The questionnaire to all municipal government workers of San Marcos, Guatemala asked three simple questions on a 3×8” piece of paper; name, position and job explanation. Promptly workers typed their responses. “Awaiting a new title to help the institution continue forward” was one response. Without a bit of irony or unprofessionalism, some workers here are getting paid for jobs that no longer exist due to a snag in the system. This is just one of the hurdles that a Peace Corps volunteer may face while assisting countries in their own development and efficiency.
The Peace Corps (PC) is an organization that brings United States citizens as volunteers to countries around the world in an effort to facilitate positive change. Volunteers must be willing and able to provide assistance to the local partnering governmental agency or organization with the available resources. Their tasks or projects are not always obvious or organized. Resourcefulness has turned out to be an essential quality in the PC volunteer experience.
Last week Justin Hargesheimer, one of 15 PC volunteers currently stationed in Guatemala, presented this questionnaire to all Municipal Government workers in his office in order to ascertain how to properly utilize his accompanying staff. However, the purpose of his involvement has, itself, not yet been determined.
PC provides volunteers with a training period following the application process. This three month training takes place in the country where they will be stationed. The training includes cultural customs, local nuances, personal health care and considerations for how to properly engage with the community. The training suggests some simple projects that can initiate greater opportunities for real and tangible changes to be made. The questionnaire was the beginning of something that would grow over the next 24 months.
The application process to become a PC volunteer is at first long and tedious. The initial online application is followed by phone interviews, more paperwork, in-person interviews, education history, personal and professional references, as well as a view into your life long financial and health records. However, those volunteers returning to the service treat the application process more like finding a job.
As a first time PC volunteer, one is trained in the resident country for three months and then placed in a specific local area for 24 months. This time-period allows the volunteer to develop trust and community relationships in order to make significant improvements.
The goal of the rudimentary Peace Corps volunteer program throughout the world is threefold. It works to provide assistance with technical skills and abilities; create a greater understanding of our American culture in other countries; and create greater understanding of foreign cultures in our American culture. These PC volunteers are diplomatic representations of common American people willing to help foreign cultures achieve their goals.
Peace Corps Response is for returning PC volunteers that can serve shorter residencies and be more specialized in their engagement. CG, a second time PC volunteer, found her opportunity to serve in Malawi as a way to engage her career in clinical research and health care related fund raising. CG was stationed for an extended 14 months working with the PEPFAR project, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the decentralization strengthening program that is central to any sustainable progress in Malawi.
Career advancement can be harnessed at any level of the PC. In Guatemala, Hargesheimer is serving his 24 months while simultaneously securing a Masters degree in Public Administration at Georgia State University through the ‘Peace Corps Masters Intern Program’. “I believe they placed me according to my major and the classes I was taking in Public Administration.”
Yet, even through the application process, the training and then receiving one’s assignment, there is still an air of mystery to what one will be doing out there, somewhere in the world, for two years.
“I had to be open to tackling whatever comes my way… …thats what Peace Corps is all about.” CG recalls about her experiences in both Malawi and Cameroon. Sometimes the goals were not agreed upon between interested parties. Sometimes the process was not implemented correctly. Sometimes a system of operation was nonexistent altogether. Regardless, PC was responding to a country’s call for help and volunteers remain interested in offering their assistance. “It’s their grass-roots approach. No other organization does what we do as Peace Corps.”
Hargesheimer agreed that the Peace Corps probably searches for resourcefulness in it’s applicants. Flexible people, ready for challenges, with an enthusiasm for travel and culture is what most PC volunteers embody. Because sometimes the pace of progress becomes daunting. Sometimes the bureaucracy limits the goals. Sometimes the local people have internal disagreements about what direction to take. Perhaps a whole 24 months can be spent just helping them work out their differences. Just at the beginning of his 24 month residency, Hargesheimer admits acceptingly that, “Its just another world.”
Photo by Justin Hargesheimer