often don’t even speak French. Since they don’t involve the community, the people in the community often fail to benefit from their work. The community building that I mentioned above has not been opened since it was finished two years ago. In another volunteer’s site, they built a water chateau, which has turned into the neighborhood trash bin. I don’t mean to give the impression that all of their projects are failures – the school mentioned above is well used and the volunteer in that site is benefiting from the infrastructure built. However, it is sad to hear of vast resources poured into a place that needs them – only to have them lay unused.

Ideally, the Peace Corps has solved these problems. We spend a lot of time in training talk about the PC’s perspective on development. A lot buzzwords that you could also hear in any college class on development are thrown around. “Capacity building, participatory analysis, and community investment,” are amongst the most popular. Basically, the PC is trying to avoid the pitfalls that have hindered other development efforts by getting the community involved in the development work. And this attitude is definitely a reaction to past PC failings. Years ago, volunteers went from community to community building and installing water pumps around community wells. Two years after the project, there was an assessment that found that all the pumps were broken and not used,

That’s why education is such a big part of the work that we are doing. PC’s attitude is: what’s the point of building a community a latrine if they don’t know how to use it? And instead of deciding what the needs of a community are, we’re supposed to actively engage the community with surveys and interviews to determine their needs and wants. PC also wants community backing of any big project by asking them to give some of their own resources for the project. The thought is that if they have invested in an infrastructure project, they will be more likely to see to its maintenance. All of these strategies are supposed to insure that once PC leaves a community, they are not needed anymore. If we can educate local associations to do the work that we had been doing, then we’ve really succeeded.

So that’s a pretty rosy picture of PC and development that I’m giving without any actual experience implementing the strategies. There are a lot of problems. Despite all of our cute academic buzzwords, it’s hard to achieve the goals set forward. Another frustrating part of all this is that means there are only very small steps. I may work in my community for two years and be a model volunteer, yet not be able to see any concrete evidence of the work I’ve done. There are not going to be any dramatic changes.


After nearly a week in the cities of Khenifra and Azrou, I’m back in site. I had meetings with the Ministry of Health in Khenifra and had to pick up some of my luggage in Azrou. For anyone planning a trip to Morocco, I highly recommend Azrou. It is really nice. It’s got some nice hills and lots of trees. A lot of times you’ll look around and ask yourself “am I still in Morocco?” Plus, I was with other PC volunteers for the whole time and it’s very relaxing to be able to speak English instead not understanding what’s going on around you.

The downside is that I get used to that comfort and it makes it harder once I get back to my community. So other than going to my souq (market) town (where there is internet), I’m going to try and stay in my site for a while. Right now it’s overcast and maybe 60 degrees. My work for the near future is meeting and talking with the leaders of the association in my town. I’ve also got to make trips out to the far douars (communities) that are apart of my commune to meet people there and show my face. Fortunately, everyone is super inviting and friendly. I get invited into everyones house for tea and food. The generosity is astounding, especially when you consider that the people often don’t have much to give.

Celebrated birthday in Morocco by eating an entire watermelon with one other person. Felt sick all next day.

Near my site

My site

1 comment:

Patti said...

Happy Birthday, Duncan! This is a birthday you'll never forget. Patti