Living amongst locals in a remote village tribe? The Peace Corps has taken a lot of pop culture jabs, especially in comedic films where hilarity usually ensues after a character joins the volunteer program. Underneath all the stereotypes lies an organization that is no laughing matter. The laudable ideals of the Peace Corps have always been worth looking up to. The three-fold mission of “personal fulfillment, community service and to bolster the U.S.’ image abroad” is really, deep down, a mission of community service. But even though the Peace Corps is doing well, less than 1/3 of alums thought that they were able to accomplish their assignments while in the mission. Think you know all there is to know about the Peace Corps? Think again.
1. The Peace Corps is NOT a front for the CIA.
Just because some other organizations like Air America have been established as covers for the Central Intelligence Agency, that doesn’t mean that the Peace Corps is one of them too. Due to the volunteers being in the perfect position to acquire knowledge and information from hard-to-reach areas based on personal first-hand experience, it might seem like an obvious choice for the government to gather intelligence from them. However, volunteers will most definitely be in peril if they were ever utilized for information, which is why it is CIA policy to exclude Peace Corps members as sources of intelligence. This leaves the highly Hollywood-ized notion of using the Peace Corps as a CIA front a complete myth.
2. The Peace Corps is NOT blemish-free.
Every institution has its own share of scandals, and the Peace Corps is not an exception. Back in 2011, it was widely reported that about a thousand volunteers were raped or sexually attacked overseas during the program. The victims even admitted that despite knowing about these assaults, the Peace Corps made no move to protect the women. There were also more than 20 volunteers murdered, the most infamous of which was the brutal killing of volunteer Deborah Gardner by Dennis Priven, a fellow volunteer in Tonga. The Peace Corps may have a clean image, but its reputation is heavily stained.
3. Volunteer essentials are provided.
Contrary to popular belief that volunteers are dropped off in less-civilized areas stripped of everything they have, the Peace Corps does provide all the necessary materials that are essential in a volunteer’s area. Band-aids, first aid kits, malaria pills, mosquito nets, sunscreen, insect sprays, and other health and safety tools are all provided. Volunteers can also buy household materials with the “settling-in allowance” for the service. This leaves some extra room in a volunteer’s travel bag, so they can pack sentimental items and other knick-knacks if they wish.
4. Poverty is very real.
Volunteers may be living as one of the locals, but they are still considerably better-off than their neighbors. Friends and co-workers will also be in poverty, and there are times when neighbors will ask volunteers for food or for money. Volunteers have to make a difficult decision of whether or not to give, when to give, or how often they should help out financially. Volunteers need to be seen as part of the community and living within the same means, but they are often asked to pay for food or school or other expenses as well. And because poverty can do a lot to a man, there are times when locals try to gang up on them or blame them for misfortunes, as well as cause damage to their houses and property. The life of a Peace Corps member has its rewarding moments of inner joy and laughter, but it has its share of dark days, too.
5. After coming back from the Peace Corps, life will never be the same.
When volunteers return to American soil, people expect them to go on living life the way it was before they left. After all, it’s only 2 years, right? It might seem short for the people around them, but for volunteers, their time overseas is the most fulfilling and life-altering experience of their lives, and they can no longer see things the same away again. Armed with a beautiful new outlook in life, they often commit to low-paying service jobs and non-profit organizations. Sadly, people around them will still be wasteful, filled with consumerism, and unappreciative of what they currently have, but volunteers now know what it’s like to live simply and be so much happier in the process.
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