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Letter to the Editor: Tulane should be proud to be associated with Peace Corps

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Letter to the Editor: Tulane should be proud to be associated with Peace Corps

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I am writing this letter in response to the article “Tulane students must be critical of No. 1 Peace Corps Volunteer ranking” that was published on September 27, 2018.

As an alumnus of Tulane and a currently serving Peace Corps Volunteer, I am excited to see current students apply a critical lens to volunteer work. However, in his characterization of the Peace Corps, I believe the author misses the mark. In the article, a lack of research into how the Peace Corps operates underlies several mischaracterizations.

In his discussion of Volunteers ending their service before fulfilling their 27-month commitment, the author correctly identifies that 27 percent of Volunteers terminate their service early. However, this number actually applies to Volunteers who terminate their service at any point, not just to Volunteers whose service is terminated in their first year. Although 63 percent of these terminations are indeed resignations, the author does not offer evidence to support his claim that Volunteers are resigning because they are not properly prepared for service. The cohort of Volunteers that I entered into service with reflects similar numbers of early terminations and resignations. However, while several Volunteers in my cohort have resigned because of a bad fit for the program or a lack of preparation, more have resigned due to medical reasons, to pursue similar higher-paying jobs within the country and due to family emergencies. The author’s analysis ignores the possibility of resignations for a reason other than a lack of preparation.

The author goes on to conflate two very different Peace Corps components: Pre-Service Training (PST) and the Peace Corps Prep program. PST is a 10-12-week intensive training that all Volunteers are required to successfully complete in order to begin their service. This training takes place in the Volunteer’s country of service, follows a rigorous schedule of more than 40 hours per week and includes small-group language and culture classes, job-specific technical training, and safety and security training. Peace Corps Prep is a certificate program for undergraduate students that provides guidance on course selection and extra-curricular involvement (including volunteer work) to become a more competitive applicant.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s discouragement of voluntourism, his attempt to link it to Peace Corps service is not effective. The study he cites to support his claim discusses short-term medical service work, which is not comparable to the average Peace Corps Volunteer’s work. Volunteers are assigned to their country of service for 27 months, which gives Volunteers the opportunity to create more meaningful relationships and develop long-term projects than someone volunteering for only a few months.

The author points out that previous volunteer or work experience is not required for all Peace Corps positions. While this is true, I would assume it would be rare to be offered a position without it. Of my cohort of 36 Volunteers, nearly half have, or are in the process of completing, a graduate degree, and a vast majority have relevant work experience. Additionally, the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer is 28 years old. Here in Mexico, we have Volunteers aged 22 to 70. The author’s argument that “most Volunteers are in their early-to-mid 20s [and] have little experience in sustained humanitarian work” is not accurate.

I agree that a positive impact is the most important part of volunteering. That is why Peace Corps Volunteers prioritize capacity building in their work, with an emphasis on implementing sustainable projects or programs that can continue after a Volunteer leaves their country of service. I am surprised that the author was unable to find any evidence on whether the Peace Corps makes progress in its commitments to other countries. A quick browse of the Peace Corps website yielded this document, which aggregates numerous internal studies such as this one, this one and this one. These documents, and many others available online, give a country-by-country analysis of Peace Corps’ localized impacts. The data is drawn from interviews and surveys of those who have interacted with Peace Corps Volunteers as project partners, project beneficiaries and host families.

I concur with the author that improvements to the agency can and should be made. The Peace Corps would benefit from a development of a long-term strategy per country and better support for Volunteer mental health services. But is it in need of a “complete structural overhaul”? Probably not.

Elias Garcia ‘16

Elias Garcia is currently serving as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Mexico.

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans
Letter to the Editor: Tulane should be proud to be associated with Peace Corps