We all have a picture of what the Peace Corps is. For most it is of 2
years living in a mud hut in a tiny village, without electricity or
running water, immersing yourself in a community. By now you all know
that this isn't the exact picture of what our experience is like. In
some ways it is the same, but in others it is different. The question
is, how different can and should it be?
Today our APCD (assistant Peace Corps director) for SED/ICT came for a
site visit. We talked about our project and some of the challenges we
were facing. He brainstormed ways that we might be able to find
secondary projects that would help keep us busier while at the same time
help us to integrate into the community.
Then he asked what we would think about Peace Corps hypothetically
allowing ICT volunteers to live in Nairobi (ignoring the safety issue).
We told him that if Peace Corps truly wanted to place volunteers in IT
positions, then they would have to place them in Nairobi. In Kenya's
current state, you simply cannot have software developers, system
administrators, etc in a town even as large as Bungoma. Of course, we
said, living in Nairobi would be a VERY different experience. There is
no question that you would never be able to gain a community in the same
way as you would in a small village. You would learn a lot about the
culture of Nairobi, but that's a very different story than the culture
of the rest of Kenya. In all likelihood, you would also be able to get a
lot more "work" done than any of the current volunteers.
The question is, would that be a "Peace Corps" experience. It certainly
isn't what most of us think of when we think of the Peace Corps….but
does that mean that it can't or shouldn't be one possible experience.
Already the experience of many volunteers today is drastically different
than that of volunteers even just 5 years ago. 99.9% of volunteers have
cell phones. Many use email frequently, if not on a daily basis. More
than half have electricity and running water. More and more volunteers
enter service with very specific skill sets and are capable of doing
highly technical (in the non-technical sense of the word) jobs. In our
group alone we have experienced CPA's, people with MBA's, software
The three stated goals of the Peace Corps mission are:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for
trained men and women;
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of
the peoples served;
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part
of all Americans.
Is it possible to attain all three goals and still continue to attract
and use people with high skill levels in an ever increasingly
technologically advanced world? We have no answers, just questions.