Staging was a ½-day meeting in the U.S. of all members of our Peace Corps Namibia Group 43 and a couple of Peace Corps staffers, just prior to traveling out of the country. It was held in the conference room of a small hotel in Philadelphia and comprised 5 hours of structured but casual introduction, orientation and team-building activities. The premise is that these 32 other trainees will serve as my new support unit throughout my time away: raw strangers one afternoon in Philly will become close friends, even a new “family,” with relationships that will last a lifetime. We’re going to spend a lot of time together over the next 9 weeks of Pre-Service Training and at other times throughout our 2-year service period. I have no doubt we’ll get to know each other quite well.
The session felt a lot like an off-site corporate training meeting – though given the average age and gender mix, the volume and pitch tended to be a bit higher than average. It was well-organized and run by Christina, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and Max, the Namibia County Desk Officer (CDO) – they did a good job of quelling our early nervousness and harnessing the pent-up energy we had brought.
Staging also helped level-set our knowledge of and expectations about the Peace Corps. Very little of the covered material was specific to Namibia or Africa or even to our upcoming term of service – it was more a meta-level overview of the organization and its history. Each of us had reached this point in time and place by following our own path through the research, decision, application, invitation, clearance and preparation phases – a long stretch of time that ranged from quite a few months to several years (it took me a bit more than 8 months from the first time I checked out the Peace Corps’ website to the day I left home). Because each person’s journey was so personal and so isolated from everyone else, it was fascinating to see how far our perception ranged when it came to the facts & figures, history and legacy of the program. I won’t take time to show you how far off we were in our guesstimates of these questions, but am happy to share the correct answers, as well as other formal statements from the Peace Corps circa 2016…
Getting to Know the Peace Corps
1. In what year was the Peace Corps started? 1961
2. Which president started the Peace Corps? John F Kennedy
3. How long have Peace Corps Volunteers been serving in your country of service? Namibia: since 1990
4. In how many countries have Peace Corps Volunteers served? 140
5. In how many countries are Peace Corps Volunteers currently serving? ≈62
6. How many Volunteers have served in the Peace Corps to date? ≈215,000
7. How many Volunteers are currently serving in the Peace Corps? ≈7,200
8. How many Volunteers are currently in your country of service? Namibia: 130
9. What is the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer? 28.7
10. In which sector does the largest percentage of Volunteers serve? Education
11. In which sectors are Peace Corps Volunteers working in your country of service? Community Economic Development (CED), Health and Education
12. Who is the current Peace Corps Director? Dr. Carrie Hessler-Radelet
13. Who was the first Peace Corps Director? Sargent Shriver
14. Who are some notable Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs)? It’s quite an impressive list! Prominent Peace Corps Volunteers.
Peace Corps Mission Statement
To promote world peace and friendship.
3 Goals of the Peace Corps
1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
10 Core Expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers
1. Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months.
2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work and, in so doing, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed.
3. Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.
4. Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work is based on the local trust and confidence you build by living in, and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community and culture.
5. Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.
6. Engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual learning, and respect.
7. Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local and national laws of the country where you serve.
8. Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health, safety, and well-being and that of others.
9. Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and traditions of the United States of America.
10. Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of your host country and community to people in the United States both during and following your service.
The Mission Statement and 3 Goals were amply illustrated upon our arrival to the training center in Okahandja two days after Staging. The smiles, the laughs, the singing and dancing at our greeting were testament to the fact that everyone here takes this seriously – and are loving every moment!
It is so easy to be tempted into cynicism when reviewing statements-of-purpose like these. I have tried, and largely succeeded, in resisting that temptation in this new endeavor. Frankly, I don’t like cynicism and especially dislike it in myself. Idealism can smack of naiveté but can also charm with innocence and sincerity. The group of energetic fellow-volunteers around me, mostly young in age, exhibit this innocence. The group of gracious hosts nearby, of all ages, demonstrate this sincerity.
It is so refreshing!