Debunking the Peace Corps Myth
In recent years, the Peace Corps has received some very harsh criticism.In 2002, a General Accounting Office report raised concerns over the safety and securityof Peace Corps Volunteers. Scathing criticism came from a series of
Dayton Daily News
articlesin 2003, depicting an agency which ostracized Volunteer victims of violence, suppressednegative publicity, and behaved very shadily while maintaining a good public image. Over the next few years the Peace Corps took up the political mantra, “The safety and security of volunteers is our number one priority.” This type of criticism of the Peace Corps seemed to be anew thing. Will Dickinson, creator of PeaceCorpsWiki.org, said of the articles, “No one had ever done anything like that before. After that the agency became much more secretive.” Over thenext several years, the Peace Corps agency would retreat further into itself, behind a politicalcampaign that obfuscated its failings and promoted its mythic image.In 2007, Senator Chris Dodd introduced the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act,legislation designed to modernize the agency, empower Volunteers, give them whistle blower rights, enable them to participate in the reviews of staff performance, give them funding for their projects, and allow them to work in partnership with the agency. At a hearing on the bill, Senator Dodd invited two serving Volunteers, Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff, to appear to representthe point of view of Volunteers. The Peace Corps vehemently opposed the bill and it died atthe end of the Congress in 2008. Robert Strauss published an article in 2008 which harshlycriticized the agency, saying the organization did not function effectively as a developmentagency, or any other kind of agency for that matter. In
Peasants Come Last
by Larry Brown, arecently published book by a Peace Corps Country Director, we see a visceral picture painted of a seriously mismanaged agency, and the consequences of this dysfunction.The public first took notice of some serious problems in the Peace Corps at thebeginning of 2011, right at the beginning of the institution’s 50th anniversary year. ABC Newsran a 20/20 special which revealed a shocking scandal. In 2009, a Peace Corps Volunteer whistle blower, Kate Puzey, had been murdered when she accused a Peace Corps staff member of raping his students. Though she had begged for anonymity from Peace Corpsheadquarters, her identity had been revealed to the accused staff member, and he and hisbrother went to Kate’s village and murdered her.The Peace Corps attempted to keep the wholething under wraps to avoid bad publicity; Peace Corps staff murdering Volunteers when theyblow the whistle does not reflect well on the agency. Indeed, in 2007-2008 the Peace Corpshad killed the Dodd bill, which would have given Kate whistle blower protections, includingconfidentiality. In 2009 Senator Dodd had explicitely requested that the Peace Corps assessthe need for whistle blower protections for Volunteers and it refused to do so. Then in mid-2009, Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff published a comprehensive Peace Corps reform plan,highlighting the criticisms of the agency found in the agency’s own surveys of the Volunteers,shockingly high early quit rates, the agency’s First Goad grassroots development failures, andmany other scandals and inefficiencies.Over the past decade, the agency’s response to criticism and calls for reform has beento ostracize critics and further entrench itself behind its mythologized reputation. Ties aresevered, and discussions are shut down before they can begin. A small number of ReturnedVolunteers have been pushing for transparency and reform for several years, but the PeaceCorps has been consistently stonewalling reform, belittling them, and blackballing them. Thisleads some proponents of reform to conclude the only option remaining is for Volunteers topress for reform themselves.