Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Exactly Is A Peace Corps Volunteer?

Disclamer: This is forward and it's my opinion. So in other words this post is probably incorrect and you need to take it with a grain of salt. :)

I read several blogs about PCV's and I have noticed a trend in several of them. I have noticed that everyone has their own preconceived notion of what a Peace Corps volunteer actually is. When some people think of a Peace Corps volunteer they think of a person in the middle of Africa living off of rice and beans in a mud hut wearing back packing clothes able to speak the language fluently, no electricity or running water, listening to the BBC is the extent of entertainment, there is not another volunteer within 50 miles, people around have AIDS and you are there to educate people about simple preventive measures on how not to get the disease, ideas of changing the world, living a simple life, living off of little money, roughing it, having an adventure, and challenging yourself.

When it comes down to it there are only three things that define a PCV:

-Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

-Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

-Helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.

These are the things that define us as volunteers. Even here in Morocco as volunteers we all have had some of these preconceived notions of what a PCV might be like. Are we not volunteers if have running water and electricity? Are we not volunteers if we cannot speak the language fluently? No, honestly being a volunteer is what you make it. Are you working for peace and not division? Are you living in a foreign country?  Are you trying to build a community and empower people? Are you working hard to accomplish the three goals? Have you swore in as a PCV? Awesome, then you are a PCV and the rest is personal choice.

I know of PCV's (very few) who have this smug attitude because they live in the middle of nowhere and they don't have electricity or running water and they come to another site that does sometimes conversation can become, "Wow, you're living in the "Posh Corps" or, "This is not Peace Corps". So? What's the point here? Is it that we cannot help others or volunteer our time if we have an oven, a refrigerator or that we can buy cheese here in site? Also, things like if you are not fasting during Ramadan, going to weddings every other weekend, working three weeks of summer camp when you only have to work one, wearing a headscarf in site, not having a computer in site, wana (internet) stick doesn't work in site, don't have enough transport, can't get veggies until souq (market) day, can't drink the water without purifying/ boiling it, etc. become contests of  "I am roughing it more than you" hence I am a better PCV or I am having a better/more genuine experience than you. This does not need to be. Community among PCV's is just as important as community among your host country nationals. We are all trying the best we can.

Peace Corps is not about about having lack of things. Truthfully I live better here then I did in America money wise. I don't have to pay for insurance, my housing, we get money back for things like job related travel, and we get a bit of cash each month to spend. Not to mention that I am married so we get to pool our money together so we can actually save money.  My point is that a volunteer can be exactly what I described above or it can be the exact opposite. Case in point:

So which of these people are PCV's? Obviously both. For those looking to job the Peace Corps know that perceptions of that you think it is going to be is probably going to be the direct opposite of what it turns out to be. It turned out that way for me.

Peace and Love


  1. matt, you're absolutely right that every PCV has a unique experience (even within the same country, or within the same site!) and instead of comparing our lifestyles we should be here to help/encourage/support each other. we're a family. :-)

  2. Thanks guys! After you have been here for a year you think about these things :)

  3. "Are we not volunteers if have running water and electricity? Are we not volunteers if we cannot speak the language fluently?"

    Ah yes.. all the questions we beat ourselves up with. I have running water, a TV, and even internet here in Africa. At first I felt a little guilty about that given the whole " Oh, that's POSH CORPS!" thing. The point is, I didn't come to PC to be some Dudley do-right who had to save the world- I came because I felt called to come back to Africa and put my skills to good use in a tangible way while exploring different ways communities adapt. Each person comes with their own baggage, ideas, and doubts- and that's what makes us so real as PCV's.

  4. @jessesa Thanks for the comment. I know like you I didn't come here for a competition of every little thing I do. None of these things make us better or worse, just volunteers. Thanks for reading my ramblings :)