Problems With the Peace Corps

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Some former Peace Corps volunteers have been quite vocal about problems with the organization. While most agree that the mission of the Peace Corps to improve conditions and relations with other countries is a noble one, some volunteers are critical of the way it is done. Academic studies have been performed to identify problems with the Peace Corps and suggest solutions.

1 Geography

Peace Corps volunteers often suffer physical health problems while serving in geographically remote and underdeveloped regions of the world. Third World sanitation, food preparation and water filtration are often dangerously substandard. The people Peace Corps volunteers work with are often sick with diseases that Americans are unfamiliar with. They may lack built up immunity to these illnesses. Medical care is often far away and there are sometimes shortages of qualified doctors, medicine and modern medical equipment. Third World countries lack safe blood banks. If a Peace Corps volunteer needs a blood transfusion, there may be a greater risk of contracting a dangerous disease.

2 Significance

Peace Corp volunteers must cope with significant challenges to their mental health. They are often isolated far from home with few modern conveniences. The people they work with are unfamiliar and the work is difficult. Dr. Joan P. Gerring of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine issued a report called "Improvements Needed in Peace Corps Volunteer Support Services." Dr. Gerring found that 1.6 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are evacuated from their assignment for mental health reasons. A majority is diagnosed with adjustment disorders from psycho-social stress.

3 Warning

Peace Corps volunteers are sometimes assigned to countries where there are significant security concerns. Many Third World countries have corrupt or nonexistent police forces. Some have unstable governments that are ruled by competing war lords or in the midst of civil conflict. Aid workers, like Peace Corps volunteers, are often caught in the middle of these conflicts. Dr. Gerring found that 1.6 percent of Peace Corps volunteers report major physical assaults every year.

4 Effects

Many Peace Corps volunteers report being disillusioned with their mission. They are often left in remote areas with a lack of supervision and resources while expected to perform the seemingly impossible task of improving a hopeless situation. Former Peace Corps volunteer Sara Waldorf wrote about this in her essay, "My time in the Peace Corps." Waldorf says, "the success rate of the Peace Corps in terms of the economic and political development of host countries has been next to nothing." Waldorf points out that the number of Peace Corps volunteers is declining because they realize it offers only "sacrificial volunteerism" with few tangible results (see Resources below).

5 History

Throughout the history of the Peace Corps, it has maintained a steady attrition rate of 33 percent. About one-third of Peace Corps volunteers quit before their 2-year tour of duty is compete. This continues to happen despite careful screening of Peace Corps volunteers before they are assigned. A 1990 General Accounting Office Report on the Peace Corps points out that this is expensive since a lot of money is invested in volunteer training and transporting them to their assignment. The report says that premature attrition also leaves volunteers with "a sense of failure" and the host government with the impression that the Peace Corps is "unreliable" (see Resources below).

Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.